You’d think someone like Mary Bowen, a Pilates elder who is in demand to teach teachers around the world, would be done with the “learning” part of her 50-plus-year Pilates career by now. It’s just the opposite—one of the most inspiring things about her, and many others at the top of the field, is her never-ending thirst for more learning. Here she explains the importance of the many personal mentors she’s had over the years and why she’ll never stop being a mentee. Stay tuned for more on mentorship this month.
I have had many mentors in my 51 years in Pilates. For me, it all began in 1959 with visits to Joe and Clara Pilates twice a week for six and a half years. Joe and Clara have always remained alive in me. I came out of back pain with them, rapidly, and ate up the whole experience of being close in with their life commitment to total health, breath and their method of exercise. What Joe and Clara gave me was more than a mentorship. They gave me “a way of life” that freed my body, making it strong, flexible and enduring enough for any exploration and development I needed to undertake. Not knowing it at the time, it was turning me into a Pilates teacher myself, by 1975.
From there, I spent 7 years with Bob Seed, which underlined the experience of Joe and Clara, and then 7 years with Romana Kryzanowska, which expanded the movement repertoire for my body and cemented the importance of Pilates in my life, then 7 years with Kathy Grant, which instilled a kind of toughness into the work and yet a freedom to be creative in it at the same time, then 5 years with Bruce King, until he died, which was the closest to what is called “classical Pilates” and a great teacher of the value and lack of boredom in repetition.
With Bruce it was always the same way, the same forms in the same order. I was 50 when I started with him. I had the patience by then for his kind of quest for perfection through repetition. I could always find newness in it. Concurrent with Bruce and beyond his life span were 7 years with Jean Claude West, who had learned Pilates at my studio, Your Own Gym, in Northampton, Mass., and had gone on to study biomechanics and kinesiology at universities in New York City. Jean Claude was on the cutting edge of integrating Pilates with physical therapy techniques and knowledge. This expansion has continued deepening the experience of Pilates and the knowledge that one can attain as a teacher of Pilates. It has advanced the practice of Pilates for oneself and for the teaching of others. From 1995 and continuing into the present, my mentor is Christine Wright, a former professional dancer, student and gifted teacher of the body and how we can better live in it using Pilates as a fundamental grid. With my weekly lessons and my mentors I am just short of 80 and still coming into my body.
Through all these years I have taken my own private lessons every week with one of the above teachers. I have jumped wholeheartedly into learning the special gifts that each teacher has had to offer, all the time keeping my own creative attitude and exploration open. Something from each mentor distilled in me, and along with my own creativity, has formed a unique way to now be a mentor for many others myself.
Alongside the Pilates mentoring has been work with the psyche through the practical genius of Carl G Jung. His mentorship through his writings and followers, one being Erlo van Waveren, my personal psychoanalyst through many years, has been key to how I have become more and more of mySELF. The depth of my work with the psyche inspired me to become a psychoanalyst. After about 20 years of practicing both as an analyst and as a Pilates teacher, separately, the two conjoined in my teaching producing what has come to be called Pilates Plus Psyche, an in-depth approach to understanding how to teach Pilates and the varied individuals who come to us. Pilates Plus Psyche addresses the whole person, both the conscious and the unconscious, as we are never one or the other. We are always both.
The names of people I have noted here as my mentors were each one key but perhaps the greatest mentor of all I should make clear is an unseen, too often unknowable to masses of people, entity which we are born with the potential to become, one’s unique SELF. The greatest teacher of all is within us, if we can take the time and the trouble to work in depth with the unconscious, the seedbed of our spirit and creativity, to free and unlock the mystery of the SELF.