Once upon a time, we all exhibited perfect human movement. We were likely curled up like little bean sprouts, fast asleep on a soft, comfy blanket. With each breath, our ribs moved like a circus monkey's accordion, and our diaphragms pushed down and sprung up, creating little pot bellies on every inhale. The first movement performed, as well as the last, is a breath. In the middle there are critical changes that will impact every level of our existence. As we crawl away from infancy and run into adolescence, the way we inhale changes. Stress, fear, asthma, postural deviations, pillow shapes, mattress stiffness and a thousand other variables will change the dreamtime inhalation. The belly won't rise and fall with the same elasticity; the ribs will get tougher and less elastic. The change in the way air enters the lungs will permeate to all of the other systems in the body. Our shoulders will habitually lift towards the ears, sticking the breath higher in the ribs. The diaphragm will narrow its vertical oscillation, and might even reverse its wave pattern and begin to fall on exhalation. For most of us, our nugget of perfect breath has usually disappeared by the time we can ride a bike.
The typical client I see has learned to do all sorts of impressive feats: climbing, running, sailing, paddling, dancing; the -ing words go on and on. They all share a common glitch, despite their varied activities: The body has learned to live with a more familiar but less efficient pattern. If pain has not set in, dysfunction certainly has, whether it is conscious or not. Sometimes people seek me out to just to find out what is going on, wondering what it is they are unconscious of and eager to create a life of unrestricted play. There exists in each of us a wondrous, yet unrealized potential for creative expression and locomotion within the physical body. The software has bugs though, and it is the system crashes that keep me employed.
When people ask me what I do professionally, I am careful to say that I teach movement rather than exercise. Exercise seems like a chore to most, a task to be logged in the spirit of health and wellness at best and with guilt and resignation at the worst. I am in the business of epiphanies, not sweat. I help people of all ages and fitness levels discover the physical potential of their bodies by leading them on a self-discovery of their physical bodies. Imagine learning that the greatest, most perfect software program was inside your home computer, pre-installed. All you needed was a tutor to show how to get it up and rolling. The new software will likely crash some of the existing programs, and that is my job too, to integrate the new potential with the familiar body.
Sometimes I call myself a Pilates teacher, and I do indeed know and teach Pilates. Beyond that, I am an advocate for the perfect, efficient patterns we were wired to possess but lost, forgot, or never developed along the way. Movement begins long before exercise, and it is the inefficiency of our subconscious movement patterns that send the body into a downward spiral of poor posture, misalignments, pain and injury. Exercise often invokes these poor movement patterns, so part of my job is often to use exercises to help train movement. The point isn't to drag a client through a workout; it is to help connect them to the new patterns, to introduce new software to the hard drive of the body.
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One of my favorite graduate school professors was always looking at the root meanings of words to gain a fresh perspective on the topic of the day. Today I am thinking of the word "inspire." My dictionary tells me that since the 12th century the word has meant chiefly to "influence or animate with an idea or purpose." I like to think I am influencing my clients to take a journey of self-discovery, and perhaps assist in the animation of a new way of being. The word can also mean to be filled with thoughts of a divine or spiritual nature, to instigate, stimulate activity and impel. Finally, it has also come to mean the simple, yet essential act of breathing in. With the breath in, know you are in motion.