“If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old; if it is completely flexible at 60 you are young.” —Joseph H. Pilates
The spine, with all of its versatility and utility, is a marvel in its design. It allows for a wide range of movements, whether exuberant or docile. It supports our bodies, provides an anchor for our limbs and protects the all-important spinal cord that sends messages from our brain to our body and back again. When we communicate with the world the spine tells the story of how we feel. Our posture can demonstrate confidence or reveal anxiety, fear, joy or sadness. It can also bear the markings of our lifestyle and repetitive work stresses.
It all starts with the breath. If there’s one movement or process that unites and anchors all of us in the world, it is the breath. The human body unites us, but human bodies can be so different in their proclivities, proportions, tone, strength and nuance. The breath can be very different from person to person too. But we all take in air and let it out, whether tall, short, athletic, atrophied, newborn or on death’s door. Aware of it or not, if we are alive, we are breathing.So what better way to begin to learn about our body, or THE body, than with the breath
Lately, in the Pilates community there’s been some buzz about body shaming. As someone embedded in the Pilates world since the 90’s I can honestly say, I have never felt that body size was a factor in this industry. I am so sad that it has become a conversation. As a matter of fact, a curvy, heavier teacher recently said to me, “I embraced Pilates as my fitness choice because anyone of any size, or age, or physical condition is welcome.” One of my first clients was about 75 pounds overweight. You know what she taught me? That sometimes bigger clients get more nervous standing on the reformer or going up and down on the electric chair—that’s it. The rest of the session was a mix of ups and downs, successes and humblings, just like any other Pilates session.
Of all the things that BodyTonic has achieved in the last 17 1/2 years, the thing I am the most proud of is the community. If I ever had any doubt as to whether or not I should continue to put the blood, sweat and tears into running a business it was quickly put to rest as I sat with these beautiful people who have been pulled into our Pilates vortex. If I could bottle up the vibe and give it away, the world would be changed forever.
Pardon me for taking so long to write this response to the recent New York Magazine article entitled, “The Pilatespocalypse: How the Method That Started the Boutique-Fitness Trend Is Going Bust”, by Ms. Annie Lowry, but you see I have just been so tied up running my busy Pilates studio since the article was published that I didn’t have time to write. Note the word busy. Since 1999 when I first opened and very few people even knew what Pilates was, our clientele has been on a steady incline. ... Clients with herniated discs, new moms, men, retirees, and even middle school aged kids, are all flocking to the studio and making requests, because Pilates is so efficient for so many people. We even get requests from Crossfit participants to help them with their back, knee or hip injuries.
My first introduction to the Pilates Mat was as a moody but disciplined teenager at the High School for Performing Arts. It was a required course in our dance curriculum alongside classical ballet and Martha Graham technique. I don’t think I loved it, but I’m not sure I hated it either. Something about it must have felt right though because, fast forward, 10 years later while crammed behind a desk in the offices of PEOPLE Magazine, I went searching for that feeling of stretch, strength and vitality.
For the past few months I have gotten up once a week at 4:40 AM to teach a Pilates class at 6:00 AM. 4:40 AM is usually an hour reserved for people waiting at the airport, or suffering from jet lag, or camping. In these instances there is a kind of magic to waking up – you’re looking forward to an exciting journey, vacationing somewhere far away and exotic, or watching the sunrise after a long night of stargazing by the camp fire. But that first Tuesday morning of July what I felt wasn’t magic – it was astonishment. How did I ever agree to this?
Actually, it is no small thing to see what can happen when you do what you love. Along that pursuit there are all kinds of pitfalls—disappointment, rejection, exhaustion, chaos. But somehow, if you keep going through all of that, you get to experience magic. For me that love is sharing the legacy of Joseph Pilates’ intelligent and completely life-altering, body of work.
Wu wei is my mantra for 2015. I am going to do more of what I love and follow a path of spontaneous movement. I will breathe and rest and laugh more and do what comes most naturally to me. Wui wei is the Chinese concept of non-action or non-doing; a way of returning to a purely natural way of being and like the planets revolving around the sun, having power and energy at the same time. In my case, it can be as simple as going to Whole Foods for dinner, and letting everyone eat what they want, while I don’t have to cook it or serve it, and grocery shopping on the way out. It could mean taking a car service if I need a few extra minutes and it could totally mean getting an extra hour of childcare so I can slip in a Pilates class or workout before heading home.