The Spaces In Between
October 22, 2017
My choice to study Pilates came at a time in my life when my interest in movement was becoming more about the how and why of movement rather than learning cool moves. I had already done that; I had taught exercise classes and personal training for more than ten years and I was becoming bored with what was being taught in health clubs and gyms. At fitness conferences and conventions, products were being pushed as the hot, new trends but they really weren’t new at all – they were just recycled. Programming in aerobics was just more variations of jumping up and down, grapevines and lunges whether they were done on the floor or on a step.
I found that what was being sold in the gyms and health clubs rather limited and boring. There really didn’t seem to be much thinking going on. I believed that any movement or exercise system inherently required thinking to be of any real use to the participant.
So, for a few years I studied Laban Movement Analysis, Feldenkrais and took a few classes in Alexander Technique. But now, how to bridge those ideas with a public that probably didn’t want to spend their time on techniques that they would find too subtle? While there is no question that these methods are valuable, most people either lack the patience required to explore them and respond that they can’t feel the sensations. In a Feldenkrais class, for example, one might focus on a hand movement on the right side and compare it to the hand movement on the left. There are differences that can be detected from the neck to the shoulder to the elbow to the hand on each side but it does require focus and an interest to be able to detect those differences. In our culture, there is a resistance and an overall attitude of “what’s the point?” In our culture, we are more interested in burning calories or sculpting our deltoids.
Enter the Pilates Method. I found Pilates to be a system that built and sculpted muscle but also contained an inherent intelligence. The student of Pilates was required to think and process while working out. In working the system, a student could become aware of postural habits that were leading to pain or dysfunction or weaknesses that were preventing optimum performance in sport and work to overcome them. Becoming aware of how you performed an action was just as important as that action itself.
I am often asked as to what good posture is. I hesitate to “fix” anyone’s posture, whether it is leveling out the shoulders, tipping the pelvis or arranging the skull on top of the cervical spine. Often these physical quirks are the bodies’ response to imbalances in the core or in its ability to hold itself against gravity. Of course, I could fix this, tuck that and twist this but the moment the person decides to move, all of my fixes would be gone. Sometimes people think that a hiked shoulder has to do with carrying a heavy purse on one side which could certainly have started the habit but what if that habit of carrying the purse on the shoulder was discarded a long time ago? What is holding the habit there now? What if the person has now developed a habit of hiking the shoulders toward the skull when he/she communicates with others? That habit has more to do with her shoulder and postural imbalance that a habit she discarded a long time ago.
In issues of chronic pain, a cranky hip on one side (but not the other), a repetitive sports injury or a back and neck that is aching after a day at the desk, we must look at how we use the body. We must become aware.
Exercises and stretches are all well and good. But to truly gain strength, improved flexibility, enjoy full range of movement in the joints and to overcome obstacles to efficient posture, we must become aware first.