The Path to Mastery

The Path to MasteryRecently I picked up a book recommended by Pat Flynn, my favorite internet business and marketing aficionado.

Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard is a wonderful read.

Leonard, a longtime practitioner and teacher of aikido, examines the various paths to mastery via the study of a martial art. He defines mastery as “the mysterious process during which what is at first difficult becomes progressively easier and more pleasurable through practice.”

It brings rich rewards, yet is not really a goal or a destination but rather a process, a journey. We call this journey mastery.

The path to mastery, Leonard asserts, “is available to anyone who is willing to get on the path and stay on it,” though they must battle against our quick-fix, instant gratification society for survival.

And in true nerd fashion, my fancy turned to thoughts of…wait for it…

the Pilates Method!

The words ‘mastery' and ‘master teacher' continue to dot the Pilates landscape.

But what defines a master?

Proximity to the source? Decades of study and experience? Increased market share?

What does it mean to aspire to mastery of the Pilates Method?

It is my belief as well that the true essence of mastery is in the doing rather than the arriving.

Any art form, martial art or physical practice develops over time. Skills are acquired, practiced and perfected. Layers of nuance and expression are slowly uncovered.

Veteran teachers continue to learn the work and perfect their craft over decades. They admittedly learn something new every day. There is no end point.

Jay Grimes describes the pursuit of Pilates:

Pilates is an endless journey. It can be a wonderful journey but it never ends.

It was Junghee Won who first described the Pilates Method as more akin to a martial art than to traditional exercise. In both disciplines one cultivates the skills of the exercises as a foundation perfected year after year in countless – nearly endless – variation. Mental and physical discipline are a requirement. Focus is imperative.

Jay also counsels the Pilates neophyte:

Forget everything you know about exercise. Pilates is different.

The Love of the Eternal Now

The path to mastery demands you make your peace with being on a plateau. If your practice is diligent, you will spend a good deal of your time there. There will of course be thrilling, heady moments in between when you have a surge of learning, followed again by a new, albeit different looking plateau.

Goals are important. But they exist in the future and the past…Practice, the path of mastery, exists only in the present. 

Take comfort in your continued practice as another level of understanding, another spike in your proficiency may be right around the corner.

The Path to Mastery

In Pilates, we routinely practice our series of exercises, plus additional exercises we add to address specific needs. Often we finish our workout with invigorating exercises that challenge and inspire us on our journey. These are the mainstays of our Pilates practice.

And then one day The Flying Squirrel appears. You do your best, learn a little bit more each time you visit…and then back to your practice vowing one day to return to our Flying Friend.

On the path to mastery every day may not be the Flying Squirrel. It may very well be about doing the Footwork on the Reformer as perfectly as you can today. I suspect there will be lots of Footwork on the plateau. Probably the Rowing Series too.

Getting on the Path

In his book, Leonard outlines 5 Key points to “open the door to mastery.” They correspond quite nicely to our particular Pilates path.

1. Instruction

“The search for good instruction starts with a look at credentials and lineage. Who was your teacher's teacher? Who was that teacher's teacher?”


Uh-oh. That's a big word. More on this delicate subject in a future post.

2. Practice

“At the heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path.”

Of course, right? Your Pilates practice will be by your side always, a trusted friend. You own your workout and your own well being.

3. Surrender

(My favorite)

“The courage of a master is measured by his or her willingness to surrender…surrendering to your teacher and to the demands of your discipline. It also means surrendering your own hard-won proficiency from time to time in order to reach a higher or different level of proficiency.”

This one is tricky. True learners are not content with yesterday's experience of an exercise. The body is ever changing and the work changes as well. Let's nickname this one:

The Path to Mastery


4. Intentionality

“Character, willpower, attitude, imaging, the mental game, intentionality…however you look at it…is an essential to take along on the master's journey.”

The Pilates word for this is willpowerYou must set yourself to the task at hand. New habits are not easy to implement. That's how they came to be called habits in the first place. You must envision the change and will yourself to execute it. Those super challenging exercises are not simply going to happen to you…you've got to want to do them.

Hello, Snake/Twist…:)

5. The Edge

The fine art of playing the edge…involves a willingness to take one step back for every two forward, sometimes vice versa. It also demands a determination to keep pushing, but not without awareness.

Let's call this the Pilates version of ‘pushing the envelope'. Using your will, your practice, your surrender to work safely to the very edges of your proficiency. You've got the tools to challenge yourself to do an exercise that takes all you've got and that previously you found unattainable.

It is your hard-won skills, the fruits of your labors that will navigate you through the Flying Squirrel.

To be a learner you've got to be willing to be a fool.

Ultimately to be on the path to mastery you must continually be an 'empty vessel' in search of new valuable skills, ideas and experiences to feast upon.

In this way we become a perennial beginner and look on the familiar with an eye toward greater depth and clarity.

You may find yourself learning an exercise all over again in a wonderful new way. Recently, the Tower on the Cadillac and Semi-Circle on the Reformer reinvented themselves. I love what they've turned into.

Share a moment on your own path to mastery when you had to tackle an old exercise in a radical new way.

C'mon, you know I love this stuff. 

BOOK REVIEW: Pilates An Interactive Workbook by Christina Maria Gadar

Book Review: Pilates An Interactive Workbook by Christina Maria Gadar

Received one morning on vacation in Paris:

Hi Andrea,
I was wondering if you would like me to send you a copy of “Pilates An Interactive Workbook.” 
Warmest wishes,
Christina Maria Gadar

Pilates An Interactive Workbook is a wonderful new book by Christina Maria Gadar. I had been secretly wanting this book since it was released on August 29, 2013.

Good-fortune hovers closeby when in a magical city.

Need. More. Christina.

Christina Maria Gadar is one of my favorite Pilates practitioners. She completed her rigorous Pilates training under Joseph Pilates' protégée and Grand Master Instructor Romana Kryzanowska in 2000. She operates a world-class Pilates studio in Sarasota, Florida.

Should you be a Sarasota local I highly recommend you stop by for a lesson.

Although we have not met in person I have the highest regard and admiration for her thoughtful social media postings. The high standards of her studio are evident in her flawless videos, each featuring a different Pilates apparatus. She is a shining example of a connected and precise transition.

Have a look:

She nimbly zips up the mountain like a sprite in Mountain Climb on the Wunda Chair.

Calm focus is about her as she busts out even Swakate on the Arm Chair. It becomes an elegant exercise. Even as I watch I can feel its deliciousness…

BOOK REVIEW: Pilates An Interactive Workout by Christina Maria GadarSpeedy Delivery

The book arrived the very day she said it would, one day after my return from Europe.

It was bigger and more weighty than I expected and really said ‘serious.'

She even signed it – another fun surprise!

Although book reviews are not my usual style of posts, the idea for this review was entirely mine. Christina said she would be very happy for me to review it.

“I know there is no guarantee of a positive review, and I prefer it that way.”

Alignment trumps all. 

Pilates An Interactive Workbook sports the perfect tagline:

BOOK REVIEW: Pilates An Interactive Workbook by Christina Maria Gadar

Her POV – and indeed the POV of the Pilates Method itself – are in perfect alignment.

Oh gosh, I needed that pun.

A place for everything and everything in its place…

Christina has created a Pilates workbook that is part Exercise Manual and even more importantly part Exercise Journal. A place to keep all your thoughts, notes, corrections, etc… on a given exercise for handy reference.

Often the process of writing down the notes can help to cement them in the mind. Christina also wisely suggests that you write all your notes in pencil, “as your notes will change as your body changes.

There is no end to learning Pilates. Learn to savor each moment and each progression in your Pilates education. Then you will find yourself getting to the heart of the method.

The intended purpose of Pilates An Interactive Workbook is plainly stated. In bold, mind you.

“Please remember that this book is meant only for those who are already students of a certified Pilates instructor. Pilates cannot be learned from a book or video – only from a teacher.”

The italics are Christina's.

The Heart and Soul of the Method

All of the fundamental Pilates exercises on the Mat and the Reformer are in attendance. If the Reformer is at the heart of Pilates, the Matwork is surely the soul of the Method.

The Matwork is divided into a ‘basic' and an ‘intermediate' system. Also included are additional series aimed at the Pilates client/home exerciser which require only a small prop or a wall: Magic Circle exercises, Standing Arm Weights and the Wall series. Huzzah!

The Reformer section includes both fundamental as well as more challenging exercises such as Teaser, Semi-Circle and Side Splits. It is again a solid group of exercises on the Reformer that Pilates teachers use daily when working with nearly every client.

In the above photo you can see a sample of the page layout that is used throughout the book. This kind of organization is appealing to me. Nearly half to three-quarters of every left-hand page is reserved for your notes and observations on each particular exercise.

The thought of having all of my notes on the Backstroke together in one place is practically more excitement than I stand. Over time some notes would replace others of course, but collecting all of the notes would allow you to see what is improving over time, and what notes you got the very first time that you are still getting today…


Get ready, here's another one.


I'm someone who's nerdy about the details.

The above photo also shows the ‘Detail' section located on many of the bottom left-hand pages. Christina is pictured here demonstrating the transition into the Corkscrew. Other Detail sections examine correct placement, show other secure and effective transitions between exercises and include tips for proficiency.

It's almost like having a teacher with you.

Imagine that.

Pilates for Life 

A large Detail section delineates the the various parts of the Reformer apparatus itself: head rest, carriage, the well, leather straps, etc… This section deserves to be quoted in its entirety:

In addition to being familiar with your individual workout routine on the Reformer, it is important to be familiar with the set-up of the Pilates apparatus. Knowing the set-up for each exercise will enhance your concentration and self-efficiency. It will also reinforce the proper techniques necessary for lifting, bending and and reaching. Before you know it, you will find yourself incorporating Pilates into every minute of your day.

Another gem:

The Reformer section does not begin at the Footwork Series. It starts with the very first moment of the workout: Lying down on the Reformer Apparatus. It is given the same prominence, value and design layout as every one of the exercises. Boom.

Pilates teachers everywhere are thanking you 🙂

A must for the self-proclaimed Pilates Nerd and enthusiast of all stripes, Pilates An Interactive Workbook clearly communicates the ideas and skills inherent and crucial to success in the Pilates Method:

  • Quality over quantity.
  • The imperative of learning a new exercise with a trained instructor before doing it on your own.
  • Practicing at home to make the most of your investment in Pilates lessons and take true ownership of your workout.
  • The Pilates Method is a complete system.

I am very happy to have this book. And to put it to good use. My Swan on the Barrel page is filling up!!

For more information on Christina Maria Gadar visit her at Gadar Pilates.

Book Review: Pilates An Interactive Workbook by Christina Maria Gadar

Do you own this book? How has it informed your own Pilates practice? Share your thoughts and join the conversation.

You can order the book for your favorite Pilates student here. (Even if it's you.)

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