Sandy tells her wonderful Pilates story in 3 parts. This is the first part. On April 1st you read the 2nd part and on July 1st the last. Enjoy!
I sometimes ask myself why I am teaching Pilates. I ask because I believe in a purposeful life. Today I answer myself by saying that I teach Pilates because I love it. I love how it makes me feel strong without feeling masculine, that I can do it anywhere that has a space as big as I am, and that in deepening my workout, I see that the challenges I face physically and mentally in Pilates, are mirrored in other areas of my life. I love it because it moves me, and I have always loved to move.
Movement as expression
When I was a little girl I danced because I was painfully shy and had difficulty expressing myself with words. Dancing gave me a voice. When I danced I found a freedom and happiness that I didn’t feel in every day life. In many ways I would say that dance saved me from being introverted and unexpressed. When I danced I felt safe and I could access parts of myself that were hidden without movement.
I consider myself lucky to have discovered Pilates
It is often true that we become good at what we love doing, and eventually dance became my career. I never stopped loving dance and I feel blessed that it provided me a robust income and enjoyable lifestyle for so long. During a twenty year career as a professional dancer, I never had to think about working out and keeping fit. It came as a result of my profession and I never tired of dancing, even when I was doing it five to eight hours per day, seven days per week. In fact, I never saw that part of my life coming to an end, so I never thought about what I would do next. Looking back now, I consider myself lucky to have discovered Pilates during the height of my career.
While performing on the National Tour of Miss Saigon I stumbled upon Pilates when seeking therapy for discomfort in my SI joint. My slight scoliosis collaborated with repeated choreography in three-inch heels and eight shows per week, to cause strain on my body. Of all the things I tried – chiropractic, massage and physical therapy, Pilates jumped out at me. My curiosity was peaked by the distinct knowledge that Pilates offered a world of exploration of which I had absolutely no understanding.
Movement as exercise
At that time I didn’t think of it as exercise. It was just movement that I was intrigued with and that I needed to invest time in learning. I liked how it felt, I loved the way it challenged me. After a lifetime of dancing and feeling like I had gained a certain mastery of my body, I was intrigued at how difficult it was for me to move from my center. In dance I had created such a distraction with my emotional investment, my limbs and expressive hair. Who knows what my center was doing? While studying Pilates I spent years feeling flabbergasted at the repeated realization that I was actually tight in my mid and low back. As a dancer I had been seen as flexible because I could put my face on my knees and lift my toes to my head, yet I couldn’t properly roll like a ball. I had a six-pack but I couldn’t do a respectable Teaser.
The results were greater strength, flexibility and overall health.
When I began teaching Pilates I had spent more than two decades teaching dance and fitness so I had skills to teach movement, to work with a wide variety of personalities and physical challenges, and to see and understand body mechanics. Naturally, for some years, I approached teaching Pilates in the same way I approached teaching dance. I taught what I understood the movement to be and I helped my students find more ease, balance, control and coordination. The results were greater strength, flexibility and overall health. Miraculously, ailments were cured, posture and coordination improved and students left feeling great and ready for more. It is with most humble gratitude that I thank my teachers Romana Kryzanowska, Lori Coleman-Brown, Lauren Stephen and Dorothee VandeWalle for gifting me the tools to begin understanding the potential of Pilates. I remember Romana saying that earning my certification would mark the beginning of my learning, and of course, though that wasn’t what I wanted to hear, she was right.
I am also thankful that I met Jay Grimes
I am also thankful that I met Jay Grimes early on in my teaching career. His way of teaching Pilates has forced me to look deeper into the exercises. He constantly sheds light on the depth of the system as a whole by showing me how to “squeeze the juice” out of Joe Pilates’ life long work. He always says that “the only way to learn Pilates is to feel the exercises in your body”, and he is right. Like with any physical activity, understanding exercises intellectually doesn’t mean I physically understand them. Let’s take Olympic diving, for example. Everyone can comment on what they liked or disliked about the aesthetic of the dive, but those who have actually trained and competed in the sport will have much more expertise. In my case you can imagine that after decades of locking my joints, arching into my low back, and balancing despite my scoliosis, it took a long time to really get into my center. It was only by taking the journey with Jay every week, year after year, that I was able to begin to find Pilates in myself, so that I could teach it to others.
I feel darn good after a workout
It was another beginning step in my learning. It became apparent that the experience of working on my own body and the process of correcting the dysfunction in its movement, gave me the tools to know how to, as Jay calls it, “guide” my students. It took me a while to drop my idea that Pilates was a form of movement that could be taught like dance. In fact, I was mildly horrified when Jay said to me matter-of-factly “It’s just exercise.” Exercise? Is that all it is? I never thought of dance as exercise, and it certainly never dawned on me that Pilates could be described as something that just raises your heart rate. For me, it is more. When my movement is light and controlled, then dynamic and strong, followed by balanced and reaching, it feels expressive. I am challenged by the technique and understanding required to do Pilates well, and although I don’t feel as elated as I did after dancing, I feel darn good after a workout. So I will keep my personal definition of Pilates intact, but remember that it is just exercise, not dance, and that it is good for everyone.
To be continued in the next issue of Pilatesglossy: “Breaking the rules, “real” people, and upping my game.”
Co-owners Sandy Shimoda and Karen Frischmann
Director Jay Grimes
Offering Real Pilates for Real People
Providing continuing education for teachers worldwide
1950 Sawtelle Blvd. #185 Los Angeles, Ca 90024