Pilates From the Inside Out

I have always been fascinated with the “under layer”. As a child, a favorite activity of mine was to design images on the Light Bright: a black screen covered with small round holes. I loved exploring how the placement of the small component parts changed the entire design. It was a jigsaw puzzle with endless variations and incarnations. This fascination later became central to my approach to helping students understand the complex movement patterns and poses found within the Pilates repertoire.

[jcolumns] This deconstructionist method completely mirrors my approach to teaching. I began to discover that the Pilates exercises were like a short story; but before I could read it, I had to understand how to pronounce the vowels and consonants. I then would need to learn how to link those letters into words. The words would then much later puzzle piece their way into sentences that could down the road emerge as the short story. [jcol/] [/jcolumns]

When I first began to practice Pilates, I simply wanted to be able to master the exercises. As I practiced, some of them were natural and organic, while others were frustrating and impossible to embody. What I didn’t realize, however, was that the gifts of deeper understanding, knowledge, and growth were wrapped up in these complicated and challenging exercises. It was in that realm of frustration that I was forced to confront my “body blind spots” and become curious about the bits and pieces of more complex movement patterns.

Once again, the deconstruction pattern became a framework for embodied knowledge and a method by which I could translate this kinesthetic practice to my students in my new career as movement educator. I became infatuated with muscles names, bony landmarks, and directions of movement, just as I was enamored with color and design as a child. I began to thoroughly pursue a three dimensional embodied sense of the component parts of the poses. This was facilitated during the Level 1 Yoga Tune Up® teacher training with Jill Miller, and solidified further with my continued studies of other somatic disciplines.

For example, before I teach The Stomach Massage (Flat back/Neutral spine version), I take my students through a step-by-step process that prepares the body-mind for the classical exercise. Each gradation can be the final destination if the previous step is not yet fully mastered.

Here is the process:

1. Self-massage of the low back muscles with the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy balls.
2. Happy Baby Pose (a supine squat). This pose allows students to practice abdominal breathing and have a felt sense of the body position (neutral pelvis and spine) of the classical exercise while de-stressing.
3. A supine half squat on the carriage with spring resistance: single leg footwork with a yoga strap around the instep to hold the “squat leg” in a joint stacked position (ankle above knee). This begins to “move” the static pose into a dynamic exercise with gravity still on their side and only a partial load.
4. An upright wide legged squat with the arms overhead (in flexion, external rotation and depression) as a “test” to see if they should do this version in the final exercise.
5. The classical exercise with a box or spine corrector for low back support and a strap to close the kinetic chain overhead.
6. The classical exercise

My teaching philosophy emphasizes the importance of exploring “inner space”. From the moment we blink our eyes open in the morning, until the end of the day when we go to sleep, we must be concerned with what is happening OUTSIDE of ourselves. This exploration provides a safe container within which you can introvert your attention: it is a mini-vacation that allows you to get out of your “thinking mind” and into your “feeling body”. Students are continually amazed at how a sacred pause to simply close your eyes and observe your breath, or a short practice of self-massage using the Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls can effectively down regulate the nervous system. As a result, new patterns and healthier ways of inhabiting the body imprint into the student’s body/mind; not just during your Pilates practice, but also in the activities of daily life.

What are the component parts of your short story? How do you move through complex movement patterns? Can the building blocks instead become the “masterpiece”?