I love it, Sir!

So my son recently started taking Taekwondo, and one day as I was observing class, my son and the instructor had this conversation while he was trying to do the splits.

Master:  How are you doing, Ty?

Student:  Not so good, Sir.  It hurts, Sir.

Master:  Oh no, Taekwondo Kids do not say, "It hurts."  Taekwondo kids do not say, "Ow."  They say, "I love it, Sir."  Say "I love it, Sir."

Student:  I love it, Sir.

So what to make of this?  Well, initially I was a little worried.  Is my son being taught to ignore pain or his feelings?  I wouldn't want that. 

But on second thought, it seems the lesson is that you can frame thoughts in your head so that you don't defeat yourself.  This reminds me of my mantra, "I love the burn." or why I need to do the exercises that I "hate."  But maybe I don't "hate" them anymore.  Maybe I "love" them.  Because they're making me stronger. 

How we talk to ourselves is very important.  How you talk to your clients is important.  Honor that something is challenging.  Much of Pilates is.  But find the joy in the struggle, the love in the work.  Pilates is difficult enough.  Adding negative energy won't help you find depth in a stretch or connection in a movement.  But maybe "loving" it will.  And it will make the journey that much more pleasant, so go ahead - love the burn, love the stretch, love your body and the effort you're putting into it each time you approach the work.  And who knows?  Eventually, your self talk may turn into actual self love.

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You Are More than Your Body

I was reading this blog today and this line really struck a chord with me:

"Stress trumps all.   Even when the diet and movement are right, you can be undermined by a mind that's bearing a heavy load." 

Isn't that true?  Every time I've had a major injury, it's been during a very stressful period in my life.  I've taken to preemptively doing energy work before a stressful event because my body manifests stress so strongly physically.  When I last sprained my ankle, I was a Graduate Teaching Assitant, was completing my Masters, was teaching full time, and completing the highest level of Pilates certification.  So was it the movement in the ballet class that injured me?  No, it was the heavy load I was carrying in my brain and in my heart.

So, how are you planning on taking care of your mind this year?  How can we lessen the load for each other? 

This may be my New Years Non Resolution .

Go big go long or go home?

I'm often asked by clients how far or long to reach a leg or arm during an exercise, and that's where my often spoken, "Range is determined by form" comes from.

It's most important to keep your critical connections in Pilates - so if by reaching your arm you cannot keep your ribs to your scapula and your scapula to your ribs, you've gone too far.  If you don't feel your three anchors, your legs have dipped too low.

But how do you determine where this end range is?  It can be different from day to day, and hopefully with improve with time as you commit to your Pilates practice.  In general, stay where you are working in your Powerhouse, and let that connection build in a smaller range of motion before taking it bigger.  Start at the center, at the Powerhouse, not in your arms or legs.  You should feel your arms and legs lengthening out from your Powerhouse connection.  Stop when you loose that connection.

My first Pilates teacher made me make the tiniest One Leg Circles I had ever performed, but when I did my hip stopped clicking.  I kept working on my Powerhouse connection and one day she said, "I think you can make them bigger now."  But it was important for me to keep them small so that the larger motion didn't distract me from my Powerhouse.  Momentum is not a muscle group, and it certainly isn't one of the Pilates Principles.

So stay inside the exercise and your body.  Really listen to see if you are finding your connection.  And don't be afraid to make the movement small and controlled (that one is a Pilates principle)!

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Why I Don't Workout with my Clients

I can't tell you how many times I have had this conversation.

Someone:  What do you do?

Me:  I teach Pilates.

S:  Wow, you must be in such good shape!  You get to workout for your job!

M:  Actually, I don't workout with my clients.  I lead them through a workout.

S:  Oh. 

That's right, I do not get paid to workout.  As a Pilates instructor, that is not my job.  It's not about my workout, it's about my client's. 

Here are some other compelling reasons why I continue to teach this way:

Head and Neck Issues.  Most of Pilates is done on your back.  If I'm demonstrating, you have to crane your neck, most likely to one side, to see me perform an exercise.  That's really unsafe for your neck.  A majority of the mat work is done on your back with your head lifted, and it's just not safe for my clients to try to look to see me while they workout.

Range of Motion.  When I was teaching the New York City Ballet Workout, the instructor I was training under told us not to use our longest leg extension when taking class with our students.  She said that it would lead the people in our classes to try to match the height of our leg.  For most people in the general population, it's really hard to toss your leg up high in the air without crunching your back or rounding your spine.  If your clients are watching you and you are really flexible, your clients may try to match your range of motion.  Range of motion in Pilates is determined by form.  But that means everyone's range is different, and a high leg may not be better, especially if you're using your quad to lift it instead of your Powerhouse.  So it's better not to look around a room and compare yourself to anyone during a Pilates class, not even your instructor.  It's better to stay in your body and make sure you are in the exercise, not performing the exercise.

Pilates Is Mind/Body Work.  Many of us are visual learners, and rely on that part of our brains to learn movement.  When we turn that off and really listen to our instructor's words, it forces us to go internal for movement correction, instead of external.  This is the essence of mind/body work.  I don't want to cheat my clients of that experience.  It may take them longer to learn an exercise, but it will be better for them to take the time to figure it out than to just mimic my movements.

I Want to be Safe, Too.  As an instructor, even if I'm demonstrating, part of me is watching the class and thinking about them.  How do I stay connected in my body during my Pilates work if my brain is concentrating on myself and my clients?  I'm more likely to injure myself if I'm not concentrating on my body, or worse yet, just jumping in and out of exercises to demonstrate.  I'm not aware of my own limitations or flexibility or strength that day to be safe in my own practice.

It Makes Us Human.  I have not discovered some secret to being in shape.  I have to juggle my workouts like any other mother, teacher, woman, or student around work, life, love, children, school.... Making time to workout helps me empathize with my clients when they fall behind in their homework to keep up with their Pilates practice on their own.  It also helps me help them brainstorm ideas as to how to stay fit and healthy in this world where we are all so busy.  As a Pilates instructor, I don't have eight hours a day to think about my body and workout, but I do have eight hours a day to devote to the work of Joseph Pilates.  For that, I consider myself lucky.  That's what inspires me to pull out my mat at the end of the day, sometimes at 11pm, to do the mat work.  That's what devotion to Pilates is.  That's what I teach, and that is my job.


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