Pilates Iconoclast: I am the founder and director of
Backbone and Wingspan
Universal Principles of Movement Studio
in Midtown Manhattan.
In a world in which a "Pilates Ball" can be purchased at Bed,Bath,& Beyond, I am enthralled with teaching the underlying principles that support the spine. There is a big difference between using a ball to support the spine for core-strengthening exercises and using a ball to give your body sensory information about your body's own innate buoyancy. Buoyancy is just the beginning of what one can get from sensing oneself spherically. Universal principles of movement are principles of the universe and the way we move within the universe and the ways we can allow it to move us.
We live, breathe, and move on a sphere with a powerful core that is in constant rotation around an axis while simultaneously in rotation around a solar force. There is no flatness to this sphere. There is an almost incomprehensible depth. The radiating core gives us the great gift of gravity and weightiness and a connection to the power of the ground that most us spend our lives either resisting or taking for granted.
It has been known for hundreds of years that the earth is not flat even though you can look out for miles and miles and not be able to perceive where it curves off. Except for pictures of the planet from space that I have seen on television via satellite, I have no experiential proof that what I walk around on everyday is a sphere.
It seems strange to even question it, but in the days before the discovery, most people on the planet thought a spherical earth preposterous. Our bodies, if we perceive them as such, have incomprehensible depth, a powerful core, a reliable center of gravity, a solar plexus, and besides the head and the eyes that you are reading this with, there are spheres within spheres in the make-up of the body.
There is a perfectly straight line of force that flows through the body as an axis, just like the earth's axis; but no part of the body, particularly not the spine (which is a serpentine line) flattens out to line up with that axis.
Yet for having accepted for hundreds of years that the earth isn’t flat, it is taking a preposterous amount of time for people not to flatten out parts of the body. We desire flat bellies, we lock our knees, and we are conditioned from a very young age to sit up straight.
Perhaps because of our disconnection from the earth, the population isn’t realizing that when you flatten any part of the body, you lessen the potential to connect one system of the body to another system (such as connecting the legs to the spine),and you lessen your potential to be grounded.
From an aesthetic point of view,
when you straighten or flatten
any part of the body,
you shorten the line of the body.
We know without ever seeing it with our own eyes from space that there’s no flatness to the earth, but we still think that holding ourselves upright, standing up straight, pulling the belly in, yanking the shoulders back, and making a rod of the spine are desirable elements of posture.
There is no flatness to the body; only arc, spin, rotation and spiral… just like the planet and the way it moves itself and us through the universe.
Spheres in the studio
Give it a whirl
A Poetry in Motion selection I read on a bus when I took a writing class for the first time, years ago, before I ever taught or even thought about universal principles:
Time comes into it
Say it Say it
The universe is made of stories,
not of atoms
- Muriel Rukeyser
An adage: the more personal you make it, the more universal it becomes.
I roll around on the floor sobbing uncontrollably
while a woman with white hair pulled back into a lush ponytail sits and watches me. The rubbery textured mat underneath my body is wet with sweat and with the tears that have been so profuse for the last ten minutes that they fell not so much in drops but in sheets.
“Now you are breathing,” she says with a gratified but composed exultation in a marvelously accented posh that penetrates my system. She has guided me with her voice through a series of sustained postures in which my body has gone into states of involuntary “tremoring” as is of her technique.
She has spoken to me in this lesson of honoring the bones, allowing them to relate to their ball and sockets joints. She has spoken of the skin as an organ that breathes and that it is not a bag to hold the bones together.
“You don’t have to hold yourself together, gravity does that for you. Give in to gravity. Let gravity have you.”
I allow my rolling around to lessen gradually, and it comes to a peaceful sighing lull, like a child’s toy that’s been awkwardly spun, momentarily disregarded, slowly winding into a rocking halt still with the energy of the tiny fingers that first set it in motion. I feel for the first time that I am not trying to breathe in some way I think she wants me to, neither am I passive. I am simply in a body that is passionately breathing. I uncoil and then unfurl my newfound supple self off the floor. I face her composure and I perceive a measured state of her being pleased with this work we have done together. She proffers a tissue box towards me, but I silently refuse it.
She doesn’t hesitate to move me forward:
“ Alright now Prince Harry.”
I breathe out the beginning of a soliloquy regarding a son rising to sudden Shakespearean regality:
I know you all, and will a while uphold
The unyoked humor of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That when he please again to be himself,
he may be more wondered at
by breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.
In my body I know where the sun is coming from, what the contagious
clouds are. The only part that I can’t embody is the “being wanted.”
My sobbing has ceased, yet it has lubricated my system beyond the obviousness of my throat feeling soft and alive and open. She does not ask me to perform the second part, and not because the hour is up.
“I want to thank you for the wisdom you impart. Do you consider yourself a wise woman?”
She is taken aback.
“Well you can thank yourself and you can thank the universe.
I am just a witness. Your body tells me what it needs and I respond. Your job as an actor is to make contact, because if you aren’t making contact, you’re not serving the universe.”
My Prince Harry performance didn’t make me a working actor,
but that experience was earth-shaking and of Shakespearean
proportion for me. Contact became a crucial element to my teaching. One of the universal principles I will write about is contact.
My intention in writing is to make a different, if not deeper contact with people continuing to study, who have studied in the past, or who have hopes of studying at some point. I believe my job as a teacher can extend beyond the people who I make actual physical contact with in the studio.
The psychic depths are enabled, enhanced, and advanced through the physiological depth. Or as the teacher I study with now says, “There’s a whole world inside your hip sockets.” That thought, along with the Shakespearean: “All the world’s a stage…” could make for some pretty big pelvic drama. But if “all the world’s a stage,” the universe is an enormously accommodating theater.
By the way, I have by now embodied the “being wanted” part of my princely soliloquy. It is located right behind the navel. This important energetic as well as physiological junction leads into the related principles of expansion, extension, and suspension which I will also write about.
Partial Listing of Principles:
Arc * Buoyancy * Contact * Dynamic * Expansion * Form * Gravity
I would like to lead people through a demystification of the ubiquitous navel-to-spine Pilates concept that is overused and misunderstood.
I would like to present the tools used in Pilates, particularly the springs,not as resistance tools, to push against, but as sensory support: a spring being a spiraling coil of wire that can unwind and become bouncy, giving information to the body of its own buoyant and springy potential.
A roller can be sensed as having the same energetic cylindrical shape as the deepest abdominal layer.
A bar can be sensed as a curving surface used to create a balanced dynamic relationship between the ball of the foot and the heel. See the Footing post.
People often ask me how would I define what it is that I do - what
is this work. I have a Pilates studio and use that equipment and some
of the exercises to impart principles of movement. This is beyond what
one experiences in exercise that has mostly muscular, and not movement
focus. This is beyond fitness - it is function that brings fulfillment.
Learning the underlying principles that support your spine, learning
the process by which your imagination unwinds you in many ways,
learning through the sensory experience that your body receives within
the movements - this is what I teach: the you within the universe. You
as a universal force: unflattening, unfolding, uncoiling, undulating,
So that you may sense that you are not merely on the spherical miracle of this earth, but that you are actually of it, let's begin from the ground up - let's get your footing. Footing is the first lesson in which you may put principle to practice.
Please feel free to comment on what you perceive from these writings. If the universe is made of stories, please share your universe here with me.
Future web log lessons:
Shooting from the Hip
Healing through the Heels
The Soul of your Soles
Dove-Tailing the Spine into the Sacrum
Playful Principles as opposed to Rigid Rules
The Spine: Serpentine as opposed to Straight
The Ribs Are Not a Cage; They’re a Set of Slinkies
Credits and Links:
Soliloquy: Prince Harry William Shakespeare from Henry IV Part One
Elizabeth Andes-Bell http://everydaysacred.typepad.com/
Catherine Fitzmaurice http://www.fitzmauricevoice.com