December 01st, 2014
Why I Do What I Do
The summer of 2005 proved life changing. Training for the Chicago Marathon, I suffered from plantar fasciatis and had to drop out. I had managed to do the half-marathon in early August, which was a great feat considering I had only started running in earnest about a year before. Despite my years as a personal trainer and then a pilates trainer, I felt worn out and tight. It was then that my first mind-body mentor, Kathleen Aharoni said, “Do you want to try Gyrotonic?”
I finally said yes - I thought that I could use a welcome change and anything that would feel good to my bound muscles. I lay down on the Pulley Tower bench. She strapped my feet in, and I was off doing the hamstring series. The combination of total body connection, my legs’ exploration of movement in all angles and everything in-between turned on a huge light bulb in my head. This - this - is how I wanted my body to move all along. This - is what I want for my clients. I decided then to become a Gyrotonic trainer.
Let’s back track.
I went to school for classical singing, and at the time, was still pursuing that dream when I decided to become a personal trainer. I thought that working with people, helping them lose weight and get stronger would be a fun day-job, much more fulfilling than office temping. I always enjoyed working out and studied some gymnastics and ballet, so it was a natural fit. The gym where I worked had a rather old-school approach that was geared to building muscle mass, a la body-building style, but for women the concentraion was to lift weights to get lean, which is what I desired to do for the next couple of years.
Kathleen Aharoni and Suzi Marks held a work shop at one of these gyms in order to help certify trainers in mat Pilates, but also in reformer training, since the gym just acquired some “Allegros”, the metal, portable version of the Pilates reformer.
Through their partnership, Movement Education, Inc., Kathleen and Suzi taught Pilates technique from their point of view. Originally Polestar trained, they later pursued Feldenkrais and then Gyrotonic. In case you’re not familiar, here is a Wikepedia description of the Feldenkrais Method:
"The Feldenkrais Method is an educational system centered on movement, aiming to expand and refine the use of the self through awareness. It attracts those who wish to improve their movement repertoire (dancers, musicians, artists), as well as those wishing to reduce pain or limitations in movement, and many who want to improve their general well-being and personal development. Because it uses movement as the primary vehicle for gaining awareness, it is directly applicable to disorders that arise from restricted or habitually poor movement. But as a process for gaining awareness, it can expand a person's choices and responses to many aspects of life: emotions, relationships, and intellectual tasks; and it applies at any level, from severe disorder to highly professional performance. The Feldenkrais Method holds that there is no separation between mind and body, and thus learning to move better can improve one's overall well-being on many levels.”
Because of their experience and expertise in the Feldenkrais Method, they were able to incorporate aspects of this work into their other modalities. Their training encouraged developing a good eye for balance in the body’s structure. They “cued” through the bones and encouraged the “pre-Pilates” movements - basic movements that foster body awareness - in their training. They spoke a bit more specifically of the interrelationship between the entire spinal and skeletal structure and discussed in detail the spiraling that occurs in joints. I saw how movement begins with intention, like an inner spark, with the slightest hint of where the body will go. This inner spark is what makes a great dancer or athlete move the way they do. Without realizing it, I saw the importance of the “tension arch” in movement which I later came to fully realize in the Gyrotonic method.
This training began to reveal movement in a completely different light. I saw how some of my personal training clients struggled to do common weight training exercises, such as the lat pull-down. This is the exercise that mimics a pull-up. Its primary objective is to fatigue the latissimus dorsei, or "lats" an ever-important muscle involved in should-girdle stabilization.
With a keener eye, I saw how countless clients knew the general movement of the exercise (pull the bar down), but they didn’t necessarily know the intention of the movement - that one has to depress the scapula to initiate the movement, then bend the elbows. Some of them couldn’t depress their scapula at all. Some just pulled with their arms alone, thereby skipping the first step. Others used their arms but then allowed their chests to cave in, thereby utilizeing their pectoral muscles, which 9 times out of 10 were already too tight. They learned to substitute.
What is so wrong with that? Lots. This is how people get injured because they are not being specific enough about how their joints are positioned. This is how people reinforce inefficient movement patterns in the body which lead to injury. They stay stuck in the quagmire of body “unawareness” which only grows deeper and wider that longer these inefficient patters are addressed.
It is also why, ethically, I could not keep working at that gym as a personal trainer.. It is also why I am so fed up with much of the exercise communitys’ continual marketing of “tone your tummy” and other such propositions which feed on womens’ and men’s insecurities instead of empowering them.
Eventually, I came to see that nearly all my clients could benefit from some kind of mind-body approach in order to reconnect to these parts of the body that were foreign to them. Body awareness seemed to be on the forefront of my mind as I continued to infuse my weight training with Pilates concepts of joint stability and whole body integration. With the addition of Free Motion machines at my gym, I saw the tides turn again, as more functionality in weight training movement started to come to the forefront at the gym. While these machines were definitely better, clients' didn't necessarily know how to use them to their full advantage due to the types of awareness issues that I mentioned above.
As I alluded in the beginning, my first taste of Gyrotonic was addictive. Here I was able to fuse my love of weight training with an incredible call for body awarenss in all movements, always, with no end point, no limit to the angles and intensity. This was my mission. To educate, to inspire, to heal.
Instead of working people out for the superficial goal of better looks, my clients were feeling better were therefore moving with more ease. They were able to move without pain. Some were finding movement back in places that they hadn’t felt in decades. They in turn, would look better, if not for the calorie burning but for the stress relief, youthful posture and gracefully connected, strong movement. A popular internet meme became a mantra: "I thought I just wanted to look good until I felt what it was like to be strong". And with that I might add, "Being strong and moving well".
I am very proud to be presenting Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis to this community. It was my dream to have a studio dedicated to this method where movement can be explored, broken down, built back up, made more clear, more subtle, more energetic, and for people to perform exceptionally functional movements, becoming exceptionally strong, working with their body’s natural movement patterns as well as those in sports or dance.
Come explore. I think detailed, coordinated movements are a lot like putting a puzzle together. Sometimes we have to take apart the puzzle (there might be some wrong pieces shoved in there after all) and then put it back together piece by piece. Our goal is to have that completed work, with no missing bits.
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