Mon 01st June 2020

Going Primal with Pilates Elder Mary Bowen

As many of our ‘zoomers’ know, due to the fact I harked on about it, last week I did a huge Zoom with Pilates Elder Mary Bowen (91). A former comedian and actor on Broadway who began training with  Joseph in his New York studio when she was in-between jobs, she unapologetically and good spiritedly dished the dirt on the man, his wife and his lover, as well as answering my chosen question:

What aspect of Pilates do you see enduring in the next 91 years?

She paused, and her answer was measured, pausing to reflect on all the teaching and studying she has done, and was then, well, not so surprisingly, simple.


The joy and power and effect of movement.

And then she gleefully reminded us that us humans share 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees, who know how to move, and love to move, instinctively, playfully everyday. All animals do! They just know their history and honour it. To be fair, they haven’t been domesticated into an office and/or an expensive pair of orthopaedic shoes and whizzy office chair. And we should remember that and learn from them.

The word primal was used and who hasn’t seen that word banded about during this Covid-19 lockdown? Whether you have let your hair grow loose and wild, only worn three outfits in rotation and rarely shoes, or in my case sent your husband out to hunt for spelt flour in the wild aisles of Sainsbury’s whilst you escaped the cave to exercise the kids/hungry bear cubs in the woods…we’ve all surely on some level got back to basics.

Many of us, Mary Bowen included, came to Pilates from a point of poor or restricted movement or injury and to find a way back to that free movement: our birthright, strong, primal movement. To do so, we do need to pay heed to the fairly rigid, original and efficient 34 exercises that Joe developed – the man had done his research and got results – but we can (and do) play about with them and still stay true to the essence of his method.  We can use Pilates and the trust we gain in our whole bodies not just to get back to where we think we should be, but also to take our movement to new places, be more playful and primal, listen to it and find what movement it likes. Liz and I always encourage this in our planning and teaching and we do know it’s not always easy.

So, as this lockdown eases and we look out into this new normal, see people’s actual real faces in the actual space six feet in front of us, there is already a wider movement to learn and hold on to the positive ‘back to basics’ aspects lockdown has brought some. For us Pilates peeps, we can perhaps start by reflecting on what the wise words of a woman who has lived for nearly a whole century:

We grow to our last breath,

So be instinctive,

And ask the body everyday: “you have more than this…let’s find it”.