A mentor doesn’t tell you what to do – more importantly, they tell you what they did or might do, then trust you to draw your own conclusions and act accordingly. If you succeed, they’ll take one step back, and if you screw up, they’ll take one step closer.
Whatever they teach, pass it on.
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Wendy Le Blanc Arbuckle The Pilates Center of Austin, Austin, TX
Wendy’s training in movement dynamics and holistic health began with yoga disciplines at The Himalayan Institute in the early 1970″²s. In the late 70’s, her studies culminated in her certification as a Holistic Health Teacher through the Kushi Institute. Over the next 8 years, she directed the East/West Center of Louisiana, as well as traveling extensively around the country leading seminars and training teachers. In the mid through the late 1980’s, Wendy participated extensively in Landmark Education’s Leadership Development Program, for 2 years as a Seminar Leader. In 1989, she and her husband, Michael, and 3 other partners from the U.S, Canada and Switzerland, founded NOVA Institute, an international holistic school for the healing arts in Estes Park, Co.
Then came Pilates… Wendy met Rachel Segal and Amy Alpers in Boulder and from that point on, her life took on a decidedly expanded direction. Wendy was in one of the first Certification Programs at The Pilates Center of Boulder at which point Romana Kryzanowska and her protege, Steve Giordano, were delivering Boulder’s Certification Course in the early years. She and Michael moved on from Nova in the coming year at which point she devoted herself almost exclusively to her Pilates training. In 1993, after receiving her Pilates Certification, she moved to Austin, Texas where she now calls home and founded The Pilates Center of Austin. “¨Over the years since, she has studied with all of the 1st Generation Pilates Elders, particularly with longtime friends and treasured mentors, Mary Bowen and Kathleen Stanford Grant, and Pilates Master Teacher, Alan Herdman.
Wendy’s ongoing yoga and Pilates practice, along with intensive studies with Judith Aston (Aston® Kinetics), Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen (Body-Mind Centering), Emilie Conrad (Continuum), Hubert Godard, The Guild for Structural Integration and Tom Myers (Anatomy Trains) has propelled Wendy to develop her work even further ““ inspiring students and teachers alike to think “outside the box” and to reach deeply into the heart of their work, looking not for answer but for the kind of questions that will generate a true breakthrough in their way of thinking, personal practice and teaching. “Her passion has been the pursuit of illuminating and unifying the universal core principles that underlie Pilates, yoga and all great body/mind practices. It is this journey that has profoundly influenced the development of her dynamic CoreConnections® Pilates 3-Core Body Mapping Perspective. This perspective is an illuminating 3-Dimensional Full-Body Mapping of the Lower, Central and Upper Cores, from the feet to the cranial base. It provides an illuminating access for teachers to analyze and enhance any movement, seeing beyond an exercise to the essence of what each person needs. “We’re not training the core. We’re evoking core.” – Wendy LeBlanc Arbuckle
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Passing the Torch: Mentorship Program
The Passing the Torch program launched in 2010 to help shape the next generation of leaders in the Pilates community. “Passing the Torch” is designed for Pilates instructors who have been teaching Pilates for many years and long for a deepening of their work through a mentorship program with a master teacher. This unique program is set up as a 12 to 18 month cohort mentorship program where the instructor selects a Master Teacher and, over the course of the program, spends three separate weeks working side by side with their mentor and the other students in the program. Each teacher’s program reflects their specific interests and passions.
And Why I Chose This Path With Wendy….
I met Wendy in April of 2008 at a fabulous workshop she gave on “Domes, Arcs, and Spirals: 3-Core Perspective of Lower Core, Central Core, and Upper Core.” After deeply connecting with her at that workshop, I knew I would pursue deeper studies with Wendy in some capacity. This unique mentorship program was exactly the format that I had hoped would be possible. I came away from that weekend workshop with a greater understanding of how my teaching, and my personal practice, could grow and evolve. I received validation that my teaching was going in the right direction and that the ways in which I was thinking about, and questioning, the Pilates work was in fact beginning to tap into something greater. Thanks to the Wendy’s encouragement and guidance, I have been spending the past year putting my finger on the universal principles that connect all the body/mind systems. I felt I had met a teacher who could “see” me and the kind of knowledge I was hungry for. I sensed that she would challenge and inspire me to reach deeper into the heart of my work and to trust my intuition. With the skills I’ve developed with Wendy I’m expanding into new ways of teaching, new ways of looking and listening, and new ways of understanding my work and my purpose in doing it. The work I’ve done with Wendy has transformed how I communicate with others, clients, friends, and family alike. Through this program, I have gained a greater sense presence not just in my teaching but throughout all aspects of my life. Wendy’s approach to Pilates, movement, and teaching spoke to a path I was already beginning to discover. I am so grateful that I chose this path. It has truly been life-changing.
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3-Core Body Mapping Perspective
“This perspective is an illuminating 3-Dimensional Full-Body Mapping of the Lower, Central and Upper Cores, from the feet to the cranial base. It provides a wider lens for teachers to analyze and enhance any movement, seeing beyond an exercise to the essence of what each person needs.” -Wendy LeBlanc Arbuckle
Wendy’s studies have revolved around the “pursuit of illuminating and unifying the universal core principles that underlie Pilates, yoga and all great body/mind practices. It is this journey that has profoundly influenced the development of her dynamic CoreConnections® Pilates 3-Core Body Mapping Perspective.
This perspective has grown me and my teaching by leaps and bounds. It is a different way to look at the body and movement so I take the time to lay out what makes up this unique approach.
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Within the 3-Core Body Mapping Perspective, we learn from the body’s own natural intelligence by learning to sense the physical and energetic directions of movement in the body: “Up the Front”, “Down the Back”, and the spirals that occur throughout the entire body.
- “Up the Front” consists of: domes (of feet, pelvic floor, diaphragm, soft palate/cranial base), inner ankle-tibialis posterior -inner thigh-psoas-diaphragm-ribs, manubrium, scalenes, sub-occipitals, hyoid bone, inner ear. Inner ear knows where center of hip is which knows where center of the ankle is. Inhale and space.
- “Down the Back” consists of: soft eyes, bones heavy, a release down,the spinous processes (and multifidus), scapula, tail bone, sitz bones, heels, soft crura of diaphragm, exhale, grounding.
- “Shoulder Blade to Deep Belly” is a Core Connection between the Upper and Lower body. As a cue, it represents the relationship between “Up the Front” and “Down the Back.” We call it “Shoulder Blade to Deep Belly” not because it’s another thing “to “do” but because it’s a fundamental piece of our three dimensional nature of the body: The waterfall sensation of “Down the Back” and the internal lift of “Up the Front” creates a connection, front to back, which creates space allowing the diaphragm it’s full range and thus enhancing our breath.
Gravity is key. “How do we relax and yield into gravity to feel our natural “dome of uplift?” (Wendy LeBlanc Arbuckle) Our vestibular system, the body’s unique balancing mechanism, is how the body orients to gravity. For example, we look at how the alignment of inner ear-occiput relates to center of the hip which relates to center of the ankle which allows for the body’s knowledge that the foot holds the head. This brings us into our core alignment where innate coordination kicks in, coordination being the difference between an internal organization that happens naturally as opposed to micromanaging the body as parts and forcing change.
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“Lower Core” is the foot to the pelvis, “Central Core” is from the pelvic diaphragm to the respiratory diaphragm, “Upper Core” is from the respiratory diaphragm to the cranial base, or the palate.
The 3 Cores correspond to our primary domes: arches of the feet, pelvic floor, diaphragm, and palate.
“The study of the three cores offers a fluid, developmental body map for connecting, grounding and centering the body in any position by accessing the body’s wisdom, not by muscular effort. It is a powerful Living anatomy that babies and animals know instinctively.” We look at how the whole body breathes, and the deep relationships between the front, sides, and back of the body.
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Core As Relationships
Core is about relationships. It is our relationship to ourselves and to gravity, to others, and to our environment. More than a muscular concept of core, core is simply how the body relates to itself and to gravity. How does the foot relate to the head? The hand relate to the shoulder? The foot to the hip? The legs and arms to the spine? The breath to the spine? The head to the tail? How does gravity and weight create the support that holds us upright in gravity? How is my up line talking to my down line? How is gravity essential in feeling the body’s natural up lift? How does weight shift support the movement? Sensing how the body will always orient in relation to gravity, no matter what position the body is in, is very different than believing there is a perfect posture we need to achieve. From the body’s perspective, it is always about balance.
Core is also how the body communicates with itself and how we communicate to our bodies. It is about noticing that when we become more present to what the body needs, we can affect change. However, in order to have change, we must pay attention and listen to our bodies by asking: Am I paying attention to what is happening when I do this movement? Or am I doing this “exercise” because I think I should be doing it? Or because I “think” it’s good for me? There’s a big difference there, The cool thing is that we truly become self-healing by listening to what the body wants.
The key to having a coordinated core experience depends on how we an exercise is set up, sequenced, and approached. Set up to sequencing equals results. Set-up and sequencing is not just how we build a movement series or build up to an exercise but it also includes our attitude and approach to ourselves and to our movement. Coming from a place of inquiry and noticing, discovery and exploration without it being about what’s right or wrong, or having an expectation of a result, is a distinguishing concept of the 3-Core Body Mapping Perspective. It’s the difference between having an experience vs. doing choreography or doing an exercise.
How Are We Using Ourselves?
Core is how we are use ourselves in everything we do. It is about noticing what’s happening in the moment vs. doing, thinking, seeing, and hearing in habitual ways. It requires presence. For me, teaching from this perspective means learning how to encourage the body’s own bio-intelligence by helping clients find these relationships in the body vs. correcting them by micro-managing their movement in parts. If it is only mechanical, the body-mind will not kinesthetically understand how to integrate what we are teaching it. As it relates to our “posture” (and by this I mean being comfortable in our bodies, not emulating what we think looks like “good posture”), our body’s learning must be three-dimensional and dynamic. Our bodies are not meant to be static nor are we meant to hold anything in place. Holding a posture will eventually create more, or different, tension. The body intuitively knows how to move. It’s often our “ideas” about posture that get in the way. I encourage my clients when doing movement to play with gravity, weight shift, and ask them to notice the sensation that going into gravity (i.e. support) yields: We become more in touch with our gravity-based muscles. One thing Wendy says about the body that I love relates to just this: “You’d never force open a rose bud. You’d feed it and nourish it and wait for it to open on it’s own.” The same is true for how we approach our own bodies.
Questioning the habits we have is how we can evoke change. How we are thinking and how we are moving is constantly creating what happens for us. The quality of our thinking makes a huge difference to our well-being and what we create for ourselves. For example, think about how you feel when you are rushing around, trying to get a million things done in an hour (fight or flight) vs. how you feel when you put a pause in your day and give yourself space (rest/digest) to accomplish the same tasks? (If you haven’t read Robert Sapolsky’s Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, you must). Along these same lines, Wendy proposed the idea to me that “advanced thinking is doing what the body wants and doing what is good for you, not doing what you think you should be doing.” This has become a daily mantra for me.
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How can we be in our connective tissue body where there is no distinction between muscles? The body is a multi-directional, chaotic, liquid, moving web. Isolating muscles belongs more to a mechanical model and can be helpful as a starting place to study and understanding the body but it is not the way the brain experiences “us.” The mechanical model comes from cadaver-based studies – not right/wrong but perhaps not particularly useful when we’re interested in movement. Thinking from the connective tissue body and moving from that awareness lends to a lively (literally “alive”), holistic experience. It is more three dimensional and functional. Thinking in terms of fascial relationships (how does one part relate to the other vs. just move one part) helps us feel our bodies and movements through a wider, more comprehensive lens. When we think in terms of these lines during movement, it keeps us more connected to our whole self.
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Cross the mid-line. A lot. We need to keep relating our movements to walking so the brain can put to good use what we are discovering in our practice. For example instead of thinking, “This is my good/bad side” I ask: How do the right and left sides of my body relate to each other? How does pushing through the right hand relate to the connection of the right foot? How does pressing into the right foot encourage a deeper twisting of the spine to to the left? How do the three cores relate? When we keep coming back to how the body relates to itself, in gravity, through the mid-line, from front to back, and side to side, we have a brain-body experience that can bring about changes and transformations. Labels like “good side/bad side, weak side/strong side” don’t really teach our bodies anything. This attitude is limiting. When we get up and walk, run, or do any activity for that matter, we will use our whole body so it’s more useful to learn how our body relates to itself. Of course, if I am helping to rehabilitate someone’s shoulder, we will work with weaker side more… but in doing so we need to keep relating that shoulder to the rest of the body by doing three-dimensional movements.
As a teacher, I am more interested in guiding than correcting. I believe that I can be more present to my clients’ experience if I guide and direct them in the form of questions that encourage us both to keep noticing and exploring what’s going on rather than me just having a hard focus on needing to “fix” something. Thinking I can “fix” something, to me, takes away from the rich collaboration of healing something together.
Core to Core: How am I taking care of my body while I am attending to clients? This is part of paying attention to how I’m using myself, and paying attention as much as possible in the unconscious moments as well as when I’m in moments of focused awareness. Being in my core helps my clients be in theirs. Being in my core also helps me be more present to the moment in front of me. Being in my core is a daily, moment to moment, practice.
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The 3-Core Body Mapping Perspective emphasizes how important it is to get curious about effort. What is just enough for the task, exercise, activity at hand? This is a potent question. Forgive the generalization but in my humble opinion, we all come from the “more is better” camp. We are used to (and more comfortable with) “doing” something to make something “happen”. Asking the question, “How much effort is enough?” has the potential to not only shift the way we approach how we practice but is more likely to put us into our own body’s intelligence. Coming from a results-oriented frame of mind, we tend to use more effort and use the mind to the direct the body. When we come from curiosity, playing with what is just enough effort, we have the opportunity to feel a greater sense of ease (efficiency) and in fact, the effort needed will tend to be less even at its’ most dynamic (think of professional athletes/dancers who cannot afford to over-effort). When we allow the body to inform us the results are very different.
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Related to the question around effort is our ability to notice how the body feels during movement so that we can decipher what it needs in terms of support. A basic principle in Ida Rolf’s work is: Give the body support so that it can release. The 3-Core Body Mapping Perspective has a different view on props. Usually, if we use a prop or need support of any kind, we feel like we’re cheating or being cheated. It feels like we’re “modifying.” Instead, how can that prop create the support (gravity) the body is asking for in order to integrate the movement into something the body can learn from. If the prop is used wisely, as part of the body, it encourages the body’s own intelligence to take over. I have found in my own practice that using support where and when I need it tends to open me up to deeper openings where I find deeper strength. I know, it’s not an easy psychological shift to make because we are so accustomed to thinking that we’re only benefitting if something is “hard.” To suggest that our bodies know better than our minds is not what the mainstream teaches us. As ridiculous as it sounds, we are wary to trust ourselves. It’s a skill in listening. In my own practice, I spend a lot of time asking myself “What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Am I doing this exercise because I think it’s good for me? Am I doing it out of habit/should/passion/or because someone told me to?” It’s a very different question to ask whether our movement, and how we use our bodies, makes us feel alive? When we relate it back to the question of effort, I believe that most of us think we need to do something (engage, contract, harden, draw in) to “find” our core when really, being and moving from core is about developing a different awareness about what’s actually already going on inside of us.
Breath. We have to be very careful about imposing ideas about breath on ourselves and our clients. There are things that we can do that will help facilitate our breath but as soon as we are efforting our breath, either on the inhale or the exhale, we are probably causing excess tension throughout the entire system. Our body knows how much breath we need, or how hard to breathe, or how deeply we should breathe, based on the activity we are doing. Allowing our breath to happen is very different than “take a deep breath in” which usually causes us to use our accessory breathing muscles instead of allowing the diaphragm to reach its’ full range. My feeling about breath is that when we encourage the back to open and widen, especially around T12-L1, our breath will be fuller and deeper naturally and without tension. Something interesting to play with is how the exhale feeds the inhale and how it’s possible to have a soft belly as we exhale. Try nose-breathing.
There is the very important exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide that occurs as we breathe. There is also an element of space that gets created with, and by, our breath. Breath can create space in the body. There are other ways that we can help the body feel more spacious. Doing our movements with soft occipital muscles (at the base of skull), soft eyes (peripheral vision), a soft jaw (relates to sacrum and pelvic floor), and listening to sounds around us puts us in our sensing body and helps create a sense of ease throughout the body that brings with it ““ space. Taking in the whole room, listening to sounds around us as we’re moving, relaxing the face, jaw, and neck muscles allows our nervous system to relax in a way that helps us feel and sense our three dimensional body.
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Bones can create space in the body. In the upper core, the collar bones are spacers for the head and neck. In the lower core, the fibula is a spacer for the foot, ankle, knee, and consequently the hip. In the central core, the breath creates space along the spine which the the psoas, the diaphragm, and all the organs really, really like.
So much of the 3-Core Body Mapping Perspective is about creating the space to check in with ourselves and learn what our bodies (not our egos) are asking for. As Wendy has said to me many times, “Self-healing begins when we start listening.”
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* The Mentoring group with Olympic track and field athlete, and client, Sanya Richards