At a recent workshop I attended, Jay Grimes described Pilates as a combination of
“a strong center and a 2-way stretch”
I found this statement fascinating and it inspired me to delve deeper. These days, when I work out, I ask where the 2-way stretch is in every exercise I do.
When Joe Pilates created the body of work that we know today as Pilates (Joe originally called it, “Contrology”), it was performed at his torture-chamber-esque studio. However, he also dreamed that people would eventually learn the work so well that they could practice it at home and ultimately their body would encompass the principles within The Work and embody them in every movement made.
When I think about this being the ultimate end result I am fascinated by what exactly this might mean. I mean, have you transformed into some super hero who has learned to use the force and uses “the power” for the good of all? My mind can’t help but picture some glowing guy who can harness their power at-will. A modern day X-men perhaps? I digress.
The real description is probably something a little more realistic, but no less super-powered. It might just look like an 80 year old man with the body of a 30 year old who runs around in swimming trunks at every possible opportunity (that was Joe).
After my five years of practice, there are still exercises that my body struggles to execute correctly, and almost anyone who practices knows that you will most likely never execute them all perfectly. AND did I mention? The more you do Pilates, the harder it gets!
Pilates Feels like a road that you journey on, with the destination always seeming so far away…
Now, on it’s own, this road is a GREAT road! The more you drive it, the more you appreciate it. All the twists and turns. From the outside, it may seem boring, it looks like you are doing many of the same exercises over and over. But our bodies are different every day. And when your body is different, the exercise feels different. When you progress it is a satisfying thing to notice. And when you learn the subtleties and intricacies that encompass an exercise, it engages the body AND mind in such a way that directs a focus and calm to your life.
WHAT IF we did get to the end of the road? What if Pilates wasn’t just about the journey and there was an end destination?
As defined by Joseph Pilates in his book, “Your Health” (originally published in 1934), the use of the Pilates Method was “where flat feet, curvature of the spine, protruding stomach, stooped-shoulders, hollow chest, hollow back, bow legs, and knocked-kneed conditions are cured through corrective exercises”.
Pause for a minute to think of each of these ailments, and how they stress, strain and ache the body. Think about all the unseen unfelt toll that it would place on the organs and body system. It makes sense that IF these ailments were to be cured, great health may be quite possible.
So, how do we get from where we are NOW to the ultimate end goal of the Pilates Method?
The obvious answer is (of course), to Practice!
Ideally, not just the mat, not just the reformer, or any one piece of equipment. Every piece of equipment in the Pilates system was meant to be used in conjunction with the other.
Work out with an instructor as often as possible! It is crucial that you feel and understand the exercises in your body. This may be possible when working out on your own but while you are learning, it is important that there is a keen eye watching and teaching your body proper position and form. When you receive a correction, memorize it in your body. Practice the exercise with the correction given.
Remember, at the heart of every exercise, there is “a strong center and a 2-way stretch”. Search for this feeling in every one. Once you feel it, and can perform the exercises as directed, I believe you will be well on your way to achieving everything that Joe was able to correct with his Method.
Finally, be patient!
Your body did not assume the form it has made or the condition you might have overnight. It will take time and work for changes to happen. But if you are diligent and thoughtful, it WILL happen.
After time and repetition, you will achieve strength and a supple grace. Use the work that created your “reformed” body and apply it in every simple task you perform through out your day. When you open the cupboard and reach for a glass, your arm, back and entire body should work in conjunction, just like the Swimming exercise. When you bend down to pick something off of the floor, you are performing your own “Russian Squat”.
After devoting the untold amounts of concentration and practice required to achieve this, you have earned every inch of length you have created, and every benefit that you feel. You might have so much inner strength that it might radiate and you may even glow! In your own special way, you have transformed into a super-hero. No Kyptonite necessary, just thanks to a little Pilates, and you can leave the swimming trunks at home.