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INTERVIEW WITH MARY
PILATES STYLE MAGAZINE, Sept/Oct Issue

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Beginning January 2010 (for one and one half years) Applications Taken Now


A NEW PILATES IN MY 70'S

RESPONSE TO L.A. ARTICLE
COMPARING YOGA & PILATES


 

A NEW PILATES IN MY 70’S

Pilates changes for us with each decade of doing it. Youth is different from middle age and middle age is different from senior years. The changes are subtle but even with looking back one year we see different attitudes and ways of doing things. Looking back a decade is enormous. We try too hard when we’re young. We go for power, for drama, for performance, to prove ourselves and to gain ourselves which is all necessary and natural. Stages and phases of life are best accepted and heartily lived through. We can’t skip over anything on the way to development We learn from a certain teacher or teachers and try to teach as they do – for a while. Until we make what we have learned from them our own. I did that time and again. Six and a half years with Joe and Clara, 7 years with Bob Seed, 7 years with Romana, 7 years with Kathy Grant, 5 years with Bruce King concurrent with 7 years with Jean Claude West (who learned Pilates in my Northampton studio, Your Own Gym, where I taught for 27 years) and since 1995 and ongoing with Christine Wright in NYC. Each teacher has been enormously influential and effective in my own understanding of Pilates and my body. I thank each one and revere as well my amazing journey into the unconscious realm of my psyche, shown as safe and possible through Carl Jung’s life work, and my own analyst’s guidance, (Erlo van Waveren). What was revealed there was that the strongest force of all that slowly grew and grew throughout all the years was my emerging “Self” – producing a distillation of all the teaching and experience into a creative process that became my own way. I believe that Joe and Clara would have no problem with this. Joe always supported my creative ideas and moves even in the early years of learning his method –“That’s good. Just be sure you always use your WHOLE body,” he would say to me if I went original.

When I began to teach in 1975 with Romana’s permission, Joe came to me in a dream, saying “I want you to do ONLY Pilates.” I answered him “I can’t do only Pilates. I have a husband, 11 cats, three residences, an analytic practice in 3 states a week. I can’t do only Pilates, Joe, but I promise you I will ALWAYS do Pilates.” He “rrrumphed” and accepted it.

At about 65 my two professions, the Pilates teacher and Jungian psychoanalyst began to merge. I hadn’t intended this; it just happened and was joyously received. With my two disciplines I could see the whole person, the conscious and the unconscious. I could help a client understand and accept where they were stuck and why, showing them that there wasn’t anything wrong with them as they feared. Their problem was natural - due to the structure of their psyche at birth. Some parts of us lie in the conscious and are easier and some in the unconscious much harder to access and work with. It helped them so much to learn that understanding their typology was a practical tool that could be useful to them. So over the next five years a course of study which I now offer to teachers (whether in my studio or theirs or at conferences) developed which I call Pilates Plus Psyche.

Another part of me joined in the work also at around 65 – the comedienne came back. I could have lived my professional life from that vantage point, but I decided no, that that was too easy for me. I needed go on a deeper journey to find my lifework. I’ve always been a quester of the part of oneself that can’t or won’t yet open. So I said a poignant goodbye to the comedienne/actress performer only to find her years later working right alongside me. Full force. I was cavorting around a glamorous client, who was lying on the cadillac, presenting her with a cadre of characters the like of Robin Williams when I stopped myself short and apologized. “I’m sorry. I don’t’ know what got into me.” “Don’t stop,” she insisted. “It’s teaching me.”

At that point I realized something profound. We never really say goodbye to any natural part of ourselves. It may have to wait a long time to reappear, but it’s always there. From 65 on has been a glorious discovery. All parts of myself have come back and are free to express, along with the parts that are still trying to come in. The ego is long since not a problem. Now in real maturity, I find I can live an integrated life and continue growing in that experience until the end. What a good find!

In all the years before the senior years, each year was fully lived and worthwhile in whatever phase. Pilates was different according to the teacher I was with (I have paid to have a private lesson in Pilates for myself for 50 years, and I think I’m probably the only one) and where I was in my own development. It kept growing and changing for the better all along the way, but at 70 the barn doors opened.
A new approach to Pilates happened. New approaches come to me when I am practicing alone, creative ideas that I can develop and offer as a possibility to others.

The change came in as I was on the reformer directing my body in the normal way, doing knee lifts. (Knee lifts came in after Joe. Every teacher has brought something new to the method – of course) All of a sudden I felt appalled. My poor body that knows how to be itself better than any brain will ever know was being told once again what to do. I felt outraged and sorry for my body. I was treating it like a dog who was never let off its leash. I decided that I would not do this to it anymore. (There went contrology right out of the picture). I said to myself: “I will not control my body any longer. I will ask it if it would like to join me in doing this or that.” The first time I asked it to partner with me instead of directing it a whole new spirit of lightness and appreciation (even happiness) came into the work. Before I even finished the question, the body flew to the task of responding to do what I was asking.

This brought into being a new approach to working with the body. MORE PARTNERSHIP/less control.

It led to a deeper proprioception and awareness of what the body was sensing - where I was in the body. This led me to my spine. I found how to be in my spine from top to bottom. How to sense it and be with it. I found it is open-ended. At 75 my spine took off and lengthened just as a cat’s does when suddenly the cat is much longer in its body. The cat releases its spine and so did mine. Interestingly, I never find a young person who can do this. I was no longer directing the body. My mind had stopped leading and was witnessing what the spine can do with any Pilates form. All the exercises lightened and lengthened with the spine as the leader.

That brought in a second new approach to working with the body. MORE SPINE/less mind. (I offer a course called this).

I have no lack of respect for the importance of the MIND. It’s one part of what the psyche is made of. The BODY is just as important through the senses and its intelligent systems: i.e. respiratory, circulatory, adrenal, neurological, bones, organs etc. And just as important also are FEELING and INTUITION – the Four Functions of the Psyche for each one of us. Each function is sensitive to every single thing. The world is experienced differently through each one, and no one is more important than the other.
In teaching and practicing Pilates all four are called on and needed.

The MIND is wonderful. It CAN direct the body and it HAS under the philosophy of “mind over body” for very many years, in the world of Pilates and in many belief systems. I have found that the mind can be more helpful to the body when it partners with it as an equal, checking on things, (i.e. alignment and total body awareness) imaging and imagining, suggesting, witnessing and questioning - rather than controlling.

The third next new approach in my 70’s had come in: MORE EXPERIENCE/Less Performance

Letting the body lead, especially through the spine, was a whole new experience of the body. The mind had asked for performance of the exercises. The body requires experiencing the body. I found this different and superior to the effort to perform Pilates. That is not to say that some people should not choose to emphasize performing Pilates. It can be quite beautiful. I am not calling that wrong. I’m saying that for me it is less whole than experiencing Pilates. (More outer than inner).

The fourth major change has come since the age of 75: MORE RELEASE/Less Effort

The new experience of release had begun when my spine let go when I was 75, as I’ve described. Now it has spread to every part of my body. Learning to open, learning to let go. Waves of release waiting to come in. I suppose it will never be complete until my life ends, but this time is amazing. I understand now that Pilates has been practiced with too much effort and not enough release. Joe said he based his method on the baby and the cat. Reading that in a newspaper article in 1959 in New York City directed me to find him. I’d never had a baby and I’d never had a cat, but I intuited he was correct. Joe thought the cat was the most superior creation of all, possessing a combination of strength and flexibility like no other creature. No surprise I brought home my first cat the year that I began with Joe and Clara, even before I met them, the year I began Jungian analysis as well. Three lasting life roots began that year and have continually grown deeper. I’ve had over 55 cats by now, each one a great teacher of the body and much more, but that’s another story.

In summary: 4 ways that have made A NEW PILATES IN MY 70’S

MORE PARTNERSHIP/Less Control

MORE SPINE/Less Mind

MORE EXPERIENCE/ Less Performance

MORE RELEASE/Less Effort


Mary Bowen
May 19, 2009

 

COMING SOON - A NEW MENTORING PROGRAM:
(To begin in 2010)

 

 
Mary Bowen's response to the LA Times article on
Yoga and Pilates

(The LA Times article is available as a PDF immediately to the right)

As an elder of the Pilates community who has lived the Pilates Method for 46 years, taking weekly lessons for all of that time, and teaching it for 30 years, I feel I must reply to this article. I find this article to be a dumbing down and bastardizing of what the Pilates Method was created to be (and has been experienced to be by myself and many, many others) by the founders Joseph and Clara Pilates. I will respond point by point.

( First, the article states that Pilates is without a spiritual component or holistic approach and is simply a strength and conditioning system done with mat work and apparatus). Pilates without a spiritual component? Pilates has been practically messianic in its spirit and still is for those who understand it. Joe was trying to change the world! We, his followers, were referred to as his disciples. That's how avid the spirit of the method has been. As I have experienced the Pilates Method, as I practice, teach and observe it, there is always a spiritual uplift and buoyancy that comes from the work. Moreover, spirit is everywhere, isn't it? The body is a house of spirit. Joseph and Clara Pilates knew and lived that.

(Pilates without a holistic approach)? Is there any method comparable that addresses the whole body at every moment in every movement whether in the studio or out of it. Pilates is not only exercises. Pilates presents a conscious way of being in your body for your whole life in everything you do.

The Pilates Method is a philosophy of movement. It is a commitment to total body health and breath, whether exercising in a Pilates studio, walking, sitting, eating, feeding your pets, cleaning out kitty litter, working, performing, skiing, shopping, swimming, shoveling snow, typing, climbing stairs, gardening, riding horses or bikes, watching TV, making love, getting in and out of or rolling over in bed, sitting on or standing at the toilet or any other activities of life. Pilates principles impact everything you do.

(Further the article gives only to yoga an emphasis on good nutrition and inward focus - which I will speak about later - and to Pilates simply a series of regimented exercises that focus on using the core muscles). Not to diminish the importance of the exercises, Joseph and Clara Pilates always had a holistic and nutritional approach to living. They did not profess to be experts in nutrition but it was included in their overall idea of total health. In his book "Return to Life" Joe meant that his method was just that - for your whole life. In this book Joe expressed his holistic approach - although the word holistic was not in use at that time. He called his method Contrology.

(According to Ralph La Forge, spokesman for the American College of Sports Medicine and exercise physiologist, Pilates is not for "lifestyle management - not for overall health and lifestyle goals – i.e someone who has had their first heart attack or has high blood pressure or diabetes." For this he would choose yoga). Pilates not for lifestyle management? Not for overall health and lifestyle goals? What does he think Pilates is about? Unfortunately, Pilates is being taught around the world now by people who don't understand the scope and meaning of what the Pilates Method is. It is being seen just as a series of "regimented" exercises. Once again, Pilates is a total commitment to total body health and breath for your whole life in everything you do. As a Pilates person you learn to manage yourself. You learn how to handle your body and what to do with it. You learn how to correct and heal your own body. Pilates is an education for you and your body.

(Ralph La Forge again: Pilates will not help manage chronic symptoms or improve the quality of one's life)! Quite the contrary, the Pilates Method can transform your life and has done so over and over. You are never done with improving with it. You partner better with Pilates the more you mature. We grow into Pilates as we grow deeper into ourselves. Pilates is thus a function of aging, not just an ego effort using intelligence to grow strength and flexibility, although it does do that. You are more when you age, not less. You have more wisdom, fall prey to less bullshit, have more integration and capacity to focus on essence. You do and live Pilates better.

Far from not being helpful for chronic symptoms, Pilates is packed with particular exercises for chronic joint problems, chronic muscular tension patterns, on and on. Pilates is rehabilitative for all states of injury from broken bones to breathing incapacity to brain damage. Pilates can be creatively adapted to each individual's needs and condition. The Pilates Method is not fixed. It principles apply to everything in one's life. Each of us is different and individual as will be our application and internalization of the Pilates Method. A Pilates person is not homogenized or cloned.

Again, in answer to La Forge, the idea of Pilates not being for rehabilitation is preposterous. Pilates has been a major source of rehabilitation, honored as such by many physicians for decades. A large part of what a Pilates teacher does is rehabilitative. Often my lessons are focused entirely on rehabilitation depending upon the condition the client is in and what is needed. This is not to diminish the importance of the whole repertoire of Pilates exercises. It is to demonstrate the scope of the method, the freedom to move within the method beyond the series of exercises on mat and apparatus. None of this is understood in this article. Long term rehabilitation over years is common with Pilates, not what the writer sees as simply "helping people bounce back from injuries." Many clients and teachers are working with a special problem for their whole lives with Pilates. Pilates is not a quick fix!

This article is continually exasperating to an evolved professional Pilates person. Do these people think they know and are doing Pilates? They must be speaking at the level at which they practice Pilates. We know no more than we are and no more than we do. If you go to these people be aware of what you are getting - a watered down, dumbed down, collectivized, regimented, mass market semblance of Pilates. Not Pilates.

(Now for Leigh Crews, a Georgia based yoga instructor & former Reebok program developer: She sees Pilates as done in sets and reps, ordered and structured, built around teachers sounding out numbers). This is not Pilates. This was not the intention of the creators, not what any of us do who have lived Pilates for years. This is more like aerobics or some dance classes. This is supermarket, mass market Pilates. Pilates watered down again. Pilates is being kidnapped because it is so excellent. The name is used, many of the forms are used and then anything goes!

(For Leigh Crews there is no free form in Pilates, no freedom for either client or teacher to go one's own way in any sequence or order). In her Pilates there is no room for experimentation or creativity. This is not Pilates.

Joe was not rigid. In the 6 years that I was at his studio, I often created exercises and variations in his presence which he always allowed. He affirmed a creative approach to his principles. Some Pilates participants seem to have forgotten this. Joe's reminder to me was "Just be sure that you are always aware of the whole body at all times no matter what you do." The Pilates Method is about wholeness. The writer of this article should have consulted deeper sources of Pilates experience.

If Joe and Clara were alive today they'd be aghast at the myriad of mat classes being taught by inexperienced teachers and the collectivized group reformer classes. These diminish what Pilates essentially was and still is. Pilates is primarily and exquisitely one to one, in depth, geared to each individual's needs and condition, taking in the whole person, supporting as deep a journey into the body, mind and spirit as each person (teacher and client) is capable of experiencing with room for experimentation, imagination, fantasy, endless inner dialogue and whatever comes up in teaching and learning. There is plenty of room for creative expression. Pilates as an education is even more so now as biomechanical knowledge has joined and integrated with it.

(Music for yoga, not for Pilates. Vocal sounding for yoga, not for Pilates. Talk for yoga, not for Pilates. Meditation for yoga, not for Pilates). I can knock down these four silly duck pins easily. Many Pilates studios are full of music, for calmness, relaxation, inspiration to move and for a sense of privacy in a very busy studio. It's a personal choice. In my studio in Northampton, Mass. clients choose their own music out of a range of discs. As long as the rest of us go along with the choice, that's fine. And often silence is chosen in order to find one's own inner music and rhythm.

Vocal sounding not for Pilates? Vocal sounding is often encouraged in Pilates as a way to enter and connect with the body. As a way to engage and experience the core - to access deeper breathing and to release chronic tension patterns. I use sound at some point in every lesson.

Pilates not verbal? Try telling that to most Pilates teachers. The voice will give out in a Pilates teacher sooner than the body. There is endless talking and explanation. Some lessons require so much verbal instruction that one could ask "where is the movement?" There is an enormous amount of teaching one does that requires verbal explanation in Pilates.

No meditation in Pilates? Meditation is a way to access the mind/body connection. I have clients who go into deep meditation in every exercise. I myself in the early years of learning Pilates went into deep introversion in order to connect with my body. "She's like a horse with blinders," I overheard someone say about me. It was an enormously deep inner journey for me, as it is for all intuitive types.

Which brings me now (if I still have you with me) to what I consider the worst blasphemy and myopia in this article.

Leigh Crews again:
‘Yoga is a journey of self and experimentation, not Pilates.’

Elizabeth Larkham:
(Pilates teacher and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercises)
‘Yoga for the contemplative, inwardly focused person, Pilates for the outward, externally stimulated person’

In other words introverts will do yoga; extraverts will do Pilates. In the first place each of us is both. One or the other predominates in the first half of life, receding as the other comes forward in the 2nd half of life. But let's just look at "Pilates not about inner focus?" This is just plain crazy!

While speaking at annual Pilates Method Alliance conferences and while giving smaller workshops around the country, it has been interesting for me to find that the largest number of Pilates teachers are intuitives. I would have expected that there would be more sensates, people comfortably in their bodies. Quite the opposite I found to be true.

For an intuitive to reach and connect with the body at all requires an inner journey to the deepest recesses of the unconscious itself. That is where the body lies in the intuitive. You can't go any deeper than that in inner focus - than to the farthest reaches of your psyche. If a teacher (or it could be a client) is making conscious and bringing through knowledge and inner authority from a journey this deep, you will find a teacher who knows personally from his or her own inner journey what he or she is talking about. And you will know, feel and hear the difference. That dark journey through difficulty and resistance requiring enormous patience, perseverance and faith will produce a unique and inspiring teacher. Whether it's with a client or a teacher, working from this depth is creative and exciting to be with. We have many such teachers in the Pilates community who know for certain that Pilates has been and is a journey to the Self.

Why would so many Pilates teachers be intuitives? Choose to be? Because the journey into the body for them is the way to their own development. If you've gone that far down and come back up with something, you have a gift to share. The intuitive will always keep meditating, digging in all sorts of ways for more and more grounding. You won't make a good Pilates teacher if you aren't in it because you need to be doing it for yourself as well as to help others. Doing and teaching Pilates keeps you in your own body and improving every year.

But Pilates is not only for the intuitives. Pilates encourages a journey into the self no matter what type one is. Typology and Pilates is a subject close to my heart which I often speak on and am known for. The sensates, seemingly fine in their bodies, find completion in the body with Pilates. The sensate's deepest journey is into intuition (sensates and intuitives are exact opposites). I find that often the newest most original innovations and variations in the Pilates Method come from the sensate type teachers. Seering intuitions - brand new - never thought of before. Our creativity will always come from the deepest part of our psyches.

So to disagree once more with the article - Pilates is all about moving from the inner. It is not about superficial outer moves.

(Lastly, Joy Reed, speaks of a client who does yoga to be calm and Pilates to be stronger). Fine. That is her experience. Either can calm you down - either can increase your strength. Anyone who enters a Pilates studio of high professional standard, who is filled to the brim with problems and pressures on entry will leave refreshed, always feeling better, emptied of outer world problems, enlivened and more integrated with the body.

There are many roads to Rome. My advice is to take on whatever you choose - it can be yoga, it can be Pilates or other systems - and follow it to the end as far as you can go with the method and with yourself. Pilates can take you as far and as deep as any - in an outer or in an inner journey. Let's not ‘lose in translation’ what Joseph and Clara Pilates created - what I have experienced for myself and do more so all of the time - that a commitment to the Pilates Method is a commitment to one's total health, to one's total self.

This is the essence to be found with the Pilates Method. To call it regimented exercises on mat or apparatus without need or call for inner focus and all the other inaccuracies of this article which I have addressed is an abysmal watering down and loss of the great opportunity for growth and fulfillment given to us by Joseph and Clara Pilates who lived their lives for it.

I hope this lengthy response will be read and possibly printed. I hope that it will allow in some light and consciousness about a brilliant method for partnering with your body throughout your entire life, whether you are so called normal, injured, fat or thin, coordinated or uncoordinated. The Pilates Method has been around and growing in depth since the l920's when Joseph and Clara arrived in America. For over 80 years the Pilates Method has been and will continue to be a great teacher in anyone's life.

Mary Bowen
www pilates-marybowen.com
 

“MIND-BODY BENEFITS YOGA
AND PILATES FULFILL DIFFERENT
WELLNESS GOALS”
- March 10, 2005 Los Angeles Times
by Jeannine Stein

     


"The Fire"

People often ask me "Did Joe Pilates die in a fire?" One woman in London where I was giving a workshop at the Pilates Foundation of UK last May said she had read that it was so in The New York Times. To set the record straight - no, Joe did not die in a fire. He died two years later, in 1967, of advanced emphysema from smoking cigars for too many years (which he took up out of disappointment that he wasn't taken more seriously by the powers that be, especially physicians, during his lifetime). His personal friend, Evelyn de la Tour, shared that with me.

There was a fire in 1965 in the storage room at the back of his floor. The studio and his and Clara's apartment were in the front of the building and were undamaged. Bruce King had an apartment near the storage room. He had to move out due to severe smoke damage. The day after the fire Joe went to inspect the extent of loss to his possessions in the storage room and one of his feet fell through a hole in the floor scrapping his leg. That was the extent of his injury from the fire.

More not less
There is a surprise in growing older. All parts of your life can come together. I have grown into an integration of myself from the roots of Pilates, the Jungian analyst and the singer/comedienne/entertainer. Each now is available at once - great fun to experience - with nothing lost, each aspect jumping aboard at an inspired moment. I would not have foreseen this.