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Fierce Pilates

By February 19, 2012

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Big CatAt the 5 Lineages conference I recently attended, I had the opportunity to view several archival videos of Joseph Pilates and his students. I was impressed by how fierce they were in their Pilates (Contrology as Joe called it then) training. These were not timid movers!

Yes, the videos revealed tremendous control and precision, but there was also a fluidity and freedom in the movement I saw that showed me these people had bravely gone out and discovered what was at the edge of what they could do.

Those archival videos made me reflect on some of my default patterns. I come from a dance background and I seem to have a subconscious idea that I should not sweat too much, breathe too hard, or let anything look like it's challenging me even if it is. And deeper than that, I suspect there is a fear that thinks sweat, needing to breathe fully, and working hard physically is a sign of an emergency. This is despite many many years exhilarating workouts wherein I've done all of those things and loved it.

My tendency is to take it medium slow, try to be aware of every little thing going on in my body, and seriously avoid banging the equipment around. And those things are fine. But one can get a little too technical and careful. What I saw in the archival videos was a fierce physicality that didn't leave a lot of room for over-thinking.  A roll, for example, might have been beautifully articulated through the spine but it was a roll, not an a-r-t-i-c-u-l-a-t-i-o-n. And each move was very precise in a way that hit its mark - boom - they didn't wander thoughtfully there.

I am not in the least encouraging anyone to disregard safety or become unconscious in their movement. I'm just suggesting that there is a balance to be struck between being really internal and attentive in an exercise, and going for it. Both are valuable and only you know what's right for your body on any given day.

That said, my mind goes back to two videos of the Pilates Elder Romana Kryzanowska. In one, she is very young. She is on the reformer and she is just magnificent -- graceful and strong and fiercely claiming the exercises she is doing. Not only is she fully embodying the exercise, there is a way in which she is fully embodying the equipment. She claimed the space. In another video, Romana is probably in her seventies and she still has that one hundred percent energy and she is telling a student "put some guts into it!".

The videos reminded me that there is a place for ferocity in Pilates -- in commitment to practice, in going for the full expression of an exercise, in claiming ones right to try. These are possibilities for you too. It doesn't matter if you are a beginner or a pro. Joseph Pilates' quote, "Your body will be a supple as a cat", was not necessarily referencing house cats!
(I spent some time trying to photo shop a cheetah onto a reformer to show you the insights about knee stretches that I got from thinking about this but you'll have to make your own fierce movement correlations.)

What about you? Is there a place in your practice where you could use a little more ferocity? Are you fierce Pilates? Your comments are welcome.

Related Reading:

The Pilates Method - a Living Legacy
Pilates Videos Online
What if I Can't Do Advanced Pilates Exercises?
Get in Shape with Pilates

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February 22, 2012 at 4:13 pm
(1) Regina says:

I must confess that I am usually too busy thinking ahead as I do my workouts. Maybe that will be my challenge for 2012–get out of my head and into my body more! Although if I am to channel a fierce animal I see myself more like a bear . . . capable of great effort when I need it and the rest of the time just ambling along.

February 23, 2012 at 12:17 am
(2) Penangite says:

Thanks for always sharing inspirational things on your website. I am a big fan. I am a fierce person, love running, hiking, very much outdoor person. However, yoga & pilates help me focus, calm me down and I always feel I can relax and balance after both yoga or pilates.

Do you mind sharing those fierce videos with us on this website? (If it’s possible)

Thanks so much.

February 23, 2012 at 6:26 am
(3) Olga says:

I was so pleased to read your thoughts on classical Pilates. Yes! Let’s bring some vigor, excitement and energy flow back into pilates. Its no wonder many people today liken Pilates to yoga. It’s no wonder many people think that Pilates is only for the weak and injured. Little wonder many men think Pilates is that thing that girls do.
Let’s get moving, sweating and working our bodies as Joseph intended. Not to say that Pilates isn’t a great form of exercise for rehab purposes but if you have a good healthy body., just do the work and have fun. Over analysing makes for a slow and stilted workout. And let’s not forget, it is after all a WORKOUT! Let’s get fierce!

February 24, 2012 at 11:52 pm
(4) Anna says:

Yes please, would love to see those “fierce” videos. I too am in the habit of over thinking every move at the expense of a more vigorous workout, but think we all need to heed the caution to work within our own limitations. Thank you Marguerite for your insights as always!

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