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I love going back and reading my teacher’s book, “Every Body is Beautiful” and I usually just read excerpts from it. It re-inspires me every time I pick it up, sometimes it makes me giggle. He wrote this book as if he was speaking to us. So if you want a glimpse into who Ron Fletcher was, this is a wonderful resource. You’ll feel like you’re in a conversation with him and talking about what he cared most about was really making everybody feel beautiful and alive.
So I’d like to read a few excerpts that are my favorite passages from the book, and really gives you a sense of who Ron Fletcher was and what he cared about and keeps his spirit alive for me and hopefully for the rest of our community. The opening paragraph. “Every body is beautiful, every body is divinely inspired, superbly designed, awesome in the complex way it’s put together and wonderful in the simple, economical way it works. Every body can be vital, strong, flexible, moving through life with grace and assurance, totally healthy, not just some of the time, but most of the time.” Very much echoes what Joseph Pilates wrote about in his book “Return to Life.” “Every body can be improved inside and outside because the body potential is hardly ever realized.” And he really believed that. And I think that as Pilates teachers, that’s what we’re giving.
We’re giving people a vitality, a sense of themselves, a sense of assurance, a sense of place, and a sense of confidence to go through life with this one body that we have. Another section of the book or passage from the book. “There is no reason why each of you can’t experience your own body as beautiful, no matter your age, your shape, or how you feel about yourself now. That’s what body contrology is all about.” And as you know, Joseph Pilates didn’t call his work Pilates. He called it body contrology.
“Learning more about your body, getting in better touch with all of its parts, setting up a communication system with it, trusting and loving it as your best friend, and then using it correctly all of the time. You can arrive at a very comfortable stage of self acceptance that comes with self-knowledge and the day by day experience of using yourself fully.” And again, it’s what Joseph Pilates wrote about. It’s not about working the parts of the body, it’s about working the holistic movement potential of the body. And one of the jokes that Ron loved is, apparently someone asked him what part of the body does this movement? Where do I initiate this part of the body?
And Ron would say, it’s the piccacus muscle, which doesn’t exist. So the idea is that the whole body is engaged for everything that we do. Another passage, “Correct alignment means better posture. And once you achieve it, you will no longer feel as if you are listing to one side or the other. It also means that all of your vital organs will be better supported and held securely in their proper places, able to work better and keep you healthier.
You will look taller, thinner, and younger, and you will feel as good as you look. Your house will be in order.” And I think that that’s one of the misconceptions about Ron and his work is that he was only about beauty. He was only about the aesthetics of movement, the aesthetics of working with beautiful movers. And that wasn’t the case at all. He was about drawing out every single person’s potential and giving them the gift of understanding themselves, understanding their bodies, not from a place of looking better, but from a place of moving through life with more ease and grace and understanding of, again, what we have.
And then the last passage I’d like to read from the introduction, “Then the founder of body contrology, Joseph Pilates, and his beautiful wife, Clara, taught me how the body actually works mechanically and how proper breathing can sustain those workings. Pilates also taught me the importance of bilateral muscle conditioning, something I stress in my own program and in this book. The even development and use of both sides of our bodies, so that we do not become muscularly imbalanced.” And Ron constantly credited Joseph Pilates for what he taught. And he said, Joe was the genius, Clara was the true teacher. And he constantly went back to his time in the studio to what Joe said, to Clara’s careful way of teaching precise movement.
And it was something that his students were left with is that quality of understanding of the body, of the quality of teaching that he gained from both Joe and Clara Pilates. And then this final sentence that is one of my favorites is “We are all miracles. What we do with the miracle is our choice.” And so we have this amazing body to go through life with, and it’s our choice how we choose to move it, how we choose to use it. And everything that we do in life is a choice. And so I love that sentence.
So that’s a bit of the introduction from Ron’s book. I’d like to go into a few of the passages on good breathing, on body alignment and body awareness. And these were concepts that are not new concepts to us today, but at the time, breath wasn’t really discussed, body awareness wasn’t really thought of, and the idea of prop for alignment, it was the era of calisthenics and aerobics. And there wasn’t that idea of bringing the body back to center or moving from your center. So I’d like to read a few passages from those chapters and David McMahan will help us demonstrate some of those.
The next chapter I’d like to focus on is Ron’s chapter on good breathing. And what amused me when I first started studying and teaching the Fletcher work or Ron’s lineage of the Pilates method is that there were several who put the way Ron taught breath and the percussive breathing style. And I didn’t understand it quite at the time. And so I went and I did my own study of breath and talked to Ron quite a bit about it and began to understand how he developed the percussive breathing and some of the same teachers and students who were naysayers of the way Ron taught actually came back and began studying with us at a later point. And so Ron was one of the first generation Pilates masters to really focus on the breath.
He was known for his teaching of the breath, his very careful teaching of the breath. And breath is arguably the number one Pilates movement principle. So we breathe to move instead of moving to breathe. So we’re not gasping for air. We’re actually using the breath to fuel the movement.
And that was a concept that Ron taught from the get go in any class in any private session and something that we, as Fletcher teachers, continue to focus on. One of the passages from the good breathing that I love, and Ron often asked us this in class, is, “Are you a stingy breather? Well, don’t be.” (Sabin laughs) “Be extravagant with your breathing and come fully alive. Most of us have lost the innate sense of proper breathing, and we need to make a concentrated effort to get it back. With my system of percussive breathing, you can learn how to totally exhale used air and fully inhale life’s most necessary food which is oxygen.
By rediscovering your breathing abilities, you will increase your energy as you improve your body functions, appearance, and sense of wellbeing. Your body and your brain will work at maximum efficiency. Lavish a constant supply of oxygen on yourself, and watch your skin, hair, and eyes take on a new shine. Not only that, you’ll reach a natural high.” And so, Joe, according to Ron and according to several of the others, emphasized breath when he talked about his work. Clearly breath is emphasized in his book “Return to Life.” But from what I understand, he didn’t take the time to really teach breathing mechanics and teach the wise of the work.
And Ron did. Ron took what Joe said and what Joe wrote about and he took it to I think, to the next level. So we’ll talk a little bit about breathing with David. The next passage that I’d like to read. “When we see rib cages open and close, we know that there’s some good breathing going on.
Unfortunately, we don’t see that often enough as most people breathe very shallowly in the chest area, just below the throat. They have not been shown how to breathe or explained the importance of deep breathing.” So David, if you would stand up and show us a stingy breather, show us shallow breathing. So there’s not much happening. The chest is slightly dropped. The shoulders are slightly forward.
Now take a deep breath and really fill your lungs, open your chest, and then keep that expansion across the chest as you exhale fully. (David exhaling loudly) And that axial elongation, that length actually happens on exhalation. Take a deep breath in, fill the lungs, open the ribs, and exhale fully. Didn’t that feel better than the stingy breathing? And one more time, take a deep breath in, expand, fill the lungs, and exhale.
(David exhaling loudly) There’s several quotes from celebrities in Ron’s book. And one of my favorite quotes is from Candice Bergen, who was one of Ron’s first clients at his studio in Los Angeles. “When I first came to Ron Fletcher’s, I thought I had emphysema. Although I couldn’t take a deep, actually I couldn’t take a good deep breath. What I discovered through Ron is that I didn’t and it’s rather that I couldn’t.
I had little use or awareness of my thoracic muscles and I didn’t know where they were or how I could use them.” And then Ron responds to that quote saying, “Let’s find out right now where these thoracic muscles are and how they work. Stand in front of a full length mirror and place your hands on your ribcage.” So David, if you could act as if you’re standing in front of a mirror, placing the hands on the ribs. “With the middle fingers touching, think of the groups of muscles under your fingers, which are built into your ribcage. Those are your thoracic muscles. We’re now gonna try to separate the fingers by opening the ribcage, breathe in as deeply as you can, consciously expanding the ribcage and watch the fingers come apart and then bring the fingertips back together as you exhale and close the rib cage.” And Ron oftentimes used hands to emphasize movement and to emphasize a sense of awareness through the body.
And exhale and feel the ribs press into the hands, feel again, that lateral expansion and exhale, and do that one more time, separating the hands as you breathe into the ribs and exhale. (David exhaling loudly) Nice, thank you, David. Let’s talk a little bit about the percussive breathing. And so Ron likened the lungs or the ribs as a measuring cup and by taking the air in in pieces and exhaling in pieces, we were actually able to take more oxygen or more air in and have a more complete exhalation. And the passage in the book.
I’ll read this. Let’s see. “Imagine a measuring cup full of air with its one quarter, one half, three quarters, and one cup markings. Now take half of the air out of the cup in two separate staccato inhalations through the nose. So it goes sniff, sniff, past the lips, and blow the used air back into the cup through the mouth shush shush.
So let’s try that; sniff, sniff, shush, shush. Placing your hands on your ribs. Image the lungs as a measuring cup and breathe in half a cup, breathe in a full cup, exhale half a cup, exhale a full cup, and do that again. Sniff, sniff and shush, shush. Now let’s breathe into thirds.
Breathe in, two, three, out, two, three, one more time. Out, two, three quarter cups. (David exhaling loudly) In, two, three, four, and out, two, three, four. (David exhaling loudly) One more. And out, two, three, four, (David exhaling loudly) then just take a deep breath in, fill the lungs and exhale.
So the purpose of percussive breathing is again not to put Ron’s signature, Ron’s stamp on some sort of a breathing style, but it’s actually to increase our lung capacity, to increase our oxygenation through the body. And by taking those sip severe in and pushing the air out incrementally, it actually does increase our lung capacity, our endurance for breathing, and it has an amazing effect on movement. This next exercise involves a glass of water and a straw. And it’s a very simple exercise that we oftentimes use in the studio. And it’s pictured here by another famous celebrity at the time, Shirley Jones.
Shirley Jones shows you another therapeutic breathing exercise that has helped a lot of my students to get a better idea of how to empty the lungs more completely of carbon dioxide. All you need is a large glass or a small bowl filled with water and a bendable straw, which we have. (Sabin laughing) Thank you, David. It’s amazing how that shows up. With the straw held close to your mouth, breathe in through the nose as fully and deeply as possible.
Totally fill your lungs and then lean over the glass and slowly, very slowly, in one long exhalation, breathe out through the straw into the water. Don’t drown. (Sabin laughing) (water bubbling) The aim of this exercise is to see how long you can keep the water bubbling through one long exhalation. Do this half a dozen times, making sure that each time you have fully emptied your lungs through the straw and see how incredibly relaxed and energized you feel afterwards. And I love this one cautionary note: do not inhale through the straw or you’ll drown yourself.
(Sabin laughing) Which is one good way to stop smoking. (Sabin laughing) That’s Ron’s humor. And then he ends this paragraph with, “All you got to do is breathe. Breathe as though your life depended on it because it does.” And that’s Ron. Breathe as if your life depended on it because it does.
Another one of my favorite chapters in this book is the chapter on body awareness, which was also one of Joe’s main Pilates principles is understanding how our body is connected, really feeling the different parts. And what’s continuously amazes me is that some of my most intelligent clients and people I know have no idea what their body’s comprised of. So we go through life and we have this one body and we have all of this information that we learn through school, that we learn through books, but we don’t know about our bodies. We don’t know about this one, as Ron would call it, divine mechanism that we have to go through life with. And so body awareness is really what Pilates is all about.
It’s about understanding our bodies, appreciating our bodies, understanding at any point in life, how to use our bodies with more articulation, with more ease, with more grace, with more fluidity. And it’s not from a place of judgment. It’s from a place of, this is what we get to do with this body. It’s not what we have to do. So the opening paragraph in this chapter reads: “You cannot possibly know your body until you devote some time and attention to getting acquainted with it.
Begin by really looking at your body, carefully and realistically, making an honest but fair appraisal of it. Keep this fact in mind, everybody is beautiful, but nobody body is perfect. We can make our bodies better in every way by developing body awareness, which means more knowledge of the separate parts of the body and where they really are. It also means a better understanding of how all these parts are put together to form the total body structure and how they work together to make the structure superbly mobile.” So again, this is not an earth-shattering concept, but it was at the time. The idea, the mentality was about exercise, burning calories, being thinner, having more toned legs.
It wasn’t about the function and the fluidity and grace and the ease with which we went through life. Next section that I really love; “The body where a person radiates vitality. As you learn to communicate with your body on a friendly, loving basis, you project more sensuality through the energy you generate, because nothing is sexier than high energy. In any group of people, those who stand out, who act as magnets, are those with a life force or a sexual energy. They charge the atmosphere.” And what Ron often talked about is the sensuality of body awareness, of feeling our bodies.
And it wasn’t about so much sexuality, as sensuality from a place of this is our God-given right to be in this body and to feel this body and to experience this body through life. And by doing that, we become more alive and we become more involved with life and with other people, and that’s appealing and attractive to those around us. And then this next paragraph, this is where you come in, David. If you would go ahead and stand in front of the mirror. And Ron often talked about taking inventory of our bodies, of actually feeling our bodies with our hands, of seeing our bodies and using the mirror is another tool.
So the mirror is not a judge. The mirror is simply a tool that we can see where we are in space and gauge the symmetry or asymmetry in our body. “Face the mirror and take a look at yourself. Believe in this body you see in the mirror, be aware of it and trust it, feel it at all times, and be grateful for the miracle that it is. Let it work for you fully.
Add years to your life and enjoyment to your years by using your head to become aware of your body.” And that’s something that Joseph Pilates spoke about quite a bit is the connection, obviously, of the brain to the body. And awareness is the key to that. If we’re not aware, it’s impossible to have that connection from the thought process into the physical process. And so take inventory of your body, look at your body, and start with your feet and think of balancing your weight evenly between your feet. Notice where your hips are.
Notice the sides of your body. Is one side dropped? Is one side more elongated? Notice where your shoulders are. And without judging anything, just notice if there’s any sort of imbalance that you can subtly correct.
And then something else that Ron often did is have us touch our bodies. So what I’d like for you to do, David, is place your hands on your outer hips. That’s it, and think of narrowing your hips into center, feel that midline and then place the hand on your low belly, which is the center of the body on your low back, and think of drawing your hands together, feel that connection, and then place your hands between your ribcage and your pelvis. And try to image that active length between those two bony structures, lifting the ribs up out of the pelvis, and then place your hands on your chest and brush your chest open. That’s it, so think of widening through the collar bounds and then placing the hands on the sides of the neck.
Actively elongate through the neck, that’s it. Give yourself a cue as if you were your own teacher and then reach the arm straight up to the ceiling, feel that length through the sides of the body, and then lengthen the arms down by your sides all the way down, and then just take a deep breath in, filling your body with air and exhale, and do that one more time and fill the body with oxygen and press it out. (David exhaling loudly) The last chapter I’d like to touch on is his chapter on body alignment. And Ron was very specific about standing posture. And I believe one of the first to really bring the body to a standing position and to focus on posture, and to bring Pilates to standing.
So the opening paragraph, “The orderly connections and linkages of bones, muscles, and tendons and ligaments are what body alignment is all about. When the body is in correct a alignment and well connected, all the bits and pieces,” I love that bits and pieces, “fit together cohesively and exactly, like the parts of a jigsaw puzzle. When you achieve it, you look longer, leaner, and more shapely, and like any well put together building, you will stand erect more comfortably and with more ease. In addition, there are three very big health advantages the properly placed body enjoys. The internal organs work better and stay healthier.
The breathing apparatus has a chance to function more efficiently and with less of effort, and there is much less wasted muscular energy when the body is not fighting misalignment.” So again, this is not a novel concept, but it was at the time and I think it does continue to be, as we go through much of our lives in an upright vertical posture, and yet much of Pilates is done in a supine or in a horizontal posture. And so to bring the body, to start the body in standing, and to finish the body in more of a vertical posture is the way we teach in the Fletcher program. The next section. This is demonstrating poor posture and good posture. So David, if you would help us with that and stand sideways.
So if you could show us more of a kyphotic posture. That’s it, and we see a lot of this and the kyphosis leads to a forward head, leads to a compressed cervical spine, and then coming back through center and show us more of a lordotic posture. So that can come from an anterior tilted pelvis. It can also come from a misalignment between the ribcage and the pelvis, which would be more of a, can you show us more of a swayed back posture with the, yeah, with the hips pressed forward and the ribcage back. And then if you turn sideway or turn facing the camera, and then just drop down to one side, so this can either be a scoliosis or it can be some sort of functional misalignment.
Other side. So all of these postural variances come from a lack of awareness. They also come from a misuse of the body. And what we wanna do in Pilates is we wanna bring the body back to center so that we have a place to move from. We always wanna start in center, move away from center, and then come back to center at the end of each movement.
“Good looking healthful posture alignment begins with the feet. Stand up on your feet and try to become very conscious of them as the foundation of your building. Think of two triangular supports. The three points of each triangle being the center of your heel and the two spots from your biggest to your smallest toes extended. Ground yourself firmly on these six spots, and imagine them forming two triangles that give you a solid base and also place the muscles of the feet and legs correctly.
The better to support and shape the rest of your frame.” And so let’s go through what we consider the seven cues of standing and centering. And the first thing I’d like for David to do is to weight his feet evenly, right and left, and then to think of distributing the weight evenly across two triangular bases on the sole of each foot. So one point would be at the base of the big toe between the fourth and the fifth toes, and then right in the center of the heel, with the fourth point being right in the arch of the foot. So these three points are pressing down into the floor and the fourth point is lifting up away from the floor. And then go ahead and lift all 10 toes up and feel the arch lifted, and then keep the arch lifted as you lower the toes down.
And let’s do that two more times; lifting up and lowering down, and one more time, lifting up and lowering down. And then once we’ve established that foundation, we think of the midline of the body. And I love that Ron talked about the midline of the body as the core of the body. So he didn’t like referring to this region of the body as the core. He thought of the core as more like an apple core or the center of a tree.
And so we establish that by connecting the ankle bones and think of putting a rod through the outer ankle bone, medial, medial outer, and we don’t wanna roll out through the feet, which would bend the rod. So that would be more supination. And likewise, we don’t wanna roll in through the feet, which would be more pronation. And both of those positions would bend that alignment through the ankles. So we wanna think of connecting the ankles, connecting the muscles right above the knees, and then connecting the muscles high on the inner thighs, going up into the pelvic floor.
And go ahead and take plie, reaching the arms forward, and then image length filling up on that midline as you press up out of the floor. And again, reaching forward and lengthen up through that core line of the body. Let’s do that two more times. Folding at the hips and lengthening up, and one more time forward and lengthen up, and then place your hands again on your outer hips and make fists with your hands and think of bolting your hips in from side to side. So the next part of the body that Ron talked about was the pelvis in terms of aligning the pelvis.
So pelvic alignment. And think of bolting and from side to side, and then place a fist low on your belly, low on your lower back, and again, bolting from front to back. So you have that sense of the sides, four cardinal points on the sides of the pelvis. Everything’s pulling into that midline. Arms down by your sides.
Next part of the body we talk about is the girdle of strength. So all of the soft tissue between the ribcage, the pelvis, and the lumbar spine. And I’d like for you to inhale and lift your arms out to the sides and image that length on the sides seams of the body, and then maintain that length as you exhale and press down. And again, inhale, open into the sides. Exhale, press the crown of the head up to the ceiling.
And let’s do that two more times. Inhale, expand, exhale, grow a little longer. And one more time, open, and exhale. (David exhaling loudly) So we start with the foot centers as the foundation, the midline, bolting the pelvis, elongating through the waist. We’ve already talked about the breath.
So breath would be postural. And we’ve talked about the connection between the breath and posture. And then the next part of the body which we think about is the shoulder girdle. So you wanna think of the shoulders as a pedestal for the head and the neck. Draw the shoulders up to the ears and place the shoulders on your back.
And this time lift the shoulders up and just drop the shoulders down. So this is where most of us spend our lives in a default position, especially through the shoulder girdle. So lift the shoulders up and consciously place your shoulders on your back, pulling down and notice how that’s a completely different upper body alignment. Inhale, lift the shoulders up, consciously pull shoulders down your back. And one more time, lifting up and pressing down.
And once we’ve established that position of the shoulders, then we can address the head and the neck. If the shoulders are forward, the head comes forward, and there’s no way to really position the upper cervical spine. So from here, I’d like for you to just draw your chin forward. Glide the chin forward and then glide the chin back and place the head right on top of the spine. Inhale, glide forward on an even shelf, exhale, pull back.
And one more time, glide forward. Think of the head as part of the spine as you pull the head back. So again, starting with the foundation of the foot centers, elongating through that midline, drawing the legs together, bolting the hips side to side, front to back, elongating through the waist or what we call the girdle of strength, actively placing the shoulders down your back and actively elongating through the head and the neck. So that’s bringing the body to 101 Fletcher standing alignment. Ron often talked about the design that we make with our bodies.
And he wasn’t, again, talking about it from an aesthetic beauty standpoint. He was talking about body symmetry leads to a sense of beauty and leads to a beautiful line or a beautiful design. If we’re thinking about body form versus function, he was always about function leading to form. And if things were functioning properly, if the body was in proper alignment, it led to a beautiful form. And so again, he wasn’t trying to make a beautiful image.
He was trying to move the body from the inside out, which led to a beautiful external shape. And this is what he says to close this chapter. “Fashions change, yes, but there’s nothing to replace a classic design, and so it goes with good posture. Keep it classic as we’ve explained in this chapter and it will last longer. It’s centered, it’s balanced, and it’s sexy.” (Sabin laughing) So Ron always taught with a twinkle in his eye.
There was always a sense of joy and sensuality in his teaching. And he was very precise about placement. He was very precise about placement because he wanted everyone to get the most out of what he was teaching. So thank you for joining us for this section. I do hope that you’ll read Ron’s book.
It is available on Kindle and it will soon be released in it’s new format next year. Thank you.