The Dog Whisperer’s Guide To Fitness

 

Me and the man himself

Me and the man himself

 

Her name was Bella, but we renamed her Frida. Her original family decided they couldn’t keep her so in lieu they dropped her at a horse ranch. All dogs love the outdoors so any four legged friend would love to live on a ranch, right? Wrong. Frida was the opposite of a ranch dog. She was terrified of horses, people, and just about everything. She hid under a porch morning to evening shivering and shaking trying to disappear. It wasn’t long before the ranch owners decided Frida had to go. Things just weren’t working out. A friend of a friend worked part-time with the horses and knew I was looking to adopt a dog. My boyfriend drove his Audi up the winding Hollywood Hills to ranch-land and brought Frida home in the backseat with us.

We noticed right away that she was very damaged. She couldn’t walk a straight line while on a leash, darting and cowering like a PTSD’d casualty of war. Whatever trauma she endured she carried it with her in every situation dodging and weaving away from an invisible enemy. She just needs time to adjust and get comfortable, we thought. We had no idea how serious her wounds were and what was entailed in her healing. A month into her adoption we stupidly took her to a 4th of July party and she lost her shit. A little boy with a giant water gun spooked her and she went for him, drawing blood.

I was devastated. I never had a dog that was aggressive or violent. People’s advice was to put her down or give her away but I believed in her sweet face and searched for other options. A Pilates client of mine who had dogs suggested I reach out to this guy who was known as the “Dog Whisper” who had an unusual way of training dogs with issues. Two weeks later Ceasar Milan showed up to our Venice apartment to assess Frida. Terrified she lunged at him right as he crossed the threshold but he didn’t flinch. “Her problem is not that she’s a ‘bad dog’ but rather that her psyche needs a tune up” he said, “but she’s a red-zone case and won’t get better without help”. She needed to go to his center in a compound tucked away in East LA for doggie misfits, STAT.

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In my work as a Pilates instructor I have lots of opportunity to observe what make people tick. Sure, they’re taking Pilates to improve their posture, get stronger or more flexible, maybe even heal from an injury but what they don’t realize is they also get an attitude adjustment. Our body and psyche are not separate and unconnected. On the contrary. According to my friend and Pilates anthropologist, Benjamin Degenhardt, Joe Pilates was adamant about Contrology’s original trifecta: body, mind, and spirit – not just body. Benjamin tells me that he believed exercises alone won’t do much if you are not present in your practice and don’t bring the willingness to take control of yourself. His idea of mindfulness and spirituality was straightforward: “it is the spirit which builds the body”. We see it everywhere in the Pilates studio. The lack of music to aid in concentration, the specificity of the movements, the use of visual cues bring us into harmony with the whole of us. When we change our mindset we change how we feel inside and out. We literally change our body by focusing our mind on muscle, bone, and breath.

Frida spent 3 weeks at the Dog Psychology Center and when we went to visit her we saw a completely different dog. She was present and bold, with snout and tail lifted high, a doggy smile on her lips. I was amazed to see her playing with other dogs and strutting around without a care in the world. We brought her home with lots of advice from the master- “you have to change your energy to keep her like this. I train humans, and rehabilitate dogs,” he said. We got this I thought.
Turns out it was harder to do the work we had to do. Frida instinctual by nature, was always in the moment, but it was us humans who live with one foot still in the past. See, while behavior may be easy to change, mindset is not. It takes daily practice and determination to “train” the muscle that is our brain. Benjamin says of Joe’s work that “if willpower was a muscle, it’d be the single-most important one in the practice of Joe Pilates’ work”. If Joe was alive today I believe he and Ceasar would be buds. If we want to change and grow we can,we just need to meet the way with the will. We are not slaves to our genius, species, or our mind.

Interested in seeing what your mind can build with your body? Join us for the Pilates goodness in our NYC studio today! Click here for more info!

 

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Interview With A Pilates Instructor: Benjamin Degenhardt

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Benjamin and I met on Twitter. Yes, that’s right Twitter. Turns out that the twiter-sphere is a great way to connect to our community and this time it lead me right to Mr. Degenhardt. There are so many things that I love about Benjamin, but what first drew me to him was his enthusiasm for the history of Pilates. His passion to know how Joe lived, thought, and  intended his method to be is inspirational. I’ve nick-named him the Pilates anthropologist.

Benjamin will be visiting my little NYC studio this month. He’s presenting an amalgamation of two great seminars. His 4-hour workshop starts with an exciting journey into the past. We’ll look at rare archival writings, discover what Joe Pilates was looking to achieve, the philosophy behind his method, as well as his plans for the future of Contrology. Next, his ‘Upright Pilates’ will focus on the essence of the Pilates method – transferring the results of the work into our everyday activities and achieving functional strength. Click here to get more info on the workshop and to register. Ben will also be available for private, duet, and semi-private sessions at the studio. Don’t miss this chance to see all his research and Pilates artifacts as well as be touched by his teaching. Now onto the interview…

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Please make sure to include where you currently teach.

My name is Benjamin Degenhardt and I currently reside in Boston, MA. I have been involved in the Pilates world since 1999 in addition to an extensive dance and movement teaching background. I created 360° Pilates, a continuing education program designed to reconnect instructors to the original teachings of Joseph Pilates, with a keen eye on modern knowledge of functional movement. Most recently I initiated a campaign called March MATness to inspire people to incorporate Pilates into their everyday lives. You can find me online at benjamindegenhardt.com

2. How did you find Pilates (or your area of expertise)?

Pilates Mat classes were part of my dance training about 15 years ago. Needless to say, it was a complete game-changer! It helped me stay strong and healthy through several dance-related injuries, and I never lost Pilates out of my sight throughout my dance career.

 3. What was your inspiration in the path you chose?

In addition to the amazement about the impact Pilates had on my physical health and life in general, I remember being completely in awe of the wealth of knowledge my teachers had about human movement, and their passion for teaching. They are still my biggest inspiration, and it fulfills me to be able to pass some of their generosity on to other teachers now.

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 4. What is your favorite Pilates exercise and why?

If I had to pick one, it would have to be The Hundred. While it seems to be so different from all the other exercises, I find that it truly packs the challenge of the entire Pilates repertoire into one simple move. In less than a minute it warms you up and tells you more about your body than most other exercise ever could.

5. Do you have a motto, a favorite quote, or mission statement that you live by?

Communicate selflessly. Teach generously. And move scrumptiously.

6. What do you like to do when you’re not teaching?

I’m a true Pilates geek, so much of my spare time goes into continuing my education, as well as researching the history of Contrology. I managed to collect well over 200 pages of original writings by and about Joe Pilates, as well as over 4 hours of video footage. It fascinates me how clear Joe was in his trajectory, yet how lost we are as an industry when it comes to pinning down what Pilates actually is. I am hoping to shed some light on just that with my work. But when I am really away from the studio and my materials, I enjoy movement of any kind (and try to immerse myself in a new physical activity every year), traveling, and I’m a bit of a foodie – good thing I love to exercise!

Benjamin Degenhardt is the mastermind behind 360° Pilates, a continuing education program for Pilates teachers. He has been involved in the Pilates world for over a decade in addition to his extensive dance and movement teaching background. While performing as a dancer he found a passion for teaching movement and, inspired by Joe Pilates, immersed himself in the study of injury prevention and body mechanics. With his expertise in historical Pilates and modern fitness he established himself as a “teacher of teachers” and conducts workshops around the globe. He has maintained a true passion for the Pilates method and its ability to improve people’s lives. You can find him and his articles for Pilates teachers on his website at benjamindegenhardt.com

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