Sunday, March 18, 2012

Why Tracy is Wrong and Twyla is Right

The other day, a student of mine came up to me and told me she heard that it was best to change up your exercise routine every 10 days. I told her I had heard of periodization, where athletes in training would focus on one area of fitness such as speed, or endurance, or strength, for 3 months and switch to another area, and that Russian coaches had promoted this for improved performance. However, I had not heard of the 10-day rule before, so I asked where she had heard it. She said, “Tracy Anderson”. Ah, I said. That explains it – meaning why it didn’t sound scientific. Nothing against Ms. Anderson, who is very successful, but the theory has no basis in exercise science or in real life training experience. If all one is doing is changing toning exercises from one body part to another, I guess it doesn’t matter how or when you do it. But, if you are practicing how to skillfully master your body, whether in dance, Pilates, yoga, or any intelligent system of exercise, with a goal of truly transforming the way you look, feel, and move, then it is going to take a lot longer then 10 days, and actually needs to be practiced consistently over many years. “Training the body – whether to perform surgery, play baseball or do ballet – requires repetition. You can’t just think about it, you have to do it. Over and over.” – Erika Kinetz, NYTimes reporter in her review of Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit. In her article, Ms. Kinetz explains the concept of how the repetition of a “ritualized set of physical exercises”, provides a time for reflective consciousness, which is to say a time to get in touch with the present (how does my body feel today as opposed to in previous days) and to re-investigate the movements anew. Hence, through repetition, we are not just training the body, but the mind as well. This is the definition of discipline – regular practice with attention. Many people ask me how I continue to teach the same basic Pilates exercises every day for so many years without getting bored. My answer is that they always feel new to me!

I have had great satisfaction in seeing the few students who take the time to come back consistently to class, growing in their skill and development of their bodies. With no change in the exercises, they find that they now feel the work even more and get better results, not less, from the repetition. Others, who either found the work too challenging or were not committed, come back infrequently and think things are still the same and are bored. But, boredom is never a problem of the exercise, it is a problem of the mind. In my classes, there is always much to focus on. And it is precisely this focus that creates control and develops the body as nothing else can. You can tell you are in a real technique class by the way the instructor is getting you to focus, not on muscles, but on the way you are moving – with direction, quality, ease of effort, grace, and form. I always make students aware of the whole body so they can sense the oppositional forces, the length, the space, alignment, and control from head to toe. This is how repetition leads to better and better mastery.

With this being said, I am not against learning new things. In fact, I probably challenge my students with more exercises outside of the traditional Pilates and yoga vocabulary than anyone. However, I don’t do it just to have them do new things. I do it to show then how to apply the same exact focus used in Pilates and yoga with any exercise. It is a continuation of the technique, applied to different movements. It is never really about the exercise, but again in how you do it. This is how I approach teaching my Yogilates and Barre Fusion classes. Within the vocabulary of the toning exercises, I integrate the focus on the whole body, proper alignment, centering, fluidity, and balanced development. Needless to say, doing Pilates and Barre Fusion is a natural combination, just like Pilates and Ballet. For me, the goal is still the same – efficient, quality exercises that teach you to move better, as well as look better.
Take care, Jonathan

1 comment:

jackie said...

very helpful and interesting article. I think the point about learning to focus is key. thanks! jackie