Maggie MacGill

The Maggie story

Sunny day, Perth Western Australia. Beautiful woman walks up to me and says “Hi I’m Abbi. I have seen you training clients at the gym. You look like you are really into what you are doing……. I own a Pilates studio and I need an apprentice. I will train you. Come up and do a workout with me and see how you like it.”

It was 1999. I was 23. My mum had died three months prior. For the past two years I had been working as a personal trainer and also in a sports store. Running was my passion.  The active work and serenity of long distance running had carried me through tough times but I was now exhausted with grief and In need of “something”. Since finishing high school I had managed the first year of a music degree then switched to health science. Neither was quite right. Sitting still and being academic seemed impossible at that time.  The second last sentence my mum ever spoke to me was “Never grow weak”.  She had suffered long episodes of debilitating low back pain since the age of thirty, then died age 56 after a seven year struggle with cancer. I was left with this stunning experience. I was set on a path to deconstruct the idea of health to find its true meaning – to me.

I liked Abbi’s energy. Pilates presented a new challenge with fascinating equipment to keep the body guessing and adapting with every move. Pilates had a sense of synchronicity with key activities from my childhood …. Rock-climbing, Alexander Technique, plus the breathing and discipline of music practice (trumpet, voice and piano). Over the following six months I apprenticed and worked with Abbi. I always loved watching her with clients. Especially the new ones. She had an amazingly fluid teaching style and a sixth sense about people. Abbi now owns Abbi and Joseph.

At around the same time I met my life partner. Within six months we moved to Queensland so he could take up a PhD scholarship. At that time it was hard enough to find a Pilates studio, let alone a teacher-training program. Abbi connected me with Physiotherapist and BASI-trained Pilates teacher, Nicole Vass. Nicole was very passionate about Pilates and dedicated herself single-mindedly to helping others find freedom from pain through movement. Nicole ran two Pilates studios in Brisbane. One was connected to a Physiotherapy Clinic and the other was located at the School of Dance, QUT University.  I was one of two full time apprentices. The program had a detailed lecture series dealing with therapeutic application of Pilates for injuries and special populations. In 2000, very few people knew what Pilates was so it tended to attract people looking for something specific. The only clients who were not injured or suffering chronic pain were Dancers doing high performance work.

Myself and one other apprentice taught alongside Nicole with daily feedback. In between shifts we practiced the complete repertoire diligently, wrote program after program using the BASI bloc programming system, studied for theory tests and researched a case study (mine was an adolescent water polo player with bilaterally dislocating shoulders – modelled on a real-time client). The first-year anatomy and physiology course I had done at university finally made sense. Looking at breathing moving bodies told me so much more about anatomy than the dead cadavers ever could. By the end of my apprenticeship year I had begun to teach with a sense of fluency in the language of Pilates. …. Along the way, we enjoyed the odd workout with Sally Anderson on her guest star appearances in Brisbane, as a trainer for BASI.

 

From my early teaching experience Pilates grew to be my ultimate tool for health, multidimensional in its application and rich in wisdom. Of course, Jo wrote all of this in Return to Life, but we have to truly feel it in our blood before we actually know it to be true. It was Jo’s words in Return to Life that inspired me to go and live in Canada in 2002 so that I could work within the North American industry where Jo himself began. Abbi had leant me a video of Carola Trier. Carola’s powerful yet delicate teaching style also fascinated me. I wanted to get closer to the energy of these elders.

In Vancouver in 2002 I worked across three inner city studios. The Pilates industry in Vancouver was quite different to the one I had experienced in Brisbane. The client base was broad and when you said you were a Pilates teacher people actually knew what you meant. At the same time the Pilates industry grew rapidly worldwide.

I taught alongside teachers from all over North America. I was exposed to different ways of teaching and of systematising the Pilates method. Coming from a clinical and anatomical background, it was refreshing to experience a more playful and imagery based teaching style. One of the studios I taught in was a Stott teacher-training studio, where I was exposed to a more classical style of fluid and athletic practice. It was here that I worked with a teacher who trained at The Pilates Centre in Boulder Colorado. The language she used was spoken in a very different way to any other teacher I had experienced. Even though I did not fully get it at the time, I liked the simplicity of her style. She was one of many teachers I worked with from diverse training backgrounds across North America. I had been asking all of the teachers I worked with where to go to deepen my study of Pilates. The consensus was Boulder. There is now a growing and strong Boulder community in Vancouver.

There are many wonderful schools of Pilates with all their permutations and interpretations – Boulder was the one that resonated with me, my history, the questions I sought answers to.

I held the thought of Boulder with me as I returned to Brisbane to complete a social science degree majoring in health research methods, plus an honours year in Medical Anthropology. During this time, I continued to teach Pilates, with The Queensland sports Medicine centre. This centre attracted many high-profile athletes from the AFL, world cycling and Olympic realms. My focus was shifted to sports specific rehabilitation and athletic conditioning. The physiotherapists in the clinic provided excellent support and education for optimal care of the athletes. We were trained to use real time ultrasound and required to use it on many of our clients to ensure correct recruitment of transverse abdominus and multifiti. This technology was particularly useful teaching tool for robust athletes and long term pain sufferers who struggled with these subtle connections. Having used the Ultrasound with Nicole in my early training then again with the Queensland Sports Medicine Centre I realized that it feels very subtle the first time you isolate these deep abdominal muscles but that with the right imagery and complimentary Pilates practice they come to be as ‘on call’ as any of our larger muscles.

 

All through my degree studies I was simultaneously committed to becoming an ethics based researcher and a skilled Pilates teacher. It was not until the end of my honours year that I decided to give my all to a career in Pilates. The Pilates Centre in Boulder has just begun a Masters Teacher Training Program. I had to go. In 2006 my partner and I left for Canada.  Having been students for the past five years we left with very little money and a big sense of adventure.

 

Since my 2002 trip to North America Pilates had seen a boom in teacher training options. There was a pilgrimage of Master teachers travelling throughout the North Americas. Distinct patterns of preference in east and west coast style had emerged. The particular influences in Vancouver and Calgary, where I was taught were – Marie Jose of Long Beach Dance and Conditioning, The Pilates Center of Boulder, Michelle Larson’s Core Dynamics certification, plus the Laban Method, and Body Mind Centering.

 

After six months in Vancouver my partner and I were both offered good jobs in Calgary that came with visa sponsorship for long-term residency. From Calgary, I initiated my commute down to Boulder.

The Pilates Centre was formed by Taylor sisters; Amy and Rachel who apprenticed with Romana. From the beginning, they were joined by two key teachers; Kim Haroche who apprenticed with Kathy Grant and Deborah Kolwhey who apprenticed with Eve Gentry. Their style reflected the culmination of these perspectives into a distinct way of viewing the moving body. At the heart of their teaching was; tenderness and respect for the human the spirit plus an absolute commitment to developing the full potential of all the teachers who came to them.

Right before I flew down there for my first module of the Masters Program I took a wild fall off my snowboard that had me in acute neck and shoulder pain. Within two days Rachel Segel had me doing a full advanced reformer with an ease and flow I had never before experienced. Amy Alpers took a very different approach that broke apart the key tension in my body. Rachel’s wizardry and Amy’s healings were exactly what I needed.

During my first week in the program I was surrounded by a group of experienced teachers from all over the USA who had gathered at The Pilates Centre for ten days of study on the lineages of Jo’s protégés. We had sessions and lectures with teachers who had apprenticed with Jo’s protégés: Romana, Eve, Kathy, Ron.

Much of the Kathy Grant and Eve Gentry work was familiar to me from the ‘pre Pilates repertoire’. Going deeply into this, learning it in its original form, less technically presented was enriching. I was particularly taken with the subtleties of the Gentry Work.

Experiencing four very different expressions of the work really brought home the integrity and enduring nature of Jo’s philosophies. The exercises represented a way in.

That was the first of a series of commutes over a six-month period. Every visit there after was equally as invigorating and enriching. Watching, listening, doing and discussing. Even just being there, inhaling philosophy, surrounded by mountains. I had found my spiritual home.

Back in Calgary I had been auditioned and employed to direct a clinical Pilates program for Canada’s largest private provider of outpatient rehabilitation services. Located in their flagship clinic, I was exposed to a very remedial and acute client base, many of who were dealing with long-term chronic pain. In Australia, it is more common to find physiotherapy and Pilates together. This union was a relatively new concept in Canada and the USA in 2007. This meant that there was much groundwork to cover to educate the physiotherapists on which clients would benefit most from Pilates and at which stage of their rehabilitation. The new integration of services also meant that the clients open to Pilates were typically right at the end of their tether or looking for a very specific, performance based outcome. The context leant itself to extremes and this kept it interesting. The study I was doing in Boulder was key to my survival at that time.

I worked for both the director of the Lifemark Health clinic and his brother, head coach of National Sport Development’s high performance training programs for elite athletes. I worked between the clinic and National Sport. Amongst the many inspiring athletes I worked with during this time were Olympic bobsleigh, ice hockey and skeleton athletes two of whom were gold medalists at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The coaches at National Sport had their athletes do crazy and amazing things. Whatever it took to gain the edge. I had to teach in a way that was highly integrated into this coaching process and attuned to the specific needs of each athlete. My Pilates equipment was set up right in the main gym area. As noisy and mad as this was, it kept me in touch with the entirety of the program and my role within it.

Of the many ideas and trends flowing through the therapies whist I was in Canada was an increasing interest in Fascia. The lady who recruited me for my clinical position in Calgary was a myofascial release specialist and Polestar Pilates teacher: Kathleen Keller of The Keller Method; a unique myofascial release system based on the myofascial chains, gleaned from her intensive study with Thomas Myers. Kathleen became my myofascia mentor and a lifelong friend. In Calgary, she ran weekend workshops where we spent a whole day releasing a single myofascial chain. Assisting at Kathleen’s workshops and experiencing this unique system that she had created was pure pleasure. It’s not often that you find someone who has created something like that and whole-heartedly committed to making it their life’s work. As a result of this tension release from the ball release techniques some of the attendees’ experienced radical shifts in their alignment – for the better. Kathleen’s workshops also provided a palpable somatic sense of the facial chins, where they are and their role in our structure.

In addition to many interesting professional opportunities, living in Calgary enabled me to hike and snowboard in the Rocky Mountains on weekends, breath the air and be exhilarated by altitude. Even so, four winters with long periods of sub 30-degree temperatures seemed like enough. Next stop Melbourne.

I had written to Katrina Edwards prior to my return. Aligned For Life looked like the pick of the bunch. Katrina’s biography and background took my interest. Since my return to Australia in 2010 I have enjoyed working amongst the group of passionate teachers at Aligned For Life, all dedicated to furthering their study in Pilates. Teaching within that buzz, fuels inspiration and helps us all grow.

In 2011 I returned Boulder for a month of study. I had been away long enough to integrate much of what I had learnt in the Masters program which meant that I could start to tune in on a different wavelength. It was a necessary journey that clarified much of what I had been working on since my first trip to Boulder four years prior. I think this is the same for any teacher taking further study in Pilates. It is something you need to keep going back to properly integrate it into your way of teaching and knowing the work.

 

I really like the way each teacher at Aligned For Life has an area of special interest. Mine has historically been rehabilitation and still is. The past few years I have developed a fascination with feet. After sustaining two stress fractures in my foot I had to pay attention to the intelligence and power of this often-forgotten part of the body. My study at The Pilates Center in Boulder taught me a lot about the power of the foot. This year I began the mentorship program with The Pilates Center. It felt like time to reconnect to the mother ship and put my teaching under the microscope. Rachel and I have had some wonderful conversations about my feet.  I am also using my feet a lot, running, walking and being a Pilates teacher. I have always loved to run. In my mid-thirties, I had to stop because I the way I ran was breaking my feet. In 2011 I made the decision that I could run I just needed to work out how to do it in a way that felt like doing Pilates. Effortless, free and fluid. I researched and experimented with many different run technique systems before I found Chi Running, a technique based on the principles of Tai Chi for effortless, injury free running. After much practice and study I do feel like I am doing Pilates when I run and my feet love me for it. In June 2013 I certified to teach Chi Running. Pilates and chi running form a synergy for me where the learning of one supports and strengthens the other. I now feel closer to complete. I always knew that I was born to run. It took me a long time to realize that I was destined to be a Pilates teacher.

 

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