MATAPALOOZA: RIGHT BRAIN. LEFT BRAIN
By Tracy Maurstad, PMA®-CPT, Owner Pilates Nirvana
It had been a great PMA conference. Over the past three days I’d learned from some of the top teachers in our industry. And I’d met in real life some of my “imaginary friends” from the Twitterverse. But it was all drawing to a close. Only one event left. Matapalooza: A round-robin style mat class taught by six second-generation teachers, Deborah Lessen, Jillian Hessel, Brent Anderson, Nora St. John, Rael Isacowitz and Michele Larsson, each teaching 15 minutes of the Classical mat series.
I had learned a lot in the past two days, and had moved here and there, trying to integrate what I was learning into my body. But, for me, there hadn’t been a solid hour of exercise in two days. Mat class the day before had not been a pleasurable experience in my body and I’d sat out most of it. I was itching to move.
I vowed not to get to class at the last moment. I’d had it with being in the back of the room. I was going to grab a spot up front. I put on my cutest outfit (I’d been saving it, I admit) and headed out. I set up in the front of the room and my Twitter buddy Emily (@PilatesCowgirl) set up next to me. There was an announcement about putting our shoes and gear along the edges of the room for reasons that would become evident later. What was that about? Whatever.
Deborah Lessen started the class with pre-Pilates. Michele Larsson was her demonstrating student. At one point she says she’d learned the next move from Michele, but of course had changed it a little. The class responds with a knowing chuckle. The final sequence of Deborah’s pre-Pilates is particularly challenging. Side lying scissors into side lying balance with our arms overhead, then rolling onto our backs, hovering legs in 100’s position. I’m surprised to find I can hover my legs much lower than usual without strain. Clearly my body had learned a few things in the last couple of days.
Deborah set us up for Roll Ups with “doorframe arms.” I can’t help but immediately think of the Ruth Alpert workshop I’d taken that morning. We’d explored how knowing that your upper palate was the bottom of your head changes your movement. And how, when going into flexion for exercises like the Roll Up, to bring the work right into your chest after moving just your head, as opposed to flexing the whole cervical spine. Was the ease and length I felt lifting through my doorway coincidence or had I integrated that knowledge already from a few repetitions in Ruth’s workshop? Interesting.
Up next was Jillian Hessel. We prep for Roll Over by doing a few hip lifts. Again, a workshop I’d taken leaps to mind. In Cara Reeser’s workshop, “Treasures from the Kathy Grant Lineage,” she taught us Kathy’s simple teaching technique of numbering the spine from the top (1) to the bottom (10). A beautiful shorthand for teaching students to move (or not to move) and to initiate movement from the different areas of the spine. I can hear Cara in my head during the hip lifts, telling me to Lift from 10. Lifting 10-9, Lifting 10-9. Then finally into a full Roll Over. “Lift from 10!” My hips float off the floor. Wow.
Leg Circles. Poor Jillian. Trying to get us all to move in unison. Nice try! Then Rolling Like a Ball. Yay! One of my favorites. It feels good. It’s fun. Honestly not an opportunity I usually take to challenge myself however. But this is Matapalooza! Time to step it up. I find I can easily maintain my shape even with my hands crossed over my ankles and bringing myself into a tight little ball. Hmm, what is that from? Left brain, it’s really time for you to shut up. Just enjoy the movement.
I catalogue a few gems from Jillian as we flow through the stomach series. I love the way she sits us up and preps the arms for Double Leg Stretch. 1 is up, 2 reaching out and in on 3. A beautifully simple teaching tool I know I’ll use. During Criss-Cross she says “Bring the low right rib towards the left hip.” A-Ha! That’s what I call a “Pilates moment.” That cue that changes how you move almost imperceptibly but makes it feel entirely different? I love those! I’m completely in the groove by the end of the stomach series. Now we’re moving!
Brent Anderson takes charge at Spine Stretch. He has us slide our fingertips along the floor, out to the side, then leave our shoulders there as we reach forward. I know I’m done with “relax your shoulders, lengthen your neck, long collarbones” when teaching Spine Stretch. Simply slide your fingertips out to the side. Voilà! There are your shoulders.
My brain chatter is gone but Cara Reeser is there on some subconscious level as we go into Open Leg Rocker. “Don’t drop back into 4, initiate from 10!” I roll back and up effortlessly. And she is still there when we flip over on our stomachs for Swan as my femur heads melt into the floor. Ruth Alpert joins her as I lift my head from my nose, not my neck, taking the work right into my mid-back and floating all the way up to my thighs on my Swan Prep. Back extension is typically a struggle for me. But not on this day. Is this my body moving with such ease?
Nora St. John
I’m back into my head a bit as Nora St. John has us do Neck Pull with a partner. My friend Emily and I pair up. It’s not completely a successful experience for us, but it’s interesting, new, and funny. And I enjoy the shared experience.
Rael is up! Rael Isacowitz is the mat master in my opinion. He has a transparent love of the mat repertoire and a magical way of empowering and inspiring me to strive for perfection. Whoever decided the order of teachers nailed it. Rael is perfect for this part of the class.
I didn’t take Rael’s three-hour marathon the day before. I just wasn’t up to it. But he’s such a great teacher, maybe I missed out by not taking it? Rael thanks his marathon mat students for hanging in there with him the day before and admits his hip flexors are really feeling it today. I smile to myself. I definitely made the right decision by missing that experience!
Teaser! Holding behind my thighs, straightening my legs and finding it. Wow, my feet are high. Why is that? How does he DO that? Hey! Left brain! Stop analyzing!
As we go into Hip Circles I’m starting to get tired. Rael cheers us on. “You look beautiful!” “Do you FEEL beautiful?” “Feel BEAUTIFUL!” Rael, like a master choreographer, giving us his staccato cadence. DA-da-DA-da-DA-DA-da-DA. I reach higher. And I do feel beautiful.
Michele Larrson takes over. I love her. Her mat class was how I started the conference and was one of my highlights of the conference. This isn’t the nice juicy early morning mat class of two days before however. She guides us through some of the most challenging repertoire. I’m able to get my legs higher than ever before during Control Balance (as Michele said, “Balance Control. Control Balance. Whatever you call it”) and Jackknife. I can even do a semi-decent Push Up. We end balancing on one foot like a stork. Nice class!
Oh. Wait. It’s not over. Brent is back. Ending with a standing meditation. Our weight shifting forward & back, right then left. Now lifting our right arm and adding a toe touch. All with our eyes closed. Music starts playing suddenly. It feels out of place, a little too upbeat for meditation. Hmmm. We take four steps to the right. Then four to the left. Four steps back. And four steps forward. The realization begins to spread through the room. The music began to swell. “…Do the Hustle!”. The room is moving in unison. Right. Left. Back. Forward. But becoming increasingly more expressive within those basic confines.
My twitter buddy Emily is twenty-something. What does she know from The Hustle? But it seems to infect her too. I make eye contact with her. We grab hands and begin to spin around, faster and faster, engulfed by the raw energy around us. We’re not alone. The teachers in front of the class are dancing together now too. It’s not so much The Hustle now as organic joyous movement. Every face I see around me is smiling.
Then, all too soon, it’s over. I can’t help but recall the keynote speech by Carol Davis about energy. There was no mistaking the energy in that room. It was palpable.
Best. Mat. Class. Ever.