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Gothic Arches in Pilates

If you have been participating in my mat Pilates classes lately, you might hear me refer to the “C” curve as a Gothic arch. You know that I cannot help myself, ideas and visuals of my professorial world in Art History often leak into my practice on the mat or at the barre. My brain is just cross-circuited this way; blessing or curse. Nonetheless, I find this visual of the Gothic arch to be so helpful in my own body, but I wonder if you are feeling it in yours. To best understand this kooky visual for the Pilates “C” curve, perhaps it would help to better understand the Gothic arch.

In the 12th century, technology in architecture allowed for massive stone cathedrals to reach heights like never before. Innovative rib vaulting and flying buttresses permitted the Gothic ceilings to soar skyward. And, although the Gothic arches were slender and tall, they were strong, very strong. The lift of these arches allowed for the cathedrals to be filled with light, something that the previous Romanesque-era cathedrals were lacking. Those Romanesque churches of the 10th and 11th centuries were quite large, cavernous in fact, but they were very bulky. One did not feel as though heaven was being pierced, but rather that it had been dropped into place, denting the earth as it landed, squatting there in stone. Not as graceful as its Gothic successor.

So, when I am referring to the Gothic arch in our Pilates practice, what I am imagining is this incredible lift from your center, a lift so strong and pointed that you could hold a steeple on your back while still allowing light and air to flow past your belly. This is not an arch that droops, or crumbles, not an arch that feels its weight and girth as its strength. Nope, this is an arch that is energized from the center and lifts upward; an arch that continues to radiate its sense of power outward, down to the head and to the tale of your spine. This arch is holding you firm in that gorgeous “C” curve, allowing you to control your movement and breath in a powerful way. It’s gorgeous and effective (like the Gothic arch).

While in New York City last week, I stopped into one of my favorite Gothic revival churches, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I giggled as I spun around to see this massive building performing “C” curves over and over again in its Gothic arches. Pulling in and up in a mighty way, making space for light, air, song, people, prayers, and . . . me.

It makes sense that our bodies can imitate man’s best architectural feats. No, correction. More factual: it makes sense that man’s best architectural feats can imitate our incredible bodies! So, as you are walking about, enjoying the beauty of your body and its intelligent movement, know that you are the stuff that inspires cathedrals!

Happy moving!


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