It all begins with one person. And since I’m the narrator in these parts, my story seems like the best place to begin my discussion of the amazing Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning.
I begin with a list of my teachers: Cheryl Chaddick, Naomi Leirserson, Nora St. John, Jodie Colone, Bob Leikens, Elizabeth Larkam, Michael King, Kathy Corey, Clare Dunphy, Mary Bowen, Michelle Larson, Madeline Black, Joerg Chabowski, Keri Gonnen, Michael Levy, Trish Garland, Moses Urbano, Juanita Lopez, Romana Kryzanowska, Sari Mejia-Santo, Daria Pace, Pamela Pardi, Jerome Weinberg, Javier Perez Pont, Esperanza Aparicio Romero, Chacha Guerrero, Lori Coleman Brown, Larry Gibas, Michael Rooks, Brie Adina-Neff, Janice Dulak, Dorothee Vandewalle, Cynthia Lochard, Phillipe Taupin, Anthony Rabara, Roxanne Richards Huang, Kathryn Ross-Nash, Jay Grimes, Blossom Leilani-Crawford, Jennifer Stacey, hundreds of collegues who are just as passionate about the work as me, authors of books and DVD’s who I haven’t seen in person.
There might very well be omissions from the above list and just to be completely clear, I’m not claiming to have studied extensively with every person listed above. Some, it’s just been a very memorable lesson or workshop. Some would not even know who I am because the size of the one time class was so large and I didn’t introduce myself. Others gave me far more intellectual and physical capital. Others granted me certifications (I’ve earned two). But at one point or another I was there and so was each person listed and to this day what I learned comes through in a story, cue, or just what I know to be true (at this point, that is). My point in listing all those people is that I have learned from A LOT of people. I think that my list of teachers reveals a few important things about us humans, and specifically those of us who love Pilates, including: a demonstration of collective consciousness, a snapshot of the evolution of a good idea, and variations on how we learn.
I am a slow student when it comes to Pilates, that is part of the reason that I have such a long list of teachers. I seem to have repeatedly approached the method from the back door entrance, surprising myself when I realize what exactly I’ve done. My first Pilates lesson had nothing to do with an interest in Pilates. I arrived because I loved my dance teacher and she was offering discounted lessons as a student teacher of Pilates. For me it was an opportunity to learn from her in a different way. Within a year I had realized that getting a Pilates certification would enhance my skills as a Physical Education instructor (I was in school at the time working toward my teaching credential). Only later did I decide to actually become a Pilates instructor, that was when I realized that despite having earned a certification I had no idea what I was doing. Somewhere around this point I had become enamored with Pilates, I realized that it was actually doing something good for me and I realized that I was going to have to really learn it or else I’d never feel right about myself. That’s when I knew that I had to study with Romana Kryzanowska and my work began in earnest. Historical timing and geography have dictated that Romana is not my one and only teacher, rather I learned from her dedicated students first and foremost and have had lessons and workshops with her to clarify my work and understanding, to inspire me, and a lot of times to leave me supine on the floor trying to regain reasonable control over my body since she’s somehow turned everything to jello just by talking to me while I exercise. But those first few years were not lost as far as learning went, perhaps though, the lessons were something different that my lessons in actual Pilates. I must confess that I haven’t sorted that out, but I know that I’ve learned something from all my teachers and everything that I know is a result of my being part of this network. I am not a genius, I am not a free thinker, I am not an innovator. In a lot of ways, I’m more like a puppet or a soldier except that I think a lot about how I’m a puppet or a soldier, which gives sort of the illusion that maybe I’m a free thinker. But like I said, I’m really not. Nothing original here, and so my daily work as a Pilates instructor is basically just trying to figure out the right time to apply all the various things that I’ve learned, it’s not easy and I undoubtedly make many mistakes. It certainly is mentally and physically stimulating!
My long list of teachers tells us what point in the evolution of Pilates we’re currently sitting. It started with one person. He taught many people. Some stayed close to him ultimately giving them a deep and intimate understanding of his method, others learned a little bit and went off on their own. The work fanned across humanity. The more people who learned, the more variations came in to it. The same thing happened in the evolutionary creation of the method. Somehow though, we can wrap our heads around that notion a little better because all the variations came from Joe himself. They came from one unified mind with the purpose of building a very specialized system, the ideal system for perfect health. And so they must be more pure. I prescribe to that idea which is why I study with the teachers that I do, but there is the nagging question of right and wrong when it comes to further innovations evolved from the original ideas. This is where I, frankly, think that we kind of screw with our own heads and I think that a little more sensibility is in order. A person can only live so long and do so much. For something to get really big, for something to really change humanity it must get bigger than any one person. In the midst of that, the person almost shrinks back into something much smaller and simpler that the work that they’ve created. They are after all, just one person. Obviously Pilates has had it’s own particular evolution over the past 90 odd years that it’s been helping people, so many details that reach far beyond my personal understanding. I have arrived at a simple conclusion to direct my own professional integrity: I strive to know my knowledge sources and be transparent about them. What more can anybody do? I do think that many people end up making indefensible claims about the origins of their knowledge about Pilates. Ultimately, that is their choice. I think that it would be good for consumers to realize that. But that raises much larger issues about free markets and capitalism and I don’t dare pretend to make definitive statements about such elusive topics. I prefer to say something concrete that I don’t see a reasonable contradiction to: if everybody listed their sources, we’d have a much better idea of who is teaching what and what we could expect to learn from them.
That was one important point of evolution that I wanted to make, but there is another that rolls around in my head a lot. I’ll put it in terms of my most prominent Pilates family tree: Joe invented Pilates, Romana learned from Joe, Romana taught many people to be teachers, and some became my teachers. Romana added her personal touch to the method and each of her teachers adds theirs. Romana learned the method for her body and then how to be a teacher (which means learning the method for everyone else’s unique body), in the same way each of her teachers learned for their body and then learned to teach. In one generation, we have an amazing resource of variations on a theme: each teacher committed to the work through their own personal lens of interpretation and implementation. This diversity offers a student like myself far more resources than I would have had earlier in the method’s evolution, which gives me the tools to progress quickly. It is inevitable that the students go farther that the teacher, we have so much more information than our teachers. Our teachers had to figure it out on their own, we just have to understand their explanations. And so it goes, we are each standing on the shoulders of giants. It is a simple fact of our human experience.
I’ve probably already indirectly touched upon how the collective consciousness concept is at work here, but it lends itself as a conclusion and bears repeating since it is so prevalent and yet so ignored in our individualistic notion of our existence. There is no original idea, Joe Pilates was not the only one with the good idea and neither is anybody else. There are always others, be they colleagues or strangers. And there is usually the person who gets the credit while others remain in the background. But ultimately we are all in this together, this notion that we can be better than we are is probably our most driving force. We occupy our minds with what, in the greater scheme of live and death, turn out to be petty struggles. I’d argue that we do that for passing entertainment. After all, evolution is hard and unrelenting work so we might as well find some enjoyment along the way.
And yes, you can be sure that even though I’ve put these thoughts into writing, they’re evolved from so many sources that I wouldn’t dare claim them as my own. Like everybody else, I’m just a messenger.