Hello faithful Pilates practitioners,
In my teaching lately I have noticed myself searching for an extending metaphor…words to communicate reach, elongate, lengthen into…without creating strain or stress. I’ve felt in my own practice, my body respond to Joe’s directive in Return to Life, 'with each repetition better your previous efforts’. I’ve found myself stretching out into space while reaching into the floor. Then, it came to me: The tide. Waves upon the shore. Thinning thinning and then suctioning back into the ocean. As I watch students move, sometimes I sense the operating idea in the movement is a choppier one: a ping pong ball hitting a paddle back and forth. After all, we straighten the legs, and then we bend them, right? Out In, Out In. But what if the corners were rounded more, what if the body in motion felt more like a wave than a ping pong ball?
Then with the breath flowing smoothly and deeply, there would be a clear physical sense of “connection” in the going and the return. Instead, what we often experience is the ping pong ball idea of movement—a feeling of “effort” and “release”. While effort and release may seem like a valuable balance inside movement, what really happens in the exercise sequence is the following. We inhale and draw the spring open, lengthening into the stretching of the spring, but then as we “release” and let the spring pull us closed, we brace against it, or let it collapse us.
Other muscles groups act to brace our return, over-controlling the movement back in. Air flows out on the exhale, but in a sinking, collapsing, or giving up way. Even our minds, focused on the extending of the spring, may drift on the return…So the mind-body connection tunes in and out in a more disruptive way.
Even if we dutifully try to resist the closing of the spring, sometimes we are simply resisting too hard. We tighten and pull in against the natural closing of the spring, and we feel tension. Once the spring is closed, we stop entirely, and have to gear back up again to extend into the spring, sometimes less and less successfully. Then the return of the spring pulls on us more, and causes further collapse. We feel exhausted, and distracted. But Joe spoke of vitality, mental uplift, an energizing post-workout feeling. His obituary said “[he] kept as limber in his 80’s as a teenager. (NYT, 10/10/67, p. 47) At Core Fluency today someone spoke of feeling ‘bouncy’ after class. Maybe that is what working out is supposed to feel like.
Being the wave upon the shore is how we stay “in” without tension. Extending the spring open is just like the wave arriving to the sand…up up and up…but still feeling the pull of the belly of the ocean. We feel the return draw of the spring to return home. The wave reaches up as high as it can, without hitting a wall, without tension, but just extending all the way out and maybe energetically a half inch farther, and then it surrenders to the larger pull of the ocean. It doesn’t break apart, or change its connection, it just simply returns, ready again to extend up onto the beach the next time around. There is no tension, collapsing, or bracing in the wave. The wave has easy responsive tone in it throughout.
What if we treat the opening and closing of the spring like this wave inside our Pilates exercises? And in our Mat work, the coiling and uncoiling of our bodies closer to and away from our centers?
Perhaps our movement would smooth out. More Flow. More Centering. Our minds focused longer. The extending lengthening muscles could stay on and the bracing muscles wouldn’t have to come to the rescue. The breath would begin to wring us out more, we would get sweaty and feel the internal shower! The spring tension would be correct to enable this wave upon the shore expansion. It would not be a spring to brace against. More suspension, levity.
Then the release would happen only at the end of one exercise before the next in Beginner Pilates. And, as we advance, then after a series of exercises connected in a “sentence” by transitions. And, eventually when our endurance is at its peak, at the end of the whole workout. The tide has come in.
Taking the wave upon the shore metaphor a notch further, each “repetition” inside the exercise becomes like the tide coming in…each wave a little higher up on the shore than the last, still connected to the belly of the ocean, to our centers, but extending a bit more each time. The breath deepens in and out a bit more each time. Then the repetitions are not mindless like a ping pong ball against a paddle, but they are progressions, evolutions, ‘a little farther than the last effort.’
We then might watch our bodies begin to change during the movement. During the duration of a single exercise, during the course of a series of movements, and certainly during the progression of several months of concentrated movement! This is Returning to Life the way Joe believed it could be! Designed it to be!
Join us in practice next week, and be the wave upon the shore!