Battling My Internal Pilates Police
“Lie down on the carriage with your arches on the bar a fist distance apart. Headrest is down. Roll your shoulders back and widen your collar bones. Take a couple of breaths and let your spine settle down onto the mat. When you are ready, peel your spine up off the mat, one bone at a time like a strip of Velcro, into a bridge.”
Joe didn’t start with any sort of bridging.
“Keep your hips as high as you can, as long as you can, and roll back down one bone at a time.”
I LOVE bridging. It feels good since most people sit in spinal flexion all day. It is a great, feel good way to say hello to your spine and start the session.
“OK. Pilates stance on the bar, heels together, toes apart and press the carriage out for 10.”
Hummm…footwork. What do I want to do today?
“Arches. Feet together.”
The original order has only four footwork exercises.
I absolutely love a particular contemporary footwork series. Yes, I love all 11 exercises. Well, there are actually 12 exercises, but I’m not in the mood to teach develope’ today. Let’s see. Maybe I will. And add in one leg circle. Suddenly I hear sirens…
“Let’s do high-half toe today. All 10 toes on the bar, heels lifted and press out.”
I guess I’m breaking the law.
“Pilates stance for tendon stretch.”
The sirens stop. I still have time to revert back to the order.
“Heels on the bar parallel. Push through your heels as you press the carriage out.”
Just like in the Monopoly game: Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
“Wait one second. I’m going to put this spongy ball between your knees for alignment.”
Handcuffs. They are going to throw away the key.
We continue through all of the contemporary footwork exercises which include three single-leg exercises. I find those particularly useful if someone has had an injury and I need to assess if there is an imbalance in the hip, knee, ankle and/or general leg strength from one side to the other. I did add in one-leg circle as well as another single-leg exercise. This is just for today’s session. Every day is different.
“Footbar down. Two standard springs. The Hundred.”
I can still redeem myself. Well, I can sort of redeem myself. The Hundred is done on heavy footwork springs. Some of my clients just can’t do it on those heavy springs.
“Reach and pull series. Five of each.”
If Joe didn’t do this series (also called supine arms), why has it been included in every bloody training that I have taken, both contemporary and classical? You can surely tell if the abdominals are (or aren’t) firing and/or if the hip flexors are ruling the roost like they love to do. It is great to open the chest. When I took a workshop from Lolita she said: “If they can’t keep the back down, have them bring their knees in closer to the chest. It is about the arms.” To me, it is about many things. It is a great series for beginners. I like it. I’m using it. Go ahead and cuff me Pilates Police.
THE WAR IS REAL
I have these internal wars with myself all the time when I teach. My Internal Pilates Police are always there, whispering and breathing down the back of my neck saying things like,: “THAT’S NOT THE ORDER!” And I usually say back,: “BUT I LOVE THIS EXERCISE!” They also screech in my ear,: “JOE DID NOT DO THAT!” And I groan and come back with,: “BUT ROMANA DID!”
From what I understand (keep in mind I never met Joseph Pilates, which is quite unfortunate), he taught to the body in front of him. He also used different exercises and variations teaching each Elder depending on what the individual needed at that time. But he had a very specific order of exercises and progressions which were used most of the time. And as the exercises were passed down, each Elder had their own take on it. And some added exercises that Joe did not do (blasphemy!!!). I think that is fantastic! I am always fascinated by another person’s perspective, especially when it comes to Pilates exercises.
My most favorite series of Pilates exercises apparently didn’t even come from Joe. It is the side-kick series that is Romana-based. I have never in my life watched something so simple, yet so elegant, that is also one of the most effective things in reshaping the hips. It is magic. I even add side-lying exercises to this series from contemporary Pilates trainings. I LOVE IT. And I’m going to Pilates hell for it I am sure.
Why do I keep saying that? So what is with my Internal Pilates police? I’m not sure if it is because I have taken too many comprehensive trainings or I have not taken enough. When I first took a Pilates mat training in 1999 I didn’t know anything. I left that training still not knowing anything. Except that I hated Pilates (grin).
I moved on a couple of years later to take a comprehensive (contemporary) training. I took it because I didn’t understand “the breathing.” (What a damn fool I was. I didn’t understand anything!!!) I got completely hooked on the apparatus. I remember briefly being told that this Pilates training was a more “biomechanically correct way” of doing Pilates as opposed to the original way. And that the original way was done with a flat back (I assure you that my back is anything but FLAT unless I try to flex my lumbar spine! Then it only goes from lordosis to stick straight. So that made sense to me). Not much else was discussed regarding the man behind the method. I didn’t think too much about it at the time.
Since I am ever the student, I inquired about another comprehensive training. I wanted more but wanted to move in a different direction. I met with the instructor and I adored her! She will tell you that I “interviewed” her (and she had a few choice names for me), and we laugh about it to this day. In 2007 I set out to bridge into the classical arena. My Pilates world was rocked forever.
(THE SIRENS ARE GOING OFF. Classical/authentic/traditional/original – whatever you want to call it, these are the easiest words for me to distinguish between the two training methods. This training was Romana-based and classical from what I knew then. AND I LOVED IT! So when I say classical in this piece I mean the work closest to what Joseph Pilates taught with little or no variations. Except for the variations that came from certain Elders included in the training!)
I loved the classical training. It was so damn difficult and life changing. It was brain changing. But I didn’t realize how much I appreciated it until I wasn’t in a classical studio anymore. I moved to New Mexico from New Hampshire a few years ago and worked in a contemporary studio for two years. I had already taken much of this other contemporary training and I loved the many different variations and perspectives on Pilates. But one of the big differences I noticed (I am thinking and hoping that it was just THIS studio) was the lack of discipline and lack of personal responsibility for learning the exercises. The students in the classes didn’t know the set up for the apparatus, they didn’t know the names of the exercises, they didn’t have any idea of the spring changes and some people were still (after years!!!) doing modified versions of the exercises. And of course I was regarded as the Pilates Kamikazi coming in for a crash landing on their world. My saving grace was I did teach contemporary really well. And I snuck in as much of my classical world as I could. Many noticed the huge difference, not only in the exercises, but in the teaching methodology.
MY PILATES GREEN BELT
I can’t really explain this phenomenon but it happens in martial arts and I know it happens in Pilates as well. In Tae Kwon Do we would say once you get your green belt it all starts to make sense. And then you REALLY GET IT. I don’t know what the hell happened to me in the two years of teaching mainly contemporary Pilates (after teaching classical for a few years) but all the bells, lights, whistles, and gongs went off in my head. And these bells and whirly gigs were NOT about the contemporary work. They were about the classical work.
My insides and outsides were reverberating with the work. HIS WORK. What Joseph Pilates had meant with his method. Why it is a method. Why there is an order. The two way-stretch, length and opposition and shapes in space and how all those dots connected together. It all came crashing down on me, my brain, my body, and FINALLY I got it. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you have been taught. What matters is when it all makes sense. And sometimes that takes years. And that is why martial arts and Pilates are called PRACTICES! And why you have to practice. And I finally figured out why I couldn’t do teaser on the box at this studio. THE BOX WAS TOO DAMN BIG!!! Once I realized how different brands of equipment were SO different, my equipment revelations and explorations came about. The more I learned and realized, the less I knew. I hate it when that happens!!! And I love it when that happens!!!
As things turned out, I ended up opening my own studio in New Mexico (I have two actually, a home studio in Santa Fe and a large commercial studio in Los Alamos). Now I can do what I want to do. And let me first assure you that people know the apparatus set up and the names of the exercises!!! But, as one can imagine, I am now faced with quite the Pilates conundrum.
With my classical “revelations,” I also in turn learned to completely appreciate all of my contemporary training. Each Pilates training had an entirely different perspective on the exercises and their many variations. And of course there are also so many different exercises that I learned that are not part of the original order but are contemporary Pilates exercises. AND I LOVE THEM and so do my clients. But the Pilates Police are still in my head and perhaps maybe even in my heart. Because NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING, gets results like the original work. My body wants The Work. But not every “body” can do the original work. I have people who just can’t do that exact order. And there are some exercises that they will never be able to do. Here is where I am SO grateful for all of my training. And I am also grateful for having 32 years of experience in the fitness industry and personal training. I have a fabulous big ole toolbox that I use with great gusto!!!
Not only do I have a large toolbox, but I have managed to find fantastic deals on Pilates apparatus of all sizes, brands and “perspectives” shall we say. Branding and equipment are again, – different perspectives on Pilates exercises and Pilates apparatus that have evolved from the original work of Joseph Pilates. I have both classical and contemporary apparatus in both studios, and depending on the body in front of me, I will chose which I think is best for that individual. I am so fortunate to be able to offer this to my clients and to my students in training. Therefore, I am putting myself on parole. Because I know I am doing what it is best for my people. My framework will always be Joe’s original order. However, using what works best for the client is what I must do, regardless of those sirens going off in my head. And damn it, sometimes we just want to have fun and experiment! One of my clients describes those sessions as “an exciting day of variety.” How fun is that?
I’m not sure if other instructors have these internal anguishes with their own Pilates Police that I have described. I have a feeling maybe some do. If you have trained in both a classical system and a contemporary system, sometimes you are torn. I love it all (except rowing… I hate rowing…shhhhhhh. Don’t turn me in!). For those of you who can’t relate to my Pilates conundrum and even to those of you who can relate, I’m going to leave you with some of my perspectives:
- If you have not trained in a classical system JUST DO IT. Somehow!
You need to understand the original order and the system. YOU MUST. Start saving your pennies. It is an investment in yourself at a bare minimum.
- The more you learn about Pilates and his genius, the less you will know. Welcome to a system of lifelong learning. Enjoy being a forever student.
- Be open, not defensive or angry or nasty if you don’t see things the same way as another instructor does. Everyone sees things through their own lens and has their own perspective. It may be wrong to you but it is right to them. And vice-versa! Carry the torch the best way you know how. And never stop being open to the Pilates world around you. It is fantastic and never-ending!
This is from Martial Arts but it truly pertains to Pilates as well:
- If you do not practice for one day, only you will know.
- If you do not practice for two days, your instructor will know.
- If you do not practice for three days, everyone will know.
Please ask to join my new Facebook Group coming to you on August 2, 2017:
UNPOLICED PILATES PERSPECTIVES
Variations | Successes | Cues
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Please join, but more importantly, PLEASE SHARE your perspective on the page!!! Share without fear. I’m there to protect you! Look for more details coming soon! And please friend me on Facebook: Sabrina Ellen Svard.
Sabrina Ellen Svard, BS, CSCS, RYT lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.
Sabrina is an international fitness presenter and holds her degree in Nutrition & Wellness Counseling. For more than thirty years she has been specializing in innovative program design that includes combining the best of Western Fitness with Eastern Movement and Philosophy to promote total well-being.
Sabrina is a Balanced Body Pilates and Barre Master Trainer, NETA Master Trainer, former AFAA Certification Specialist for over twenty years, is certified in Classical Pilates through Peak Pilates Systems, PhysicalMind Institute, and is trained in Essential and Intermediate Stott Pilates. She is a certified NSCA strength and conditioning specialist, ACE Certified Personal Trainer, 200 Hour Registered Yoga Teacher, ACE Group Exercise Certified and a National Champion Black Belt in TaeKwon Do.