A couple of nights ago, I was walking home right around dinnertime. Winter night sensation: the air almost liquid in its thinness, so sleek. Cold scent, breath made clouds, body moved faster to cut through the space between warm building and the next warm building. There was something so particular about that cold that I could almost place myself into identical early winter evenings spread across time and space.
Could the same night exist behind the golf course near my father’s old house in Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia; hurrying past frost heaves near Thorpe House at the edge of the Hampshire College Campus; running along Route 9 in my early twenties, unafraid of dark or cold; during those late shopping nights just before Christmas in downtown Northampton just before the snowstorm; and carrying a last minute item or two from a local shop near Westbourne Grove in London? Last night, the answer was resoundingly, yes.
I was returning home from spending an hour at the Pilates/Gyrotonic studio (Studio Helix). About twenty-five years ago, when I was first learning Pilates, I went to another studio—Your Own Gym—then on the top floor of Thornes Market, coincidentally, the same floor of the same building as the current (gorgeous) studio.
It’d be hard to describe Pilates in a single sentence, but I can say this: it’s a quiet form of movement—done on mats and simple machines—that focuses upon core strength and flexibility.
I was pretty devoted to Pilates for a while, and then moved on to other things; over time, I got into lifting weights or running more or biking or two pregnancies’ worth of swimming. I also enjoyed the great shared fun of aerobics and then a brief but wonderful yoga stint; the bridge connecting those two activities were the dedicated followers of a specific, magnetic teacher and the warm sense of community. More than once, I returned to Pilates, the last time now many years ago, when I realized that if a favorite teacher was back in town (we miss you, again, Harriett Jastremsky, now of Boise, Idaho), I should take advantage while I could. When Harriett got pregnant with her son, Simon, I took the opportunity to study Gyrotonic (first with Jen Polins, who then got pregnant and then with Michelle Marroquin, both wonderful teachers). I became so enamored and intrigued by it that eventually I took both the pre-teacher and teacher trainings (although I did not intend to teach).
A definitive sentence about Gyrotonic is even more elusive: like Pilates, there’s an emphasis on core strength and flexibility; however, Gyrotonic builds upon the body’s natural inclination for spiraling movements. The ways you move—twist, turn, reach—the Gyrotonic work demands you find yourself in space and explore the fullness of what would seem invisible (and that’s a second sentence, I know). One more sentence: those spirals remind you of how a tree grows, of roots and rings.
Tim McMinn, Gyrotonic teacher and trainer of teachers (Master Trainer is the Gyrotonic title), hailed from the Berkshires and he provided not only impeccable tutorial over the three-week intensive training (looking back, I am still amazed that I carved the time out to do this with three kids; it’s just about the only—maybe the only thing—like that I’ve done since becoming a parent), Tim provided a truly inspiring example in that he was clearly enamored and intrigued by the work itself, despite being a “professional” or “expert.”
I haven’t stopped doing Gyrotonic since (and Ezekiel also studies Pilates and Gyrotonic, has for a couple of years now, besides with Michelle, with Matisse Madden and Lizzy Tyler). Here’s what holds my attention: the spirals, this visceral sense of spinning into and back out of yourself. (The fact that the studio is often empty—I have a key—and thus is one of the few hushed refuges I can seek out definitely helps, too).
Walking home with the darkness washing over me and memory cascading, all those spirals still unraveling invisibly but most definitely inside me and out into the ebony air, I thought about Tim. Most of us find ourselves so deeply rooted (or just laden down) as we wade into adulthood that lightening the load and venturing off into space ceases to seem remotely feasible. Tim, however, has embarked upon an odyssey, a path that seems to employ Gyrotonic (teaching, studying) like a breadcrumb trail, leading not to a gingerbread house at all. He’s got what he needs in his car and he’s traveling.
I think he’s experimenting with the principles of all those spirals, that they free you and ground you at once, and if you truly follow those patterns you will find… well, I have no idea (and I’m not sure he does, either), but I think you’ll find something essential. Maybe, you’ll find the night air lapping against your skin and your memory, and in that way, you’ll be home.