wow i could go a lot of places with a title like that!
a long time ago; approximately forty two seconds after i started teaching, i took a workshop with an elder by the name of ron fletcher. mr. fletcher is ninety years old now so he would have been something 82 at the time and he was suffering from neuralgia or something similar (bear with me, it was seven or eight years ago) that caused him to have something like less control of his extremities or pain along the nerve paths. i’m being vague because i don’t feel comfortable being “factual” since this was so long ago and is not actually my own medical history and it isn’t really any of my business anyway.
he was hilarious and picky and persnickety and very opinionated and i learned a lot from him but three things really stuck in my head. the first was his control. he could lie on a machine and stick his leg out at whatever angle he felt like maintaining and then perfectly extend his leg without even a millimeter of movement in his knee or thigh even as his foot went wherever he wanted. i was so amazed that i stuck my hands on his leg and demanded that he do it again! (oh the nerve of me! but that one second fundamentally changed my feeling about leg mechanics so i’m really glad that i did it!) that he did it in his eighties while suffering a nerve disorder serves only to illustrate just how good a mover he really is!
the second was this funny moment where we’re all standing in front of machines and he stops, mid-sentence, and says “what is up with your head, you always hold it like this” and then he imitated my posture and for the first time i *got* what was up with my head and i understood (because i could always “see” even when i couldn’t “do”) why i couldn’t find the place in my body where my head was easy on my spine. he was the first of many senior teachers to interrupt workshops so they could move my head into place or comment on it’s position. they don’t do it anymore and i guess that means it’s better now; for six years every time i went to a workshop or conference the most senior teacher in the place would fix my head at least once, i kind of miss the attention! [for those who don’t know, my seventh whiplash incident drove me into my first pilates lesson so it took a very long time to get my neck and head working correctly again. it’s still not entirely there but it’s OH so much better.]
but the thing that stuck in my mind forever? that really just bugged me and yet didn’t? he commented that you should be able to tell a good teacher by the way they looked when they were walking down the street. that you could see the movement in them simply from their walk.
at the time i was incensed. as a baby teacher who couldn’t yet stand up for more than five minutes at a time or do much of the advanced work, i just *knew* that he was wrong because i could *see* dammit. i got it, what i was supposed to be teaching and sharing; what i was meant to do for the body in front of me. i instinctively understood what movement training was trying to accomplish and every time that my teacher showed me something i could immediately see it in the bodies i worked with or passed on the street.
i certainly didn’t believe that i knew “everything” although in retrospect i did suffer from the idea that i was supposed to know more than i did. the longer i teach the faster i am to refer people to osteopaths or physiotherapists. the more quickly i am willing to say “uh, this isn’t right, can you go see xyz and tell them lmnop and then let me know what they think?” instead of plugging away at something that isn’t working like it should. i’ve discussed this with other healers and most of them say the same thing. when you start you think you have to be everything to your client, as you mature in your practice you learn what you can actually give (and ironically have FAR more to offer!) and become significantly happier to refer them to others for their specific skills.
i also didn’t believe that i understood the full depth of anatomical movement or pilates, in fact i still don’t and i now realise that i never will. no, not ever. the second i think i know it all is the moment i stop being able to teach from an open and learning heart and is the identical moment that i stop being of any real use to my clients because i’ll also stop seeing them and start seeing what i “know about them” instead.
but i was really struck by this idea that i couldn’t teach well because i couldn’t “be” pilates the way a “real teacher” could.
and then the other day i was striding down the street feeling my hamstrings move my legs and playing with the idea of spreading the bridge of my foot through the roll of my bones on the ground and i could feel my lungs fill with air and my hamstrings pull me more vertical as i really dialed into my foot.
and i heard mr. fletcher again and knew exactly what he meant. now, with something like eight years of teaching under my belt i look like a pilates teacher no matter what i do. you can see from the way i climb stairs, stride down the street, run for the subway, walk in high heels, wait for the elevator, etc that i am a mover.
and so, i guess you could argue then that you can see that i’m a good teacher, or at least that’s what i think mr. fletcher was saying. that until you could see movement alive and healthy in my body you probably weren’t going to get a very good lesson. and i still find myself half in agreement and half incensed by the idea of judging a book by it’s cover.
when i was a young swimmer i moved lithely and with grace and probably had no conscious awareness of my body even as i fully inhabited and used it. so i probably looked like a movement teacher even then. but i wasn’t one. i didn’t “get” movement patterns until mine were shattered and i had to put them back together.
and while i certainly move like a professional mover *now* i have been helping people for a lot longer than that was true. i am most definitely a better teacher now, quicker to adapt and to see fundamental patterns instead of “symptoms” or isolated issues and far more likely to get to the meat of the problem faster and cleaner. the same way that karen carlson is three times as efficient as i am after thirty years in practice (oh karen please come teach another workshop in toronto i miss you!!) i am three times as efficient as i was after eight and that will only continue to be more and more true.
but that doesn’t make those early lessons “bad” just because the ones i teach now are “better” and that’s where i think mr. fletcher was slightly wrong. he was mostly right, certainly anyone teaching for at least a decade should move like it’s an instinct but at the same time it’s the hurt bodies that learn. every single time i’ve injured myself and had to rehabilitate that particular part of myself i’ve become immeasurably better at dealing with clients problems in that same area. every time. to the point that one teacher i know said “you’re so lucky” when i was cataloguing my litany of injuries!
anyway it’s been almost ten years since i started pilates and there are still pieces of me that i am rebuilding and parts of the work that i cannot do (neck pull anyone?) or at least not without a ton of warm up and maybe some assistance from a band or a spring and of course so much more to learn…
i can’t apologise for those early lessons, the clients were served to the very best of my ability (and don’t forget i had 8 years of competitive swim training [much at a national level] that incorporated many many other forms of movement so i was far more educated than even i understood when i started) and many of them were healed or continue to see me today and have never implied that i was ever anything but “good” at my job.
so here it is seven or eight years later and i still hear mr. fletcher in my head saying that you can tell a good teacher by her walk and half of me goes “yes yes of course you can!!!” and half of me goes “dude, you are missing so many other factors” but i do appreciate that i finally “feel” what he meant when he said that!