Why Re-Invent a Wheel?

In what seems like a previous life, I worked as a racecar mechanic and fabricator. Under the tutelage of whiz/ace mechanic Daniel V. Campbell, I gained a working understanding of metallurgy, milling, welding and other metal crafting skills.

As I gained more confidence in the shop, I often found myself murmuring I can make that. Whether parts for my motorcycles, snowboard binding parts or exhaust parts for the Volkswagen Vanagon that I drove at the time, I took great delight in designing and fabricating the parts that I needed.

Despite my enthusiasm in applying my newfound skills, my wise mentor often cautioned me against willy-nilly making my own stuff. Among the more experienced fabricators, there was a common refrain; in the long run, it’s usually cheaper and easier to buy what is commercially available than to build your own. At first I rejected this almost-mantra as heresy, though I soon came to appreciate its wisdom. It didn’t take many dulled mill bits or measure-twice-wreck-once experiences with expensive raw materials to dim my enthusiasm on making the stuff that was readily available to buy.

Removing the transaxle required supporting the engine.
The Saab part was prohibitively expensive, so I welded my own.

I came to relish the opportunity to design parts that uniquely solved problems, and then enjoyed the opportunity to practice shop craft in turning a hunk of metal into something uniquely functional (and in the Bauhaus-ian view, often quite beautiful). Conversely, when a good solution or part was commercially available, I came to appreciate all the work that went into making a good product, and more cheerfully dug out my credit card to reward the small businesses that produced what I wanted/needed.

I have come to a similar view in working with the body. As many of us have found, a single-minded focus on Yoga may lead to a gradual loss of beneficial muscle-mass, and painfully unstable joints. I’m heartened to see how many formerly single-minded yogis and yoginis are embracing the fitness that can support and complement their love of yoga. What I find surprising, though, is how many yogis and yoginis seem to feel that they need to invent some new fitness form in order to meet their needs.

The fitness world is filled with some pretty dubious claims and outlandish systems – I fully acknowledge how crazy the gym-scene may look for recovering yogis and yoginis. That being said, there are also some wonderfully wise fitness systems in existence that have wholly thrived under the test of time.

Making the jigs to support the main shaft of the Saab 9000
transaxle allowed me to replace a mainshaft bearing at minimal cost.

The Pilates system, in my opinion, is one of these wise fitness systems. I have found that the Pilates system allows me to apply the mindfulness that I cultivated in my 30+ years of Yoga practice within a framework that is well developed and vetted. I currently practice Pilates 3-4 days/week, and with almost every session I experience OMG insights on the subtlety and power of the seemingly-simple exercises. Particularly with the Pilates equipment, I find the support and resistance provided by the springs to be nothing short of brilliant in developing greater awareness, strength and efficient neuromuscular recruitment patterns.

At some point, I may exhaust the reservoir of the Pilates system, and I’ll probably feel inspired to build my own system. But after 12+ years of regular Pilates practice, I don’t feel anywhere near outgrowing Pilates. I really appreciate the community of practitioners and accumulated wisdom that comes from being part of an existing system, and have come to delight in sharing what I’m learning about the mind and body through the lens of Pilates.

Of course, there are other wise systems besides Pilates. Free weights and Olympic lifting can be a mindful path, as can running, biking, etc. What systems/forms have you found that feed you?

Paraphrasing my old friend and mentor Daniel: if something doesn’t exist, then build it. But if it already exists, think twice before darting off to reinvent the wheel.

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