The Path to Mastery

The Path to MasteryRecently I picked up a book recommended by Pat Flynn, my favorite internet business and marketing aficionado.

Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard is a wonderful read.

Leonard, a longtime practitioner and teacher of aikido, examines the various paths to mastery via the study of a martial art. He defines mastery as “the mysterious process during which what is at first difficult becomes progressively easier and more pleasurable through practice.”

It brings rich rewards, yet is not really a goal or a destination but rather a process, a journey. We call this journey mastery.

The path to mastery, Leonard asserts, “is available to anyone who is willing to get on the path and stay on it,” though they must battle against our quick-fix, instant gratification society for survival.

And in true nerd fashion, my fancy turned to thoughts of…wait for it…

the Pilates Method!

The words ‘mastery' and ‘master teacher' continue to dot the Pilates landscape.

But what defines a master?

Proximity to the source? Decades of study and experience? Increased market share?

What does it mean to aspire to mastery of the Pilates Method?

It is my belief as well that the true essence of mastery is in the doing rather than the arriving.

Any art form, martial art or physical practice develops over time. Skills are acquired, practiced and perfected. Layers of nuance and expression are slowly uncovered.

Veteran teachers continue to learn the work and perfect their craft over decades. They admittedly learn something new every day. There is no end point.

Jay Grimes describes the pursuit of Pilates:

Pilates is an endless journey. It can be a wonderful journey but it never ends.

It was Junghee Won who first described the Pilates Method as more akin to a martial art than to traditional exercise. In both disciplines one cultivates the skills of the exercises as a foundation perfected year after year in countless – nearly endless – variation. Mental and physical discipline are a requirement. Focus is imperative.

Jay also counsels the Pilates neophyte:

Forget everything you know about exercise. Pilates is different.

The Love of the Eternal Now

The path to mastery demands you make your peace with being on a plateau. If your practice is diligent, you will spend a good deal of your time there. There will of course be thrilling, heady moments in between when you have a surge of learning, followed again by a new, albeit different looking plateau.

Goals are important. But they exist in the future and the past…Practice, the path of mastery, exists only in the present. 

Take comfort in your continued practice as another level of understanding, another spike in your proficiency may be right around the corner.

The Path to Mastery

In Pilates, we routinely practice our series of exercises, plus additional exercises we add to address specific needs. Often we finish our workout with invigorating exercises that challenge and inspire us on our journey. These are the mainstays of our Pilates practice.

And then one day The Flying Squirrel appears. You do your best, learn a little bit more each time you visit…and then back to your practice vowing one day to return to our Flying Friend.

On the path to mastery every day may not be the Flying Squirrel. It may very well be about doing the Footwork on the Reformer as perfectly as you can today. I suspect there will be lots of Footwork on the plateau. Probably the Rowing Series too.

Getting on the Path

In his book, Leonard outlines 5 Key points to “open the door to mastery.” They correspond quite nicely to our particular Pilates path.

1. Instruction

“The search for good instruction starts with a look at credentials and lineage. Who was your teacher's teacher? Who was that teacher's teacher?”

Lineage.

Uh-oh. That's a big word. More on this delicate subject in a future post.

2. Practice

“At the heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path.”

Of course, right? Your Pilates practice will be by your side always, a trusted friend. You own your workout and your own well being.

3. Surrender

(My favorite)

“The courage of a master is measured by his or her willingness to surrender…surrendering to your teacher and to the demands of your discipline. It also means surrendering your own hard-won proficiency from time to time in order to reach a higher or different level of proficiency.”

This one is tricky. True learners are not content with yesterday's experience of an exercise. The body is ever changing and the work changes as well. Let's nickname this one:

The Path to Mastery

Perfect.

4. Intentionality

“Character, willpower, attitude, imaging, the mental game, intentionality…however you look at it…is an essential to take along on the master's journey.”

The Pilates word for this is willpowerYou must set yourself to the task at hand. New habits are not easy to implement. That's how they came to be called habits in the first place. You must envision the change and will yourself to execute it. Those super challenging exercises are not simply going to happen to you…you've got to want to do them.

Hello, Snake/Twist…:)

5. The Edge

The fine art of playing the edge…involves a willingness to take one step back for every two forward, sometimes vice versa. It also demands a determination to keep pushing, but not without awareness.

Let's call this the Pilates version of ‘pushing the envelope'. Using your will, your practice, your surrender to work safely to the very edges of your proficiency. You've got the tools to challenge yourself to do an exercise that takes all you've got and that previously you found unattainable.

It is your hard-won skills, the fruits of your labors that will navigate you through the Flying Squirrel.

To be a learner you've got to be willing to be a fool.

Ultimately to be on the path to mastery you must continually be an 'empty vessel' in search of new valuable skills, ideas and experiences to feast upon.

In this way we become a perennial beginner and look on the familiar with an eye toward greater depth and clarity.

You may find yourself learning an exercise all over again in a wonderful new way. Recently, the Tower on the Cadillac and Semi-Circle on the Reformer reinvented themselves. I love what they've turned into.

Share a moment on your own path to mastery when you had to tackle an old exercise in a radical new way.

C'mon, you know I love this stuff. 

Romana Kryzanowska 1923-2013

I knew the legend of Romana long before I ever met her.

My first Pilates teachers Lesa McLaughlin and Kerry DeVivo spoke of her fondly. They would tell their apprentices and clients stories about studying at Drago's gym (now True Pilates NY).

Sadly, I was only able to meet Romana a handful of times. My study at Drago's was just at the time of her retirement. She had recently moved to Texas and was no longer in the studio everyday. My dear colleagues that studied regularly with Romana for years have truly received a special gift.

I got just a little taste of her magic, and even that small amount was huge!

Romana Kryzanowska visits San Diego, California…

Moses Urbano brought Romana to San Diego in 2006. We had a big party and Mat class at the Hotel del Coronado.

It was my first time to meet Romana and I remember I did the Rocking with such a will that I rocked myself into a crazy calf cramp.

It was still my best Rocking ever and hey…

It's Romana!

I don't see her everyday and I made sure I got myself into top shape before the event.

Jerome Weinberg, one of Romana's top teachers, was next to me in class. Romana looked at him with a twinkle in her eye as he did the Teaser.

“Get your legs together. Work a little.” Jerome also had a twinkle in his eye and a smile, and of course, worked even harder for Romana.

2008 New Orleans

Romana Kryzanowska 1923-2013

It was Halloween in New Orleans and it was my first Romana's Pilates Conference. I had completed their training program the previous year and I was super-psyched for this event. I did not know Romana personally, so I took every one of her classes. My favorite was a class on the Reformer, about 30 of us, again, striving to do our best as Romana watched and inspired us to do it better than we ever had before.

Just in case you're curious about the photo above, my ‘popo' is the first one on the left.

After class Daria was kind enough to introduce me to ‘Grandma.' I had heard a colleague say that Romana was slowing down some and not the tour-de-force she once was in the 1990s.

Well, neither was I.

Romana shook my hand, firmly I might add, and took one look at me after teaching that big class.

“Honey, you need to relax your neck.”

Oh she's still got it.

Romana Kryzanowska 1923-2013A bit later in Los Angeles 2008

Romana is in the state of California! And there was much rejoicing!

Michael Levy hosted the yearly continuing education and Daria and Romana were in Los Angeles. Wooo Hooo!

This time it was a Mat, Reformer and Reformer Mat extravaganza.

Early on in the Mat workout – during Rolling Like a Ball – Romana had us do somersaults and come up to standing. It was early in the morning, this was not a move I was familiar with yet and Romana was shaking us all up.

Alas, she was not very happy with our efforts. But after about 20-30 more of them we got a little bit better.

All that happened before 10am.

By afternoon most of us were on the Reformer. If you were not on the apparatus for all the exercises you were expected to follow along doing the Reformer exercises on the Mat. Yum yum. Much to my surprise Romana encouraged me to fold myself up smaller than I thought possible in Coordination. Such an innocent exercise, you might think…

Now I understood all that talk of “Squeezing the juice out” of the exercise. I had worked harder in that one exercise than I had all afternoon.

“Now it's Something!” said Romana.

Arlington, TX 2009

Seeing Romana in Texas was perhaps the best time ever. My in-laws live in a tiny town in Texas about 2 hours from Metroplex Pilates in Arlington. 2 hours? Perfect. I was in the same state as Romana, there was no way I was not going to see her. We were in Texas during the Christmas holiday, so Romana's daughter Sari was in town as well. I was hoping to get a private lesson with Romana. Oh boy. Christmas indeed.

Good Cop Bad Cop

As it turned out, I would have my lesson with Sari, although Romana would be in the studio. Ok, still great. Although I had been eating a lot of BBQ since my arrival in Texas…hmmm…

When I arrived Romana greeted me wearing the beautiful Robin's egg blue color I always saw her in. She also sported some really awesome cowboy boots. Red ones, I believe. Sari gave me a lesson on the Reformer and Romana sat beside us.

Romana soon became my cheerleader.

Whatever Sari picked on, Romana applauded. To my horror, after the debacle that is the Snake/Twist, I began to take requests.

Me: “Should I do the Backbend with the Straps?”
Sari: “Why do you want to do that when you can't even do the Snake/Twist?”
Romana: (applauding) “I want to see it!”

So I did the Backbend with the Straps – and even Sari had to agree that it was better than my Snake/Twist.

Romana taught a duet after my lesson to Cha Cha (owner of Metroplex Pilates) and Sari. That was a fun treat as well. At one point Romana decided that Sari needed some help with (irony alert!) the Snake/Twist…

“Honey, help her.”

To my surprise I was now giving Sari a spot for the Snake/Twist.

See, it's everyone's favorite exercise 🙂

 

Thank you so much, Romana, for all your hard work through the years to disseminate Pilates to the world.

You have given me and countless others a passion, a discipline and a livelihood while enabling so many to become the best person they could be.

My thoughts go out to you Sari, Daria, Monica and your families. Peace and warm wishes to you all.

Love all around.

 

Share your thoughts or stories about Romana in a comment below. Thank you so much for reading and sharing the love.

5 Actions to Take RIGHT NOW for Pilates Excellence

1.

5 Actions to Take RIGHT NOW for Pilates Excellence

Pilates Enthusiasts

Get this one done. Schedule the lessons and keep yourself on the path to excellence. The benefits of Pilates are too numerous to list here, but consistency is the key (see #5). Learn your mat exercises to maintain your workout during the week between lessons and you'll have a workout 3-4x/week. If this doesn't sound like your M.O., you might want to schedule 2 lessons/week. Or more…

Jus' sayin'.

Teachers

This one is a biggie for me. In a recent issue of Pilates Style there was a question about what to do if you cannot afford regular lessons, or how to find discounted lessons. Although the question was answered in a very detailed manner, I was surprised that regular lessons were not given a higher regard.

…private sessions do not need to be taken on a regular basis and can be one-off, special events.

It was also advocated that 1 lesson per month would be sufficient. I have to disagree. I believe 1x/week is the minimum and I'm gonna tell you why.

  • I would not recommend that a client come 1x/month for lessons. As a teacher, we must be held to a higher standard.
  • Weekly lessons are an investment in your business.
  • Your depth of understanding of the method skyrockets exponentially.
  • To teach effectively we need to remember what it's like to be a student.
  • Joe Pilates was his own walking billboard. It can't hurt.

Thanks to technology internet lessons are also an option. Put a line item in the budget. Make it happen.

 

2.

5 Actions to Take RIGHT NOW for Pilates Excellence

Today there are continuing education events offered throughout the year in hundreds of locations. You may not even have to travel very far. You can find inspiration and learn from online video classes as well such as the lovely Pilatesology – as a supplement of course, not a substitute for actual they've-got-their-hands-on-me-and-I'm feelin'-it workshops with 1st and 2nd-generation teachers. Of course if possible run to as many workshops as you can, but at the bare minimum go to 1. I like to joke that I need a sponsor to support my ever-increasing Continuing Education habit.

Sponsors, if you are reading, Kathi Ross-Nash would also like one for wardrobe. Thanks.

Workshops contribute to our experience, expertise, they inspire us and connect us with peers and mentors. Which brings me to #3…

 

3.

5 Actions to Take RIGHT NOW for Pilates Excellence

Surround yourself with teachers that are better than you. Ones that have more experience and want to see you to up your game as well. A true learning environment is a great atmosphere for a studio. The clients can feel it. When you are around teachers that genuinely enjoy what they are doing it is infectious and everyone will rise to the occasion.

 

4.

5 Actions to Take RIGHT NOW for Pilates Excellence

Fill your schedule. Jay Grimes refers to the diploma you receive from your training program as your Learner's Permit. Now you will begin to teach and it is your clients who will truly be your teachers. The more you teach the more experience, confidence and expertise you will gain.

And then you can take all those private lessons you have been fantasizing about…

 

5.

5 Actions to Take RIGHT NOW for Pilates Excellence

Practice your exercises diligently with the fixed and unalterable determination that you will permit nothing else to sway you from keeping faith with yourself. At times you may feel tempted to “take a night off.”

Don't succumb to this momentary weakness of indecision, or rather, wrong decision. Decide to remain true to yourself.

Joe Pilates, Return to Life Through Contrology

Workout at least 3x/Week minimum. A little bit every day is even better. You'll have a laugh at the ridiculous I-have-now-drunk-the-Kool-Aid things you say:

I feel amazing!

Hey, this Sh*!! really works! (Duh…)

Consistency. The benefits of the Pilates Method are cumulative. This one fits perfectly with #1. Your weekly lesson can help to inspire you and jumpstart your own workouts.

With a full schedule of teaching it can be challenging to attend to your own workout after a long workday. Feels kinda like you are still at work, I know. Don't be fooled by how many others you make do the Neck Pull.

It doesn't mean you have actually done it yourself.

Consistency will keep you in top form, ready for even further challenges presented by your teacher. There is so much to be had in every exercise of the method. I am always surprised by the depth and intelligence I continue to find within these wonderful exercises.

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Then go workout. You know you want to.

3 Amazing Words = 1 New Pilates Equation

3 Amazing Words = 1 New Pilates Equation

The original Pilates equation we all know.

Strength + Stretch = Control

I propose an additional one.

Pilates: Focus+Flow=Excellence

An article by Janice L. Marturano found me this week.

It got me thinking about Pilates. Imagine that.

1. Focus

Center.

(OH yeah)

Concentration. Attention.

Pilates trains the mind as well as the body. As a teacher and practitioner of the Pilates Method I must show up and respond during my workday and I must pay attention during my workout. Pilates requires one to focus on the task at hand.

We are born with the capacity to be present.

When we train this capacity of the mind, we are learning to cultivate the space we need to make conscious decisions about how we spend our time.

It is in this space that we can bring all of our experiences, education and inner wisdom to the moment.

It is in this space that we begin to reveal our humanity and embody our passion to make a difference, to lead with excellence.

The more focus, the more one is truly present and therefore the greater the capacity for excellence.

Even the Pilates environment is conducive to focus. A place for everything and everything in its place. Pilates allows you to give yourself and your clients the respect of being present and engaged in what is going on right now in front of you.

3 Amazing Words = 1 New Pilates Equation

Eckhart Tolle has a lot to say about savoring the present moment.

As you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease…whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care and love – even the most simple action.

So our ‘simple action' is the Hundred and what follows it on any given day.

2. Flow

Flux. Circulation.

Movement.

Huzzah!

To honor the present moment is to be in the psychological state known as flow.

From Wikipedia:

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning.

In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.

That's me, positive and aligned… So in this state of flow we engage in our flowing movement. Trippy.

3. Excellence

Accomplishment.

You've done something.

Quality.

It's good.

Virtuosity.

Remarkably good.

3 Amazing Words = 1 New Pilates Equation

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Pilates and our Continual Search for Connection

Pilates and our Continual Search for Connection

I did have a new shiny post all ready to go, but I cannot altogether squash a different thought that's been tap-tap-tapping at my brain. Given last week's post you'll be happy to know I have spent the past week moving in my workouts and moving my clients in the following manner:

What if each movement is a search for connection? With this intention we can take action. We move with purpose. We are on a quest and we must find the answer.

Can I connect my limbs deeper into the body with every move I make?

Did I just crank my shoulder or shove my leg out there?

Or have I found an integrated full body movement?

What is this exercise for? “It's for the body.” You kept telling us, Joe. Will we ever learn?

At the risk of over-thinking it…again.

What about connection on a larger scale? Connection to our fellow humans and the outside world lifts our spirits – enriches our souls – just as true connection to our center lifts our bodies and eases our burdens.

I don't think it is too big a leap.

Much has been said about the current state of our over-connected virtual worlds. Buried in our iPhones we potentially drift far away from friends and family who are literally in the same room with us. But this weekend my social media world came alive. Facebook friends unite!

Hugs feel better in person

In 2004 The Pilates Method Alliance designated the first Saturday in May as Pilates Day.

Finally this year I celebrated in style!

  1. I attended 2 fantastic workshops and an invigorating mat class @ Prana Pilates all taught by the lovely, passionate and nerdy Benjamin Degenhardt.
  2. I connected with online friends, many of whom I met for the first time.
  3. I ate several pieces of cake emblazoned with a photo of Joe Pilates teaching the Mat.

It doesn't get more official than that.

Curiously, I just discovered May 4 was declared Star Wars day in 2011. So I suppose I could have tried a little harder on the geek-out overall, but I assure you I used the force, albeit both of them and in opposition.

I have also rediscovered Desiderata. Gosh it was a good weekend. Did I mention there was cake?