The Missing Link

The Missing Link – Shari Berkowitz and the Pilates Teacher Intensives.

You know when you feel there is something you are missing, something you know will be simple and a golden bullet, but you just can’t quite make it simple enough to see it or feel it. This has been my experience of teaching Pilates, very frustrating and actually stressful . The kind of underlying stress that you can’t name.

I’ve been a client and a teacher in the Pilates world for around seven and a half years.  I always thought Pilates was amazing and knew it had many many answers to modern maladies that effect us as modern humans. Still I remained unsatisfied that it was truly focused deep enough on the most important thing, ‘structure ‘.

There is a phrase used in osteopathy, which covers this “Structure governs form, form governs structure”.  As a life long martial artist I had the good fortune to be taught by a very astute Wing Chun teacher, who taught me that all the fancy looking and flamboyant moves in that field were only good if they could be used to break the opponent’s structure.  Pilates teachers, as would be healers of musculoskeletal dysfunction could learn some thing from this approach, obviously in reverse. I have been a real seeker of this disturbing missing link, what I thought was a great system of beautiful form but with little understanding of modern thought on functional structure.  I don’t get into the classical vs. modern debate, although without classical you don’t have the experience of seeing the overall idea and genius of Mr. Pilates work .  I have explored in depth the linages of Kathy Grant and Eve Gentry with some fantastic teachers like Cara Reeser , Blossom Leilani Crawford , Deb Kolwey and Michelle Larsson. I love the work in those systems and I use it daily but I still felt there was a link missing. What was it you ask ? Well in quantum physics there is a thing called Superstring theory that links all of existence together . That was it, how do I link everything together and how do I find that?

Well of course the answer was Facebook.  A friend posted a piece from Shari Berkowitz.  I had heard of her but knew nothing about her .  The piece was about not ‘Squeezing sitz bones together” . I posted to Shari that it was about time someone with clout said that this was, at best lazy ineffective cueing, at worse potentially harmful to the body . Thus a friendship was started and I was invited by this lovely lady for coffee when she was in London . Now this is a world famous teacher who had time to share on a busy weekend teaching with someone she didn’t know . That alone impressed me so I signed up for the course –  not even knowing what it was about . It wasn’t cheap either but I trusted my gut feeling and boy am I glad.

I have to this date (October 2015) completed two of the series of five seminars called Pilates Teacher Intensives. Each seminar is 3 days long, with homework as an option. It’s been transformational in my understanding of the body from a viewpoint of modern biomechanics. Shari’s research clearly shows the chains of events that makes the body either work or not work.  What is that you say, what secret does she have?   It’s called science. The work is based around how the body needs to function by using the lowest abdominals to engage the small muscles of the lumbar area . Why? To enable a change in and around the use of the Thoracolumbar Fascia (TLF). With all of the upper and lower body feeding though this amazing structure we can use it to help the body release holding patterns and even de-rotate the pelvis.

Now this was a big one for me as I have significant damage and rotations due to ankle and knee injuries.  I had tried everything I could to spot train and strengthen those areas , inner leg –outer hip etc . Nothing worked but with this new work doing The Hundred felt like I was using a foot corrector.

That was it I was hooked! Having just finished the second weekend of the training I wanted to share how clear and well thought out Shari’s work is . It is classical with the only remit being does this anatomically work? Isn’t this what we all should be asking when performing or teaching  Pilates?  My feeling is that we have bought into either too much medical input and then don’t move bodies  or we stick dogmatically to what our teachers (who mean well) say.  How much of this is hearsay or rote learning that is justified by that lovely catch all “let the system work”.

I’m very aware that this is a personal statement but I have seen a lot of this kind of teaching and it doesn’t provide credibility to our profession. Since I have done the Vertical Workshop training I have had so much positive feedback from clients who’s bodies feel released and much more comfortable.  Mostly because they are working from a more integrated structure they look taller, wider and freer around the shoulders. No one teacher has all the answers and it’s all a great journey but I just wanted to share what a thoroughly interesting and fresh take on the Pilates this has been.  The whole system has been examined and thought about, structure foremost down to how to teach the first second or third repetition of an exercise has been thought of and reconsidered . No fuss no fluff straight up like a good single malt.

Like a single malt it will take time to mature in my teaching but I feel like I have shifted my understanding of Pilates enormously already. I cannot say thank you enough to Shari  or recommend her enough. Try at least the first weekend, just to feel your feet wobble on shaky ground that will make you curious for more . Enjoy.

Post Author: Mark Issott

Mark Issott teaches at Pepilates in Clapham London. His movement history began in Chinese martial arts and still continues in Internal Boxing. He was a remedial massage therapist, Reiki and Shamanic practitioner. His Pilates education began at The Pilates Room in Putney. Continuing Education with The Pilates Centre (boulder)-Amy Taylor Alpers, Deborah Kolwey amongst others. He is a Heritage line holder for The Kathy Grant work and has studied with three of Kathy’s students. Cara Reeser , Blossom Leilani and Maria Earle . Further Gentry work with Michelle Larsson.