Category Archives: Teaching

Choosing Your Guru or Mentor

I have blessed with my life as a movement teacher and practitioner because I had incredible mentors and guru’s along my journey. The terms mentor and guru may be analogous to a teacher, who has the experience and knowledge of a particluar subject, is an influential and trusted guide. I chose my influencers by being in their space through sessions, workshops or work place. I did not search them out before having interaction with them. Nor did I ask them if they would be my mentor. It happened organically. I felt the strong desire within myself to learn from them. I did what ever it took to be around them creating a relationship. I knew in myself that their work with the body was so transforming as I observed and experienced their work. And I knew this is how I wanted to work.

Guidance became the gift of being with my teachers. We all have blindspots in our life, the inability to see others clearly without our own projections. I recognized how difficult it is to see one’s own perspective or narrative that blocks the ability to see what is possibly obvious to others. I also see a similarity of a blindspot with the ability to see a person’s movements for assessment purposes and how to approach their body for the best outcome. It takes a mentor to lighten the dark place by speaking their truth, and simply pointing out the obvious which of course was not so obvious to me!

As I grew, developed my work and embraced a way of working with the body, my teachers became my friends and colleagues. I still look to them for advice as I would a dear and trusted friend. Life and work with the body is a constant progression of waking up to ourselves and our perspective. I learned to ask my self, “Is this true?” “Is it kind?” Is it necessary?” When I become overwhelmed, it is easy to fall into the dark place and forget the obvious. We fall asleep or slip into a blindspot, then we wake up. Like trying to be stable, one is always falling away from center to then find the pull to return to our true nature.


Sequencing Your Exercises For Better Results


The sequence of a movement class, whether it is Pilates, Yoga, Dance or the variety of fusion style classes, is important to the training effect, flow and challenge of the class.  Experienced teachers/trainers know the value of intelligent sequencing. A class may have a theme targeting a body area or strengthening effect to meet the goals of the clients.  Easing into a sequence brings the clients into a mindset, drawing them into their body to focus on the exercise and feeling their bodies. Build upon the movements so that near the end the clients are performing a more difficult movement. Save ten minutes at the end to bring the energy down, balancing the body’s nervous system for their exit into the outside world. It has been studied that challenging the class with a variety of movements from session to session increases physical and mental benefits more then repetition style classes. The dual task nature of the sequencing and unexpected movement changes has shown to improve cognitive abilities.

Teaching in Japan, September 2013

Taken in 2010 after completing a workshop, as you can see we love what we do and have fun along the way!
Taken in 2010 after completing a workshop, as you can see we love what we do and have fun along the way!

I have the honor to be associated and connected to a wonderful group of Pilates teachers in Tokyo and Hayama, Japan. I believe, Rie Sakai of Pilates Movement Space, has invited me for the last 7 or 8 years to share my knowledge and way of working with the body. Each time I go, there is the core group, who I see each year in addition to teachers whom I have never met. I love seeing old friends and colleagues and seeing how they have grown in their work. Rie has a specific vision in advancing the work of Pilates teachers in Japan. Like myself, she is interested in other aspects of the body that we can draw into Pilates work. This year, she has requested a workshop that I taught only in New York at Studio 26 called “Sole to Spine: Biomechanics and Biorhythms”. This is a highly advanced course using hands-on skills to work with biorhythms of the lower body to enhance movement potential and healing. Both Rie and Jared Kaplan of Studio 26 are expanding the field by offering workshops like this one.

Rie makes the most of having me come so far to be at her two studios. This year, we are offering the following workshops for teachers who are new to my work and more advanced to the returning teachers. We, of course, have wonderful meals together and spend time socializing. I look forward to being with everyone soon.

September 12: Scoliosis
In this workshop, you will learn to identify structural and functional scoliosis using simple assessment skills and understand the movement mechanics of the spine along with the dysfunction created by scoliosis. Create an effective exercise program for your clients with scoliosis using specific exercises that target the balance between release and support of the structure. Madeline Black will utilize the Pilates apparatus, mat, rollers, balls, and spine corrector to identify movement patterns and develop corrective exercises.

September 13-14: Supple Neck and Shoulders
Organizing the head and neck in life is challenging for most people. In Pilates, it can be what makes or breaks a good experience enabling the client to connect into the core. A supple neck also plays strongly into how the shoulder girdle functions. Madeline will lecture on the anatomy and fascial relationship of the cervical spine into the upper trunk and shoulder region. You will learn specific neck exercises both non-apparatus and with Pilates apparatus. Learn how to work with neck issues effectively.

September 16: Sole To Spine ONE DAY
Ever wonder how feet influence the core? Discover how to correct misaligned feet and achieve better overall movement function for your clients. Help those with foot issues and see how the alignment of the leg changes. This one day workshop will explore the anatomy and function of the feet and the relationship to the trunk.

September 17-18: Sole to Spine: From Biomechanics to Biorhythms
Madeline Black is known for the continuous evolution of her work bringing science, biomechanics, energetics and advanced concepts to Pilates. Sole to Spine is now a highly attended course focused on the foot’s influence on the adaptability of the pelvis and spine. Now, Madeline is ready to take Sole to Spine to a new level—from Biomechanics to Biorhythms. She will explore the primal structures of the lower limb that influence the cavities of the body; she will help participants identify fluid motion in the tissues initiated by the bones to balance mobility and increase vitality; and culminate the day with a foray into fascial breath.

Teaching at Pilates Leadership Program in Sao Paulo, Brazil

pilates leader program sao paulo brazilWe are focused on the spine, specifically a scoliosis spine, giving the spine gentle elongation with breathing into the concave side of her thorax. This created a translation of her spine and corresponding ribs toward the mid line. The breath opened up the tissue and at the same time engaging the opposite side of her spine imprinting the new position. We spent the day working on this principle in various positions using and moving with the Pilates apparatus.

Pilates Leader Programme, BMC Pilates

The Pancake Theory: Learning Like Pancakes

madeline black pilates pancake theory 1
The first pancake

How are cooking pancakes analogous to learning to move? In my observations over years of teaching movement, I noticed the process of how people learn a new movement. The first try at executing a movement instruction, whether it is a verbal, visual or tactile one, is hardly natural. It is out of sync, a bit awkward and frankly an uncoordinated effort. I certainly experience this feeling on a first attempt at a new movement skill. So, allow the client to move through the movement without any suggestions for improvement on their first run through. Know it is the same as the first pancake on the grill, throw it away.

madeline black pilates pancake theory 2
Second pancake

The second repetition is considerably better. However, I see the connection of the kinesthetic chain is not completely apparent. Part of the movement is clearer, usually the beginning, but somewhere in the middle the movement becomes disjointed or incomplete.

madeline black pilates pancake theory 3
Third Pancake

The magic comes with the third repetition where the mind and the body coordinate, allowing for the movement to feel coordinated, in the body rather than a thinking action. It is truly a physical and kinetic whole body experience.

What about the pancakes? I love to cook. I rarely eat pancakes except when we are in the redwoods of Comptche, California. There is nothing like eating delicious pancakes on a morning in the woods. When the first batch of pancakes are poured on to the grill, they tend to be cooked unevenly and a bit lighter in color. The second batch is better, but doesn’t produce an even golden brown color that is desirable. The third one is always superior. It is known in our family to wait for the third or fourth batch of pancakes if you want the best ones. We may seem to be polite and offer the first two batches to others, but really, deep down inside, we know the better cakes are coming. And the cook always eats last!

madeline black pilates pancake theory 4
Mmmm, evenly done!

I began using this analogy in teaching teachers cueing. Be patient, allow the client to be the first pancake. Let them move the first time without any great expectation. Know that the connected, fully realized movement is coming on the third try. Hold back the urge to give them a correction on the first attempt. Allow them to be awkward. Give them a positive comment and say “let’s try it again”. Follow with another positive comment and a helpful hint to connect into the whole movement from beginning to end. Then, smile because their third pancake is arriving.

This is a simple idea and a fun way to look at a client’s process in taking in movement instruction, assimilating it and then embodying it. Enjoy watching the pancakes cook, just do not eat too many!

My Week with Alan Herdman – Final Day

Shamanic Studio
Monday is my day off. I made plans with Alan to meet him at his main studio near Marble Arch. I jumped on the tube and disembarked at Oxford Circle and walked in the direction of Alan’s studio. I arrived at the studio where there were many clients busy working on their bodies. As I looked around, the clients were confident in their movements, obviously focused on the precision of the exercises. The studio’s energy was one that grounded but light. There was very little interaction, meaning talking between clients, and the sound level was low but not hushed like a library. It had a comfortable and friendly feel.

alan herdman pilatesAlan and I traded sessions again. We both repeated our techniques on each other, because we needed it. I showed Alan a single leg pump on the Wunda Chair that specifically targets the medial line of the leg, the line I am working on for my knee. It engages the VMO/adductor and medial hamstring in knee flexion. Alan was focusing on my knee extension to activate this line. Alan and I discussed the need to also feel it working when the knee is flexed with the lower leg pressing downward.

We went for a salad nearby. Alan explained to me his model of the studio. It is a cross between a private session and a class really. He has two to three teachers on the floor. Each client has their specific program that changes regularly depending on what their need is when they arrive, similar to a private session. Each client is not doing the same program. The clients have been taught how to work well for themselves, what they need to concentrate on, and of course the Pilates exercises that are best for their body. The clients come in, are supervised but also independent. If a teacher is working with another client, the other clients in the room are busy setting up their next movement and working. I never saw any one person idle, not knowing what to do next, or waiting for assistance. I also never saw a client calling a teacher over to help. It seems to just flow.

The teachers on the floor have a keen eye for seeing all of the clients and stepping in to assist or change the exercise. No one is talking loudly or being demanding wanting to be waited on. Alan tells me he has no tolerance for people who are loud and unconscious of others in the room. He has told three clients that they could no longer come to his studio for this very reason. Alan said, if he doesn’t like them, then he doesn’t accept them into his studio. I interpret Alan’s word “like” to mean that he resonates with the person and they with him. He said it has to work this way. It clearly does. The energy in the room is like no other studio I have been in.

At dinner, I commented on the feel of his studio. He said he likes to be the first person at the studio because he sets the feel. On Tuesdays, he starts in the early afternoon and works later. Alan tells me he can feel the difference in the studio on this day when he is not setting the day. I told Alan I sense his ability to work with energy and we call it energy work or energy medicine. I called him a shaman! I reminded him of how on my arrival he created the energy field for me to ground and be in my body. He laughed at me but I think deep down inside that English way, he knows he is a shaman, an Englishman one.

Tuesday, my last day in London before heading off to Florence to teach for four days. Alan instructs me to get some culture and recommends two museums to go to. Tuesday is his late day at the studio. My plan is to experience culture and then meet Alan at the studio for another session. Then we will have dinner together again for the final time.

Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four

My Week with Alan Herdman – Day 4


Sunday, I taught my third day for Pilates Umbrella. It was a day off with Alan. I had dinner with Janie Miklaunus, who works with me at Studio M and her niece. Janie came to London to visit her family and assist me during the workshop. Her niece asked me what the difference is between an American Pilates and European Pilates. That was hard to answer in a brief way and to someone who is not familiar with Pilates, she practices yoga. I began to think of my conversation with Sarah and Alan about trainings the night before. I do find in Europe, mat only teachers showing up to my workshops. They ask me, how can I do this in my mat class. I simply say you cannot because the mat is only a part of Pilates. To answer her question, I thought of an image. I compared a mat only teacher to a yoga teacher. Would a yoga teacher only learn standing poses and not the seated poses? Would a yoga teacher only trained in standing poses be qualified to be a yoga teacher? Of course, she agreed that would be weird if a yoga teacher was only qualified to teach standing poses and nothing else. This may be reaching for a comparison, but I strongly feel a Pilates teacher is comprehensively trained.

Pilates Mat Exercise Mermaid
Pilates Mat Exercise Mermaid

Joseph Pilates was known for his innovations and ability to change people’s bodies. He was a problem solver using his apparatus, and all the skills that Alan and I discussed the day before, listening, critical thinking, knowledge and intuition. The mat only phenomenon is also present in the US. However, in my workshops throughout the US, I have not had one teacher ask me how an apparatus exercise be done without the apparatus. In my conversations with European mat only teachers, it sounds as if they have no intention of being fully trained. I know there are many reasons for being mat only trained, the expenses of training, and access to working on equipment. Plus, the cost difference for the client. A mat class is cheaper than attending a full Pilates session.

I believe, even if a teacher only has access to mats or just one piece of apparatus, studying the body of work of Pilates enhances your teaching. The movements are interrelated. The knowledge of the repertoire and movement science deepens the understanding, all making teaching a mat class have depth and clarity. Then, when a student walks in with their preconceived idea of their movements, you can offer them a different choice that can really shift them into a healthier place in their body.

Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Final Day

My Week With Alan Herdman – Day 3


On Saturday, I taught a full day and met up with Alan in the evening. Alan invited me to join him and meet a few of his teachers. They were meeting at a bar on the Thames River near the Millennium Bridge to celebrate Brian’s birthday. He is the teacher I met at Alan’s studio in the Reebok Club. Alan had told me about two of his teachers who I would be meeting. He spoke highly of them as a proud teacher would of their best student.

I ended up sitting between Sarah and Alan. At first, there was quite a bit of bantering between them, all in good humor. Listening to their dialogue, I am working hard trying to understand some of their expressions. I realized that their use of light sarcasm is a way to be direct with a comment without being blunt. Alan told me that in one of his trainings, a student asked him when will they have the lesson in sarcasm. It is all in good fun. Alan and Sarah are very good at it!

Madeline and Sarah at Alan's studio, March, 2012
Madeline and Sarah at Alan’s studio, March, 2012

I had been talking all day in workshop so listening was perfect. Sarah is also a teacher for Alan’s training program. She and I discussed teacher trainings, especially in England. Sarah confirmed an impression I have of Pilates training in Europe having taught in Italy, Ireland, Germany and now England through a story she told me. The story is, a Pilates teacher from the US had arrive in London. After a long flight, she felt she needed to do Pilates to counteract the affects of the flight (stiffness!). Near her hotel was a place that offered a mat class. The visiting teacher also had a back issue on top of being stiff from sitting for so long. When she set up her place to start the class, she placed a folded towel under her lower back to ease into flexion. The teacher of the class came over to her, grabbed the towel and told her she does not need the prop and that she needs to stop pampering herself. This teacher of the class then pushed on her in a way that increased her discomfort. The visiting teacher, who was a student in this class, experienced a teacher who had no regard for her student. Sarah and I discussed that this mat trained teacher most likely did not have enough knowledge to deal with many issues. One, a new student arriving in your class, knowing if the student has any issues, how do deal with a person with issues and respecting the body. Sarah shared this story with me to paint the picture of how comprehensively trained teachers are educated with more depth and understanding of the body. Also, a comprehensively trained teacher spends more time looking and adjusting movement in a variety of ways. Mat only teachers’ course work and hours of practice are limited compared to the comprehensively trained teacher. Sarah and I also wondered why this teacher did not get up and leave the class. We agreed that both of us would.

In Germany and England, people have divided up Pilates work into two categories. One is the mat teacher, and the other is called equipment or studio certified. Mat trainings are generally done in a short time period of time, say two weekends. The teachers are taught mat class sequences. For some, the training stops there. In England’s governing body over fitness declares a mat teacher qualified to call themselves a Pilates teacher. In fact, in England, there is an accreditation of training programs that teach only mat yet no accreditation for a fully comprehensive program like Alan’s, which is 1000 hours. I understand from a teacher at Studio M, who taught in France for two years, that the government required Pilates teachers to take the fitness exam where the questions had no information or similarity to Pilates. A personal trainer, who already passed this exam would be allowed to teach Pilates even though they had no formal Pilates training.

In the US, the training programs, vary in terms of as hours, requirements and qualifications of the teacher training programs. Over ten years, the PMA has worked to set guidelines and standards, giving us a reference for qualifications. In Europe, the government, who has little or no knowledge of Pilates lumps us into the fitness arena. With this view, I can see why the government in England has a mat accreditation if it thinks it is similar to an aerobic class. I became aware of how important it is that we regulate ourselves for the longevity of Pilates with its unique whole body approach not a fitness fad. I know that sounds a bit Republican but I must say, we know our work. It makes me feel that having the PMA’s third party certification exam and standards gives us, the teachers of Pilates, the power to direct the future of Pilates in the US. I hope that the in the future, other countries may have the same opportunity to live Pilates beyond our life time.

Day One
Day Two
Day Four
Final Day

My Week with Alan Herdman – Day 2

End Range

I met Alan at his flat on a sunny and warm day. A construction worker was there pounding away with the tools and electric cords strewn everywhere. Alan led me upstairs to his office. I noticed his book shelf off to the left. To be expected, it was filled with anatomy, exercise science, manual therapy and Pilates books. I smiled feeling comfort from being with a familiar place of books.

We ventured out together, walking to the tube (metro). We were headed to his studio in the Reebok Club in Canary Wharf. Alan has three studios in London. The one in the Reebok club is the newest one. It was closer to Moss Pilates, where I was teaching a master class at 5:30. Our plan was to give me time to warm up and prepare for my class while Alan did some errands. After, his errands, we would work with each other.

I began moving, while Alan’s assistant, Brian, was working with clients. Again, I have a feeling of comfort, like being at home. Alan returned from his errands and asked how my knee was doing. I have a medial meniscus tear. My daily practice is restoring the mechanics and muscular connections from my foot up into my spine. I exercise my feet with my foot program with the consciousness of the alignment and movement of my tibia with the subsequent firing of my hip. This is the topic of my workshop this weekend and I am a living example of how it works.

Alan using MET for release of my Iliotibial band
Alan using MET for release of my Iliotibial band

Alan says to me “well, let’s take a look at your footwork on the reformer.”  After watching one repetition, he places his hand on the inside and just above my knee as I move into my second repetition. He says “your VMO is not engaging well. Try using the adductors more.” I did another repetition, “no, not good enough, come over to the table.” We move on to the trap table. I am experiencing a mirroring of myself in Alan. I thought, if my clients could see me now, they would be satisfied knowing I too have to be guided to wake up sleeping muscles. That is what happens to our strength when we get out of alignment. It is amazing how quickly certain muscles turn off when there is tightness and dysfunction in one’s movement. My knee injury is causing my foot to favor the outer edge (arches out position) which then places my weight on my leg too much on the outside line not in the center. And then my pelvic rim moves back and up which displaces my hip joint out, all turning off my posterior hip muscles (back and side of the hip). This in turn weakens, through inhibition, that inside line Alan was focused on restoring for me.

I am now side lying on the table on my left side (the not functioning inner line of the leg) with my left leg straight. The right leg is bent being supported so that my pelvis stays stacked. This position is a common side lying position for working the adductors. Typically, one would lift the leg up and down. Alan cued me by placing his hand on the center of my heel. He asked me to press into his hand. As I reached my leg long, he said, “more, straighten your knee fully, more, press more”. “Bend your knee slightly and relax it”, he said after my efforts to engage that inner line of my leg without lifting it off the table. His hands-on cueing is exactly how I would coach someone. We repeated this movement, he pressing on my heel, me pressing on him while fully straightening my knee. After about three to four repetitions, I finally felt the VMO and whole inner line of my left thigh engage fully. I stood up and could feel my whole leg adjust into a more centered place through my leg into my foot. Now, I am ready to do the foot work to truly strengthening my whole leg, which I was unable to do before.

Alan and I are like minds when it comes to defining what physical training encompasses. Strength is when you move, the motion is present in the joints, the bones, (not at an end range stuck place) and the musculature is called upon to engage appropriately allowing for development of strength. Strength is also a balance between stability and mobility. When one plays a sport, the interplay of the motion between when the body is stabilizing while the other side or diagonal is mobilizing or moving without being stuck in the end range. As we walked through the large gym, watching people doing all sorts of movement, mostly not healthy, he says “why is everyone pushing so hard and moving in their end range, you cannot strengthen if you are at your end range continually”. I look over at a man on a rowing machine and I see is neck is locked out, his spine in the end range of flexion and his hips are also not moving. As he pulls, it looks like he is getting whiplash with each repetition, and his knees are doing all the movement. The parts that should be moving are not and the parts that should be stable are well, taking the brunt of his efforts.

Madeline working on Alan's left toe prior to having him work his feet
Madeline working on Alan’s left toe prior to having him work his feet

My turn to look at Alan’s foot. I began with orthopedic massage of his foot, specifically the medial arch, the spaces in between the metatarsals opening the lumbricals, and a maneuver for the first toe joint to restore movement. I had Alan do the foot exercises, moving his toes in flexion and extension at first. Then, I added the toe waves with dorsi and plantar flexion. I tied a light theraband around his big toes and in between his toes to maximize the alignment of his toes while he moved his ankles. I also did the compression and decompression of the first toe joint (MP joint) and enhancing the movement of that joint. I recommended that Alan do more prehensile work on the Reformer. Afterward, we went walking. Alan said his foot felt so much better. I was concerned he would be very sore the next day.

Alan and I boarded a bus at Canary Wharf toward the Fruit Exchange Building where I was to teach my master class. Alan attended the class, wanting to watch. My class was focused on the feet up to the spine. It was a movement class with no apparatus. When I got to the part of working the whole leg in extension, some of the participants were struggling with the specificity of how to connect the foot to the hip. Janie, my assistant and I were running around the room helping them find the alignment and subsequent muscular engagement. I turned around to see Alan off his chair and cueing one of the teachers. He just couldn’t sit still while seeing the bodies that needed some guidance. I smiled and felt I would do the same!

Alan and I headed to a restaurant in his neighborhood. We discussed my class. Alan appreciated the sequencing of the class. He kindly said, “I hope it was okay to step in and help during the class”. I told him that I felt supported by his participation and really appreciated it.

Our conversation centered around the need to listen. Alan spoke about how teachers hold on to preconceived ideas. If they would listen to the instruction without jumping ahead in their thoughts, their body would have a different experience. I saw this during my class. I was explaining exactly where to place a ball under the foot using a skeleton of the foot, pointing to the landmark. I looked around and saw a few people had the ball in a completely different location on the foot. It was as if they were somewhere else, not present in their body. Alan noticed this and confirmed I was exceptionally clear but that these few teachers were not listening.

Alan and I continued talking about how listening is a skill that needs to be practiced. Alan commented on how some teachers are stuck on knowing one way to teach an exercise. He recalled a number of times, while teaching workshops, a teacher will say to him “well, I learned it a different way”. Alan’s response is “it may be helpful to learn a different approach so when the way that you were taught does not work for a client, you have another way that may work for that person”. Alan’s philosophy of listening and seeing as a teacher means flexibility in your approach. We discussed how some training programs today teach set formulas rather than teaching a teacher to use their critical thinking skills, listening and having options of movement choices. It is important not to be stuck on preconceived ideas and work with what is in front of you, the client. I suggested maybe we expand these ideas into the teacher training program.

Day One
Day Three
Day Four
Final Day

My Week with Alan Herdman

Low Tea

After a journey through Frankfurt Airport walking on the brink of running from Terminal A, past many A gates, down many spirals of stairs, a long tunnel that feels like the bowels of Frankfurt airport, up the spiral stairs into Terminal B, I made it to B26, boarding in progress. I found my seat and changed my breathing. Now, I can feel the anticipation of meeting Alan in his home turf, London.

I have been looking forward to my trip for it is my first time teaching Pilates teachers in London. The bonus for me is being able to spend time with Alan. Over the years, we have spent time together at the PMA conferences and at Pilates on Tour. I have always found Alan to be a kindred spirit not only because we both teach Pilates, but his openness to learning, and sharing his knowledge freely. Alan, to me, is ageless in his spirit. He recently turned 70 and continues to help people maximize their movement potential. Outside of our interactions “on the road”, I have not spent a lot of one on one time with him. Nor has he worked on my body, or I on his. The body is all telling! It is another level of getting to know a person. I plan to have a session or two at his studio.

Alan greeting me upon my arrival March 22, 2012
Alan greeting me upon my arrival March 22, 2012

Upon my arrival, I was detained at the immigration entry for an hour and a half. They had questions concerning my purpose for visiting. I sat there repeating a new affirmation. It calmed me and allowed me to be non-reactive. I thought this is helping me stay present and not get out of sorts. I thought I was in control. But, once I arrived at Alan’s I started to feel a little shook up. Here I am, getting out of the cab in front of Alan’s flat. I am gathering all my things that exploded out my back pack. I feel a bit fragmented, trying to keep track of my belongings. I turn around, and there is Alan, standing in his doorway, smiling at me.

He invited me in. We walked past many boxes stacked in the hallway and his belongings in piles on the table. Alan is just moving into this flat from a very large space to a smaller one. It is about 4 o’clock now. Of course, tea time. Alan served tea in a small space he carved out with a view of his garden. I shifted easily, relaxed and felt more connected to my self. Alan, whether he is aware of it or not, created a field allowing for some discharge of my fragmented feeling. He was giving me some grounding. I instantly, felt connected to my self and able to start our first chat.

We discussed our teaching schedules to see when we were going to be teaching at the same place. We are both teaching for Pilates on Tour in Hong Kong and Chicago. Plus we will both be at the PMA conference in Las Vegas. Conversations generally start in a comfortable place, like talking about the weather. In our case, it was about where are you teaching this year. As the tea cooled, we were just getting warmed up.

That is when I had a thought, it would be fun to write about my experience with Alan. I am certain, you reading this, would like to know what do two, what do I call us? Not elder teachers, we are certainly not elderly. Master teacher is over used these days. I think of what Al Harrison called me once while introducing me at POT, “an elder in training”….hmmm I didn’t take kindly to that. Alan is chronologically older than I am but as I said he does not match that age. Alan also has been teaching many more years than I have. We try to give ourselves a place, a category or label positioning ourselves in the industry. It is a way to reference where, and in some cases, who one is. Then are we comparing and judging our ability to do our work? When I self reference my core values, knowledge and use my senses, I know that I am on the right track. I wish not to choose a level, or name for our status in the field of Pilates. I know from my heart and core where I am. 

Moving on, I thought you, the reader may be interested in what do two teachers like Alan Herdman and Madeline Black talk about? I also had inquiries I wanted to ask Alan about his work and experience. I thought it would be fun to write about it. Alan liked the idea too.

One interesting area, we talked about was, of course, clients. We started talking about the notion of cutting a body part off that is giving us problem rather than working on it. We hear those comments, oh just cut it off. I recalled a client who had part of the toe removed because it caused rubbing and it was turning inward. It bothered him while wearing shoes. We both expressed the other option of working on the foot and changing shoes would be less drastic. Then again, it is the person’s choice, no judgement. It did solve his discomfort and pain. Alan said he sometimes wishes to cut out tongues of people who talk incessantly, we laughed.

This line of talk sparked an old experience, I had with a client’s boyfriend, whom she gave a session to in hopes he would start a Pilates practice. I told Alan about this man of 50 + years. When I referred to his navel as a landmark for him to concentrate on, he paused and looked at me with all seriousness. He said, “you know, I have been in therapy for many years over issues with my mother”. I listened. “I decided that I hate my mother so therefore, I had my navel removed”. I was acting professional and did not know how to react to that. So, I recall just moving him off the trap table and onto the reformer. Change of equipment, change of topic, a good avoidance technique. I asked Alan, how would you respond to a comment like that? Without missing a beat, he said “ Let me see it!” We laughed so hard. I think I am too serious, yet he is the Englishman!

Alan, living in London you can imagine has had very interesting types of people come through his studio. His first students were dancers at the Martha Graham school in London. Since 1970, the many actors (some very famous ones though he prefers not to work with them), opera singers, and all sorts of people. The stories he could tell about these people was so colorful. My favorite one was the “Madam” he works with till this day. One day in session, she asked Alan if his ears were burning last night. He said “no, why”. She said “I had my legs overhead, hooked on to the bed head and said if it weren’t for Alan, I wouldn’t be able to do this!!” All kinds of professions are improved with Pilates!

I asked Alan about his body. I wondered if he is experiencing some of the sensations that I am. Is his fascia getting tighter by the year, or has he had injuries that did not come from an obvious accident? I was fishing for what it is like getting older, how the tissues changes. Does Alan have any insight? Well, Alan said no. His flexibility is good, he does not feel tightening of his fascia, he has had no joint pain nor injuries. Except, recently, his big toe joint has been bothering him, enough that he notices it is affecting his gait. I offered to work on his toe. We will spend time together after my workshop for Pilates Umbrella in London, working on our bodies. More to report then.

Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Final Day