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 were 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.
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 had just had a smack down.
Based on my sobering experience, I’m developing exercises utilizing the Pilates technique, but with focus on creating more explosive actions for the hamstrings. Pilates lengthens and strengthens the muscular skeletal system, but the hamstrings, comprised mostly of fast twitch muscle fibers, need more specific attention because they play a dominant role in all leg movements. In my case, I was not warmed up enough and my hamstrings fired too quickly and caused a deep pull. If there isn’t enough warm up time, you are likely to sustain the same type of injury. 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
I was working with a client recently, when it dawned on me that I had something literally within my reach that could get across to my client, what I could not.
We were working on Knee Stretch Series and despite my verbal and physical cues, she could not figure out how to stay back on her heels when bringing the carriage back home (all the way in). Whether it was sheer frustration or a sudden technology connection, I ran to my desk and got my iPhone, tapped on the video button, and filmed her. Within minutes she was watching the clip of her efforts and saw at once saw what was needed and made the necessary correction. I could see her eyes light up and a slow, delighted smile spread across her face.
I know that many of us are resisting the swift changes technology brings, often feeling overwhelmed. I, too, felt this way until that moment – when I recognized the potential of a 15-second video clip. I hope I’ve helped you to embrace a different way of thinking for those resisting changes. Exploring outside of our safety zone can help us stay current, aware and open to new experiences.
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.
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.
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.