Celebrating Mary Bowen on her 92nd Birthday
“The main motivating spirit in my life is Creativity, growing into “new and deeper ways” of doing everything…even of being.”
“I believe that the teacher should always remain a student.”
Today, on her 92nd birthday, the eldest of the Elders, Mary Bowen presents us with her fascinating story. A gift to cherish from an admirable woman still teaching to this day.
I am Mary Bowen, Pilates’ most Senior Elder in the world today still actively teaching….often 6 days a week. Born in 1930, this coming January 18 I will have lived for 92 years! For 63 years I have lived Pilates and for 47 years I have taught it. Both ongoing!!
My significant creative contribution to Pilates has been PILATES PLUS PSYCHE. Joe addressed the “Whole Body” in every move. I have added to that addressing the “Whole person.” We are more than our bodies. (A whole person teaches and another whole person comes in to learn).
This combination of Pilates for the whole person happened in 1995 when a client was in such emotional distress from not being able to do what her teacher was asking her to do that I was asked to help her. This event occurred at YOUR OWN GYM in Northampton, MA founded by me in 1975 and moved to a large studio in 1981. I offered her a short psychological explanation of why because of her age and typology she was reacting so strongly. I stressed that her reaction was natural. It had to do with timing and her typology. The performance she had expected of herself would come. She was not enough “in” her body yet. I could intuit that the body in her case lay at the very bottom of her unconscious. It takes many years to reach and work with the part of anyone’s psyche that lies in that depth of the psyche..
My explanation was so helpful to the client and had also been overheard by others in the studio that from then on I was asked to bring both parts of myself to the teaching of Pilates – the Pilates teacher and the Jungian analytical psychologist at the same time. That was the birth of PILATES PLUS PSYCHE which I introduced five years later as a new teaching tool for Pilates teaching at the PMA Annual Conference in Miami in 2000.
As one of its Founders I have presented every year for PMA’s Annual Conference until CoVID cancelled the 2020 conference. I was set for 6 hours of presentation that year, 4 hours of Pre-Conference and 2 hours of Main Conference. For this year virtual Conference I am given 1 hour to speak on the topic of “Pilates for Longevity.”
The main motivating spirit in my life is Creativity, growing into “new and deeper ways” of doing everything…even of being.
“One to one in depth” is my teaching preference…on whatever each individual client needs at the time…at any level. Most of my clients are Pilates teachers, often who, after years of teaching Pilates successfully, are needing to give more time and attention to themselves. Coming to work with Mary is often a marking of this change that they need to make, each one, to take the time to go deeper into themselves for quality of life and growth…in both their Pilates work and personal lives.
Teachers have traveled to “Mary Bowen” from all over the world since 1990 to my home/studio in Northampton, MA for 14 hours (two full days of work) with each person. He or she arrives at the end of the day Friday to prepare for 7 hours each day (Saturday and Sunday) of Pilates Plus Psyche.. leaving either Sunday evening or early Monday morning. There have been thirty years of these 1-1 weekends of deep learning and camaraderie. Many long lasting friendships have come out of these 14 hours of “intensive attention.”
Now since CoVID and working from my main home in Killingworth, CT sessions are shorter (one to one and a half hours each) and more often either by phone for sessions of psychological content or by zoom or SKYPE for workshops or body work…especially for foreign clients. One to one sessions in person and of any length at my rustic studio across the lawn from my home in CT still wait to resume. The DELTA virus variation has hit CT quite hard.
MY HISTORY OF TRAVEL:
Over seventeen years I have traveled to give workshops worldwide, two or three times a year. On the other side of the world: Australia, Singapore, South Korea, Japan (many times) – on our side of the world, often to Canada: Toronto and Vancouver – of course to cities throughout the U.S.- and to Brazil and Argentine in South America – to Europe: England (many times), France, Switzerland (many times) and to Spain, Greece & Crete. Since 2020 CoVID has put an end to all the traveling but not to the virtual connecting of Pilates people which is joyous to experience. Pilates remains healthy and growing.
(You asked where I was born)
Born in NYC, I was the third and last daughter of a highly educated mother and father and two sisters, 7 & 9. We had a good, healthy and varied life, moving from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., even two years in Tennessee, back to Washington, D.C. and finally back to New Jersey – all following my father’s varied work as a facilitator for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s programs to pull the country out of a severe depression during the 1930’s. Every summer until early adulthood was spent at the seashore on Long Island Sound in CT at my grandmother’s cottage, a great gathering of her grandchildren. CT has been home to me in one way or another since my birth.
There were the years of college and graduate study at Yale Drama School and the American Theatre Wing in NYC. I threw myself into theatre, having wondered for a while if I should become a Philosophy professor instead. I was super serious. I went the other way in my 20’s into acting, more and more becoming the comedienne and the musical comedy performer. I had married at 26. After my husband graduated from Yale Medical School we had moved to NYC where he did his internship and residency training.
It was during this time in NYC that I first read about Joseph Pilates. I was working as a secretary for the Irving Berlin Corporation when I looked at an article in The World Telegraph and Sun, a newspaper now defunct. It showed an extraordinary photograph of a man who looked like a human lion with a big mane of white hair, large bare chest, a pair of tight swimming trunks, bare legs, and white canvas slippers. “Who is this man?” I asked myself. I was scanning the small article about his method Contrology and his studio at 939 Eighth Avenue, when one of his sentences arrested my attention. He said
“I base my whole method on the baby and the cat.”
That stayed with me. It took me to him a few years later. Why? I had never had a baby and I had never had a cat. That sentence truly took me to him. Joe was very real. There were no externals about him. His spirit had spoken to me in that sentence. He was a genius of simplicity. He also is known to have said;
“Of all the Almighty’s creations, the superior one was the cat. It does everything the best.”
Joe and Clara had had a cat in the studio for years, their own cat. It had died before I arrived in 1959. Not knowing his saying about the value of cats I had gone to a shelter for my very first cat (now more than 85 cats later) that same year, 1959, hoping that a cat would inspire me to sit down. I was in perpetual motion. The cat did teach me that and a book full of wonders besides that. Cats still teach me.
My husband and I moved from NYC to Washington, D.C. for the two years of service which the draft still required at that time. I did summer stock during those years of my 20’s and worked as a secretary again, this time for the Department of Psychiatry at NIH. Before leaving New York City I had decided to see the Jungian psychotherapist that other friends of mine from Yale were seeing to sort themselves out. My husband joined me in seeing him for himself as well. Back and forth every two weeks on the Trailways bus between Washington D.C and NYC was the start of my deep inner work with the unconscious.
When my husband’s two years of service were fulfilled, we came back from D.C. to CT again. A job at Yale Medical School was waiting for him. I was 29, still performing whenever called on to be in a show. I was being pushed strongly by theatre comrades to go for big time in comedy. That happening was what had taken me to the analyst in the first place. Comedy is easy for me. Why did I resist it so? Did I have some kind of neurosis that wouldn’t let me say “Yes” to big success!! Once I found myself sitting across from this wise Dutchman, Erlo van Waveren, I knew I had “come home” to take my main long journey to the whole SELF which Carl Jung’s life and example has made available to any of us who are determined and brave enough to take it…or born to.
So now in CT I would be taking the train each week to NYC for an analytical session. As well I found a brilliant vocal coach who could partner me as I sounded with him for fifteen years to “unlock more of the voice and the breath.” That was then a second session to attend every week in NYC.
SOMETHING MORE WAS NEEDED! I remembered the ARTICLE ON JOE. My spine was not that reliable. I had slipped a disc twice. I knew disciplined work with the body was needed. I PRESENTED MYSELF to JOE one of those Tuesdays. Tuesday became my day in NYC for all of the years to come.
“I think you might be able to help me,” I offered up to Joe. Immediately he offered back without any more explanation “You come three times a week!”
“Oh-oh, I come by train all the way from New Haven, CT. I don’t think I could come three times a week. Maybe two times a week? “I offered back to him.
With a big sound from his mouth almost like chewing or swallowing his tongue he grunted in agreement to twice a week.
There I was now taking the train from New Haven, CT into NYC every week to enter and study the three disciplines that I went so deep and long a time into that I became a professional in each one… Jungian Analytical Psychology… the Pilates Method (in the early years still called Contrology) … and “voice.” (I already was a professional as a musical comedy singer). Voice was the only discipline I suspended after my voice teacher died. Performing was for my early years. I became too busy for it when working with people as a psychotherapist since 1970 (51 years now) and/or a Pilates teacher since 1975 …with the go-ahead from Romana…for 46 years so far. Then since 1995 I have been teaching my own contribution PILATES PLUS PSYCHE.. 26 years and ongoing.
This traveling from my main home in CT by train to NYC weekly from 1959-2020 for sixty years has been interrupted… only by CoVID.
My years of Pilates training:
From 1959 I was at Joe’s studio with JOE and CLARA and HANNAH… six and a half years twice a week until Joe’s health failed. Joe encouraged me to be creative. He would notice me make some little innovation and say to me: “That’s good! Just be sure to use your whole body.” Bob Seed had joined the studio in the last year or so. He was interested in me each time I came in. It was natural to move onto to Bob’s studio next.
With no interruption I studied for 7 years consecutively with:
BOB SEED…then 7 years with ROMANA KRYSANOWSKA…then 7 years with KATHY GRANT…then 5 years until he died with BRUCE KING on a Tuesday…and 7 years on Wednesday with JEAN CLAUDE WEST… Jean Claude had learned the Pilates Method at my Pilates studio YOUR OWN GYM in Northampton, MA . Jean Claude became a Pilates intellectual through university courses in anatomy, kinesiology, bio-mechanics and in the extension and combination of Pilates with physical therapy principles during the first half of the 1990’s working with Marika Molnar, an important physical therapist in NYC. Jean Claude moved to California in 1995.
I continued my weekly Pilates sessions with no interruption for the next 20 years with CHRISTINE WRIGHT, a former professional dancer and student of Kathy Grant. She had also taught for Jean Claude. She moved to Toronto, Canada in 2015 in order to make a better living.
Christine’s leaving concluded 56 YEARS of continual weekly lessons in Pilates… all in NYC… from the age of 29 to the age of 85. It was my privilege to have such an extensive experience of Pilates through 9 superior teachers. I believe that the teacher should always remain a student. We are never done with the process of coming into the body… as long as we are alive on Mother Earth. I knew that I needed to pay the money, be seen each week in how I was in my body, to ensure that I grew both in the knowledge of Pilates and myself practicing it. “What is it like” I was asked while presenting a workshop in Wyoming years ago “doing Pilates for so many years?” My answer was “You aren’t doing it. You are it.”
In 1975 I had purchased a studio apartment in NYC on West 79th Street. I still came into the city on Tuesdays but could now stay there overnight returning home the next day. I could also now see clients for the psyche in NYC as well. Or clients of Pilates workshops that were taking place in the city. Many of them wanted to look at the psyche as well.
That same year, 1975, I extended my psychoanalytic practice to Northampton, MA and began my Pilates teaching there with the permission of Romana. Now it was a triangle, three states a week…Sunday and Monday in CT…Tuesday-Wednesday in NYC, Thursday home again in CT, Friday and Saturday in Northampton, MA…every week except for major holidays…like a round robin…for years and years.
There was no certification program to teach Pilates in those days, but there was an understood requirement to have practiced Pilates for oneself at least 10 years before teaching it. I had been practicing it with weekly lessons for 16 years at that point. Romana knew that I was ready although I had never intended to teach. I was asked to teach.
My first Pilates studio in Northampton was (for six and a half years) in the two back rooms of my top floor apartment on Main Street. I was in Northampton for two days a week. My top floor apartment had a spacious front room office, a middle room for sleeping and two rooms in the back for Pilates equipment that I had there for myself: a Cadillac, Reformer, big Barrel and two mats. There was a little kitchen on one wall and a nice bathroom behind it. My clients in using the bathroom were noticing the equipment. Almost all at one time, like a wave, they began to ask me “Could you show us what you do on this equipment?” Their asking had prompted me to ask Romana what she thought I should do. “You did the right thing in coming to me,” she stated.
Romana was hoping and working to franchise Pilates in the twenty-five years from 1975 until the legal decision was made in 2000 that no one could own a long established and well-known exercise method. In 1975 she had required me to say that what I was teaching was “based” on the Pilates Method and to make up my own name when she gave me the go ahead to teach…a name without the word “Pilates.” She was protecting her case for the franchise of the method. I chose YOUR OWN GYM because once clients I was teaching knew what they were doing. i.e., were safe with the equipment, they were permitted to have a key to my studio…to my small one and later to the large one… any time the building was open. The larger YOUR OWN GYM was a haven, like a second home for clients…a very happy place. I was teaching there for 27 years on the top floor of THORNES, from 1981 to 2008 when new developers bought the building. Four of my analytic clients had bought the building in 1981. I had been offered any space in the five floors to choose for my Pilates studio. I went through the whole building choosing an airy space with high windows letting in the afternoon sun… on the very top floor.
There was space for a large studio, two massage rooms, two large dressing rooms two saunas and an office…a home for Pilates teaching for the next 27 years. The department store had been empty for years. It was bought for maybe five hundred thousand and sold for millions. YOUR OWN GYM at THORNES was the longest standing Pilates studio in New England when I left it in 2008 to create a smaller studio (set up with all the Pilates pieces needed) in a home I had bought in Northampton in 1990. The house has an upstairs and downstairs apartment. It was built in 1887 and has room enough in the first-floor apartment for a two room Pilates studio, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom plus a room for an analytic office for work with the psyche off the garden in a charming, finished basement room. All was continuing gracefully…until CoVID!!
I work only from CT still, a year and a half now since I have worked out of either my NYC studio apartment or the house in Northampton. We have a tenant in the 2nd floor apartment in the Northampton house which is good.
It has been strange to have so long pattern of life suspended, but the work continues…new people keep entering. Individual sessions and workshops are succeeding.
Virtual teaching is and has been a revelation. Pilates is well and continually growing.
Joe had said two days before he died in 1967:
“The whole world will be doing my method.”
He was right!
On the personal side:
My first marriage ended after seventeen years. Hard as that can be, it gave me the gift of being “free to be me!” I didn’t expect to marry again, was not looking for it at all. Love happened. I am happily married 43 years now to a great Englishman who can build anything needed. He built the whole YOUR OWN GYM at THORNES studio. I didn’t fall in love with him for his building skills. They just came with him. His name is Alec Martin. I went back to my maiden name after my divorce…back to Mary Bowen. As a former singer in musicals, I couldn’t see being another Mary Martin! I would have had to sing everything!!
Mary Bowen, Pilates Elder