Pilates and Alexander: The Men, Their Discoveries, and Their Legacies

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Alexander Technique and the Pilates Method of Movement Re-education: Scoliosis and Healing
by Wallis M. Mason, Certified Pilates Mat and Reformer Instructor,
Royal Academy of Dance Certified Teacher

As a former student of classical ballet who subsequently became a Royal Academy of Dancing Certified teacher, and a Certified Pilates Instructor, I came to study Alexander Technique because of poor gait, alignment, and pain due to severe scoliosis with 2 curves exceeding 40 degrees. The untreated issue with my back led to chronic pain and 5 severe injuries, including 2 surgeries in 2 1/2 years.

The problems began at age 40. An orthopedic surgeon advised me to cease present aerobic activity if I wanted to walk when I was older. Later, at age 45, after arthroscopic surgery on the left knee, my back suddenly went into a spasm that was not to diminish for 5 or 6 months. The spasm and chronic pain continued for several years. As a 4 year owner of my own dance studio and its primary instructor I was not about to leave a career I loved passionately. The solution was to teach classical ballet from my chair.

In that period, as a private student of Alexander technique for nearly 3 years, I learned the fundamentals of moving through the bone, trusting the skeletal system to provide support, and allowing movement to happen without force, all while in good alignment. The many lessons of retraining the body to move effortlessly, utilizing onion layers so that the body can continue to progress enable the provision of sound gait and alignment training. Moving without force is a movement fundamental, yet so often forgotten.

In and out of physical therapy and never really fully recovering, Alexander Technique was the beginning of the path to restoring freedom of movement and a centered balanced life without pain. Alexander Technique continues to be laced through my teaching and my daily life. It was Alexander Technique that helped me begin to align my spine and move evenly.

As I moved through the process of healing I came to a physical therapist using Pilates to rehabilitate folks from injuries. As I executed her work, I perceived the information as the next level from Alexander Technique. It was in that physical therapy environment where my studies about movement came together. I learned the physical therapy approach to Pilates, first as a patient, then in a training course developed specifically so that I could teach in that practice.

We humans tend to overwork, over do, over analyze, hurry, hurry, hurry, forgetting to slow down, forgetting to think. In my life and work the theory of trusting your bones to support you, moving from and through the bone, less is more, moving through a joint, allowing it to happen, the stillness is as important as the movement, resting, breathing, in good alignment are fundamental (as opposed to moving with force) and hugely significant aspects of efficiency in movement, and in the practice of teaching Pilates.

Alexander Technique and Pilates more that compliment each other's work, they complete one other. Alexander Technique provides the vehicle for using the total body in alignment, moving effortlessly through joints one piece at a time. Modern day physical therapy and physiology then provide Pilates the definition of good alignment and safer exercises for the spine and body it self.

In March, 2002 STUDIO 1 Pilates n Movement, LLC in Baltimore, Maryland was founded to teach to others that which healed me.

For more information about the Alexander Technique visit: The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique

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