Ironically, on the verge of writing this I saw some responses to James Crader’s blog about play, including one that concludes: “Haha, as if any of us need permission to move.” Exactly! I believe that many of us in the Pilates teaching community approach the work in a way that means precisely that – we need permission to move!
I don’t remember exactly when Anula Maiberg first appeared on my radar but I know it was in connection with a magazine article that, at the time, did not strike much of a chord with me. It’s an interesting thing for me to reflect on and doubtless reveals some of my biases and even prejudices. Though I may have felt differently in the past these days the most interesting characteristic of a movement teacher, for me, is how they move. I tell myself (and I believe I’m being honest) that size and shape are no more significant than coloured hair and tattoos – demeaning one seems as odd to me as celebrating the other. I recognise that I may be fortunate to have had no worse comments about my appearance than a student once telling me that I had lost “too much” weight, and to be blithely unaware of any trolling or obnoxious behaviour that some teachers may be subject to (white male privilege, anyone?)
Subsequently I watched with interest, and some puzzlement, as Anula appeared to rocket to fame within the Pilates world. And, yes, perhaps some envy – I would be very happy to have found a way to earn the kind of platform that she has earned in order to share my ideas. It seemed bizarre to me that someone who, from my perspective, was famous for how they looked could have such an incredible impact on the Pilates teaching community. What did this say about Pilates teachers?
While there may be an element of Anula carrying the flag for permission to be ‘not the right shape’ that attracts teachers to her, as the years have passed and I’ve seen more of her social media output, and the reactions to it, I’ve come to believe that Anula is offering something much more powerful, and necessary: Permission to move.
This, for me, is far more fascinating than body image. I’ve referred previously to the control freak-ery of Pilates teachers and I’m given to believe that the ‘control’ aspect of the method, oh, and the ‘precision’, and the love of ‘correction’, and ‘proper’ form (feel free to elaborate on this list at will) can create a certain movement constipation. As Anula asks: “Why aren’t we more concerned about how it feels instead of how it looks?”
It’s such a cruel irony, that a movement practice might have this kind of baggage. I appreciate that we need to have some guiding principles, rules if you will, to hang our teaching on, but can they be our undoing sometimes? “Shoulders down”, “feet hip distance apart”, “exhale on the effort”, “proper placement”, “out of alignment”, “she’s a bad breather”, “poor posture”, “uncoordinated”, “he’s a tucker” etc. etc. How much of the language that we use might reinforce the notion that the people we’re teaching aren’t ready to move? I suspect this spills over in to our own self-talk, too, and this is where I think Anula has triumphed – it appears to me that she has given hundreds, maybe thousands of teachers ‘permission’ to move. Weird.
I’m not sure where we derived it from but in the last few years I’ve noticed that my wife and I regularly classify people as a ‘mover’ or ‘not a mover’. It’s a tricky classification that I struggle to define but I’m pretty sure that someone who is bound up in rules about how things ‘should’ be probably isn’t a mover. Curiously there seems to be an association in my mind between movers and teachers who have explored other disciplines or modalities (and between non-movers and teachers for whom Pilates is everything).
Again, I may be wrong about all of this, and to write this feels like the most perilous thinking out loud that I’ve done in a long while.
If I am at all close to the mark then I think Anula deserves to be celebrated much more than she already is. I don’t love every video or picture that she posts, and sometimes I think I’ve got a better solution for a particular problem up my sleeve (and I value ongoing dialogue with her about teaching movement), but that is far from the point. If more of us feel that we have permission to move ourselves it seems likely that we will also feel liberated to pass that permission on to the people that we’re teaching. I don’t believe that constipation and joy go together and if taking the brakes off and letting go of some of the rules allows people to have a movement experience (as opposed to doing an exercise) then I believe more joy is let into the world.
To hijack the great man’s words: Joy happens through movement, and joy heals. How about that?