Discover – Explore – Awaken – Part 1

The Pilates Center Teacher Training Programs – Part 1

by Amy Taylor Alpers

When my sister, Rachel Taylor Segel, and I decided to open The Pilates Center in Boulder, CO back in 1990, we were sure about two things:

  • We LOVED Pilates and knew everyone needed it – that it could help people heal and thereby help create world peace.
  • We didn’t like the model in which it had been taught to us – a sort of “catch as catch can” style with teachers on the floor assisting clients who were basically working out individually.

Having been dance teachers most of our lives, we wanted to really “teach” and not just “assist.” And we wanted to do it with generosity, kindness, understanding and real depth. We made it our mission to heal the world by helping people heal themselves with Pilates.  We felt that the only way that could happen was by having clients start with one-on-one sessions taught with a complete focus on the unique person and with a compassion that was required for true healing.

Over the years, by teaching in this extremely intentional way, we have developed very good vision into bodies and their struggles; we teach our students to develop their eyes this way as well. We try to help develop the uniqueness of each teacher in just the same way we nurture the uniqueness of each client. As Martha Graham said to Agnes DeMille,

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

Over the years, I have compiled various quotes by wise people that eloquently capture our school’s mission. Here are some that I especially love and that always keep me discovering, exploring and awakening my teaching skills:

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” William Butler Yeats

“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” Albert Einstein

“Where is the information we have lost in data? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?” T. S. Eliot

Years ago, when I was preparing to teach my first workshop in front of a large, diverse audience at the PMA, I knew I had to get very clear and sure about what my fundamental truths were – not just about Pilates, but about movement and life in general. The community of Pilates teachers I would be facing was filled with very strong, often conflicting ideas. And the prevailing belief at the time, based on scientific information, seemed to be that movement was extremely dangerous and scary and you better be very careful when teaching it!

I felt just the opposite. Movement was natural and right and wise. How do we teach it that way? T. S. Eliot’s words stimulated a powerful journey for me. What is the difference between information, knowledge and wisdom/truth?

How do I – in the face of all the varying data and information other people in the industry seemed to believe – stand firm in my deep beliefs that wise, healthy, true movement completely predates all information and knowledge? The power of movement to keep us healthy was here before mankind learned how to speak or read or write or study, and it was innately right from the start. And the true path to health.

The very first workshop I created was entitled “Seeing the Truth in Movement.” To see the truth in movement you have to turn to nature. So I went back to the beginning of time. Since the Big Bang, our universe has been moving. Everything is moving all the time. That is the most fundamental and essential truth of all. Movement is health. Movement is life. And the main movement that is always occurring is expansion and contraction. Watch birds fly, wind blow, fish swim, cats pandiculate (look that one up!), water swirl, clouds form, tides ebb, flowers bloom, trees grow. All the answers to the truth in movement are there. This to me is the difference between information and knowledge – and wisdom. Wisdom is nature. Wisdom is fundamental truth and it doesn’t care what you think.

Imagine a beautiful healthy pride of lions in the wilds of Africa doing exactly what lions are supposed to do. Now picture a group of scientists sitting around studying them – making note of all the facts and information they think there are to know about lions. Then they compile this into a great book – the world’s definitive study of what it’s like to be a lion! Then they go back to the lions and tell them, “You can’t possibly know what you are doing. You haven’t read our book yet.” This to me is a perfect example of confusing knowledge with wisdom.

Our task as Pilates teachers, therefore, is not to teach people “how to” move based on studies that have been done by scientists, but rather, to enable people return to moving like the wild human they once were, rather than the domesticated one they’ve become. In other words, the goal is natural, normal movement – just as Joseph Pilates said again and again in his writings. The Pilates method is simply the tool box. How we as Pilates teachers enable the body to “return to life” through Pilates, is the art of teaching.  We will explore this in detail in Part 2 of this article.

(See the published article on Pilates Intel’s newsletter.)