The value of tradition

Joseph Pilates was quoted as saying he was fifty years ahead of his time. I can only imagine what he might have thought knowing that even as he was developing his system of mind/body fitness, the American public wouldn’t truly appreciate his contribution to wellness, until decades later. Over eighty years have gone by and Americans as well as the global Pilates community are indeed celebrating his methodology, as well as rediscovering the natural design and intentions of the human body.

However, he might not have imagined a future in which so many diluted versions of his method with hundreds of certification programs that promise fast results for students and faster certificates for teachers were now offered worldwide. Though Mr. Pilates’ theories about reclaiming our youthful spine have been fully embraced, he might question those programs that bare his name and yet take liberties with his technique.

Those who were fortunate to study with Romana, as I did, would often hear her say that bad Pilates was better than no Pilates and even if people were learning unrecognizable variations of the Pilates theme, it was better than nothing. The first time I heard Romana utter those words, I was speechless. How could she be okay with one of the most brilliant systems of body conditioning ever developed be continually changed by people who claimed to teach the work of Joseph Pilates, but were not? Her words seemed out of sync with the stringent guidelines that she encouraged us to follow as we practiced and taught.

It’s clear that today’s client isn’t so attached to tradition, and welcomes a variety of techniques so long as the magic word Pilates is promised. As a traditionalist and practitioner of the original work, I understand that those of us who continue to teach what Joseph Pilates taught, are often at odds with clients who have the mind-set that supports whatever “Pilates” regimen will give them a great butt or an awesome upper body or a Pilates teaching certificate. My students understand that practicing Pilates is more than just developing a good looking bottom and strong upper body – they know the true value is how practicing Pilates consistently makes their daily activities easier, lighter and more effortless.

Any of the classical arts, when compared to the modern representations, can evoke heated conversations as to which style has more value. Still, if the many non-classical approaches that the public is more familiar with, can produce similar results, maybe that’s better as Romana said, than no Pilates at all. But Mr. Pilates may just have the last word, as I can imagine him saying to himself, “Fads fade, classics stay and my work will remain ever more.”

 

 

My new friend, Helen

I’ve always said that the Pilates method is simple but not easy. It’s the same with achieving breath control and quieting a busy mind – easy to understand but difficult to execute.

When I moved up north to be closer to nature, I intuitively knew I’d find the peace I’d been asking for as my creativity was slowly diminishing. Helen Putnam Park is walking distance from my new home, and it has given me the chance to slow my breath and still my mind.  I refer to the park as my friend because in a sense the park has become a partner I can depend on to assist me as I release, let go and reignite my imagination.

As I climb higher into the park, spectacular settings are everywhere. My lungs ask for more and more air that I gladly pull in knowing it’s clean and fresh. A lone wooden bench summons me as I reach the top of Ridge Trail, and sit, enamored by the stillness – a stillness that only recently seemed attainable. Helen displays her multi-colored beauty and whispers to me that with clarity of mind, all things are possible. When new ideas and dreams are aching to surface, there is no better way than inviting nature to help them burst upward and blossom. Nature’s faithfulness is with you and all you have to do is seek her out.

Los Angeles Life Lessons

A big city can swallow you up if you aren’t careful and it’s understandable for your tender side to stay hidden. But if you decide to leave for a smaller town, make sure to unearth your soul and take it with you.

As I move closer to leaving Los Angeles, a place I’ve called home for over two decades, I guess it’s only natural to look back at many of the experiences that have helped to shape my ideas and beliefs. I want to share some of those with you and perhaps offer a few insights.

On friendship in LA:

“Find your tribe first.”

I always wondered if it was the weather, the traffic or the celebrities prancing around that kept many people distracted from forming intimate relationships. They say keep your friends close, but your enemies closer, and in this town, the “enemies” aka, “pretenders” seem much more interested in cultivating relationships – that is of course, as long as it fits their agendas. Finding solid friendships in a town that asks you to be real only once you get into character doesn’t exactly create a trusting environment.

Advice on friendships: As you navigate around the superficialities of a big city, try finding your tribe first, and not after you’re able to drop names and what you might or might not be able to do for someone. You’ll attract takers, not givers.

On dating in LA:

“When did Hello, become such a threatening word?”

More times than I care to remember, while shopping in a grocery store, I’d make eye contact with a gentleman and say hello, only to have him look away. I couldn’t have kale salad lodged in my teeth every time, so what was it? My goodness, I only said hello. I didn’t want to marry him. Distracted or unhappy or narcissistic people miss out on the fun, yet fleeting moments in our daily routines.

Advice on dating: Socrates said, “Know thy self” and he might have added, “Know your value and know your worth.” Have complete faith in yourself and keep saying, hello. Eventually, if you’re willing to let your faith shine, a special someone will shine right back at you, whether in a grocery store or putting gas in your car. And then, just maybe, your hello, will be returned.

On Team sports in LA:

“Choose your team wisely.”

Another love of mine is softball. I wanted to play with both men and women, so I joined a co-ed softball league. I never knew that this league was referred to as the “beer league” which would have put me off from the beginning. And true to that title, the very first team I joined seemed much more interested in drinking than playing. From the start, it seemed a bit odd to me the so-called captain never encouraged us to get to the field early so we could throw the ball around or even have someone at home plate hitting grounders and flies to us. Instead, the women on the team who obviously either socialized or played together previously would huddle before each game always excluding me, so I’d gravitate towards the men. They weren’t much better, but at least they acknowledged me, and didn’t shut me out.

Advice on choosing to play with others: Have confidence in your capabilities and what you bring to the table. Then if the team you choose doesn’t feel right, find a team that welcomes you. And this is what I finally did. My new team is encouraging, we all high-five each other regularly, and everyone is interested in playing the game and winning. Even my hitting improved, so much so that the umpire took notice and remarked, “Look at you, you’re all grown up now!” And then he began calling me, “Slugger.”

On teaching Pilates in LA:

“Don’t be afraid to ‘divorce’ your students.”

Teaching the Pilates method in a town that’s filled with type A personalities, and where everything needs to be fixed or changed immediately, a thoughtful and methodical approach to Pilates often goes unappreciated. One day, a client came to me and raised her arms out to the sides so I could see a pair of non-toned arms, and said, “I’m going to be in a wedding next weekend, I need you to make my arms look like yours.” Even though I tried to explain that if she wanted permanent change for the body, not to mention for her mind and spirit, she’d have to be willing to put the hard work in. Well, she didn’t last long, and unfortunately, those who aren’t capable of committing to the work, will prove to be more trouble than they’re worth.

Advice on teaching: Be willing to forego a full roster to maintain space for those who want to be dedicated and don’t have commitment issues. And practice and more practice until you, yourself, know the work backwards and forwards. If you don’t understand a concept, ask someone you respect to explain it to you, and if that person doesn’t have time for you, move onto another. Stay curious, keep learning and wanting to make an impact. When you remain interested in the Pilates method, your clients will remain interested in you.

A question I’ve often asked myself: “Was this LA chapter of my life worth all the time, effort, sweat, worry, tears and sacrifice that I put into it?”

A very long pause…

Yes, it was. Los Angeles gave me the opportunity to grow in ways I could not have anticipated, and though I endured many disappointments and rejections, both professionally and personally, I was able develop my craft at a time when people only knew to ask, “What’s Pilates?” And as the Pilates method became known and accepted in the fitness industry, Los Angeles gave me the chance to freely develop my technique and style,  which I continue to teach today.

THANK YOU, LOS ANGELES.

 

Begin again, with Trust

When a door closes and another one opens, it may be that this door has been there right along; it’s just up to us to be open and available to it. I learned this life lesson when I closed my studio, and put all of my equipment in storage. I had no plans to teach right away, because after almost twenty years of my Pilates commitment, I needed a break from everything and everyone. I even wondered if my impact in the Pilates world was still relevant.

On the West side of Los Angeles, there is a Chiropractic Wellness Center. The owner, a chiropractic doctor, had always envisioned adding Pilates to his Center. He treats one of my clients, and during her lessons with me, on several occasions, she told me about him and his interest in meeting me. A new door was slowly opening and though I hadn’t thought much about contacting the doctor, once I did close my studio, his name came to mind. To my delight, the doctor’s philosophies and mine about total health were so similar that working together was a natural outcome. A surprising bonus was where I had stored my apparatus, literally yards from his office, ensured an easy to transfer of equipment to his Center.

Timing, as we know is everything, and to remain open to new possibilities, new doors, new people, I find it helpful to quiet the mind and repeat a positive mantra such as this one, “All good things come to me at the right time. With trust, all good things come.” Like our muscles, trusting ourselves needs strengthening on an on-going basis so we can recognize those opportunities we might have otherwise overlooked or ignored.

 

 

 

Transition

When I was hired as a choreographer for a TV show in Los Angeles, I wanted to continue to refine my style and skills, so I chose a local fitness club with a large workout room. If the room was empty, I’d use the entire space or if classes were in session, I’d be off to the side working diligently and thoughtfully as usual.

One day while I was going over some of my choreography, I saw a gal coming toward me. Thinking she wanted to say hello, I stopped and turned to her, but instead of greeting me, she uttered this memorable line, “You know, if you’re breaking a sweat,  you’re working too hard,” and she walked away. Friendly woman, I thought. As a dancer, taking daily classes and working out were paramount to advancing a career in dance and choreography, and this person was basically saying the opposite – I thought it complete madness.

But those disparaging words that I had rejected, now have a place in my total health philosophy. Growth and maturity proved the wisdom of that advice and I pass them on to you in this way: try not pushing your workouts for a couple of weeks. See you can maintain a strong work ethic, but not bleed yourself dry. If you do, I think you’ll find your mind-set will change for the better, allowing new ideas and feelings to emerge.

 

 

Message in a hamstring

My high school years began with an invitation by two coaches to join their sports teams, as I was known to run fast and hit hard. As a freshman to be asked by track and field as well as the varsity softball teams, was flattering, I declined, because I was competing in gymnastics and my loyalty was to the gymnastics team. Still, I never forgot the attraction especially to softball, and thought one day I’d pick up my mitt again. A decade later when I discovered Pilates, I knew instinctively that this body conditioning method would be a perfect partner for all types of sports. When my earlier softball passion emerged again, bringing with it an unexpected injury, it didn’t take long before I saw the potential in this partnership.

It happened during the second week of my city’s recreation co-ed softball league. I was standing at home plate, waiting for the pitch. The pitcher threw, I hit, and when sprinting to first base, I suddenly felt an unfamiliar muscle spasm in the back of my thigh. Stunned by the intense pull, I hobbled to first as the umpire asked if I wanted a runner and gratefully, I nodded. When I limped back to the bench, I was certain of two things: I was out for the rest of the game and that my ego just had a huge smack down.

The hamstrings comprise mostly of fast twitch muscle fibers, and require specific attention because of their dominant role in all leg movements, and in my case, I was not warmed up enough and my hamstrings fired too quickly. Based on my sobering experience, I used my injury to delve deeper into the Pilates exercises, and further understand which exercises could accommodate the explosive actions needed for the hamstrings. I’ve always told my students that injuries are our best teacher, if we are aware and present; however, the ego is quite a formidable opponent, and it can get the best of us. But if willing, our lessons and teachers show up in the most unique manner, and, this time, the teacher was my left hamstring.

 

 

Courage

While two thousand and thirteen is still taking its initial steps, my feet have become unglued. And it takes a level of intelligence to recognize when it’s time to move on and a whole lot of faith to make a change.

My change occurred when it became clear that I had outgrown my studio and though this hidden, intimate space allowed me to advance my teaching abilities and develop many Pilates concepts, I knew it was the time. But what you want next out of life doesn’t often greet you at the front door and invite you in. Usually, you have go after it without necessarily knowing the outcome. You just know deep down there is a newness within your grasp and that when your feet prepare for a jeté, there will be no regrets, no need to look back.

Moving forward for me, is a sign of courage in action and best expressed by this saying: Be smart enough to hold on, be brave enough to let go. – Anonymous

 

 

Your Unseen Frame

Working within the frame of your body when practicing Pilates and its focus on staying in the “box,” is a great metaphor for your life.

When you create boundaries for yourself, you’ve created an unseen frame and also an awareness that’s constantly being tested as both supportive and unsupportive people walk with you on your life path.

Sometimes though, a wolf can arrive in the most beautifully designed sheep’s clothing and before you know what happened, this wolf has taken a bite out of your kindness and generosity. It isn’t the end of the world if someone takes advantage of you, but as your awareness grows, you’ll experience fewer wolf encounters.

As another year comes to a close, it’s a perfect time to reinforce your efforts in cultivating positive and trustworthy people who are also traveling an upward path. I wish you all a very happy New Year and may 2013 open you in new and surprising ways.

 

 

Pilates As A Balm

I bet if Mr. Pilates knew that his method was affecting lives in ways other than body stretching, strengthening and correcting, he’d be thrilled. A personal experience once again showed me how the other two aspects of his work, the mental and spiritual, could be just as effective in one’s pursuit of total health.

Time after time, I’d come home from the studio and be greeted by my beautiful cat, Annie. The strength of her loud meows never revealed her mature age of seventeen. I always had to quickly set down my Pilates day and give her all, and I mean all of my attention; otherwise the neighbors would think something horrible was going on. Sadly, a month ago, my girl went home to kitty heaven, and I do hope that this panther-looking, independent yet needy feline had a wonderful life with me.

But then my home became so quiet, so still, and gaps in normalcy, left me feeling lost – like hearing her demanding voice in my head, only to return home, and be abruptly reminded she was gone. Or finishing my food shopping with the thought of bringing her home a treat. With loss, however, comes the opportunity to tune in, quiet the mind and so support a heavy heart. My Pilates gratitude couldn’t have been more evident when the “acutely missing her” phase hit me. I intuitively transferred this loss into my own Pilates practice and completely focused on my breath. My workouts became deeper, simpler and the healing quality that I regularly speak about during lessons, began to manifest in myself.

Though the sting of missing my beautiful girl has abated somewhat, the loftiness of Mr. Pilates’ words, “My method is the complete coordination of the body, mind and spirit,” couldn’t be more appropriate, and my own experience leaves me with no doubt as to the true power of Pilates.

 

 

 

Your Inner Sparkle

Here in Hollywood, where fake boobs, nails and personalities reign, the importance of one’s inner beauty and possession of qualities that go with being “real” seem to be unrecognized and unappreciated.

But many people that I know, including myself, willingly work on our selves to develop qualities that help the amalgamation of body, mind and spirit – even Mr. Pilates spoke about the blending of these three life fundamentals. Though his method isn’t necessarily supposed to turn you into a well-rounded person or solve all of your personal challenges, by increasing your devotion to your Pilates practice, your true self will emerge as you work smarter and shine brighter.