This is the first article of Maria Earle. We are very proud that Maria is our new columnist! Maria Earle is an internationally recognized Pilates teacher and movement educator. She has taught Pilates for 17+ years. She completed her teacher training at the Pilates Center in Boulder, Colorado and is a PMA-Certified Pilates Teacher.She travels to present workshops and is a visiting instructor on Pilates Anytime. Maria co-founded Pilates East (NYC) and holds a MFA in Women’s History from Sarah Lawrence College. Maria currently has a private practice in Barcelona where she lives with her husband and son. www.mariaearle.com. Enjoy this article and feel free to comment!
Reflections On Mentoring and The Ideas That Shape Us
Recently I came across a quote from Newton that said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”It got me thinking about my foundation and the people who hoisted me up on their shoulders so that I might see further.
My mentors have played a profound role in my professional and personal development. They’ve been there to cheer me on through the prolific moments of my career and more than once, they’ve guided me back on track when I’ve lost my way. Mentors encourage us to make deeper connections, to better understand our strengths and weaknesses, and steer us towards the manifestation of our greatest potential. I think it is safe to say that none of us have achieved success, or gotten this far, entirely on our own. I know this to be true in my case.
On the Shoulders of Giants
I am lucky to count a few “giants”among those who helped shape me into the teacher I am today. My first teachers, Amy Taylor Alpers, Rachel Taylor Segel, Cara Reeser, and Debora Robinson Kolwey are responsible for my strong foundation. When I finished the teacher training program at The Pilates Center (Colorado, USA) I had dedicated the previous year and a half to embodying the method through daily practice and deepening my understanding of the how the body works. I spent hours observing and imitating them. These were my first mentors. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from them was to trust the inherent intelligence of Joe’s system.
It was made clear from the start of my training that there would always be more to learn and that years would pass before I began to fully manifest as a teacher. At that time, I was a 22-year-old dancer who had never suffered an injury, was passionate about pedagogy and idealistic about the method. Despite my lack of life experience, I thought I had it all figured out. Nevertheless, their words were not lost on me.
When I graduated from TPC and moved to New York City, my education continued. The moment I met Kathy Grant I knew I would follow her to the ends of the earth, and if she said jump, I wouldn’t hesitate.
Kathy’s influence has had a profound impact on my approach to the work and how I teach. Kathy taught by example. I have her to thank for instilling in me the curiosity to know more, the flexibility to be open-minded to the prospect of new information, and the sensitivity to be a more empathetic teacher. Kathy showed me that it was possible to teach quietly by listening and watching like a hawk before swooping down with a bunch of long winded directives.
An Old School Apprenticeship
I often reflect back on what I call my “old-school apprenticeship”with Kathy. For over a decade I took weekly lessons that lasted anywhere from an hour and a half to three hours. When I could, I went twice a week. There was nothing formal about my apprenticeship; it evolved organically. In fact, we never talked about it. On the days I would go to Kathy’s studio, I would keep the whole morning free from other obligations. It was expected that lessons did not end until she said you were done. I would then simply stay to do little things for her around the studio until I had to head uptown to teach at my own studio in the afternoon.
I ran errands and brought her lunch from the corner diner (split pea soup was generally first choice with bread-butter on the side). I laundered and folded hundreds of studio towels. I watched her teach, held people in place, and checked them for faulty alignment when she asked me too. Occasionally I answered the phone; she would instruct me to tell the person that she was not there and to leave a message—Kathy was always there. My apprenticeship went beyond the studio. Some of my fondest memories are accompanying Kathy to the dance performances of her students, who she affectionately referred to as “her kids”.She never missed a performance and often went twice. Kathy was immensely proud of all her kids. She would watch them move on stage and later explain how far they had come in her studio.
The privilege of being under the tutelage of master teachers who pass on their knowledge so that the next generation can carry the torch will always be highly regarded in this industry. That is how Joe taught our teachers and how our teachers in turn taught us and so forth. And the beat goes on—this is our shared legacy after all.
But what if you don’t have easy access to a Pilates Elder or master teacher? Let’s face it, there are only a handful of Elders; not nearly enough to go around. For many of us our location on the globe does not bring us near enough to a master teacher for regular refueling, except for the much-awaited workshop once or twice a year that becomes our lifeline. So how do we fill up our teacher fuel tanks? Where do we get our mojo for teaching a 20 or 30 hour week? What I’ve come to realize over the years is that mentoring has many forms. Let’s consider two ways to keep the spark alive in our teaching by finding inspiration closer to home.
Look around you
Peer-to-peer mentoring can be very empowering and an important step in building a supportive community of professionals where you live. Take lessons from the people teaching alongside you or others who live in your area. Some of my favorite sessions have been taught to me by my teacher friends. I have found it a mutually beneficial experience. Not only is it a great opportunity to have a pair of eyes on you, not to mention those hands-on corrections that our bodies crave, but it can be an excellent way to explore, try out new stuff and share ideas.
Read a good book lately?
Be mentored by the author of a good book. Start by going straight to the source. Joseph Pilates wrote two books, Return to Life Through Contrology and Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising that Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education. Read them. And then, read them again. Let Joe’s words mentor you. Both books are filled with little gems like, “Contrology is not a fatiguing system of dull, boring, abhorred exercises repeated daily ‘ad-nauseam’”(bring on the party, people!) and “if human beings only knew and only obeyed the simple laws of nature, universal health would follow and the Health Millennium would be here”(let’s get to work!).
Of course we all have our stack of essential resources: training manuals, anatomy and how-to books. My question is, does every book on your shelf have the word Pilates somewhere in its title? Try this: get off topic. Branch out a bit and read something from quantum physics, cognitive science, physical anthropology, or somatics. The sky’s the limit here, just find something you’re curious about and dig deep. I think you’ll be surprised at how it relates to what you’re teaching in your studio session or mat class.
Cultivate a Learner’s Mind
It is with the curiosity of a learner’s mind that we seek out more knowledge. Our humility, when faced with all that we have yet to learn, transforms us from being just good teachers to becoming great teachers. Kathy Grant is an inspiration to us all because she never stopped learning and remained open to different perspectives and new information her whole life.
By providing guidance and wisdom, mentors direct us along the journey of our lives, and those lessons stay with us. Seventeen years later, I am still evolving as a teacher and unpacking the lessons learned along the way. Not a day goes by that my teaching, in some form or another, is not informed by the incredible knowledge that has been passed along to me by my mentors.
There is always more to learn from each other. More to consider. More to sink your teeth into. Have you thanked your mentor(s) today? If you don’t have one, isn’t it high time you went out and found one?