First off I recognize the inherent irony of this entire blog post. I teach Pilates otherwise know as “Contrology”. Also, as much as I love some classical, badass Joe Pilates work, I don’t really condone STANDING on your clients. Sorry Joe.
OK. So now that’s out of the way, lets chat about how teaching during this royally f$%ked up time has ultimately made me a better teacher, my clients stronger and in general showed me me that relinquishing control, while so damn hard, is actually really necessary for your Pilates practice and I dare say life too.
I am a total type A mess of a control freak. I often joke with clients that when it came to a career path for me it was either Pilates instructor or superiorly irritating home organization consultant. Factor in that whole dancer, anatomy obsessed and movement lover stuff, I chose movement teacher. I like everything just so…appetizer forks all together, a well organized lumbo-pelvic situation ready for hip extension…you know, everything in its place. So, up until quarantine I could rely on my well trained little hands to lovingly and with the best of intentions guide (or mold, maybe dictate, and yes, I hate to say it, even control…) my client’s positions and movement patterns to a certain extent. Sigh. What I would learn from having this tool that I worked for over a decade to refine taken from me. Bye, bye tactile cueing. Hello having to step back, literally and figuratively. In the Pilates Zoom-room I, the teacher, have to observe more and do less. You, the client, also have to observe more and RELY less on the tactile external feedback of me “the expert”. No more Svengali like experience. Hello agency with a capital A.
I think in general we as a culture think more of something is the fastest way to fix a given problem. More bodywork, more equipment, more movement modalities, more perfect workout clothes, more opinions about why your hip doesn’t move so well or your back feels shitty. When all of these things are limited or taken away we are left with some very powerful tools: Our bodies, our minds, our patterns, our willingness to look at ourselves, and Zoom (ok, kidding about Zoom…sort of). What I observed and continue to observe teaching virtually is the responsibility my clients started taking for themselves and their movement practice. Yes, I am still very much teaching, giving suggestions on form and movement patterning, offering corrections when necessary as I always did, but it feels different. More like a dialogue than a monologue. More collaborative than dictorial. Less about me controlling the movement conversation. More about what actually is being experienced, learned and retained. My little control freak self got to take a breather and watch her clients flourish because they were and are learning about themselves from their own felt experience. Not the experience of my very well intentioned hands telling them what to feel.
I’m not sure what Joe would say about all of this. Maybe he would be into all these people getting down on their own mats and figuring out their bodies. Maybe he would find it completely nuts, but kind of wonderful that his work is surviving this global mess and keeping people healthy and sane. What I do know is that personally I’m less antsy to fix and more patient to allow what is felt. Less concerned with how it looks and more interested in how it’s learned. More engaged in the process. Less concerned with the product.
So I’ll continue to engage in this “Contrology” thing while practicing letting go. As Joe is quoted saying “Through the Pilates Method of Body Conditioning this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind and spirit can ever be attained. Self-confidence follows.” Perhaps self confidence also follows when we aren’t holding on for dear life to ideas, patterns and habits that aren’t serving us. Confidence to mess it up, play, learn and grow knowing we will come out stronger, more flexible, more resilient…heck just better on the other end.