Un-sticking the heart

I’ve worked with many people over the years and the one thing that always becomes evident to me, is that with certain challenging exercises, the fear of losing one’s balance or even looking foolish, can reveal emotional and psychological blocks that hamper the learning process.

There is a connection between our thoughts and our physical responses so when clients are practicing challenging exercises, I encourage them first to focus solely on their breathing. On the inhalation portion of a breath cycle, I ask them to gather up the negative thoughts of that day and then, on the exhalation, to simply let them go. This concept of combining the power of the psyche and directing the breath requires a deeper level of concentration, and though elusive, it can be developed into a powerful connector throughout the Pilates practice.

For example, two of the Long Box exercises practiced on the Reformer, Pulling Straps and T-Pull, help to open the chest and simultaneously strengthen the back. But if the heart/chest area is tight and closed off, it’s very difficult to recruit the correct muscles. By releasing and letting go emotionally, while staying in the Pilates technique, the body experiences a new willingness to work harder. The heart is more than just a muscle performing its daily circulation duties. There is an intelligence attached to this wondrous life-giving organ muscle and when given the opportunity (and permission), Pilates can be the lifeline to an open heart and a strong, supple spine.

 

 

Discipline

Many people ask me how it’s possible to eat ice cream, a passion I’ve had my entire life, only once a year – on my birthday.

Well, this is the story:

I made a decision many moons ago that I wanted to feel and look healthy for as long as I could, so I eat for nutrition as well as for taste and only when hungry. I am also mindful and purposeful when choosing the type of food I want to see in my refrigerator and cupboards.

Even Mr. Pilates in his book, Return to Life Through Contrology, written in 1945, was concerned about more than exercise. He felt that a strong body was only part of a healthy life style — the food we eat and the air we breathe is just as critical. Today, almost seventy years later, we still don’t have much say over the cleanliness of our air, but by using air cleaners and air filters in our homes, cars and at work, we can acquire some control. What we put in our mouths and what we decide to leave out, that’s where we have total control.

As we approach a new year, it’s possible that 2012 will be YOUR year – the year you increase your self-control. You’ve already committed to your Piates practice, right? So now you can kick up that dedication by developing portion control and choosing what foods deserve a place in your kitchen.

Why not give yourself the gift of change and become the boss of your stomach? When you do this, you are following the same principle that we use in practicing Pilates: Mindfulness.

Peace through Pilates

I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t have a little war going on inside.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the general exercising public understood that by practicing the Pilates method, one’s inner conflicts would diminish? And, wouldn’t it also be something if people made the connection between their own personal turmoil and the conflicts they burdened others with? Idealistic perhaps, but what are our other choices? I guess we could choose to stay restless inside, take our frustrations out on others and then continue the cycle of dis-ease…

Experiencing Pilates is like getting to be part of a special club – a club that asks for hard work and focus, but in return, gives everyone a chance at a whole new physique. Yet, there seems to be a disconnect between wanting to be in great shape and the discipline and patience it takes to become fit and healthy. Whether it’s laziness or constant daily pressures, taking personal time needs to be a priority if goals want to be attained.

When I give “homework” to my clients, it’s not just intended for memorizing the order and learning the technique. I want for them to stay committed to their practice by stilling the mind and listening to their bodies and in essence, breathing in Pilates. I encourage everyone to practice, practice and to practice even more, because astonishing physical and mental changes really are possible. Personal issues that might be slow in resolving can be tempered simply by being mindful and respectful of who you are. And maybe, just maybe if more people focused on mastering their body/mind/spirit connection through Pilates, perhaps peace isn’t just for our imaginations. We can practice it, teach it and live it.

Patience

My mom used to say that I was an empty hospital…no patients. If she had also warned me that it might take decades for my talents to be recognized, perhaps it would have been easier for me to accept patience as my friend.

I thought that talent, discipline and my drive for excellence would be everything I needed to propel me toward my dreams, but I was naive. The importance of timing was something I would learn along the way, and usually  the time frame of our goals is seldom in sync with their appearance. Sometimes, we just have to surrender to the silent and mysterious forces that will help us manifest our dreams.

Ever since I was introduced to Pilates, I envisioned a wellness facility that would incorporate Pilates as one of its healing modalities – and this has yet to happen. Another goal is to influence how amateur and pro-athletes are conditioned. I firmly believe that by including classical Pilates to their workout program, injury prevention and playing longevity will result.  This goal, too, is in the future. Though the desire is there, I have no control over the timing – but I am developing patience. As I continue to work towards these goals, I gravitate towards what I can control – my health, diet and fitness. Weaving these disciplines together has helped calm me and has taught me to better understand the art of patience  (I’m sure some of those hospital beds are finally in use).

One way to gain more patience while those forces are taking their sweet time is to stay productive. Also, to practice mindful breathing when you’re stuck in traffic or have been placed on hold or can’t fit into your jeans. And when you get into the studio, work your butt off. No complaining and definitely no gossiping. If you commit fully to your workouts, physically and mentally, your confidence level will rise – and so will your patience.

 

 

Power is in your house

They say false power shouts but true power whispers. So, are you a shouter or a whisperer?

Up until now, expressing my thoughts has been pretty tame. These last blogs have focused mostly on the spiritual and psychological potential of the Pilates influence. Now it’s time to talk about another aspect of Pilates and a growing concern I have for the potential harm being inflicted on new students.

I believe that most instructors teaching the Pilates method feel honored to be able to pass on this brilliant work. Hopefully, they understand the awesome responsibility that goes along with being in a position of power and authority over the student. However, I’ve observed many Pilates poseurs who pass themselves off as legitimate teachers by saying, “I studied with someone who studied with someone who studied with” and dropping the names of first-generation teachers, such as Romana Kryzanowska or Jay Grimes. Year after year, students come to me for a lesson who have been taught by a “Pilates certified” instructor, and I find myself repeatedly saying, “What is that?” as some exercises are simply unrecognizable as classical Pilates movements. In addition, the technique they’ve been taught is not the Pilates technique which thereby denies the student a unique body conditioning experience.

Students who want to learn about the authentic Pilates method may not know the difference between an expert and a poseur. Just because an instructor uses the code word, “Romana”, doesn’t mean he or she has studied with Mr. Pilates’ principal disciple, as most second-generation teachers have. And when it comes to advertising, I would at least respect these poseurs if in their promotional materials they added the word, “inspired” after Pilates.

If you, the reader, are a sincere instructor and have not been trained in the original work, my message to you is to please continue your education, supplementing what you know with the original, classical teachings. When your powerhouse is engaged, it’s easier for you stay in shape and as your Pilates knowledge deepens, your body and your words will be your best advertisement.

If you, the reader, are wondering whether you are practicing the authentic method, a few questions to ask yourself. Does your teacher speak about your powerhouse? Is there a strong sense of discipline and focus in the lessons? Do you learn a specific order? Do you feel energized after your class? Btw, Mr. Pilates did not use music in his studio. He believed his exercises performed with rhythm and mindful breathing created their own music within his students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Next Step (or somewhere down the road)

What do you do after you’ve developed a sound Pilates technique? Well, you create art with it, of course.

As with all classical teachings, once a strong foundation is set, revelations begin to emerge. Mr. Pilates gave us a beautiful gift to help us in our lives. The Method has so much more to offer than the obvious result oriented workout. It is also an art form.

If you’ve committed yourself long enough to this practice, you’ve already achieved a more toned abdominal wall, a taller spine and increased ease in every day activities, but do you consider yourself an artist? Art is simply an expression of one’s soul wanting to break free, and the bio-mechanically sound Pilates technique is one of the most scientific expressions of physical conditioning.

With its focus on the efficiency of movement, Pilates has trained you to conserve energy throughout the day, and now, perhaps without your even knowing it, you are developing a deeper awareness of self. When we are present in our bodies we begin to gain a sensitivity to trust what we feel and allow this increased awareness to help guide us. Our inner antenna cannot and will not tell a lie.

Fake It, ‘Til The Doors Are Shut

New York City offered so many experiences with dance, of course, being my backdrop – and experiences positive and negative reached out to teach me.

I descended the subway stairs to ride the IRT back to Brooklyn one day; my head in a dance cloud as usual, entered the train and sat in a seat nearest to the door noticing a man in a brown trench coat sitting across from me. The train began to move and I opened my book, not really reading as I knew from years of riding the New York subway, I had to be aware of my surroundings at all times. I kept my practiced eye on the goings on in the train and took a mental note of the scarcity of passengers. Mental toughness began for me in gymnastics but for surviving New York City, I needed to be even more resilient, mentally and physically.

No sooner had the train begun to move when I sensed a motion above the horizon of my book and yep, sure enough, the man was pleasuring himself. Pretending not to be shocked and disgusted, I wondered for a moment what had happened to this guy to make him seem so lost and lonely.

Survival was my education that day, and without losing eye contact with him, I yawned – a big, fat and rude yawn. He couldn’t miss it. Nonchalantly, I went back to reading and was acutely aware that he never stopped masturbating and never stopped looking at me. The train arrived at the next station and the man got up to leave. I kept my eyes on the book, reading the same line over and over until the doors shut. And then, just like that, as if finishing a marathon, my heart went from its imposed calm to wanting to burst out of my chest!

I have found that practicing the Pilates method with mindfulness, prepares me for all kinds of survival moments. When I sense something scary in front of me, I think back of the New York subway experience remembering my gutsy yawn and it makes me smile. We all need courage and confidence in our lives and if you encounter something potentially frightening, look it right in the eye and yawn – a big, fat and rude yawn.

 

Respect

When I was dancing and choreographing in New York City, I took every opportunity to gain more experience. This led me to a unique chance of choreographing for an all-male strip group. Most were gang bangers, body builders or an amalgamation of both. I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to convince them of my abilities and earn their respect, but still defiant enough to grab onto all of the courage my insides had to offer.

Because each man brought into the studio a disrespectful attitude and a preconceived idea of what I would be like as his teacher – mostly it was “that little white girl” with the big set of cojones. I wanted to prove my worth as their choreographer – which was no easy task, especially with the ones who deposited their knives and Berettas at the back of the studio. Not only did I need to prove myself as their choreographer, but to my surprise, I found myself also having to be mother, healer and stripper.

On Wednesdays, I had 2 hours to teach a group dance class to these mammoths and then to help them individually with their strip routines as well as empower them with self-confidence and grace. Each following Friday night, at a large, predominantly black and Puerto Rican nightclub, in front of hundreds, if not thousands of screaming women, they’d perform in all their glory and self-admiration.

You never know how your actions will be perceived, but I do believe when your intentions are clear and good, you will earn respect because, eventually, I did earn it from of those big thugs. So much so, that every time we were all together for their nightclub gig, they’d all huddle around me before and after their show, protecting me from men, just like themselves – in case those men might not have had the opportunity to work with someone who gave them respect.

Getting Centered

Hello everyone, as this is my first blog, I’d like to promise two things. First, that whatever I say is what I sincerely believe. I’m not politically correct – which means I’ll express to you what I feel and why I feel the way I do. It is never my intention to offend anyone, but sometimes things need to be said. Secondly, to offer practical mind and body health tips that go beyond the Pilates method as well as deal with the myths and phoniness that exist in my field.

And with those two promises laid out for all to hold me accountable, I begin…

Back when I was training as a competitive gymnast, I had many opportunities to have life lessons presented to me. Most were begrudgingly taught by my coaches, others I learned at the gymnastic meets and still others by the realization that my girlhood was fading – and I was nowhere near where I wanted to be.

One such lesson came during just another day at the gym as I worked to perfect my tumbling skills. Try as I might, my efforts never seemed quite good enough for my coaches. I guess you could say I developed a bit of an attitude, and yes, it was on display. I thought the manner in which they gave corrections lacked any kind of humanity, so could you blame me for having my boxing gloves at the ready? Apparently, my coaches had had enough of this attitude and decided that it was best if I took some time off. Good, I said to myself, glad to be out of their sight. My ankles were hurting anyway.

What I didn’t know at the time was how important it was to extract myself from that world. Although I was pissed because it was their decision and not mine, I secretly agreed with them and left the gym. Choice words cascaded out of me the moment I drove away.

From that one little gymnastic scene, I came to realize how important it was to separate myself in order to stay centered – to give myself time to re-evaluate my thoughts, words and actions. When I was allowed to return to the gym, I was amazed at how high my back flips and twists were. I found myself smiling inside and thinking that my little “rest” helped me in more ways than expected. My coaches thought they tamed me, but I knew better. I just had found my center again. I learned that without honoring necessary alone time, centering time, we can often make unwise choices – from what we choose to eat or whom we select as friends or what source of information to trust in our rapidly changing world. Getting centered puts us back in touch with our authentic selves.