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Building My Bridge – by Tracy Maurstad

Like a lot of teachers, I picked my initial training program the same way many clients pick a Pilates studio – mostly because it was conveniently located.
In 2007, BASI offered its first training in Las Vegas. They had a good reputation, I knew someone who’d done their program and she had good things to say about it, and it was going to be in my city. The program ignited my passion for Pilates. I didn’t know I’d been looking for something but I’d found it in teaching Pilates. That first training was a great beginning to my Pilates journey. But after that program ended, I found I had more and more questions.
I sought answers in annual conferences like Inner IDEA (now defunct) and the PMA. I even started organizing local continuing education workshops. I also looked outside Pilates in places like Franklin Method workshops and fascia webinars on AnatomyTrains.com.
I was learning a lot, but my knowledge was getting wider, not deeper. It was like learning recipes for all different flavors of cupcakes. They were all tasty, but I was just following the recipes without understanding WHY some ingredients were in there.  What I really wanted was a killer chocolate cupcake recipe that I could build from scratch because I understood the reason for each ingredient.
When I started taking lessons with a wonderful new teacher from Romana’s lineage, pieces started to fall into place. Big pieces. Both in my body and in my brain. You know when you think you understand an exercise and then your teacher gives you a new cue (or a new teacher gives you the same cue your old teacher has been saying for 2 years but it registers differently?). That “Aha!” moment? That happened with my understanding of Pilates. I thought I understood it before. But now it was really making sense. So I started to learn as much as I could about the original Pilates method. However, gathering the bits and pieces together with individual workshops wasn’t doing it for me. I was missing a solid foundation. This was going to require going back to school … bridging.
“Bridging”. What an appropriate word:
Bridge (noun)
a:  a structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or obstacle
b:  a time, place, or means of connection or transition
-Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Let’s take a look at those two definitions. First, a structure that carries a pathway over an obstacle. Trying to build a comprehensive understanding one little piece at a time was just not getting me over my obstacle. I needed a pathway over my huge pile of questions … about Pilates as a method, how it all fit together, how to get my clients to progress, how to deal with all their real-world issues … in short, how to be a better teacher. I needed a bridge.
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When I decided to go through another complete training program, I had moments of serious doubt. Was I really up for this? It had been seven years but I still remembered how hard it had been to get through my first program and this new program was going to be longer and more in-depth. I knew it was going to be a challenge – mentally, physically and emotionally. But I wanted this. Thanks to my supportive husband, I was able to rearrange my schedule to make it work.
The other definition of bridge is “a time, place, or means of connection or transition”. In my case, my bridge was all of those things. A time of transition:  Lots of time – 600 hours plus several repertoire weekends. A place of transition:  my teacher’s studio where I would spend all my practice, observation and student teaching hours. And a means of transition: a full-blown apprenticeship program.
Of course there was a time when all great professions were preserved through the mentor/apprentice model. People invested in each other; it’s a big commitment for the mentor as well as the apprentice. Most big training programs are not offering the mentorship model, but it’s still out there, if you look for it.
My program brought in the one and only Mari Winsor for the repertoire weekends. Mari had recently been diagnosed with ALS and she wanted to pass on her knowledge while she was still able to teach. It was such an honor to have her amazing energy, knowledge and love for The Method to help me build my bridge. But it was my wonderful teacher, Juliet Clingan, who assumed the responsibility of mentoring us apprentices day in and day out.
The earlier training and many workshops I’d taken were repertoire focused – how to perform the exercises. My twice-weekly lessons with Juliet were where I got the work “in my body”. But my apprenticeship was about how to teach the exercises. I observed Juliet teach “regular” clients as well as my fellow apprentices, and she watched over us as we taught each other and our practice clients. She also handled the weekly apprentice meetings where we discussed issues about teaching clients. I got to learn not just from my practice clients but what my fellow apprentices were experiencing too. I learned how to fit the pieces of the Method together, how to be consistent in addressing each client’s limitations and how to apply critical thinking to build a workout. I was finally learning how to build my kick-ass chocolate cupcake.
I won’t sugar coat it (food analogy again, sorry). It was humbling. My fellow apprentices and my teacher gave me constructive, honest evaluations and not all of it was pretty (your clients won’t tell you “you talk too much!”). But I was grateful for their feedback. And, in the end, I got what I wanted – I’m a very different teacher. A better teacher. Much better. There will always be more to learn about Pilates, that’s part of what I love about it. But, since completing my program, I’ve gotten so much more from the workshops I’ve attended than I would have before because I’ve built my foundation.
When Brett asked me to write an article on my experience, I didn’t intend it to be propaganda for Classical Pilates and I still don’t. But it’s clear to me that getting to the source of the Pilates method is a big part of what was so transformative for me. I could have improved my teaching skills without it being about the original method, but it wouldn’t have answered my questions.
And here’s the thing… all the various styles of Pilates are derivative of the original method. Whatever style of Pilates you choose to teach, understanding the traditional method will enhance it. I haven’t thrown out all of what I learned in the years before, but now it’s layered on top of a greater understanding of Joseph Pilates’ genius method. Now I have a kick-ass chocolate cupcake with sprinkles!
Many other teachers have told me they wished they could do their training again, knowing what they know after several years of teaching. I encourage you to do just that.  Find a teacher that lights you up, someone that gives you those “Aha!” moments. Can’t find a local instructor that inspires you?  Take advantage of the abundance of online Pilates education sites and experience different teachers from around the world. Seek out those with in-depth knowledge of Joseph Pilates’ original work and go study with them.
I urge you to build your own bridge, your “means of connection or transition”, to a deeper understanding of Pilates.
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I’m Tracy Maurstad, the “Pilates Mistress”. I found Pilates by accident. I took a pole dancing class which happened to be held in a Pilates studio. The pole dancing turned out not to be for me (it was fun, but bruises? no, I don’t think so), but I was intrigued by the weird looking equipment. Exercise had been a big part of my life but I’d never experienced anything like Pilates. First of all I thought all those hours in the gym had made me strong, but getting my feet in those straps proved otherwise! Plus, who knew exercise could be fun?!
I just had to learn more, so I went through teacher training for my own certification and the experience of student teaching changed my life. One of my first students was a friend who’d suffered chronic pain for three years from two herniated discs. After two months of working with me she walked in and said, “I realized the other day that my back doesn’t hurt anymore.” Wow! I did that? I mean, she did all the work, but…wow! At the time I didn’t know I was looking for something, but I ended up finding my passion in teaching Pilates.
Pilates is a continuous learning experience and I’m a perpetual student. I’ve completed multiple teacher trainings, most recently a 600-hour apprenticeship in Classical Pilates.
I teach Pilates in Las Vegas, Nevada. If you’re visiting Las Vegas and desire a session with the Mistress, my website is PilatesMistress.com and I enjoy connecting with other teachers on Facebook.