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Paying my respects

August 12, 2017 — Leave a comment

More happy coincidences – a day after I watched part of the video of the Q&A session following the “Ido Portal: Just Move” film, Facebook reminded me that 3 years ago I posted this picture, taken in a CrossFit box in Turku, Finland at the end of 4 days (2 back to back seminars) training with Ido.

A great deal has happened in my life since then, not least 3 more visits to Turku to participate in 4 more of Ido’s seminars. (If you’d like to learn specifics I’ve written about each these visits here, here, here and here). Over that time I’ve been exposed to a lot more ideas around the subject of movement, and a variety of practices. Perhaps it’s always the case that, in seeing something shiny and new, one forgets, or feels less enamoured with what has come before but the photographic reminder of an earth-shattering first exposure to Ido’s work, personality and philosophy, coupled with the many insights to be found in the two films reminded me of how much I owe to this man.

The last seminar of Ido’s that my wife and I attended was ‘Locomotion’, and it left a mark different from the 5 I’d attended prior to it. The truth is that I wasn’t ready for it – the content of all the others had been scaleable, to accommodate a broad range of capability/capacity in the participants, but in Locomotion I felt that in missing some of the basics I was stuck. (Nowadays I think that a full depth pistol squat is basic capacity, but at the time I had let this slip, and was missing a few other basic positions). We were very used to travelling to Ido’s seminars and working very hard, but this was brutal and my reaction to the suffering, and perhaps the feeling of frustration/inadequacy encouraged some cynicism with regard to the content. It was easy for me to see a foundational structure as being too prescriptive – discouraging self-expression in favour of collecting component movements. (Perhaps it was no accident that the next movement workshop we attended after Locomotion was Tom Weksler’s much looser ‘Movement Archery’).

Ido’s seminars were more expensive than others we’ve attended and I was uncomfortable with signing non-disclosure agreements. It’s not something that I’ve had to do at any other movement workshop, and it seems to imply ownership of material which Ido himself was quick to acknowledge had been gathered from all sorts of sources. If nothing else I felt that some other presenters were less protectionist.

As Ido says in the Q&A referenced above, true intelligence is characterised by the ability to hold contradictory views in one’s mind, and as I said above, my first exposure to Ido’s work was earth-shattering. It burst, and shot me out of my bubble so far and fast that for the first 24 hours afterwards I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to go back to my ‘day job’ of teaching Pilates. Not because he had disparaged Pilates (though he had shared a dim view of Pilates teachers’ enthusiasm for certain abdominal cueing/emphasis), or any other practice, but because the breadth of his approach made me realise how little I knew, and how little I’d explored what’s possible.

Discovering, or rather being shown what I had overlooked was a powerful catalyst. And to say I had ‘overlooked’ aspects of movement possibilities is not really accurate – it suggests that they may have been in my peripheral vision but I’d chosen not to look more closely. The things that Ido (and team) showed me over that first 4 days, and subsequent encounters, were nowhere close to being on my radar before then. We also achieved feats of strength and endurance during those days that showed me something more about myself, and that I’ll feel proud of for a long time to come. If I had the will (I want to write “and the time” but I know that making the time is merely a product of will), I have learned the tools, protocols, drills and methods to keep achieving, and surpassing those feats. I think that those first 4 days were the beginning of me recognising the difference between doing and being – between going through the motions and embodying motion. If any of that last sentence resonates with you then you will know that this is a ‘game-changer’. For me it has been both personally and professionally.

This is the motivation for writing this post – watching Ido speak reminds me of what a huge impact his thoughts and methods have had on how I think, move and teach. Embodying movement (forgive me if this seems vague, I do not have another way of expressing this sense at the moment) is a product of, and/or makes for a more intuitive (less paralysis by analysis) approach to moving, and I can’t overstate its value.

Having done workshops with others who have a more freestyle, expressive approach to movement than my experience of Ido’s seminars, it was tempting for me to feel that I had ‘moved on’, that he has nothing more to offer to me. Ridiculous! This was ego creeping in, or self-defense – pretending to myself that the punishment of ‘Locomotion’ was a failing of the material, rather than my own shortcomings. Could one find fault with what Ido delivers? Of course (and I suspect he would be quick to agree), but I think it’s hard to find fault with the quality of the delivery, or to question the sincerity and commitment of his team.

The short version: if you’re AT ALL curious about a brand spectrum approach to movement (especially if, like I was, you’re a single discipline practitioner,) you will have so much to gain from learning from Ido and/or his team. Like me, you may find that the exposure leads you to people/places that you didn’t know existed, and teach you things about yourself that will serve you for a lifetime.



Playing with Rafe

June 15, 2016 — Leave a comment

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I’d first enquired about this seminar in December 2015, so I’d been looking forward to it for a while. When the day came, and a group of us began to assemble on the edge of Hampstead Heath (like a minimalist footwear convention – Vivo Barefoot just edging Vibram Five Fingers in popularity) I realised that I had really no idea what we were in for. Rafe Kelly, the creator of Evolve Move Play, was quick to introduce himself but that was the only thing that set him apart from the rest of the group – no pedestal here.

We were a disparate group, from (I guess) mid-20s to mid-50s, and a mix of everything from complete novice to seasoned outdoor natural movers. The only parallel that I have for this seminar is Ido Portal’s ‘Movement X’ and already it was a very different experience. Part of that was the environment, for sure, but it was less businesslike – not chaotic at all, but less orderly. I love the structure of Ido’s seminars, and the authoritative delivery works well for me, so this is not a league table of seminars at all. Rafe (my computer is delightfully determined that his name should be corrected to ‘Safe’) certainly speaks and teaches with clarity and great conviction but there’s something else – I’m trying not to write “chilled”, or “laid-back” because they’re not the right words – perhaps it’s a lack of ego.

The weather determined the order of activities, so after a warm-up game of Zen Archer (my favourite, and especially fun on uneven terrain) we are quickly learning how to fall efficiently, and from there, how to roll. I should have been more sensible on my first real uneven ground outdoor training experience but exuberance got the better of me and I managed to mis-roll badly enough that my shoulder and arm were rendered fairly useless. Not good timing with the tree-climbing element about to begin. I do better than I used to, I think, but it’s still hard for me to hang on to a growth mindset and not feel that the world has effectively ended in these situations, so my thoughts on the remaining hours of our first day are a little clouded. I do know that Rafe and his team were great at enabling everyone there, from the high achievers to the injured novices, and great at reinforcing the underlying message that the activities we were engaged in were the things that we have evolved to do, thus our bodies instinctively respond to the environment. It’s easy to believe him when Rafe says that he’s seen people learn complex and challenging movements more readily in nature than in the gym. The philosophy of ‘moving like a human’ makes sense in my body, not just my head.

A sleepless night followed, unable to get comfortable for any length of time, and by the morning I’d decided that I couldn’t face being a wet and cold observer of everyone else’s fun. Happily for me my wife knows me very well, and forbids my self-pity. Our meeting point on day 2 is deeper into the Heath, and in a dark patch of woods. True to the forecast, it’s raining, and I understand why the higher tree climbing happened on day 1, it would be too risky in this wether. The tree branches are lower and we warm up moving through the trees at a low level, over and under branches (or just slowly along the low ones, in my case). I quickly realised that being barefoot was the best strategy and now wonder if that contact with the earth was a part of what lifted my mood.

We were split into groups to practice vaulting over branches, with Rafe, Ben and Rutger circulating and giving advice and encouragement. Lots of opportunities for practice and experimentation, and then the whole group being bought back together to add a new challenge, or to reinforce a coaching point or principle.

I’m loathe to get into describing everything that we did, so I’ll leave it at the rest of the day involved rough-housing (the British might call this ‘rough and tumble’) and edge of comfort zone testing play fighting; joint mobility; breath work; and meditation. Suffice it to say, if you’re contemplating joining an EMP seminar then go ahead and do it – I guarantee you’ll have fun. It was most fascinating for me to find how my mood changed, and the pain in my shoulder receded, as the day went on. I think was a product of the environment, the activity and also Rafe’s teaching style.

Rafe has clearly studied the art/skill of teaching in depth. He’s quick to acknowledge his own teachers, and especially quick to acknowledge his own flaws and vulnerabilities. I think this is the single thing that distinguished this from other workshops that I’ve attended – Rafe’s willingness to share his personal experience, and ability to acknowledge when his ego surfaced made for a liberated learning space. I’m used to discovering my lack of physical capacity, and having my (professional) world view challenged at Ido’s seminars, but this taught my something about myself at another level, and I’m very grateful for that.

At the end of day one, while feeling sorry for myself, I knew that I liked Rafe’s philosophy/idealogy, but didn’t think I wanted to embrace tree-climbing and outdoor training. At the end of day two both of us knew that we wanted to spend more time in nature, and to spend more time being playful. I’m sure now that we’ll be climbing trees in future.

I’ve hardly slept at all and my alarm goes off. It’s 3.45am. Bleary eyed I pull back the curtains and the Baltic Sea looks glassily calm and beautiful in the dawn light. I make my way into the bathroom and have a fraction of a second of feeling superheroic when I appear unusually ‘chiseled’ in my reflection. Bleary eyed, like I said. Quick shower and I find blood on the towel. Not superheroic after all – the skin on my wrists has been flayed.
I’m in Turku, Finland and it’s the morning after 2 days of “Upper Body Strength” (Level 1), according to the Ido Portal method. I feel elated, and all of my senses seem heightened, despite the sleep deprivation. I don’t know how much this is influenced by the stunning, sunrise scenery as I drive to Helsinki but for sure a lot of the emotion is a result of the intensity of the seminar, and while I’m driving I know that later I will need to write about the experience, for my own sake but also to attempt to help others understand why they should stop finding excuses, or putting it off, and sign up for one of Ido’s seminars.

The best way that I can describe the feeling is of being ‘charged’.

Physically charged because I’ve put my body through about 16 hours of training in two days and feel strong, as well as sore. That sort of training load is a daily occurrence for the teachers leading and assisting on the seminar, but I haven’t worked that hard since, er, June last year, when I was last in Turku attending the Movement X and Handbalancing seminars.

Mentally charged because I have had so much stimulus in terms of thinking about how I move, and how I teach, and what’s possible with the right application and mindset.

Emotionally charged because of the above, and because the camaraderie of working as part of the group, and with other individuals in the group is a powerful thing. We won’t all be friends for ever, of course. Being me, I’m bound to feel slightly impatient with the attitude or questions of some of the group, but in general it’s impossible not to admire many of my fellow participants. There were a lot of strong people there, and plenty of people who are not yet so strong but embrace and fully immerse themselves in the work. I wish I was surrounded by people like this all the time. Special mention goes to my workout partner for the weekend, helping me maintain a tradition of always being partnered with a Belgian, in spite of my wife’s absence – you were an inspiration, dank u wel.

I’ve talked to a lot of people I’ve met about Ido’s seminars, and a number of them have said “I’d love to do that but I’m not ready”, or “I’ll never reach that level”. I guess that this is an impression that is created by YouTube videos of very strong people doing astonishing things, yet at the seminars I’ve attended every movement or exercise has been scaled so that everyone can participate fully, whatever level they’re at. In fact, having watched some of the videos since the seminar I’m not just thinking “Wow, that’s incredible.”, I’m also thinking “I know the steps to take to achieve that.” I may never achieve a full planche, or a full front lever but that will only be through lack of training time on my part, and with some training, following the steps that I’ve learned, I’ll get to where I deserve to be.

I’ve written before now about the quality of the seminars’ structure so won’t say more about that here. Suffice it to say that I’ve now experienced 3 different teachers, and 3 different assistants, and they have all bought something special to the experience. I’m happy I met Ido at my first seminar and, with all respect, at subsequent seminars I haven’t had a moment of feeling that his presence was missing.

I would recommend starting with Movement X (my new Belgian friend described discovering that it’s possible to cry with happiness at Movement X, and if you’ve been I bet you know when that was…). I’d also say that the Corset is a MUST, and highly recommend
Handbalancing, and Upper Body Strength. I’ll let you know about Locomotion after September – but let’s just say that we’ve been looking forward to it for the last 2 years.

And hey, if you get up early enough the next day, the lighting’s right (and maybe you’re a bit dehydrated) you might look like a superhero, too.


Is Pilates Really Enough?

February 5, 2016 — 9 Comments

This is a question that seems to crop up amongst teachers from time to time, with supporters on either side of the argument. Benjamin Degenhardt reminded me last year that what Joseph Pilates was interested in, was promoting, was overall health. He was concerned with a bigger picture than ‘core stability’, or ‘fitness’ in the gym-focused/endurance event sense (“She’s really fit, she’s run a marathon.”) that tends to be the dominant interpretation these days.

So does the regular practice of Pilates provide everything necessary to be considered fit, in a holistic sense? Perhaps the truth is that it depends. We might run into problems with definitions of the word ‘fit’. I’ve written about this before but, to save you reading more, I like: “greater tolerance to shifts in environmental parameters and biologically mediated challenges” (words by Suzanne Scott). I also like to think of fitness in terms of a capacity to express one’s full homo sapien potential – “are you human?”, if you like. Where being human means, to borrow from Kelly Starrett, that you can squat to take a pooh in the woods; and, to borrow from Katy Bowman, you can pull your own weight with your arms, which is to say you can do a pull-up. While they may not be very common, these are normal things for a human to be doing. (Please check in with yourself here – have you started making a list of reasons for not being able to squat/pull-up? or a list of people whom you know who have good reason to not be able to do one or both of these things? If so, why did you do that?)

Some other expressions of being human: walking, running, crawling, climbing, swimming, playing, dancing (the last two perhaps equalling physically engaging with other humans). And, beyond the realm of movement, to do what’s required in order to eat nutrient-dense foods from a variety of sources; to tolerate a range of temperatures (as in the definition of fitness above).

I got started in writing this because I sometimes feel, when working with teachers in training, and running a studio where a number of people teach, that I want those teachers to believe in more than teaching Pilates, or to see that their mission could/should encompass more than knowing the Pilates repertoire inside out, and being able to teach it to others (though this would be a good start).

In an interview last year Kelly Starrett said:

“Squat down, feet together, knees together, heels down. Can you do that? Yes? No? If you can’t do that you’re missing full hip and or ankle range of movement. That’s the mechanism for your hip impingement, for your plantar fasciitis, for your bunions, for your pulled calf. That is the £*@<ing problem, and you should be obsessing about it.”

You. Should. Be. Obsessing. About. It. You should be obsessing about it. Let’s hope you don’t have bunions or any of those others, nevertheless, if you’re not able to express your full range of movement, you should be be obsessing about it. Can’t squat to the floor? Obsessing. Can’t do one pull-up? Obsessing. If anything is less than optimal you should be doing something about it.

I’m sure it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I always enjoy the way Kelly expresses himself. If you have a look at what he’s involved with you will see that Kelly is clearly trying to reach a lot of people, and a ‘black and white’ delivery probably works best for that. I suspect that a lot of Pilates professionals are anxious not to judge, or be judged, which is nice but I don’t believe I’m alone in sometimes needing to be told “what you’re doing is not good enough”. Self-acceptance, as in not hating yourself, is surely to be encouraged; self-acceptance, as in ‘this is as good as it’s going to get’ should surely be discouraged.

I don’t believe that Joseph thought it was enough to do his exercises. After all, he left us with instructions for how to shower properly (I’m not sure that it’s on YouTube but if you look hard enough I’m sure you can find the film). Never mind the biologically mediated challenges – do you have optimal tolerance to shifts in environmental parameters? No? Then Pilates will be a good start, but you’ll need more.


PS. Comments are very welcome, but will not be seen by the author on Facebook. If you would like to start a conversation with me please use the blog comments section.

I do Movement, Part 3

September 13, 2015 — Leave a comment

Or, if you haven’t already, you really should attend an Ido Portal workshop.

I’ve already written (here and here) in the immediate aftermath of attending Movement X and The Corset, and then Movement X and Handbalancing and have been thinking for a while of trying to express my lasting appreciation for those experiences. I was galvanised into action by Ido’s ‘Day of the Teacher’ post on Facebook.

I wish this could be one of those “6 months of online coaching” posts, but I’m afraid that I have not felt able to make that commitment. So, if you’re like me and thinking “I can’t make that commitment quite yet” then I’m writing this to let you know that what you learn by attending Ido’s workshops will last you a long time, making them very easily the best value for money of any personal/professional development courses that I’ve done. Affordability is certainly relative, and if cost is an issue I won’t tell you that you can afford it, just that you really should. Not only is the content ‘gold’, it is delivered with a level of skill and professionalism that is, I believe, unusual in the sphere of movement workshops. I’m in the midst of a course in teaching adults and know that your own skill and knowledge counts for only a small percentage of your ability to teach. I’m almost more impressed by the quality of the delivery than the quality of the content.

To pick out a single example, once or twice per week my wife and I follow the handstand training plan that we learned at the Handbalancing workshop, and every time I marvel at how effective it is. I’ve made a lot of progress in the 3 months since we attended the workshop and I’m in no doubt that I’d be far ahead if I managed to make it 3/4 times per week. And this is just a small portion of what we learned over two days. It is, if you’ll pardon the cliche, the gift that keeps on giving.

Movement X blew my mind, and changed my entire perspective on movement and what’s possible for me, and for the people that I teach. The Corset has given me tools for every conceivable joint prep/mobility challenge and I’ll be exploring that material for years to come. So much gratitude to my teachers Ido, John and Odelia, and Josef (he was teaching a different method when I met him, and I still have good memories). I hope to be your student again soon.



Stott Reformers For Sale

September 13, 2015 — 1 Comment

IMG_2469 We are changing the reformers in our studio, in keeping with the way that our teaching is changing, so have 2 Stott ‘Studio’ reformers for sale. They were called Studio reformers when we bought them 7 years ago, though the same model is now called the V2 Max.

They have been very well maintained and are in excellent condition. One has 4 red springs and 1 blue spring, the other has 3 red springs, one blue and one white spring. We are including sitting boxes and jump boards. The sitting boxes have some minor nicks to the upholstery around the base.

The reformers will be available for collection from Ealing, London W5 (UK) at the end of October.

PRICE £2000 each

You can see the current UK price list for Stott apparatus here.

Please email for more information.



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Easy answer….

I first heard the word carnism about a year ago, along with a brief definition: “a term used by psychologist Melanie Joy and others to describe the ideology that supports the use of animals for food, including meat. The argument holds that carnism is a dominant belief system supported by a variety of defence mechanisms and mostly unchallenged assumptions.
At the time it was easy for me to dismiss. As an enthusiastic omnivore I had little patience for what appeared to be an attempt by vegans to stigmatise something I consider to be entirely natural.

More recently I was reminded of the concept and something (probably that the reminder came via someone that I like and know to be both sincere and humble) made me reflect on the concept for a while.

Research suggests that beginning to eat meat 2 to 3 million years ago was what triggered an increase in the brain size of early hominids and made possible the evolutionary jump to homo-sapiens. The excellent “The Story of the Human Body” by Daniel E. Lieberman clearly describes this element of our evolutionary trajectory. Interestingly, other research also suggests that raw diets cannot grow or sustain big brains in a species, thus cooking also made us human.

The concept of meat eating as a belief system seems like quite a big idea. One that separates the behaviour from instinct or socialisation and proposes that viewing animals as food is akin to a religion. A religion that most of us have unconsciously subscribed to.

I’m assuming that the term carnist (a follower of the carnism belief system) is usually intended as a perjorative. Carnivore seems to be a perfectly adequate word to describe a meat eater. That said, if you describe yourself as a vegan it carries a meaning beyond ‘herbivore’ and suggests a belief system – if you base your diet and lifestyle choices on a belief system I guess it’s natural to frame other choices in the same way. So perhaps my knee jerk initial rejection was unreasonable.

Here’s what I’m left with: If the research can be trusted, our brains are as big as they are and thus able to wrestle with philosophical and ethical problems (that our primate cousins appear not to have time for) because our ancestors ate meat. So we owe our very existence, and our capacity (never mind the luxury of time spent doing things other than gathering and chewing) to think deeply about our behaviour, to the practice of eating meat.

Could anyone have coined the term ‘carnism’ without the hominid and human practice of eating meat? Framing language and philosophies to critique meat-eating our actually a luxury afforded to our species by meat-eating. Ironic, no?

Ten months on from my first ‘live’ exposure to Ido Portal and his work, I’m sitting in a plane on the way home from another four days of the Ido Portal method in Finland. I’m writing to help me make sense of my thoughts/feelings, and to perhaps offer some advice/suggestions to the uninitiated.

Last year my wife and I took both the ‘Movement X’ and ‘The Corset’ workshops, delivered by Ido and Odelia. Those four days were extraordinary, to the extent that, in the immediate aftermath, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to resume teaching Pilates. I had heard Ido on a podcast describe people crying, and saying Movement X was life changing. At the time I’d been sceptical but, depending on the degree to which you can surrender to and engage with what’s being taught, I’m certain that ‘life-changing’ is a possibility. (You can read about that first experience here).

This year we signed up to repeat ‘Movement X’ and to do the ‘Hand Balancing’ workshops. It was great to be back in Turku, and we were curious to see how different ‘Movement X’ would feel second time around – would we hear the same jokes and stories? Would the material have changed? As they arrived I instantly recognised Odelia, and in the same instant that I registered that Ido was not there, recognised John from a YouTube clip I’d seen of a jaw-dropping one-arm ring routine. I have cherished the experience with Ido and surprised myself that I didn’t feel any disappointment that he wasn’t there. (The promotional material usually makes it clear that workshops will be presented by members of the team – there’s no guarantee that Ido will be there). I knew for sure that we were in for a new experience.

The chemistry between Odelia and Ido seemed like something very special last year, and I feel very lucky that we had the chance to see and feel it in action. Of course, the combination of Odelia and John was different, and I really enjoyed Odelia leading the sessions, which hadn’t happened before. Much has been said about Odelia and her teaching before, suffice it to say that she is an extraordinary woman and a wonderful teacher – her seriousness and expectation tempered by her warmth and kindness. John is not Ido, and I can imagine that puts pressure on him sometimes. If it does, he never shows it and he teaches with the same combination of assuredness and humility that Odelia has. And to see them move……I can’t help grinning with delight when I see anyone making the difficult look easy, and there was a lot of grinning over the four days. This time I began to understand the level of commitment and dedication that is required to do what Ido’s team do. I’ve never seen anything like it, to the point that it’s almost scary how far beyond my own capacity it appears. I doubt many Olympians train this hard, and they’ve both clearly done their research and have knowledge of a wide range of disciplines and human function, biomechanics etc.

To business. It took two goes for me to see that ‘Movement X’ represents a taste of the four main spokes of the Ido Portal Method: the Corset, hand balancing, locomotion, and upper body strength. I think I was too blown away the first time around by the variety, complexity (and simplicity) and playfulness to be able to see the wood for the trees. So this is probably the place to start (and I’d recommend repeating). Time-keeping for the start of the day is strict, and not at all strict at the end of the day. Day one finished sometime after 7, day two around 8.15. Aside from 90 minutes for lunch there are no breaks, so you do A LOT of moving. My current practice means that I may do 1 hour a day, so at the end of two days I’d probably packed in two weeks worth of movement. The exhilaration only slightly diminished by the feeling of having been beaten all over (like Angelica Houston and the oranges in ‘The Grifters’, perhaps) only without noticing that it’s happening. This is down to the workshop being so well structured, and the material being high quality. Many many squats and lunges are hidden in a game – hidden because you’re so busy trying to manage all the other demands on your nervous system (“Sound is the mark of an inefficient mover”) that the game imposes. And this wasn’t the best game that we played. If you’ve attended Movement X you’ll probably know the game I’m thinking of, and if you haven’t I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

The upper body strength segment makes the most strength demands (weird!) and is also the segment when there is most scaling. There’s a way for everyone to tackle the movement and, while you may be taken well outside your comfort zone, no one is pushed beyond their limits. It’s also when it was most clear to me how much thought, experimentation and perfecting has gone into Ido’s methods of teaching, for instance, chin-ups and muscle ups.

It must be very rare that anyone attends ‘Movement X’ and isn’t asked to do something that they’ve never done before, or doesn’t discover a gap in their skills, mobility or capacity. This too is why John and Odelia are so impressive – not only do they need to be able to deliver the material but they are most likely substantially better at all of the movements involved than everyone else in the room.

It seemed like chance at the time and now I’m grateful that ‘The Corset’ was the second workshop we did, not least because the content is so broadly applicable. It’s described as something like “how to make flexible armour for your whole body”. Some of the Corset protocols appear in Movement X, and there were a lot of them included in the Hand-balancing workshop. Having some prior exposure to them felt very helpful so, in an ideal world I’d suggest Movement X first, then The Corset, then whichever of the other workshops appeals to you the most.

The Hand-balancing workshop is mostly geared toward teaching you Ido’s progressive method for gaining a 60 second freestanding handstand. Odelia will tell you that this is the best method there is, with thousands of success stories and when you see the process you will most likely believe it. Again, it’s very well structured. There were more games to play, lots of joint preparation drills to strengthen and increase range of movement, as well as a lot of time on our hands. On the morning of day two my chest and shoulders were so sore I couldn’t imagine spending any more time on my hands, but the warmup easily took care of that and a lot more time was spent on our hands – and not just in handstands. We were left with a clear program to follow, scaled according to your starting point. It will take a lot of commitment and work, but if I do commit and put the work in I’m convinced that I’ve got the tools to make it happen.

I was impressed by how many people attending the 2015 Turku workshops seemed to have very little idea of what was coming and were just ‘dipping their toe in the water’, especially those that were there like us for all four days. They were, for me, very physically demanding. And yet just the day after I feel great. Perhaps it depends on individual preference, going in blind, or doing some research. Personally I’d recommend listening to Ido’s London Real interview prior to attending, just to get a sense of the man and the philosophy that underpins the work.

Ido offers online coaching, and it’s made very clear that they only want to work with people who will make the time commitment they deem necessary. Similarly, if you turn up at one of his workshops I think he and his team have high expectations for you. If you look like you’re not giving your best you may get short shrift, but they recognise and appreciate your effort, regardless of your ability.

Of course, all the attendees influence the feel of the workshop and with all four that I’ve done I’ve been lucky to meet some wonderful people. If you’re one of them reading this, thank you, it was fun to be moving with you.

Other things I’ve learned

You can’t judge a fabulous mover by their resting posture. (Don’t believe me? Just look at cats.)

Learning, and quality teaching deserves optimum focus. Be quiet, look, and listen. (Yes, this IS hard on the afternoon of day four).

Don’t try to integrate if you can’t yet isolate.

Variables may vary but standards are non-negotiable.

Speed is something you have to earn.

Wipe; look; lift; reach; replace. (Sing it with me!)

Last words

Find a Movement X event that you can get to, and sign up. Do it!

IMG_2043Spoiler alert! What follows necessarily involves generalisations, and is in no way intended to disparage any individual(s).

I’m a little surprised to find myself writing this, and perhaps it’s in part a reflection of conservatism increasing along with age. Within the Pilates world it seems that the arguments over the merits, and legitimacy of “classical” and “contemporary” Pilates go on and on. Not long ago I may have found the dogma of the classical followers a bit hard to take. I may even have referred to some of the die-hard adherents to the classical form as ‘fundamentalists’, which I admit has some unpleasant connotations these days.

More recently, and as a result of various experiences, I’m starting to think that teachers (here’s generalisation No.1) in the UK have done Pilates a terrible disservice. Actually, not just the UK (a video from a well-known Australian teacher contributing to my dismay) but this is the region that I’m best placed to observe. One of the mantras that gets repeated in the argument in favour of a more contemporary approach to Pilates is that, because of advances in science, biomechanics, kinesiology etc, we understand movement better than Joseph Pilates did. If we believe that then it’s logical to apply the fruits of this deeper understanding to Pilates’ system.

Inevitably, as my understanding has shifted (up, down, sideways – who’s to say?) my teaching has changed. I’ve been seduced in the past by ideas and information that have complicated my thinking when teaching, and encouraged me to try to teach something in a more complicated way. I hope I can truthfully say that it’s been a long time, but I suspect that I’ve uttered the words “neutral spine” in the past. I’ve come to realise, too, that in trying to be inclusive of everyone in the class, I’d habitually compromised a movement to the point that I’d forgotten what the movement was supposed to be in the first place. I’ve worked to try to make people comfortable in an exercise at the expense of actually doing the exercise. I believe that we have done this sort of thing over and over, until the intention of the original exercise has been lost completely. There are apparently many people in the UK that believe Pilates is boring, and I’m inclined to believe that it’s because many of them have been taught some pale (wan, iron-deficient, malnourished) imitation of the real thing.

Part of the responsibility for this may be the prevalence of Pilates mat classes taught in health clubs, where the teacher has very little control over who attends the class. The lowest common denominator will often set the tone. Interestingly, the government approved qualification for Pilates teachers, that many health clubs require, is more geared toward the teachers ability to include everyone than in the teachers understanding of Pilates’ system. This is a relatively recent phenomenon, but the ‘dumbing down’ of Pilates has been going on for a lot longer.

It’s still shocking to meet teachers, who have been plying their trade for perhaps 10 years, that were not taught the original mat exercises during their training. It’s almost laughable. Imagine: “I’m a maths teacher, but I don’t teach multiplication or division because my trainer didn’t believe that it was suitable for the general public.” There’s a whole strain of ‘creativity’ – teachers finding new things to do with or without equipment, that may have roots in another discipline, or not (“Can I do that exercise with the foam roller and the rotating disc when you’r holding the push-through bar?”) that may deserve a separate post. More disconcerting is the idea, it appears many teachers have, that Pilates is full of relaxation. I think this comes in part from the world of somatics, and disciplines like Feldenkrais, which are great in themselves but maybe not applicable to the practice of Pilates (unless perhaps none has a particularly vivid understanding of how to move well). The other part of the relaxation dogma, I suspect, comes from trying to help people who are challenged in some of the original work by, for example, poor hip dissociation (see, I can’t stop the modern science creeping in). This seems to me to be one of the fundamental skills of good movement, and therefore Pilates too. Here’s an example: someone can’t Roll Up, or back again, without their legs leaving the floor. Could it be that we have encouraged the notion of relaxing the inhibited muscles, instead of actually teaching those people where to work from so as to overcome the inhibition – working toward correcting a faulty pattern? (Work the right muscles, so that the ‘wrong’ muscles get the chance to return to natural function).

In similar territory, have we pursued that things that feel ‘nice’ in our own practice, and for our clients? The practice of starting a class with side-flexion seems strangely prevalent, and mostly because it “feels nice” – or stretches muscles that the teacher perceives to be tight. The logic of working on central support to give some relief to overworked superficial muscles, instead of just trying to stretch those muscles, seems to have escaped us. Pilates didn’t need to spell this out, he just put centring exercises at the beginning of the sequence (and now modern science has taught us better, perhaps?) How have we got to a situation where what feels nice is the key determinant for exercise choice? It’s true that Pilates often makes me feel good, but that’s typically a response to my body working hard, rather than doing things that feel relaxing, or nice. The lasting benefits always seem to come from working hard, and it still amazes me when clients have that ‘Oh, this is hard!’ reaction to Pilates. Was it ever intended to be anything else? The idea of working just as hard as you need to is very appealing, and one of the seductive things about Pilates is that it probably takes decades of practice to reach the point at which the really difficult things begin to feel like they don’t require maximum effort.

I am not advocating a ‘one size fits all’ approach, as seems to be the view of some teachers – that if you want to hold true to the intent of the original exercise you are trying to force square pegs into round holes. My wife attended a workshop with Kathryn Ross-Nash a while back, and one of the nuggets that she passed on to me was the idea that every Pilates exercise has a single purpose. Several objectives, perhaps, but a single purpose. Adding to that the idea that exercises should not be adapted or modified, but rather broken down into their constituent parts, in order to work towards the whole. I suspect that I will do Ms Ross-Nash a disservice if I try to paraphrase any further, and the best advice may be to seek her out in person, or here, for example. To me, her thoughts seem to tie into what I wrote earlier, about adapting an exercise to accommodate everyone, to the point that the original exercise, along with its purpose, is a distant memory. Teach people what they need to know/do, in order to do the exercise, instead of reinventing it.

I know that there are many teachers in the UK to whom what I have written does not apply and, as I tip my hat to all of them, I’m trying hard to be one. I’m not sure that the system that Joseph Pilates devised is perfect, but I think it’s almost certainly a good deal better than has often been allowed for by teachers (and teacher trainers) in the UK.

If it’s not too late, what is to be done about this sorry state of affairs? Here are a few ideas:

Sweat more (and don’t tell others that Pilates doesn’t make you sweat). There’s a reason that Pilates believed it wasn’t necessary to do a lot of repetitions, and quite often that’s because, if you’ve put your whole body and mind into the exercise, 5 or 6 is all that you can manage.

Relax less – that’s what sofas and television were invented for, not Pilates. (Oh, and don’t get too comfortable either – very few useful adaptations are derived from comfort).

If you’re a teacher – take more classes. Unless you think that you’ve learned everything by the end of your teacher training.

And please accept my apologies if the tone of this is especially hectoring. Conversations, social media postings and the stars have aligned in such a way that writing this felt imperative.




I’m always fascinated by what Pilates teachers, individually and collectively (if that’s possible) believe that Pilates is for. One idea that I always like is that Pilates can be a significant help toward achieving one’s full potential – optimal expression of our genetics, if you will.
Consequently it’s been interesting to see some recent forum threads touching upon exercises that one might not attempt, or teach. Questions arise about, for example, whether or not one needs to do advanced or super-advanced reformer exercises. This strikes me as a rather rocky path: does anyone need to do Pilates in any form? (Of course I know it’s fantastically helpful to many people, and loved by many more, but is that the same as needing it?)
A few years ago I was tasked with teaching the Return to Life exercises to a group of teachers in training, and was horrified when one of them asked why she needed to know them, since she “would never teach them”! So where does one draw the line?
I would agree that some of the advanced repertoire on both Reformer and Cadillac require great strength, mobility and control. Working toward those qualities is an excellent reason to be practicing Pilates, so why not aspire to the zenith of the work (and work towards it)?
Another thread around a discussion on what is the ideal size for a reformer (it feels ridiculous to even type this) included a reference to splits only being necessary for dancers. This would suggest that our joints have unnecessary capacity – that there is no need to be strong throughout our available range of movement. Never mind recovering lost range. To me this is a bizarre attitude for a Pilates teacher to have, and it seems to relate to the discussion about advanced repertoire, and giving people ‘what they need’, as if we can predict that an office worker will never slip and be forced into a split position in which they have neither strength nor control. What?!
Again, I wonder what we think Pilates is for. How about if we said Pilates is for being more awesome, and not installing any glass ceilings?