I met Mary Bowen and spent six hours with her in a two-part workshop/dialogue at a Power Pilates Education Conference. I needed and wanted to meet and experience this living elder firsthand after she sent a FB friend request earlier in the year (which I must say delighted me to no end). I was drawn to Mary’s workshop with intrigue for the melding of Jungian Psyche archetypes with movement in the body.
Also in December, on the weekend of our first snowfall on the East Coast, I attended a two-day workshop with Sonje Mayo at The Art of Control studio in Stamford, CT. I was drawn to it for my clients with severe scoliosis and my desire to find out more about Schroth, a therapeutic movement methodology that she incorporates as a Pilates teacher. The decision to attend was cemented after watching a 3 part interview Sonje gave to Alisa Wyatt in her home studio in TN. A strong opinionated teacher with a perspective that was unique and passionate in an area that few in the world know anything about.
Wisdom & Wit of Bowen & Mayo
It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. This is by no means a critique. It will be a few words of observation from two eye-opening experiences, in celebration of two powerful women I had the honor of meeting and connecting with in December 2017; Master Teachers, Mary Bowen and Sonje Mayo.
It was the second time in the span of 30 days that I had been in a workshop and recognized by an Instagram follower. Boy, that’s an awesomely odd feeling. It’s not like I have gazillion followers or friends, nor do I seek them. I am clearly not hiding though, for I post religiously, sharing my work, joy and occasional frustration as a teacher and small, boutique studio owner.
Truthfully, I love making social media connections that become real, whole, alive and allow for a two-way exchange; either through the sharing of ideas, practice and camaraderie or with those I am inspired to follow as fellow teachers/mentors to observe the practice, work and discipline of our craft. These are two women/teachers/mentors that I am planning to continue to follow and celebrate.
Mary Bowen, a Jungian psychologist, Pilates lover, Teacher and elder of our community says our unconscious speaks volumes about us in our bodies movement and the older we get the clearer the sound and messages may become. I came to the workshop wide open to her thoughts and experience. I admit, I will need a bit of time to fully unfold the package she presented. Yet, as one of the three in the room that raised our hands for being a part of the #PilatesOver60 crew, I resonated with her forthrightness quite a bit more than many other millennials in the room.
Someone asked at the break if I had worked with her before, as it seemed we winked, chuckled and at times, seemed to have a little bit of an eye-to-eye connection. I replied no, I just “get her,” she feels like an “old spirit” sage.
She used a few divergent techniques and an arsenal of pithy quotes and statements; some of which I got, some of which I simply released and let go of trying to understand or fully capture, e.g., the yawning growl (a breathing technique she employed).
Widen the Spectrum and Deepen the Reach
“Only Compete with Yourself” – Mary Bowen
It should be expected that her perspective would be distinct and unique, as she stated, she had been doing Pilates for 58 years. She spent 6 1/2 years with Joe and Clara 3X a week. Joseph Pilates came in dreams to her, and Romana gave her “permission to teach” in 1975. Hell, I finished high school in 1975! Like most teenagers, knew nothing of myself, my body or the world at that time. She told us she realized so much more at 65 years of age; and that it took that long to integrate all parts of the self into being. It was at 45 years of age, that I found Pilates for myself, as a shift in life and lifestyle, thus I found it absolutely delightful that Romana gave her permission to teach at a young age, and that it wasn’t until she was well past 60 years of age that she realized the value of freeing herself of the ego that calls us to “make it happen” and inviting her “mind to partner with the body” to “allow it to happen.”
“Take Your Whole Body On” – Mary Bowen
I took her admonishment as a way of encouraging a yin/yang conversation with the disparate parts of the self. For example, imagine the difference in physicality when one invites the mind and body to “release the spine” rather than intentionally contracting a muscle to accomplish a movement.
The work of Joseph Pilates – Contrology – is that, the art of control. The grounded, masculine, willful consciousness. Mary said, “repetition was dominate with Joe.” Repetition for emphasis was the teaching style. Repeat the same movement, again and again until it, in its finite form and point of reference are perfected. She observed, this left no patience, no room, no space for intuition. It narrowed the work and the form to a point of precision, contractions and limits.
Both Mary and Sonje Mayo, observed this as truth in their individual experience with Joseph Pilates as his students.
I met and experienced Sonje, eight days after the Bowen workshop. Sonje also trained with Joseph Pilates as a long-legged, lithe dancer in her 20s. She spoke honestly and forthrightly about the gift of Pilates to her life and living. There is no question about the wealth and value she attributes to Joseph, Clara and The Method in moving, healing and training the body Sonje Mayo on Joe Pilates Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. However, she had scoliosis, not unlike a wide array of us (including myself) walking the earth. She admitted to willfully, consciously and intentionally working to strengthen her weak side and lengthen the contracted “prominence” as a result of the structural and compensating curves of her spine.
Sonje spoke of the thousands of hours, through the years, using the Pilates method, strength training in the gym, therapies etc., and her frustration and inability to correct the curve. She felt as if she were “fighting herself” the very same thing Mary had expressed the prior week.
Frustrated at 54+ years of age, still dancing on the stage she told us, the pain increased, as her body’s curvature and structural imbalance were not “righted” or “corrected.” Pilates training “doesn’t and won’t arrest it,” she said. She found and embraced the Schroth technique as a complimentary discipline to her teaching.
Essentially Sonje did what Mary admonished us to do, “widen the spectrum and deepen the reach.” Staying within a narrow framework is, perhaps, limiting. Her teaching offered a divergence from the classic format and teaching protocols. She brought so much heart, energy and verifiable concrete evidence. Her personal experience and perspective with both Joseph Pilates and Schroth methodologies and teachers is unique and frankly, I believe to be unprecedented.
I admit, I was surprised a couple of times, and had to pick my jaw up off the floor, yet I was open and willing to immediately utilize her advice and teaching. After spending the entire day with her, as the first snowstorm of the season hit the northeast and during dinner, I immediately texted the most consistent student in my studio the names of the only two Schroth practitioners in the NY area and told her ‘get an appointment.’
Sonje’s words and admonition completely altered my cueing and expectation of a lot of the work with my scoliosis clients.
· No rotation into the prominence – exacerbates the structural imbalance
· No rolling – impossible to realistically accomplish
· Adjust the shortened hip – simply bend the knee of hiked hip
I exclaimed, at one point during the practical application portion of the workshop, “OMG, I have been killing them!” It was all so simple and made so much sense in practice. It brought to bear the responsibility of both the student and teacher in the work.
Small Tools and Props
As we know from the seniors, elders and mentors around us, inclusive of one of my favorites, Kathy Grant, none of them ever stopped inventing, adjusting, creating ways and means to perfect the movement of our bodies.
Having said that, it could be that I wasn’t listening very well beforehand, but I never heard “stick your tailbone down” until Sonje! ‘Tuck the tail and scoop’ was always the mantra. Weight the ankles, use the strap. This was the order of business. My beautiful curves and that of my students with a lordotic curved spine struggled on the mat with roll up, neck pull, etc. Well – not anymore!
Now, we all use a rice bag plug for our lordotic spines to facilitate the rollup. These same props are used for the cavernous spine of a scoliosis client to help fill the hollow spaces of the back with breath and connect all of the body to the mat.
“Do Only YOUR Best” – Mary Bowen
Mary used straps and egg-shaped balls as tools and props to help guide the body into a deeper release. Straps that her husband, Alec, designed and made for Mary’s work and for that of Kathy Grant. Mary also used the feminine, the Yin, the Anima, the “spirit of intuitive play” to open up her conversation with her body and allow “both/and” instead of “better than the other.” Sonje similarly, addresses the imbalances of the bodies presented before her with a “both/and” approach that changed everything instantly in practice.
The aha’s from both of were immediately put into place and action upon return to my own studio. The movements of these bodies in the room was changed by the slight shifts and adjustments of the small plug. Frustration and angst were replaced with glee and delight instantly in the first session of application.
These observations are offered as a reminder, encouragement and celebration of the words, wisdom and “aha’s” of these wise, elder, warrior women. All of our living and teaching is improved by their generous giving of time and resources. They are warrior women, as only a warrior could stand up and going against the grain – while in flow with its movement.
Gina Jackson, Director/Owner, Pilates4Fitness Movement Space, a boutique fitness studio serving the community of West New York, NJ. She has been teaching along the Gold Coast of Hudson and Bergen County, NJ for more than fifteen years. Certified by Power Pilates of New York, Gina has trained with Master Teachers Bob Liekens, Susan Moran, Brett Howard; Senior Teachers Alison Laundrie, Juliet Harvey and Juan Estrada and has enjoyed workshop training with Blossom Leilani Crawford, Kathy Corey and Alycea Ungaro as well as listening and learning from the personal stories of Joe Pilates as told by Pilates Elders, Kathy Grant and Lolita San Miguel. Gina holds a BA from Upsala College and MBA from New York University and uses all her corporate business management expertise in the management of the studio and business. She supports a myriad of clients, teaching all to honor their health, strength and life with the principles of Pilates at its core. On the personal side, she plays hard, laughs heartily and is crazy about social media connections. Connect with her anywhere at @pilates4fitness and read more at her blog www.pilates4fitness.com.