Author: Pat Guyton
Think outside of the box! That information expresses the urge to expand creativity, but like anything said too often or out of context, the meaning is diminished. Ron Fletcher hated the misuse of the English language (from his perspective, as an experienced master, in later years). Some of his verbal pet peeves were, “out of the box”, “cutting edge”, “digging deeper”, etc. However, these phrases can be necessary and informative if used selectively and not as punctuation at the end of every sentence.
In the Franklin Method™, much of the teaching is devoted to thoughtful use of imagery applied to functional anatomy that evokes a sensory response for each individual student. The images may be different but they work if the suggested image creates a change that the student can feel. This leads to an embodiment that is experienced as improved pleasure in movement and improved health. As Eric Franklin says, “What we practice is what we get. Do you want to continue to get what you are experiencing? Can it be better?” Therefore, it might be a good idea to reexamine what is said during movement instruction and notice if the message still has impact or does it fall on deaf ears. Do you still feel it as a teacher or is just a speech pattern, know what I mean, good job, awesome?
Kevin Bowen, PMA CPT and Pat Guyton have been collaborating on examination of the Pilates future repertoire for all people. Kevin has devoted his attention to Pilates for men and we both are interested in Pilates for vintage members, children and populations with specific needs.
Exercise as a part of daily activity is a recent cultural change in terms of history. Hunters running for food did not stop at the stream to camp and go to the nearest health club. Hunting was the exercise they needed to do and repeat it again the next day. Granted, they did not have much choice, but were motivated to eat. The farmer and his wife milked the cows, plowed the fields, scrubbed the clothes on a wash board and worked all day to eat and shelter. Industrialization caused immigration into the city. Suddenly, the skills to live that were strenuous were replaced by relatively sedentary jobs. The lifestyle remained the same. Heavy foods with calories that once were necessary to fuel a machine in motion remained the menu. Hard work, and early to bed and rise with the animals was no longer necessary. These changes in lifestyle did not bode well for health and fitness.
Joe Pilates was adamant regarding his observations of diet and exercise in New York City in the last century. Today his observations still remain true. The health of youth and the aging population require that we reexamine how we present exercise to all populations. We cannot stay in our boxes and we need to expand more three dimensionally, not just make bigger boxes.
For my parents and grandparents, health clubs did not exist. There were no running stores. I had an uncle who ran up and downhill in shorts and leather shoes in Reading, Pennsylvania. My aunt would see him running along the road when she was seated in the school bus and turn her head in embarrassment. He was the “family kook”. My family shared an unconscious, normative, consensus that some arbitrary birthday, usually around 50, presented one with an invitation to accept senior citizen status – you were just plain OLD. For many this was an invitation to release responsibility for vitality and productivity. This does not sound like fun to me. I have some of the genes of the kook in my family.
Pilates was fortunate to have been able to remain despite many other systems that disappeared. Thankfully, it has been preserved by many. Kevin and I are interested in the preservation of the classical work and in providing the path to full experience of the Pilates future exercise on the mat and on the equipment. We have been urgently striving to create something new without dismissing the proven work. The studio becomes the laboratory. Occasionally, something works and you know it immediately. Other times an idea is just silly and it goes into the mental landfill. When Ron Fletcher and I worked together on something new that he wanted to show at the next workshop, he and I would do it over and over. He might present it. Mostly, it was good and he would say, “That piece is a keeper”. On a few occasions he would whisper to me, “Well, let’s not do that again”. Without experimentation and the willingness to take risks, entropy ensues. The watch runs down.
The box is a “square” image. Exploration requires three dimensional possibilities. The image of “out of the box” boxes me in.
What are Kevin and Pat doing? Together we are looking at what we know and what we think our clients need to get to the next level of Pilates future movement. If you see a new exercise, it does not imply that something classic was old or bad, rather it is presenting a stepping stone to get to the next place. We are expanding our process to reach into infinite possibilities. Some may be keepers. Who knows, if we do not try?
PS: Google the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Not much of a box at the molecular level.
The curtains open and the ballet will begin for the audience. Back stage prior to the first act, the dancers will have been warming up in preparation for the performance. The warm up is a recapitulation of every bar exercise starting with the first lesson which was demi plié and the port de bras. This proceeds through the advanced skills required to perform for an audience. The dancer must keep the instrument turned like a fine violin. The skills must be perfect and dependable so that every note can be hit on key. This preparation is a workout.
Women gymnasts begin a practice a warm up in preparation for the apparatus. The warm up usually includes a line up on the floor exercise mat. The gymnasts will practice the basic skills across the mat. Without these basic skills at peak perfection advanced tricks will be poorly executed. Without precision and control the gymnast might sustain injury.
When coaches or dance teachers confer, it is the basic skill levels that are revisited. Joe Pilates would have understood this style of preparation and progress because the foundations of these sports and dance were in Europe. Many of the Mat exercises are the warm up and preparation for advanced practice in specialized physical activities.
This does not mean that the Mat work is easy. The mat work prepares all the muscles and joints to move with strength, flexibility and control. Within the Mat are skills that build to prepare the student for the more advanced exercises. It takes years for the rolling exercises to be mastered. In gymnastics the roll to the front springs to standing jumps with full turns and a return to rolling backward. The rolling back might develop into the handstand and pirouette.
Dancers and gymnasts usually retire from the professional career while they are young. Pilates as exercise is a natural choice for continuing fitness. The example of dancers and gymnasts could be expanded to include many activities such as martial arts, yoga, ice skating, running, swimming, as well as many others. All distance runners will describe the zone where every footfall, arm swing, speed, and the rhythm of the breath is experienced with full attention and falls into the “zone”.
One of the reasons that Pilates as exercise is the choice for many, is the inner work out. Mastery of a high end sport or art requires the constant repetition of the exercise to master the execution. The focus is intense and endless. The physical body changes every day. To have full control of the body, the mind must be disciplined and coordinated with the movement. A transcendent space of mind and body is a real experience. One could image transcendence, but the experience is only noticed after it has been achieved.
Pilates as exercise is a workout when done with focus and form. It is an endless process of mindfulness and subsequent joy when experienced as an inner workout as well. Pilates can be a practice that is the preferred workout or it can augment the other activities in life.
It was Joseph Pilates’ vision that one day everyone would do his work. He also hoped that the practice of Contrology would result in more peace and health.
Pilates is such an effective exercise system that many people get immediate results. They may have significant pain relief, enhancement of athletic performance, or the joy of movement study with attention to technique. It is not unusual that the student decides that this is the career choice that they have been seeking. This decision speaks to how effective the Pilates method works and with a great teacher in front of the class or conducting the private, the stronger the urge may be for the client to enter a teacher training program. One reason may be that an experienced teacher can fill the hour with informed exercise that flows seamlessly. Underneath the process of the delivery is the mastery of years of study.
There are three steps to Pilates mastery. These steps must be taken and cannot be dismissed despite intelligence, movement facility, and gut determination. The steps are: The Student, The Instructor, and The Master. At one time during the late 80’s, Boulder may have had more studios and Pilates instruction than any place in the USA. One reason for this is that Pilates was introduced to Boulder by an Olympic cross country skier. He invited Stephan Frease to come to his gym and begin a Reformer program. Ron Fletcher made a comment that, “There were more Pilates teachers in Boulder than there were students”. Of course, Ron’s standards were high in terms of precision and artistry, but he was not far off the mark. Pilates had only been introduced in Boulder and within two years, people were opening studios.
Bruce King was the first Pilates First Generation Master Teacher to offer a workshop in Boulder. He was invited by the first Pilates studio in Boulder, called The Centerworks. I was one of the owners. Bruce was chagrined at our definition of Pilates; the teaching and the practice. He told a story. Bruce went to Joe Pilates for a dance injury. Joe worked with him and stated that to him that he would need to come into the studio at least three times a week. At that time, Bruce was a professional dancer and performing in a dance company. He respectfully told Joe that he could only come two times per week. Joe’s reply to this information was that Bruce would only be able to do the beginning Pilates. That is what Bruce did for five years until he was given permission to move forward. This could be perceived as restrictive, but this was an incredible opportunity for him to study the skills and the basics over time. Bruce told the Boulder Pilates teachers this story to emphasize the need to be committed to being a student first. Learn the work in the body. Pay attention to the experience and the transformation. A true teacher cannot teach what they have not experienced in the body.
Joe did not run his gym for the purpose of teacher training. The only two First Generation Master Teachers that were officially certified by Joe were Lolita San Miguel and Kathy Grant. Joe and Clara gave their blessings to others to teach. As Pilates gained popularity and recognition, many studios opened and the need for trained instructors was high. Many studio owners began the process of developing teacher training. It is of interest to note that these teacher training organizations also went through the steps of mastery within the process of development of a school and have earned respect within the Pilates community. Unfortunately, some of the students who are accepted have not spent time in the practice of Pilates. These students are at a disadvantage because they are being pressured into learning choreography, pedagogy, and the execution of Pilates exercises before they are ready.
Many of the teachers who have been in the profession for twenty or more years remember that there is another path. It is called apprenticeship. For the mentor, this is an investment in time without much financial gain. It is a labor of love. The student is invited to train when the mentor discerns that they are ready. The apprentice is monitored and observed under the tutelage of an experienced teacher. The Conscious Competence Learning Matrix is the model for how an apprentice will make progress on the path. At any given time, the student will be in different stages within an exercise list. For instance, a student may be conscious of being incompetent in teaching or performing any of the swans. They may be conscious and competent in the rolling exercises. The mentor is skillful in directing the apprentice through the process to becoming an instructor.
THE MASTER TEACHER
The term “Master Teacher” is a result of time spent in the field for many years. A master teacher level is earned. It cannot be bought. A master teacher can teach instructors, but each instructor must put in the time and gain the experience through hard work to reach personal mastery. Owning the level requires that the knowledge gained through the process of the three steps. One step cannot be skipped.
What is the definition of the original, classical, pure Pilates? This is a question that does not have an absolute answer that will resonate with everyone who participates in the Pilates method. Since the passing of the first generation, there is a resurgence of the argument. Joe and Clara are not here to answer that question.
The term natural selection is not evolution. Natural selection means that those organisms that best adapt to the environment as it changes, will survive to reproduce. Those that do not adapt will gradually disappear. It is a mechanism that allows for survival of the life forms or the market forces through changing circumstances. Pilates is a system that must adapt to market forces. Just because it is good for health and lifestyle does not equate with prosperity and vitality in the market.
The laws of natural selection, which many still call evolution, could be applied to any exercise form including Pilates. Evolution implies that there is a preordained plan to move from one design to another and the next adaptation is better. Organisms do not think “Oh, I guess I will develop lungs and then I will be able to crawl onto dry land and eat the food there”.
There can be the assumption the next generation will be better just because there is change. An example of the evolution of Pilates is equipment design. Joe Pilates was tinkering with equipment as his perception of what would best serve his vision of the exercises changed. Where will the consumer purchase the “original” equipment if no one can agree on the definition of the product? Today the equipment available is a determining element in the way teachers present Pilates. You might say that those Pilates teachers who cannot adapt their teaching style and repertoire to suit the newer equipment designs that are currently available for purchase will not be as successful. The style of the education that they chose may require some thoughtful adaption to meet a different studio environment. The natural selection is the selection of purchase choices available to the consumer. The equipment design is not the problem, it is the environment.
The First Generation of Master Teachers, those who actually learned from Joe and Clara, also made changes based on natural selection. If the student has dysfunction or disease, the original Mat list may not be the first movement presented. The teacher will adapt to the environment, the individual in this instance, or the student may leave. Each lineage stemming from those first teachers has examples of how each of those early mentors adapted Joe Pilates’ work while still seeking to maintain the integrity of the system. Those teachers who cannot reproduce a client base and be able to earn an income return on investment will not be able to survive. Therefore they will not persist long enough to mentor the next generation. Who knows how many of Uncle Joe’s progeny continued teaching in small arenas of influence with intelligence and integrity, and did not ascend to notoriety and are forgotten?
The argument for many Pilates’ teachers stems from the determination to teach exactly the way Joe taught. Again, it may be uncertain what that definition would be. The admiration for these classic teachers by many non-classical Pilates educators is profound. That is not necessarily reciprocated due to the misconception of those classicists that the balance of the community is misinformed, badly trained and intent on the path to bastardize the truth.
It is my belief that adaptation for the sake of something new for the purpose of selling another product is not better. It is my belief that the integration of current science, culture, and education within the dissemination of Pilates is good. There is a balance between respect of the origin and the integration of science based research for the good of the public. If Pilates is not able to adapt to the environment which includes culture, current trends, science, and respect for all lineages, it will not survive as we know it.
I have been asked a question that stymied me initially. “Is the Pilates practice based on a religion or is it a cult?” My answer is no. Pilates is an internationally recognized exercise system that is certified. The Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) has such a designation called the PMA Pilates Certification Program. This program has met the standards for accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
When I began the study and practice of Pilates 29 years ago, people would call the studio with many questions. The most interesting question for me was the confusion about Pilates which was mistaken for Pilot training schools. Occasionally there would be questions regarding yoga and meditation. In Boulder, Colorado, we are fortunate to have a diverse community that welcomes all approaches to spiritual practice. Our community embraces alternative medicine and supports many alternative schools. We are also home to elite athletes due to the environment and high altitude training opportunities.
Joseph H. Pilates developed his exercise system which he called Contrology, now known as Pilates, in the 1920’s. Joe had three basic principles; Whole Body Health, Whole Body Wellness, and Breath. Joe was passionate about health and vitality for everyone. He was also concerned about the lack of health, fitness, and enthusiasm for life that he observed in the population at that time in history. It is interesting that today we are facing a health crisis with the expanding senior population and increased life expectancy as well as the deteriorating health of our children. Joe did not talk about religion and nothing is mentioned about church or state in his writings.
When Pilates came to Boulder it was another exercise system for training increased body awareness for health. The athletes embraced this as a method of cross training. The medical community began to recognize the potential for Pilates to be a tool for rehabilitation. I first taught at a health club and eventually moved into Boulder Osteopathic Center where Pilates was the rehabilitation modality for the patients. We did not speak of religion or politics. People wanted wellness and they left the office to go do whatever they did in their private lives.
Since then, I have taught many workshops in the USA and internationally. I have had people of many different cultures and religions. At no time did the content of Pilates diverge into religion.
At Pat Guyton Pilates we seek to offer health, wellness, and vitality for life. We honor your choices for personal practice outside of the studio. We believe that increasing your health will bring greater joy in whatever activities in which you choose to participate.
That is part of our mission.
Are You Struggling for Perfect Posture?
Posture is usually mentioned as one of the goals of a new student when they come to the studio for the first Pilates lesson. These are some comments that have been told to me over the years:
“I have been told by my teacher that I have the wrong body type to do Pilates or Yoga or to run. These things are bad for me.”
“My PT told me that I am sleeping incorrectly and that is why I have this problem.”
“Can you give me one exercise that will fix what is wrong with my posture?” “It is just the way my family genetics are…”
“It is my backpack, my computer, my purse, my toothbrush, my dog on leash, and my spouse.”
“My posture sucks.”
After these comments, the client will suck in the abdominals, lift the ribs, lock the shoulders downward and hold the breath to maintain a position that they image is better. Of course, this can only be maintained until the muscles tire or the mind drifts.
Can posture be the natural result of moving with freedom and ease in the body?
When I was a child, I did get information regarding my body alignment. No one was concerned about posture unless I had been a naughty girl. Then I would be admonished to sit up straight and eat my asparagus. Or, I should wipe that scowl off of my face, pay attention, and stop slouching. Posture cues usually indicated that I was not behaving in the appropriate manner. The behavior modification included a few military cues in a very loud voice. My image of good posture was associated with people who were models of the normative consensus which included proper body positions.
Now, I wonder how many people have made the association that bad posture implies that something is wrong with them.
I was also told that my back was so arched that I could balance a glass of water on my buttocks and never drop a bit during the day due to my arched back. Later, I went to dance class and I soon learned that if I wanted to garner the approval of my teacher, I would need to tuck my buttocks and square my pelvis. The posture was performance related and is associated with what is known as the aesthetic line in professional dance. I started teaching Pilates. Many of my teachers were dancers. I learned to cue movement from mentoring with fine teachers who had mentored with Joe Pilates.
Eric Franklin was standing in my studio teaching Pelvic Power. It was the first workshop that I had attended on the Franklin Method. Eric made a comment that I will never forget. He said “I am going to tread on some sacred cows of movement cues that were taught to you by your teachers. Unfortunately, if the cue is not equivalent to the way the body is designed, the result may create discomfort and injury. Good function leads to health and long shelf life. Therefore good movement teaching is based on functional anatomy and science.”
My goal for the next phase of my teaching began five years ago after that workshop. I realized that there were many sacred cows in my pasture. When I teach workshops now, I seek to look at each piece and find a common truth in the exercise that will work for any teacher of any lineage. There is not right or wrong choreography. There is the way the body moves and the exercise can be done with respect for structure. I am still working on this goal in every exercise on all of the equipment. Sometimes the cows get smarter!