Archives For September 2016

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Or: ‘Should your Pilates teacher be able to do a pull up?’

(If you’re time-poor, or just don’t have the patience to read all that follows, the answer is: Yes, they should.)

Hopefully we can all agree that Pilates, the movement practice, as conceived by the man himself, is about health. The integration of mind, body and spirit (if our thinking is reductionist enough to conceive of them as separate in the first place). What does a healthy body look/feel like? Depending upon our starting point with Pilates, it might be a pain-free body. That’s a great beginning for a lot of us, but is it healthy?

If a body isn’t able to express the full available range of movement in all its joints, is it healthy? Not yet. Is a body that’s able to express the full range of movement without strength (control, you might say) through that range, is it healthy? Not really. Perhaps this scenario is even more problematic than the first one.

What is Pilates good for if it is not carrying you along the arc toward expressing your joints’ full range of movement, with control? If it is not helping you to become stronger, why are you bothering? Real suppleness and agility is a product of strength – the flexible spine that Joseph Pilates held up as a marker of ‘real’ age (I’d prefer to classify as mobile) is a product of motion at each of the joints coupled with strength.

As Jaap van der Wal says “You do not have a body, you are a body.” Isn’t it a basic human capacity to be able to move your mass through space? A pull up, or chin up (pronated or supinated grip) is an expression of the ability to manipulate your mass in space. And in certain circumstances that capacity could be a huge factor in survival. The capacity to pull up will make you more human.

Perhaps my arguments haven’t been sufficiently persuasive, and it still seems unreasonable to expect your Pilates teacher (or yourself) to be able to do a pull up. In that case, how about a push-up? Should you/your Pilates teacher be able to do a push-up? Without equivocation the answer is “Yes, absolutely.” How about 5 push-ups? Maybe check how many repetitions Joseph prescribes in Return to Life. If you’ve ticked that box then maybe we can debate the pull-ups.

 

Afterword

What are your goals, or your clients’ goals, when practicing Pilates?
‘Pain free’ almost certainly incorporates ‘stronger’. ‘More toned’ definitely means ‘stronger’. ‘More supple’ had better mean ‘stronger’. You get the picture.

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Loco.motion

September 7, 2016 — 1 Comment

My wife, and partner in movement adventures, Anoushka, and I were on our way to Turku, again. It’s become a ritual in the last few years – we go to Turku for Ido Portal’s seminars. This was trip number 3 for her (seminar no. 5), and number 4 for me (seminar no. 6). The same flight to Helsinki, drive to Turku, the same hotel next to the Baltic (great for end of the day cooling off and/or nervous system reset), the same restaurants in the evening. Maybe it’s an age thing but I like this routine, especially when punctuated with moving and learning.

This trip was tinged with a bit of sadness – maybe this would be the last. We were on our way to attend ‘Locomotion’, the Ido seminar that we had both wanted to attend the most after our initial exposure to the work in ‘Movement X’ two years before. After this we might not have a reason to return to Turku, and the ritual would come to an end.

Never mind, focus on the present: who will it be presenting this time? Ido? Probably not. Odelia? Maybe. Or John, or Joseph, or… Honestly it’s just idle speculation, everyone that we’ve met presenting Ido’s work has been exceptional, and we’ll be happy to see any of them.

Driving to the venue on Saturday morning I was surprised to be feeling a bit anxious. Trepidation is the right word. Usually I’d just be feeling like a child on the way to the sweet shop on this journey but my lizard brain somehow knew this was different – maybe the sweets will be on really high shelves, or something.

We arrived at the venue and….Great, it’s John! And a (for me) new Jonathan assisting him – from Israel, not Dubai. Also great to see some familiar faces – the graceful Italian beast (‘Upper Body Strength’ seminar), and the senior (her word) Norwegian yoga teacher (‘Hand Balancing’), amongst others. Maybe my trepidation was explained when, while talking about all the seminars we’ve done, John let slip that Locomotion is “the most physically demanding”. Actually, he didn’t ‘let it slip’ – he said it plainly, with a big grin that you’ll be able to picture if you’ve met John.

After some quick intros, and joint prep, we get moving, traversing the room in a many, many different ways. Funny how, in spite of reinforcement of the standard of “start touching the wall, finish once you’ve passed the pull-up rig” quite quickly became practiced as ‘touch the wall, step one or two meters into the room and then begin’. Does the desire to be first impede hearing, perhaps? Piece by piece we were building patterns (“atoms” of the Locomotion practice), with a resting squat as the endlessly recurring linking piece. I can’t speak for every single person, but everyone I could see, me included, was dripping with sweat before long. Everyone, apart from John and Jonathan, of course. I have been ruminating for ages on the weirdness of dressing ‘properly’ for exercise – as if your outfit is a symbol to say ‘see, I work out’. So I loved that Jonathan was dressed in a turquoise wool jumper while demonstrating handstands, cartwheels etc. – dressed to meet friends for coffee, not to exercise! (I think this may mark the difference between a mover and someone who works out).

I was already physically smoked by lunchtime, but revived somewhat by the Pure Hero guys delivery, and a little more by the game we started the afternoon session with. Ido and his team have the best games – brilliant for warming up and mobilising without noticing that it’s what you’re doing. I’m easily tricked out of my belief that I can’t do more squatting, handstands or whatever else it might be by playing ‘the farthest limb’, for example.

The atoms are building, the patterns get a little more complicated, and this is more mentally taxing than the other seminars I’ve done. We start to join atoms together in sequences, and always trying to refine the details – foot/hand placement, weigh shift, timing. As John says: “We recognise efficiency as beautiful.” (Damn I’m IN-efficient!) It is so amazing to see John, and Jonathan move. Yes, I’m a little tired of hearing about how nice John’s feet are, and how amazing his skin looks, but only because I know Anoushka is right. While you can see the muscles at work, there is not tension when John moves, no strain visible – THIS is how I’d like to be able to move myself. And watching Jonathan at work when they show us how to play another game where the object is to find the line between the possible and impossible for our partner’s capacity I realise how hard they work. He’s set a target that to me is clearly impossible to meet and he does not give in, contorting this way and that to make it. Okay, there’s a bit of strain visible now, but the combination of agility, strength, mobility, imagination, and determination is profound.

When we finish on Saturday (I’m so thankful that, unusually, that’s only about half an hour past the advertised finish time) I’m truly, totally fatigued. Driving back through the woods to our hotel my body feels at least 80% jelly. I only look in the rearview mirror for a moment and, thanks to Anoushka’s very loud and sharp intake of breath, the deer somehow bounds from certain death into the ditch beside us. Body is now 96% jelly.

We follow instructions and get some good food (just as well this may be our last time – we learn that the always reliable steak house is closing in two weeks). I should sleep like a baby, tired as I am, but my body will not get comfortable and morning comes without feeling as rested as I’d like. Squatting feels like a very remote possibility.

I knew John would be a stickler for timing and, one minute past ten, we’ve missed the start. First activity of the day is…wait for it…..Squatting! Of course. Relief comes with some more wrist prep, and then we get back to building blocks for more atoms. Lots of building blocks, creating 10 or 12 atoms in total for the two days. Every so often I feel that I can do something relatively well, which is a welcome relief. We all meet the goal of improvising for two minutes, sequencing the atoms we’ve learned. I feel as lithe and fluid as Ido looks in the floreio videos on YouTube like, to an untrained eye, I may look competent for a few of those 120 seconds. We also all manage some semblance of the low lizard crawl, and while some of us really struggle, there are as many doing very nicely.

The truth is that I’m not having as much fun as I’d like to – and Locomotion was the seminar we’d been looking forward to the most. I guess I was feeling over-exposed. There’s a lot of material in the two days, and it comes at you pretty fast. Working in pairs, John often set us the task of “you do 10, I do 10, you do 8, I do 8, you do 6 and I do 6” of a new movement. Perhaps some of the young guns were getting through the reps, but Anoushka and I were usually managing “you do 6 and I do 6 and you do 2 and oh it’s time to move on to the next thing”. There are not many peaks and a few troughs when I feel pissed off: ‘I can’t do X yet and already you want me to do X + Y, and seamlessly progress into Z.’ I hate the idea that age limits anything but I have to  keep pushing the thought of being one of the ‘seniors’ out of my mind. One of the strong points of the seminars I’ve done previously is that everything you’re introduced to can be scaled, so there is always something to work on and everyone can participate all the time. Locomotion involves more complex movements, and more brain power. If you’re going to learn the atom you need to get all the pieces, and there were times when I needed more time. In adult education, at least in the UK, you are required to ‘differentiate’ – to accommodate different degrees of competency in your classroom. I wanted them to differentiate, but it’s not really possible. I also wondered if there shouldn’t be pre-requisite skill levels for signing up for Locomotion. Or maybe it could be three days, instead of two.

As I write this a few days have passed. Looking through my notes it seems as though we didn’t do quite as many different things as I remembered. Maybe what felt like flaws in the structure or delivery of the seminar were simply signs of my frustration, or disappointment in discovering that I’m far behind where I’d like to be (because I haven’t put the work in). I’m already looking back at the weekend with more fondness than I did two days ago, and picturing John going from Crow to Cossack Insertion, to Shinobe to the Low Lizard like there’s no gravity, no friction, no hard edges. I will definitely work at all of the atoms we practiced, and I will get better at their execution, but I won’t reach his level, because I know that John will always be working harder than I am.

So you should definitely sign up for Locomotion. And, just in case you don’t already, get a pistol on both legs, for reps. Do what you need to get very comfortable in a resting squat. And spend some time at the bottom of a push up, bit like yoga’s chaturanga. That won’t cover everything, but it’ll be a reasonable start.

And, in case you read it, John and Jonathan, you were great, and if I wasn’t always as appreciative as I might have been, that was just me being mad at not reaching the sweets on the high shelf.

PS. Our host, Marko says he’s thinking about hosting The Corset again next year, and it’s changed from two years ago. So maybe the ritual’s not over yet.