Mary Bowen, Part Two
Lineage Links: A first-generation teacher shares her views on how Pilates and the psyche are a perfect partnership.
It has been more than five decades since 81-year-old Pilates elder Mary Bowen began working with Joseph Pilates, and she has continued to develop and grow her own distinctive and charismatic style ever since. “Learning about Jungian typology is a great practical tool in teaching and in learning Pilates, or anything else for that matter,” Bowen says. “Typology reaches into all areas of Pilates: pace, lesson design, exercise descriptions, expectations about what a client can or cannot do, how to challenge a client, as well as how to understand and solve personality problems and difficulties you may have with certain clients.”
Bowen recalls that around the age of 65, her two professions—Pilates instructor and Jungian psychoanalyst—began to merge. She called the approach that emerged PILATES PLUS PSYCHE and refers to it as “her special contribution to the Pilates community.”
Four Functions of the Psyche
The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and his peers worked out the typological structure of the human psyche, says Bowen. Each person experiences life in four ways: thinking, feeling, intuiting and sensing. These four functions of the psyche are the basis of Jungian typology. “Jung saw that those four functions are operative in each of us in a particular linear order at birth,” Bowen explains. “Another important factor of our typology is whether we are born introverted or extroverted. There are eight possible variations in the order of these [four] functions. Multiply this times two [depending on whether a person is extroverted or introverted] and there are 16 varieties.”
Bowen notes that when each person is born, two of the four functions are in the ego-conscious part of the psyche and two are in the unconscious. “The two functions in the ego-conscious part of the psyche are easier to access and are more agreeable,” she says. “The two functions that fall into the unconscious are less available and will present difficulties.”
Another fascinating factor, Bowen says, is that during the first half of life, we operate and perform predominantly from how our psyches were structured at birth. In other words, our first and second functions are strong and dominant. “From about 45 on, the exact reverse will begin to take place. Our lower, unconscious functions—three and four—will push toward development. And if we were extroverted from birth, we will incline more toward introversion. If we were introverted at birth, we will move more toward extraversion.”
The Pilates Connection
What does all this have to do with Pilates? “As a Pilates teacher or client, each of us is one of these 16 types,” says Bowen. “There are many combinations of teachers and clients, and that can affect how we teach, how we learn and how we meet and relate to each other. Understanding our type and our client’s type can be a great help—a practical blueprint for how to structure lessons as well as the entire teacher-client relationship. It can make sense out of problems. It’s easier to have the necessary patience with an opposite if we understand that Jungian typology is the issue, and that it is a natural, not neurotic, problem,” she says.
In addition to her PILATES PLUS PSYCHE program, Bowen is now offering a new course to individual studios and teacher-training programs. In this course, called “Psychological Dimensions of Teaching Pilates,” she teaches “the relevance of using typology as a significant and practical teaching tool for understanding one’s clients and oneself as well as guidance for how teachers need to work with clients depending upon their type.”
One of the most exciting changes in Bowen’s evolving life journey has occurred during the past 10 years. She has developed a new viewpoint about Pilates that has changed her thought process. “At age 70, the barn doors opened,” she says. “I was alone in my studio on the reformer beginning to do knee lifts, telling my body to do ‘this and that.’ I stopped, appalled that after years of practicing Pilates, I was still telling my body what to do. My body already knew all the moves. I apologized to it and promised not to direct it any longer, but rather to partner with it. [Once I'd given] my body its own choice to be an equal partner in the work, the whole method changed for me. All the exercises had a lighter, fuller spirit and more scope. It was as if everything was new, and, indeed, it was.”
The following is an explanation, in Bowen’s own words, of the main principles of her latest Pilates evolution:
More spine, less mind. “I find that all exercises improve when the spine is given the lead. The organs and the bones know where they belong in relation to the spine. Everything falls into place in relationship to the spine when it can lead. With this orientation the exercises and the whole body are longer, lighter, and we can have more fun.”
More experience, less performance. “For years, we’ve talked about performing Pilates exercises. We can do that for an audience or for ourselves. Performing reaches outward; experience looks inward. Performing is extroverted; experiencing is introverted. We can enjoy a theatrical display of Pilates. It is fun. We know that. We [also] need to know more about the inner nuances and experiences of Pilates where we can be transformed.”
More release, less effort. “Effort has been practiced far more than release. A Pilates exercise should be about both. Just as there is night and day, there should be effort and release. Americans tend to be hyperactive, especially American women. We need to work for a better balance.”
More yawning. “I have found that the yawn opens the fascia and releases chronic tension patterns the best. The yawn is encyclopedic in what it can reach and teach. No yawn is like another. When inhibitions have let go and the yawn is free, it can cool the brain, brighten eye sight, enhance hearing, oxygenate the entire body, free and ground the voice and relax a person into the present moment. Few adults understand this and can be uninhibited enough to allow the yawn and its magic to teach what a breath can be and do.”
Bowen’s lifelong odyssey is far from over. As she puts it, “I want to give to as many people as possible because I probably have only 10 more years to work full out. My energy keeps pouring in, not only from a healthy body but also from an engaged and spirited psyche.”
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