“. . . let us be clear that we are not assigning any ultimate moral advantage to being straight and balanced. Each person’s story, with so many factors involved, has to unfold and resolve, unfold and resolve, again and again over the arc of a life . . . don’t just look for the faults, but take note of the strengths your clients bring to the process as well. I assure you, many more things are going right than wrong .”
- Tom Meyers, from his textbook, BodyReading: Virtual Assessment and the Anatomy Trains
Joseph Pilates built his method around helping everyone - beginners to seasoned athletes - achieve fitness through a playful and abundant repertoire that moves and breathes life from the center of the body outward. The Pilates exercises require peak focus, often with the assistance of specialized equipment. Many people use the method for sharpening self-awareness (and self-acceptance, a lovely result) and athletic efficiency. The skills learned in Pilates make life everywhere else a bit easier.
Our circumstances literally shape and propel us to move certain ways. Experiences large and small are etched in our bodies, some narratives more haunting than others. In my role as a Pilates teacher, it’s impossible for me to know all the plot points immediately. Many details remain unrecounted until a defining moment during lessons, like when a compensating swagger of a hip leads a student to remember the hard fall they took in a long-ago tennis match. Other physical experiences or ailments become dark themes of self-perception that cloud a person’s ability to recognize things they do well. Those judgements, sometimes based on a diagnosis, can swallow a person whole.
Changing the narrative
Joseph Pilates’ believed healthier communities support a more peaceful world. His idea was practical if you consider how laborious daily interactions, all requiring some level of physical activity, feel when we’re in poor health or a negative thought loop. “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness” indeed - yet we need to accept our base level of health in order start improving it. The fables we tell ourselves about our bodies and their capabilities define our approach to the world far beyond fitness. We change through aging and response to environmental input and it’s difficult to bear witness to those changes, especially when they’re jarring or traumatic. When compensation patterns or injuries take hold they’re obnoxious antagonists we love to hate. But they’re paired with overlooked strengths to be celebrated.
Coming to the realization that you can work with the body you have spurs the re-write of your story. Different folks working out - or not - to different strokes have something in common when they come to Pilates: they want to change the situation keeping them from feeling wholly balanced. They may feel slumped (hello, chair-bound office workers!), twisted (to the shape of the violin or the golf swing), compressed from a repetitive activity, or even bored with exercise. They may feel detached from their body. They may have a medical condition with an inner dialogue that wails, “don’t forget me!” each time they move a fingernail. I help people edit the language of self-judgement they have, altering the course of a story when it includes discomfort or perceived weakness. It’s an act of bravery to accept your body and reach out for assistance in its revitalization - props to all who do!
“No man - no machine, can correct or create vitality, power or health for you; everything comes from within, you have to unfold it.”
- Joseph Pilates, from his original brochures advertising the NY studio.
Whether it’s establishing strength in the hips and pelvis after suffering a bulging disk, or balancing the shoulders after a screen-filled day, Pilates can help mitigate discomfort and encourage release. It’s a wildly good time, too. It’s incumbent on us as teachers to remain educated about specific ailments for safety reasons* and lead people to understanding their full potential. There are specific restrictions that always require modification, like back pain, bone loss, and joint degeneration, but it’s possible to repattern and support the body to erase pain and discomfort.
We remain ourselves in these ever-morphing bodies of ours. Life will relentlessly challenge our bodies and minds, but we’re built to survive, none of us alone in our experiences. Imagine if, on any medical intake or similar form you were asked to complete, you were required to list everything about your body that was functioning well. It’d be a list of staggering length. In trusted company and with guidance, you can alter the ways you move for the betterment of a happier, healthy community. If you choose Pilates as your modality for rejuvenation, we’re here to help.
* It’s important to note that if you’re acutely injured, you should seek help from a medical professional. When given the OK for exercise, ask for their recommendations for safe fitness practices.