Memories of Pilates
I have been extremely fortunate throughout my life to meet very special teachers and mentors. My work would not have the same quality without their gifts to me. These people came to my doorstep, sometimes at the least expected times.
I am profoundly in awe looking back on my, now quite long, life, on how this happened and I am very, very grateful. None of us live in a vacuum. We are a product of the gifts we receive from others who tread the path before us and, of course, our own personal qualities. I believe in the strength of acknowledging our teaching ancestry. The more grateful we are, the more the gifts from our teachers reveal themselves.
I had never heard of Pilates master teacher Jerome Andrews. Jerome, in his 80s at the time, searched us out. He wanted to pass on his knowledge particularly to owners of studios and teachers. We went to some apartment, if I remember, in Lycabettus, Athens, Greece, to meet him. His folding “Reformer”, made by Joseph Pilates, was set out. Jerome had been taught by Joseph himself.
Jerome had with him a whole pile of newspaper cuttings, notes and pictures to show us. Looking back on it, he was so generous, allowing us to take it all away and be photocopied. Later on he allowed me to bring in my carpenter to precisely measure and make plans of the machine under his beady eye.
He insisted that it had to be made of oak. The sticks he used were also made of oak so that they were heavy and weighted enough. I copied the machine precisely. He had with him a canvas mat made by Joseph Pilates. The surface was quite hard. On the machine there was no padding at all so you could more precisely feel the body.
Jerome had a pair of shoes, also made by Joseph Pilates. They were like Greek sandals with a sole of iron, so they were weighted. He had us wear them in his version of the “Spine Rolls”, as you can see in the top picture. On that day, at some point he removed some of his clothes (because he believed you must wear minimal clothing in the studio) and demonstrated some things for us.
He turned our
world upside down
I organised a seminar. Teachers attended it.
The truth is Jerome turned our world upside down. I never questioned his wisdom, even though his approach was totally different from anything I had done before.
Jerome was a dancer. He danced and performed right up to his death. He was a fascinating mixture of discipline, freedom and creativity, getting up early in the morning even in his 80s to do his practice but enjoying a good night out at a taverna. He smoked panatelas.
He is the only teacher that ever got away with dropping ash on me while he was correcting me! This seems so shocking today but apparently Joseph Pilates was also partial to the odd smoke. In those days the attitude towards smoking was different. This is not to say he smoked all the time when he was teaching. He certainly did not.
Jerome also enjoyed a little sip of brandy now and again when he was teaching. Apparently Joseph Pilates did the same. Again in no way did he “drink”. Perhaps it was just to ease his shyness or dampen the odd pain of old age. I stress it was the occasional sip, like a sip an hour.
was essential to
see how the body
worked in class
He asked that we come dressed in the minimum clothing. He preferred us to come in a leotard without tights or a two-piece, like a bikini. Men just wore shorts. Just like how we see Joseph Pilates was dressed, in the photographs, when he was teaching. Jerome wore a white shirt and trousers and a very beautiful Navaho bracelet embedded with semi precious turquoise stone.
He said it was important to see as much of the body as possible. I must say when it was my turn to observe I could see the changes in the workings of the leg muscles with each change of foot position. I would not have been able to see as much detail if the person had been wearing tights.
It convinced me of the benefits of the very precise subtle instructions he gave. He stressed the importance of sensing the skin against the surface of the piece of equipment you were working with and suggested that we practice without clothes when we practiced on our own privately.
I did this and it is a totally different experience. Just like swimming in the nude is a totally different feeling to swimming with a bikini. You would think two tiny bits of material would not make any difference at all but it makes a huge difference.
A depth of work
I never dreamed
I remember the classes were around 4 hours long. There were extremely precise, minutely detailed instructions for everything including minute shifts of weight on the hand and fingers as you changed from “the First Position of the Spine” to “Third”.
He never referred to the pelvic floor or the pulling the belly in. He insisted that the abdomen would follow the movement of the spine naturally and the pelvic floor would do the same.
I remember one person asking: “What do you do with the pelvic floor?” His answer: “What do you want to do with it, my dear?”
His detailed spinal succession, insistence in total softness at the back of the pelvis and around the sacrum and complete emptiness in the hip joints did indeed arrive at you working the abdominals to a depth you had never dreamed possible.
It made sense to work between 3 and 5 repetitions. You could not possibly do more. The work was so deep.
Adriana and I were tight at the back of the pelvis. He had total understanding and appreciation that this came from trying very hard in our dance training. We had to release all this and start again. As I said before, we had complete trust in him.
All the exercises, many familiar, but taken much further than before, moved into what one perceived as the very limit of your range of movement and then went beyond it. This was done with absolutely no strain. It was done with very great attention to the sites of support.
Sometimes this meant more emphasis on the space between the big toe and the second for example. It was an exercise in total, never wavering focus and moving into our perceived limitations and then breaking through the barriers and going beyond them.
Because of the level of focus, detail and lack of strain or forcing you never ever injured yourself. His way was deeply therapeutic.
I had had a very serious back injury in my mid 20s, which occurred before my Pilates work. At some point Jerome demonstrated, on the “Reformer” a version of the “Stomach Stretch” which involved “the First Position of the Spine” and ended with the machine pushed out and the body totally folded over the legs. It was my turn to “go”. Adriana who worked with me and still works with me said to Jerome “Jenny can’t do that. She has a back problem.”
Jerome didn’t say a word.
Something in me made me climb on that machine and follow very carefully every instruction he gave me as I did the exercise. I never looked back. His way was deep, extreme but totally healing for my back. You had to be prepared to work that deeply and surrender to a great teacher.
My body changed so quickly. I could see a difference in my body from the beginning of the lesson and the end. I mean a visible difference including visible change in the appearance of the muscles.
He taught us many different ways of breathing. Each type of breath had a specific purpose. “The Sighing Breath” used to soften and release each vertebra to gravity in the “Spine Rolls”. If you think about the quality of a “sigh” it is softness and release.
Giving the body
He taught a version of the “Hundreds” where the breath is held out.
A short staccato out breath, with the jaw relaxed and the mouth fully open, was utilised in a version of the “Roll Ups” to release tension in the lumbar spine.
He believed in giving the body the freedom to respond and react after an exercise was completed.
He used slapping various parts of the body to enliven the circulation. One rolled over in the “Spine Stretch” and slapped the back and the backs of the thighs before rolling down.
He used vibration. When I saw him with on his back with the knees bent and hip width apart, bouncing or hitting the back of his pelvis against the floor I was worried about the effects on my back. It was therapeutic for me.
Jerome, apart from dancing all his life, studied and practised yoga for more than 10 years. At some point I think he practiced martial arts.
His instructions were sometimes very odd or seemed so at the time. I wrote notes, left the lesson and went back to my own studio and went through all the material immediately again. It was exhausting, even at that younger age, but well worth it.
I remember he had shown us a version of the “ Jackknife” on the machine. He had said when going up to lead with the big toe. I climbed on the machine. I don’t know why. Well we all do it don’t we? I had done a “Jackknife” many times and shoulder stands many times. I was a bit tired and I just didn’t. I went up in my own way. There was a silence. Very quietly he said, “ You didn’t lead with the big toe”.
I hang my head in shame today.
approach to suit
a client’s needs
You have to realise he was nearly blind. He had an uncanny way of sensing what you were doing. One time he asked Adriana to find his glasses for him because he could not see to find them. Later on it was Adriana’s turn to climb on the machine under his scrutiny. He gives her a very detailed, fine correction. Adriana turns to him and says: “You can’t see to find your glasses but you can see that!!!!!”
He always said physical change would result in psychological change and that you had to be open to that psychological change for the body to transform. He had a very keen understanding of people’s characters. A friend of mine did the first seminar with him. She was busy and did not have time to practice. He met her, by chance, on the boat to Crete. He took one look at her and said: “You have not worked.”
Like all great teachers, Jerome changed his approach according to the needs of the person he was teaching. My dear friend, Janet Amato was taught certain things differently by him. I find this perfectly normal. In fact I find it fascinating and enriching.
He told us that Joseph Pilates was always changing exercises and his way of teaching. He told us that he had walked into the studio to assist in teaching one day and that Joseph Pilates had changed everything. Not just one exercise, everything. My personal conclusion is that Joseph Pilates was a creative genius.
We loved Jerome and we were all extremely upset when he died. I met him at the end of his life so I did not have long with him. He, however, was the most profound influence on my Pilates teaching. He transformed my work and I am very grateful. God bless him where he is. Thank you to Adriana Zachariou for making sure we took some pictures at the time!
My seminars based on Jerome’s work
I will be teaching the following seminars. I wish to emphasise that these seminars are based on my personal experience with Jerome.
September 12 and 13
Simone Halfpenny’s studio 16 Polworth Road, London SW16 2EU
More details click HERE
Illium at Mikrohori, Kapandriti,
north of Athens
Every 3rd Saturday of the month
October 2015 – June 2016. 15.00 – 18.00
except December and April.
Attendance to the whole course is expected.
Car pools can be arranged
and KTEL has a stop nearby
where I can pick people up.
MORE DETAILS COMING SOON!
Jenny Colebourne’s Illium Center of Light, Dimoharous 18, Athens 115 21, Greece.
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