"Om, are you breathing?" my instructor lovingly yelled at me from across the studio. A couple weekends ago, my teacher-training journey officially began at BASI Studio in Costa Mesa. Less than an hour into the lesson, I already got yelled at (LOVINGLY!) by Rael Isacowitz, the founder of BASI, my teacher and my Pilates God. We were doing a breathing exercise, so of course, I was, um, breathing. But I guess I was breathing too stingily, timidly, ineffectively. Instead of responding "yes," I just looked at him, wide-eyed and repeatedly nodded like a dashboard bobble-head. "Breathe deeper," he said, then ran over to me and adjusted my tilted head back to center.
There are many Pilates principles to abide by, but awareness and precision seemed to be Rael's main focus. And sadly, they are the two qualities I innately lack. I'm a pathological daydreamer, always colored outside the lines as a child, and never follow any cooking recipe to a tee as an adult. Everything about Pilates goes against my nature. But that might be why I fell in love with it in the first place. It makes me "live in my body," an unfamiliar experience I can also kind of get from meditation, yoga and swimming. But none of these three really grants me as much mind-body connection as Pilates does.
Where do I usually live if not in my body? Well, a lot of places. Sometimes nonexistent places. Sometimes alone. Sometimes with someone or people. For example, my body might be sitting on a toilet, doing its morning routine, but in my head, I'm having a meaningful conversation inside a tipi with my swoonworthy acupuncturist. (Note to husband: Do not worry! Judging from his cadence and obsession with my toe socks, the needle man is more than likely gay.) My "world of mind" often feels so real, even more real than reality. I daydream when I shower. When I eat. When I cook. When I try to write. When I try to sleep. Even when I drive (lucky for fellow humans, I rarely drive).
With Pilates, there's little chance for a wandering mind. The second your mind drifts could be the moment a split turns into a plunge that ends up as a kiss between your delicate lips and the metal foot bar. Okay, that's an extreme example. But it's the same idea with any Pilates exercise; even while doing something much less advanced than a split, mindfulness is of the utmost importance.
Rael could detect my sneaky mind, though. He knew it wasn't always there with my body 100% on the mat and reformer. And he yelled at me a few more times that weekend (always lovingly). My breathing was too choppy, my rhythm too hasty, my movement too inattentive. I must have been one of his worst students, but I had the best times learning from him. As loud, critical and insanely intense as he was, I enjoyed every moment of the training. Rael is my best teacher. Not just the best Pilates teacher, but the best teacher I've ever had, surpassing the sarcastically witty Professor Wright who got me hooked on creative writing in third year of college and the adorably funny Professor Toise who made me love Henry James in grad school.
I mean, yeah, he's eccentric. He'd get way too excited just by seeing a student tucking their pelvis at the right time. He probably knows his emotional intensity is a bit much, but he can't help himself. He fucking loves Pilates. And he loves teaching even more. And it shows. Even his sweat smells like a cocktail of passion and dedication. It's like every moment he spends teaching us matters so, so, so deeply to him. I don't know for sure if Rael carries this same intensity, this same passion, with him outside of class, but I think he probably does. And that's a great way to live.