Archives For Ido Portal

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.



I often think that becoming a Pilates teacher is like learning to drive (though it’s a different driving test now than the one I experienced in the 1990s) – you learn the manual, practice the tricky stuff, hopefully pass the test and then, once you’re on your own, you actually learn how to drive.

Many things helped me to develop as a teacher in the first few years: classes with teachers I admired, teaching within the same space as more experienced teachers, workshops and, of course, teaching classes myself. I belonged to an organisation that ran workshops. Many of the workshops followed the theme of ‘enhancing your mat classes with (insert name of small prop of your choice)’, and these were useful at first. When teaching a lot of mat classes more repertoire seemed like a good way to keep people interested. Teachers from the US were often invited to give workshops at the AGM, and a number of these were very influential for me. I think they helped me to be a better teacher, by enhancing my understanding of Pilates.

I know that I’m not alone in finding that, with accumulated experience, workshops offering new repertoire are of no interest. Similarly, another Pilates teachers take on specific elements of Pilates, or the special tool they’ve developed for teaching a shape or movement are much less interesting than they were. I certainly appreciate reminders of, or insight into, for example why the original order of the network is the way it is but, beyond that, I don’t find that doing Pilates teaches me more about doing Pilates. Most importantly, it doesn’t necessarily help me to be a better teacher.

What to do? For the last 3 or 4 years, most of the professional development that my wife and I have done has been outside the Pilates world but within the broader sphere of ‘movement culture’. I’ve written about this a fair amount already so suffice it to say that we’ve both learned a lot about movement and, therefore, teaching Pilates from people who typically have little understanding of what Pilates is (we’ve encountered the misconception that we’re all about pulling stomachs in a few times…).

I’ve learned about teaching Pilates (being the kind of Pilates teacher that I want to be) from all sorts of teachers: Ido Portal, Rafe Kelly and Andreo Spina to name a few.

We’ve been very lucky to work with some of the people that we have and, for me, none more so than Tomislav English, whom we did a workshop with at the beginning of this year. Based on a brief conversation, I think his concept of Pilates is a bit ‘off’, yet I keep thinking to myself that he’s the best Pilates teacher (with the exception of my wife) that I’ve met in a long time. Weird, eh? He doesn’t really understand Pilates (as far as I could tell) but he teaches it really well!

How could this be? The way that Tomislav teaches seems to me to embody Pilates’ intentions. He began the four days by making it clear that, although it was advertised for ‘advanced movers’, no-one had been turned down from attending, on the basis that full commitment was expected. There’s a lot of movement, and not a lot of talking – demonstration with instructions, a check that it’s clear and then practice – clarification following if necessary – overall his teaching is uncomplicated. There’s a lot of control required, but it’s not control of stillness (which seems to often be the desirable thing in Pilates classes, and seems to have little ‘real-world’ transfer) but control of EVERY aspect and moment of the movement – range of motion under conscious control. Smooth movement at an even tempo, that can be paused or reversed at any point.

The language that he used has influenced my teaching, too. Again, he was quite spare with his words, and would often categorise someone’s demonstration as either ‘clear’ or ‘unclear’, which translates to me into how I’m watching when I’m teaching. Can I see clearly how someone is moving? If the movement stems from the hip, do I see their hip joint moving, or is it a bit blurred? When joints are maintained in good positions (congruent, if you like) movement has greater clarity. Greater precision, we might say, as Pilates teachers.

It’s worth mentioning too that we paid only £15 more for 4 full days with Tomislav than the price of four hours with a teacher from the US that I’ve just seen advertised.

I don’t want to suggest that I have nothing to learn from other Pilates teachers, far from it (Benjamin Degenhardt deserves an honourable mention here), but my teaching – eye, understanding, vocabulary etc. – has been hugely enriched by fishing in a much larger learning pond.

Since I first wrote this post I’ve been able to put together a weekend of workshops, under the title of MovingBeings Jamboree, on September 8th, 9th and 10th (2017), in London. Full details are here. If any of what I’ve described above sounds appealing to you, then this event is for YOU. I hope to see you there.


*Perhaps ‘better Pilates teacher’ needs defining. I’m not interested in teaching people to become proficient at performing repertoire, or even excellent at performing it, unless this is an expression of enhanced awareness, range of movement, and understanding of how to organise their joints well. So being a better Pilates teacher, to me, means having the insight and tools to help people achieve those things. Not having a greater variety of exercises in my toolbox.

14881175_10154502459551832_1155177442_oOr, a weekend with Robert Downey Jr Tom Weksler

I wasn’t sure if it was so glaringly obvious that it would be crass to mention it (except to my wife, who knows not to expect any better), or if I was the only one seeing it but, particularly when he grins, Tom Weksler seems like the spitting image of RDJr.

And Tom grins a lot when he’s teaching – his glee at what’s taking place is obvious and highly infectious – occasionally manifesting as him joining in with the task (not like a chore, more like an assignment) he’s given us, or yelling at someone’s who’s not getting it quite right. A teacher yelling sounds bad, but in reality it’s not – it’s more like “oh no, you’re missing the fun”, than “No! You’re doing it wrong!” Maybe you had to be there.

The truth is that it’s hard for me to pin down what we were doing, what Tom teaches. In one break I left the studio and bumped into two ladies (definitely not women, but ladies) who asked me what we were doing. I hesitated and one of them declared “It’s yoga, and tai chi”. “No!” said I, “It’s not yoga, or tai chi. It’s….Movement Archery, that’s all I can say.” (They thought this sounded very exciting.) It’s a dance workshop, but I’m no dancer; and it’s an acrobatics workshop, and I’m hardly an acrobat, but apart from a few wobbles, I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong there.

I’d been feeling a bit uneasy for a couple of weeks before the workshop. This year has been a year of lots of workshops/seminars for Anoushka (movement companion, business partner, wife) and I: Prague School, Ido Portal, AMN, Rafe Kelly, Ido again, and Movement Archery was the culmination of the year of education overload. All the seminars that had gone before had tested me, but this was the one that I expected to push me off the Comfort cliff. Was this a step too far? In signing up had I perhaps pretended to be someone that I’m not? And I had it all wrong, I think. We were certainly a group of varied abilities (there were some really wonderful movers there) and, while I think you might have a hard time with the acrobatics element if cartwheels and handstands aren’t available to you, I don’t think we were doing anything that you could fail at (except by not trying).


Tom leading the way out of my comfort zone…

I definitely had my moments of feeling awkward and lost, and I learned that those moments were probably compounded by my brain taking over and trying to control what was going on. When I was attempting to articulate my experience Tom said something along the lines of: “Sometimes we think we are smarter than the movement” and I realised that he was right – I had been imagining that if I analysed the movements well enough I’d be able to follow them. The result of my struggle was that I got progressively further away from the destination, not nearer. Coming from a highly structured practice like Pilates, which is intended to be mind and body integration, I may inadvertently create a separation between the two, or lead my body with my brain. As Jaap van der Wal says “You do not have a body, you are a body” – and Movement Archery showed me that I could embody that idea more. Hard to express without sounding dualistic again, but maybe my body needs to lead my brain, instead of the other way around. Or I just need to BE, with the music. And I need to practice.

So Friday’s content succeeded in pushing me off the cliff, but I was less downhearted than I’d feared, and we’d also done some really fascinating partner work that was like sculpting each other – an amazing exercise in developing sensitivity to your partner’s intention, limitations, restrictions etc. And we still hadn’t touched on the acrobatics yet.

Saturday began with the same silent warm-up as Friday – what a revelation! It’s not always necessary to speak when you’re teaching movement. As my more insightful wife observed, it’s a brilliant way of ensuring that we’re all present – even if you find yourself turning away from Tom, you know when to move again because you can hear the swish of fabric, or squeak of a foot on the floor as people move. It also felt at some points that we were breathing together, simply because we could hear the rhythm of Tom’s breath, and instinctively followed. I understood his explanation of how he warms up as creating contrast with the dance/movement that’s to follow. Apologies all round if I misconstrued, but it was an idea that appealed a lot to me.

We continued to explore similar themes from Friday, moving from the ground to sitting, to standing, and the reverse. It sounds mundane when written down (and perhaps this is the problem of trying to describe an experience like Movement Archery – what notes I made a very hard to decipher). I will just say that we did a lot of rolling on the floor (lots of massage like bone/joint compression, and some friction burns too) as well as moving through different levels toward or away form the floor. If you’ve played Zen Archer before you would recognise some of what we were doing, though this was like Zen Archer with the gloves off, and performance enhancing drugs, and maybe rose tinted spectacles as well. Lots of grinning and laughing.

The second half of Saturday saw us in a gymnastics facility, sprung floor and all. A different, more vigorous (in some ways) warm-up, then forward rolls, handstands and cartwheels for starters. Followed by using a partner as gymnastic apparatus, and a few things that I can neither spell nor pronounce (though I’m sure if I Googled I’d find them). ‘Hard to pin down’ is a bit of a theme -Tom’s teaching of acrobatics is exactly what I should have expected after the Movement Archery experience: it’s relaxed but not casual. He spoke at one stage about the necessity to practice, and to repeat basic elements, to be happy with less complex movements. My overall sense is that most of all I should be having fun. There’s something about freedom, too – structure is there to serve you, not the other way round, which is in contrast to some of the other workshops we’ve done this year. Again, a description of what we were doing is elusive – a bit like drawing a poem.

Sunday’s work built on Saturday’s, and Friday’s work, more rolling, more games, more breathing hard and more grinning. I won’t try to make a list, but it is worth mentioning the last hour. Usually, when attending a two day seminar, I’m used to the last hour being a write-off, for me. My brain is usually overloaded, and my body too tired to expect to take anything useful from it (and this was two and half days). This was apparently a shared experience, along with the feeling of “I’m so tired I might hurt myself if I keep pushing”. Tom declared at 5 minute break, promising that the finale to follow would be good. We worked in pairs, with some simple ‘rules’, improvising, performing, refining and developing until the floor was a controlled, as in sensitive, as in not colliding, maelstrom of people – scampering, chasing, dancing, rolling, tumbling, flipping (depending on skill level) to the music. Undoubtedly the most fun I’ve had at any workshop I’ve ever attended.

I rarely leave a workshop feeling good about everyone who was participating but I have to sincerely thank everyone who was there – I don’t believe that anyone held themselves back, and everyone played a part in making it what it was.

In the days since MA&ZA while letting it sink in, and thinking of how to explain it, the stars aligned and I heard Frank Forencich (via a podcast) saying “We’re drowning in knowledge and what we need are experiences.” I enjoyed all the seminars and workshops that I did this year, and in hearing Frank’s words it dawned on me that they were mostly about acquiring knowledge. They all involved moving, and some were physically hugely demanding, but I treated them as information gathering exercises – drills, concepts, exercises to be used later. This is where Movement Archery was different – I certainly learned things that I will use again (mostly in my own practice, though some ideas are dynamite for Anoushka’s teacher training, for example) but mostly it was an experience. A thing existing for its own sake, a thing to participate in for the sake of the experience. This was a valuable lesson for me, being inclined to analyse (to try to be smarter than the movement), that I might get the most from movement when I can just be in the experience. I’m grateful to Tom for that lesson, and like some of the others that were there for a second or third time, I’ll be going back for more whenever I can.


Photos courtesy of Cellar Door


Further Movement Archery reading, that may well tell you more than the above:




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.

Playing with Rafe

June 15, 2016 — Leave a comment

Reflections on The Evolve Move Play Movement Experience13417541_10154055668085041_3195942729181525650_n

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.


Does Posture Really Matter?

October 11, 2015 — 1 Comment

Perhaps this is a heretical question…. the importance of ‘good posture’ to health and well-being is so widely recognised that it is beyond question. Certainly, in the world of Pilates, it would seem to be doctrine. Jillian Hessel tells us that good posture is “essential to a healthy, well functioning body.” The good news is that Pilates apparently has a solution – Pilates For Posture’s website declares: “Evidence has shown Pilates to….improve posture…” (These are two examples out of many, and just happen to be near the top of my search results. See here, and here, for a couple more).

I accepted the importance of posture for years, as well as ‘postural optimisation’ being a reasonable goal for someone’s Pilates practice, and I was a little irritated by, for example, Todd Hargrove questioning links between posture and pain – why ask the question at all when we know that bad posture is bad for you? I started to be curious and question my own orthodoxy on this subject first when I noticed that people I was taking workshops with, in particular with MovNat and with Ido Portal, who were effortlessly wonderful movers, had (to my Pilates teacher, good posture obsessed eye) crappy resting positions. In other words, when they were relaxed, they were really relaxed, and clearly not trying to hold themselves well. To reiterate, when they wanted or needed to move they were graceful, supple and strong. When they didn’t need to move they did not seem to be controlling the form their body took.


Needs some postural training?

More recently someone I was training with said “posture is reflexive”, which really got me thinking. It ties in with ideas of energy efficiency that I gleaned from basic evolutionary biology – as a species we are ‘programmed’ to use as little energy as possible; and with an idea I got from Katy Bowman: no one is ‘out of shape’, we are all in the shape that our brain/body thinks is best for us, based on the environment and inputs (nutrition, movement etc etc) we receive. So ‘posture is reflexive’ means that at any given moment your brain will organise your body according to the best (most energy efficient) strategy that it has available, based on the information it has received. You can consciously organise your posture, until your brain is occupied with something else – if your job is to sit or stand up straight that’s great, but if your life requires you to do anything else then postural organisation will quickly take a back seat. To say that your posture is a determinant of your health is putting the cart before the horse – your posture is a manifestation of your health, and ‘fixing’ your posture, however fleeting that might be, will not fix your health.

Problematic postures are only problematic when they indicate poor movement strategies. If someone’s default standing position is a swayback, and they have glute amnesia, the solution will be to teach them to move, not to teach them to stand. If someone’s sitting position appears to be causing them problems with their neck, shoulders, back, digestion, breathing etc. the solution won’t lie in teaching them to be better at sitting (just as a more ‘ergonomic’ chair won’t help), but might lie in helping them to sit less and move more. I understand, too, that someone’s posture can be a product of their emotional state. In this situation teaching posture doesn’t present a solution, and teaching movement actually might.

Assessing someone’s standing posture may be useful in terms of having quick/simple clues as to what kind of movement they have the most urgent need for, and perhaps there’s a movement assessment that will serve the same purpose, or do better. Beyond that, is there any point in teaching someone how to stand, or sit?





What’s Your (Pilates) Dogma?

September 19, 2015 — 1 Comment

images-2Being so closely associated with ‘dogmatic’, it’s easy for dogma to be something of a dirty word. Yet, if we take my dictionary definition (overlooking the first, which is specific to religion) – “a belief, principle, or doctrine or a code of beliefs, principles or doctrines…” – then it seems essential to any purposeful practice. We may think that we have no dogma, or dogmas, but it is/they are probably always there. Ido Portal wrote about the necessity for, and perils of, dogma and speaks about it eloquently (if you’re at all curious about Ido Portal and want to know what he’s about, this is a great place to start), and he got me thinking about Pilates and my own dogma.

A recent Facebook post (so often the catalyst to writing) made me think about dogmas within the community of Pilates professionals – inextricably linked with the politics and associated flags that get waved, particularly on social media. In this particular case the postee (is that a word?) was expressing (she seems to be a ‘heart on sleeve’ kind of woman) her unease, guilt even, at having enjoyed movement that wasn’t ‘classical Pilates’ in a place that called itself a Pilates studio. What follows is not directed at any individual, aforementioned or otherwise.

If I had to pin it down I would say that my professional dogma (the code that drives, motivates, sustains and nourishes me) is ‘To help people toward their full movement potential.’ It might even be distilled to ‘To help people to feel better about/within themselves’. On the back of my personal experience, and the bulk of my training, Pilates is the method that I primarily employ, in accordance with this dogma. We call our studio a Pilates studio, I will argue for the importance of a systematic approach to Pilates, I will rail against the encroachment of ‘current knowledge and research’ into the Pilates teaching profession, and acknowledge the genius of Joseph Pilates, but my dogma is not ‘Teach people the Pilates Method’. And it’s definitely not ‘Teach Pilates the way Joseph Pilates taught it’. While the latter seems to be commonly viewed as a sign of integrity, or upholding the truth, I’m not sure that it’s even possible. We have various versions of ‘what Joseph Pilates taught’, some of which are asserted more vigorously than others, but they may all be equally true. I suspect the real truth is that only Joseph could teach Pilates ‘the way Joseph Pilates taught’.

If you are a Pilates teacher, what is your dogma? I’m writing this guessing that some teachers’ dogma will be ‘to teach people Pilates’. Perhaps even ‘to teach people true, classical Pilates’. I do believe that there’s value in seeking to preserve a pure ideal (however tricky that may be, in this context, to pin down). At the same time, does your dogma serve you, or do you serve your dogma? Is being good at Pilates an end in itself? Is this the motivation for the people that come through your door? Are many people motivated to learn Pilates as it was originally taught? Or is this comment on Facebook more accurate: “clients don’t seem to care. They want a work-out and they want to feel good about themselves.”?

In the Ido Portal interview that’s linked to above he quotes John Ziman on the subject of specialisation: “A scientist is a person who knows more and more about less and less, until [s]he knows everything about nothing.” If your dogma is to teach Pilates in the classical way (or however else you might phrase it), is there a danger that you become too specialist? It’s almost a law of sports science that specialists will eventually break, whereas generalists show greater resilience. We might say that the more you specialise the less able you are to adapt.

We have an understanding with everyone that teaches in our studio that the end goal, for anyone who walks through our door (regardless of age or ability), is to teach them the Pilates repertoire, on the basis that a) we call ourselves Pilates teachers, and b) Pilates is a very effective tool for at least beginning to move well, and for feeling good. If your dogma is to help people feel better Pilates may well offer the very best tools for most people, and if you’re research has opened other movement/exercise doors for you then you may have all sorts of tools for a given client – Mum of a baby and a toddler whose back pain is such that she can’t pick her children up, for example. However, if your dogma is to teach Classical Pilates (or ‘safe Pilates based on current research’, or Stott Pilates etc. etc.) your tools may be more limited – or worse, absent. In which case your dogma has ceased to serve you, and you are in service of your dogma. I think this is sometimes referred to as the tail wagging the dog.

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.



ivory towerYes, I’m afraid I’ve been browsing Facebook forums again – and becoming struck by the tone of some teachers’ comments with reference to other movement disciplines, and other exercise professionals. Warning, generalisations follow.

Is it me, or is there something within our training that implants the idea that a knowledge of Pilates somehow gives us an understanding of all movement, or makes us a little more expert than other fitness professionals?
I come from a Pilates teacher training background where we were encouraged to believe in, and promote ourselves as having “the highest standard”. There was no-one in the country better qualified, more knowledgable than us. (Perhaps it is just me, or my egotistical interpretation of what I heard and saw…)
It was, and according to Facebook, still is fairly standard to look down on the methods and the level of knowledge of personal trainers, for example. I’m in no doubt that there are some shoddy PTs out there, just as I’m in no doubt that there are some sub-par Pilates teachers out there (let’s not forget that you don’t need to have ever attended a Pilates classes to gain a Level 3 Diploma in teaching Pilates in the UK).
Why do we appear to feel superior?

I have a certain affection for CrossFit so I may be particularly sensitive to Pilates teachers taking a swipe at it (though I’m sure that CrossFit HQ isn’t at all worried). It seems to be a widely held belief that CrossFit ignores bad form in its athletes, or maybe even teaches bad form. I’ve done the Level 1 CrossFit Trainer course and can attest that bad form is not encouraged, and that trying to coach someone who is moving at a speed not usually seen in a Pilates studio is a tricky skill. Never mind – looking in from the outside us Pilates teachers can see enough to ‘know’ that CrossFit is bad, the coaches aren’t bothered about technique, and the practitioners are sure to be injured soon. We may even crow that those poor mugs will be knocking on our door fro help once they have injured themselves – I’ve seen comments like this many, many times. In short, we (Pilates teachers) understand and can coach movement much better than a CrossFit coach can.

It may be true that more people injure themselves doing Crossfit than injure themselves doing Pilates, but just because you see something in a gym, or on YouTube that makes you wince, doesn’t mean that high numbers of CF athletes are hurting themselves. (On the other hand, figures suggest that in the USA, between 37 and 56% of people who run regularly are injured every year. Yes, up to half the Americans who run regularly are injured annually. That’s a dangerous activity, and one in which poor form and technique routinely goes unnoticed.)

Pilates is about whole body health so let us consider the health outcomes from CrossFit. I can’t speak for every facility, of course, but I believe it’s safe to say that the majority of regular CrossFitters will be encouraged not only to move a lot – to challenge their physicality – but also to think about health fundamentals like their food quality and their sleep quality. Not to mention that they are encouraged to “regularly learn and play new sports” (from founder Greg Glassman’s ‘World-Class Fitness in 100 Words’) Ido Portal, who does not suffer fools gladly, has said: “I think the CrossFit community is a very open community….they’re hard workers, they’re open-minded, mostly…..Most Crossfitters are not humble enough to see what is missing but, once you show it to them, they accept it.” Can Pilates teachers truly, routinely boast the same kind of outcomes, or the same kind of approach to overall health?

Getting back to movement, I will always agree with anyone who says that the pursuit of Pilates (in the original/traditional form) will provide an excellent foundation for understanding human movement but does this make us omniscient? Firstly, for Pilates to really teach you about movement I believe that it has to be treated as a system, without unpopular movements being left out, and to be seen as a series of patterns. It was very interesting for me to see recently that there was broad agreement among the Pilates teachers commenting on it that a particular picture of a press up represented ‘bad form’. However, when it came to solutions to fix this bad form the answers were quite varied, indicating a lack of (amongst that small sample) collective understanding. Most alarmingly, while none referred to the hip joint’s role in spinal stability under load, there were suggestions that abdominal muscles should be pulling into the spine. I suspect a great many CrossFIt coaches would know that you do not effectively create spinal stability, especially under high load, by drawing your stomach in.

Until, as a profession, we raise our game, do we have any business to be feeling superior to our movement teaching colleagues from other disciplines?



Ivory Tower image borrowed from: