And this is the third time Sandy is on the top of our cover. In this last part Sandy shares her ideas about the why, the how and what it’s all about and what her students teach her. And maybe we won’t have to miss the great knowledge and wisdom of this wonderful lady. More information in the next issue .
As the third of my trio of articles is upon me, I am left with the daunting task of finishing what I started – to share my ideas about Pilates. Ideas about why I teach, how I teach, and now finally, what my students teach me.
THERE IS ALWAYS MORE TO LEARN
I venture to say that this last element, “the what”, is the most important of them all. It is the part of teaching that rewards me by showing me that there is always more to learn. Learning motivates me to build my resources, it drives me to enrich my knowledge, and it keeps me humble. It sharpens the tools in my toolbox, and requires me to stay actively involved in my work. It gives my work purpose, and as you know, I believe in a purposeful life. When I walk into the studio each day, I look forward to the challenges and discoveries I will encounter, knowing that what my students teach me will provide the building blocks for the teacher I will become.
One of the most fascinating things that I learn from my students is that the way we live our lives emotionally, energetically, and physically is evident in our bodies. Even before I work with a student for the first time, I have an impression of them based on the way they walk and the gestures they make with their hands and head. Even the energy of their voice and the way they stand gives me information. Not only do I learn how differently bodies can respond to daily activities, I also learn how their activities affect their ability to move.
Jay Grimes always talks about how Joe Pilates could read a body long before it ever hit the reformer. In the first moments that a person walked in the door, Joe observed and analyzed his students, intuiting exactly what exercises they needed for balance and conditioning. Jay has that ability too. I see him taking note, mostly unconsciously, of everyone in the room. Building this keen awareness takes time and practice, and I take the opportunity to work on it every day.
A PERFECT PLACE TO PRACTICE OBSERVING
Today I am visiting Pisa, Italy. It is a beautiful day and the city is full of people walking through the streets. What a perfect place to practice observing. I see a man moving quickly with a short stride and tightness in his hips. His arm swing is minimal and his shoulders are tight. There is a faint tendency to land heavily on his right leg and I wonder if there is restricted mobility in his right hip. As I hide my stare behind sunglasses, I notice a flat-footed landing on his right foot. I fantasize about observing his footwork, giving him leg springs, and having him use the foot corrector. At least until my eye catches a woman in high heels gliding easily along the very same path. In stark contrast, there is a rhythm to the movement of her entire body. It is well coordinated and alive. I am so mesmerized by the contrast of the two bodies in motion that I barely notice her right shoulder sloping downward from the weight of her purse. She disappears behind a corner and I wish I could have had one more look at the effect of her purse on her back and hips. But I don’t worry. I know I would get plenty of information if I put her on the reformer. The moment she aligns herself with the shoulder rests, centers her hips on the reformer bed and places her feet on the center of the foot bar, much would be revealed. I finish my “acqua frizzante” and ask for “il conto” as I silently thank these strangers for my 3 minute study. As it turns out, the famous “Torre” is not the only thing that leans in Pisa.
I LOOK FOR CUES
Back in Los Angeles, I train my senses as I do in Pisa. I observe, I wonder, I look for clues. But in the studio I have Joe’s exercises to highlight areas of tension, weakness, asymmetry and lack of coordination. Some of these issues result from structural and muscular dysfunction, and some surface from an event such as sitting too long on an airplane or enduring too much stress at work. Still no matter how well I come to know the bodies that I work with regularly, I also regularly see something new. Is it because I am learning to see more, their bodies are constantly changing, or their understanding of correct movement is improving? I would imagine all to be true, and probably more. My students teach me that our mutual learning strengthens us both.
HOW TO DO PILATES
As teachers, we can get stuck in an endless study of how to “do” Pilates, sometimes spending an entire career comparing notes about where a hand should be placed or how a transition should be executed. Sometimes these corrections are essential to connecting to our Center, but sometimes they are superficial. During my years of training with Jay I have learned that any correction to my hand placement is only to improve the connection to my back or to the equipment I am using. Any comment on a transition is about staying better connected to my Center without interrupting the flow of my workout. How to “do” Pilates, is to learn how to have it in your body at all times. The exercises are not the point of the learning. Using them to teach your body – is.
We can also get caught in an endless search of how to “teach” Pilates, often times gathering information from so many external sources that we feel confused and unsure of ourselves as teachers. Although I have found that another love of mine, Thai Yoga Massage, has complemented my work as a Pilates instructor, it has not decreased the amount of work I have yet to do in exploring all the wisdom that is built into Joe Pilates’ system. I have to challenge myself to know the exercises intimately in my body, and discipline myself to regularly use the equipment and accessories that Joe invented so that my tools are easily accessible when my students’ bodies show me what they need. How to “teach” Pilates is to learn your craft well, put it to use, and share what you understand.
YOU CAN’T TEACH PILATES
With that in mind, I want to share a morsel of wisdom from Jay Grimes himself. One day he announced that “You can’t teach Pilates”. Full stop. I held my breath momentarily as my learning over the years threatened to crumble into tiny pieces. Thankfully he continued with “You can only guide them. They have to discover Pilates for themselves.” Sigh. As startling as that initially sounded, it actually took the pressure off of me. I stopped borrowing other people’s cues. I also stopped harassing myself into thinking that if I could just explain clearly enough, their bodies would understand. Turns out it is simple – I observe and give guidance. Some will progress at a very quick pace, and some will move along at a startlingly slow one. I get to go along for the ride, so I do my best to enjoy it. It is up to me to use my words to offer clarification or create images, and to use my hands to push and pull the body into understanding. The result is trust between student and teacher, and a journey that is unique with each individual. Call it teaching, call it guiding, but do a good job at it, and let your students do the rest.
PILATES HAS NEVER BEEN BORING FOR ME
It is because of this constant play between student and teacher that I can say Pilates has never been boring for me. From the first days of doing Pilates, to the first days of being certified, to the first days of opening a studio, Pilates has offered me a rich opportunity for learning. It is thrilling for me to peek into the mind and philosophy of Joe Pilates, to explore the use of the equipment that he designed, and to apply all of that to the real people that walk into Vintage Pilates. I will always be grateful to my students, all of whom teach me so much. It fascinates me to see the metamorphosis of a human body as it ages or gains better functionality and I am fulfilled each time I witness how physical functioning improves emotional well being. What better gift can we give ourselves than to care for our bodies so completely?
I suspect that we could sit around a fire and talk about Pilates until the wee hours of the morning, but for now, this three part discussion must come to an end. It is my wish that the words on these pages will spark the beginning of many of your own discussions. And I hope that some day we will meet in person, lift these words off the page, and continue wherever our thoughts may lead us. Until then…
Co-owner of Vintage Pilates
1950 Sawtelle Blvd. #185
Los Angeles, CA 90025 (310) 478-7200