I am a professional Pilates instructor which means I operate in world where exercise fads change as quickly as the clothes we take on and off our backs. Back in the day there was Jazzercise. Then came Tae-bo (I admit to being sucked into that one grunting and punching in a carpeted room that reeked like prespiration). Followed by the likes of 8 Minute Abs, Buns of Steel, and of course Suzanne Somers’ Thighmaster. Today we bow at the altar of Soul-Cycle, Physique 57, or Tracy Anderson. We fuel the fad like a flame by stoking it with our demand to have the perfect body- and right now! So when this ‘new’ thing (Pi-LOTTS?) enters the scene we roll our eyes back in our head with doubt. What can Pilates do for me that all the other fads could not?
Although many uninformed self-proclaimed fitness buffs merge it with all the other flash in the pan exercise regimes, Pilates is not a fad. It is actually older than most of the originators of these so called “methods”. Pilates began in 1914, with Joseph Pilates who was born with various ailments such as Rickets and Asthma, but had a penchant for anatomy and health. He developed his system of body balancing called “Contrology” while in a WWI internment camp. When he immigrated to the states in 1926 he opened the first Pilates studio here in NYC. Joe’s philosophy was to stretch, strengthen, and balance the body. This creates a healthy body in and out with a supple spine, increased circulation and breathing capacity, as well as mental stamina and alertness. Pilates leaves it’s impression on all areas of the practitioners life.
Today, before my session with Bob Leikens, we got to talking about this fad foolishness (It was peaked by my interest in what he thought of Power Pilates’ new ‘Beyond Barre’ classes). “I just don’t understand why these kids are so crazy over this?”, he muttered in his thick accent. “If you want to do ballet, take a ballet class! People these days have the attention span of a fly. They get bored, so they try to create, create, create these watered down classes. If they’re bored it’s because they’re not focusing, distracted and just want the results without doing all the work.” I can certainly see his point. While I like to dabble in trendy calisthenics, I never stray long and always seem to make my way back to deeper techniques like Pilates or yoga. Does that mean that a true method has ancestry with deep roots that can lead you places you never thought you’d go?
What is a method anyway? According to Wikipedia a method can be defined as- ‘a systematic and orderly procedure or process for attaining some objective.’ Though there is much written about the man himself, there is hardly anything in writing about the challenges he must have faced constructing his method and what he was confronted with in it’s inception. What we do know is that he poured himself into anatomy and physiology books, watched the movement of animals for hours, and practiced various disciplines himself including yoga, boxing, and gymnastics. His commitment to well-being went farther then a 6-pack and a tight bum- it was complete healthiness. Trial and error lead way to a lifetime of practitioners and lives transformed.
So, as Seth Godin posted in his blog the other day, quoting Sarah Jones, “the market has become a swarm of fleas” or “Un essaim de puces” in french. ‘Short attention spans, flitting from place to place, a hit and run culture.’ When you practice a true method it’s results are cumulative not waning. The depth for progress is limitless with the road leading you there full of obstacles and surprises.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the makings of a method. Let’s start a dialogue, please leave your comments below.
Picture this: 12 year-old little Lindsay up to bat during physical education hour. Her entire 4th grade class standing behind her in the dugout willing her to hit, please just at least HIT the ball, this ONE time. The entire field falls silent in anticipation of her big moment, then from somewhere in the outfield a rouge 4th grader bellows: “Don’t miss, Chicken Legs!” Pitch, swing, miss. Humiliation.
I was born a skinny kid, long and lean with gangly limbs and nobly knees, but I never minded it. I was the just right type for ballet, and ballet was my life. Ballerinas are long and lean and well, too skinny. It wasn’t until one day when someone pointed it out, that I even noticed. My legs, or “chicken legs” as some have referred to them, suddenly transformed me into a self-conscious pre-teen and prevented me from wearing anything that revealed my dirty little secret, those colorless stems. I went from being happy with who I was to being ashamed of my body with just one stupid wise crack.
Years later, when all my ballet classes paid off, I got my first professional dance job. I was living in Hawaii at the time and managed to get a spot on the island’s only legit dance job, Legends in Concert. It was an impersonator show and I was hired as a back-up dancer/singer. With my training and background I was considered special amongst Hawaii’s mostly only hula dancers. I absolutely LOVED dancing for a living. I gave my all every night in every step. I was living my dream in the world where my body was accepted, or so I thought.
One day, the choreographer came to town to watch the show. It was the first time he had ever met me or seen me dance. At the cast meeting the next day amid the collective tension, my dance captain delivered some bad news, “Bobby thinks you need to lose weight, especially in your mid-section”. “What?” I was stunned, “but I’ve always been skinny?” I thought, “How can I now be considered fat?” He suggested that I join a gym and start a diet. Excuse me? How can skinny be fat?
I was not accustomed to trying to loose weight, so I had positively no idea how to even begin. For someone who always ate what I wanted when I wanted and did plies instead of pull-ups I was lost, utterly lost. I tried going to the gym, but didn’t know how to use the machines. I tried following several unsuccessful diets, but soon gave that up. Time marched on at work and I figured, they’d eventually look past my “weight problem” and see only what an amazing dancer I was. Unfortunately things only continued to get worse. They brought in a scale to our dressing room to weigh me every Friday in front of all the other girls, and instead of loosing weight I just continued to gain it. I had no idea what was “normal” for my 5’8”frame, just that I wasn’t too skinny anymore. Finally on Halloween I got my notice, “We have to suspend you since you haven’t been successful in changing your body”. Period, end of sentence. Devastated, I immediately stopped eating all together. I just wasn’t physically hungry for food or for life.
After years of therapy and a particularly encouraging boyfriend I finally began making amends with my weight issues. I found that my weight finally stabilized and I refused to diet or deprive myself. I was dancing a ton and had incorporated Pilates into my routine, which made me feel strong and connected to my body. Everything was going well until I reached my 30’s. Suddenly, my body began to change. I started gaining weight and noticed unknown cellulite on my “chicken legs” one day. What the f***? I can’t win! I immediately started to obsess about my rolls and promptly hired a trainer, because I was FAT. While I loved the exercise (I’m always going to be a warrior) I hated being intimate again with the scale. My mood was determined on whether or not the scale was friendly to me that day. Slowly this dislike for myself blossomed into full -blown hostility. I was raging a war with my body, with myself.
Time for action, or rather less action: acceptance. Instead of depriving myself and counting calories like a mathematician (I sucked at math in school anyway), I have decided to just buy bigger Lululemon pants and eat what I have a hankering for. I like good food. I like feeling good. Let’s stay with that. I’m getting back into yoga and trying my best to push myself in my Pilates sessions, while honoring where I am each day.
In my work as a Pilates instructor, I am no stranger to the fact that this is an epidemic, and much more widespread than just me. For years I have stood idly by, almost embarrassed by my clients as they mouth off about how they hate this part of themselves and won’t I give them an exercise to make it all go away? I am uncomfortable with their rants but why? Because, it resonated the truth: all women care about, or should I say are obsessed about, is becoming, staying, and being skinny. It’s a cleverly disguised way to be hateful to oneself, and it’s a hell of a lot of work.
So, at the risk of sounding a little preachy, really I’m just tired, I’m trying something different now. I’m following my bliss. Not in an esoteric, holier-than-thou way, just doing what feels good and leaving the rest out. Working out makes me FEEL better and that’s a good thing. Eating great tasting, fresh, home made food makes me feel better, so I choose to eat better (with the occasional fast-food indulgence, of course). I get my hair and nails done, give myself facials, get massages and acupuncture. I do all of this because I’m good and deserve to treat myself that way whether it’s a skinny me or not. So, to that undisclosed 4th grade bully- guess I’m finally a chicken no more.
Would love to hear your weight stories and struggles, your comments are much welcome below. Let us at FORM teach you how to do some Pilates and feel great no matter what your size or shape is like. Visit us at our NYC studio or workout with us online. Joe Pilates believed that his method was about blood and organs not just muscles and bone. This is a workout for your insides, not just our outs (plus you will look great after doing it!)
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