Not Your Average Joe
You know those people who enter your life and create a massive impact on your sense of purpose? There’s something about your experience with them that shifts your mind into a world of endless curiosity, inspiration, and growth; keeping you motivated toward your personal best.
I’ve felt this way about many teachers. But there’s one teacher in particular who stands out even though I’ve never had the honor of meeting him: Joseph Hubertus Pilates (1883-1967), the creator of Contrology, which is the exercise method we now commonly call Pilates. He has literally changed the way I move and feel in my body, the way I understand mind-body movement as an opportunity for neuromuscular reeducation and well-being, and whose own tireless work has provided a fulfilling career for me.
Movement, Pain Patterns, and Pilates
My introduction to Pilates was during the summers of ‘93-’94 as a pointe shoe wearing bunhead at The Dance Theater of Harlem. Pilates Mat class preceded our ballet classes but I knew nothing of the man named Joe who created the work that was a required part of my dance training. It wasn’t until the late nineties as a professional dancer and aerial artist that I was introduced to the full scope of his work after laparoscopic surgery for a torn meniscus landed me at Performing Arts Physical Therapy. Rehabilitation of my knee eventually included a prescription for private Pilates across the hall at The New York Pilates Studio which addressed the movement patterns in my body that predisposed me to injury in the first place. It was the first time I learned that pain/injury wasn’t necessarily just a localized problem, rather the end result of movement habits which needed to get corrected thru Pilates and reinforced with more conscious movement habits outside of the studio.
Pilates vs. Pumping Iron
Ironically, I was already a Certified Personal Trainer and bonafied gym-head who’d spend two hours per day doing cardio and pumping iron one muscle group at a time. But I quickly realized that a 55min Pilates workout wasn’t for the faint of heart. Within an hour it trained my entire body as an integrated system that required me to use my “powerhouse” (core) to move, stabilize, strengthen, and lengthen while completely aware of my posture, alignment, and movement mechanics. And above all, it was about control vs. brute force and grunting out repetitions until muscle failure.
Of course I didn’t know how to articulate all of this back then. All I knew was that Joe’s system worked and my body felt stronger and more resilient than ever. I was intrigued and blown away by the movement legacy left by Mr. Pilates and continued training intensively with the intention of eventually teaching this brilliant method to others.
Why, why, why?
I wanted to know why his system made me feel stronger than traditional strength training. And why I got injured far less in my performing career when I practiced it consistently. Plus why and how equipment made with integrity to Joe’s original design specifications by companies like Gratz Industries and Pilates Designs, work synergistically with his exercise system to heal the body.
Thirty-five years after my initial introduction to The Pilates Method at Dance Theater of Harlem, I’m still studying, practicing, and digging deeper into the essence and nuances of the work. I just began my third comprehensive teacher training program at the New York Pilates Studio which is where I began my personal practice in the late 90s. Here I get to train on replicas of Joe’s original equipment while surrounded by archival photos of him doing his work through his eighties – yes, 80s! It’s a humbling and inspiring testimony to the efficacy of “Contrology”. And it’s proof that Pilates is more than just movement, sweat, and calorie burning. It’s about mental and physical conditioning in order to “Return to Life”.
Continuing Joe’s Legacy
I’ve been teaching Pilates for 16 years and every day – still – I’m energized by observing how Joe’s Method works for every body – not just my own. I’m still curious. I’m still inspired. And I’m still growing as both a practitioner and a teacher. And I’m committed to honoring his genius by maintaining integrity to his work and being the best teacher I can possibly be.
“To achieve the highest accomplishments within the scope of our capabilities in all walks of life we must constantly strive to acquire strong, healthy bodies and develop our minds to the limits of our ability” – Joseph Pilates