What's the difference between doing a Pilates exercise class and doing it mindfully?
When you read about Pilates in the press you may read about the benefits it brings in outer appearance: there are a whole load of celebrities posting pictures of their Pilates body. Whilst this is the headline grabber for Pilates clients and studios everywhere it reduces the system down to something that works on the outer form and is reduced down to yet another aid for our Instagram obsessed age.
However, the real beauty of Pilates is that it is a form of mindful movement - and the system itself as designed by Pilates was one of "complete co-ordination of body mind and spirit". Ever a man ahead of his time, Pilates recognised the real depths to the system he had created. There was a system of exercises, but the journey, as any teacher of Pilates or serious student will tell you, is one that is a journey of self exploration and discovery of the potential of the individual body, and an appreciation of its wonder, as well as greater self awareness and confidence.
Which brings me to writing this short piece. Prompted by one of my clients, we were discussing the system and the benefits she had gained from taking regular classes. In her words, she said "well the classes are very different to the ones I had experienced before. I just used to copy the exercises but I had no idea why I was doing them and I know I wasn't doing them properly. Now I know what I am trying to achieve and how I am trying to move within my own body. I'm using my breathing in a focused way - I was never taught that before. I find the whole thing calming, even though I have worked. I'm more aware of what is going on in my body. I think there is a real difference between Pilates exercise classes and doing a Pilates class in a mindful way and I find it more beneficial to my body".
What my client is trying to highlight is a key principle of mindful movement within Pilates. True mind body movement work starts by grounding you in the present, away from self talk about how the day went, how you look, how your movement compares to the person standing opposite, how your movement would look so much better if you were wearing x...to how things are within your own body at that moment in time.
True mind body movement uses the breath to ground you in the reality of the present time. For those of us who has lived or lives a high-octane life learning to breathe again is a revelation! So many clients are surprised they need to re-learn how to breathe deeply and in a controlled way, and how this is such a powerful tool to help them reduce tension, aches and pains and movement restrictions in their own bodies.
As my teacher, Eric Franklin says "attention is the beginning of change". What he means by this is that in order to make change within ourselves in a positive way, we need to draw our attention to the reality of how things are to enable us to plan a route for improvement and to note the positive changes we are making. Our bodies like positive movement experiences as the body moves more efficiently and effortlessly - and once the nervous system has noted what it likes it becomes easier to find it again and again.
If we move mindfully in class we move in a way that we control - there is no need to copy an external image but to find the reality within our own bodies. The ability to accept ourselves and not feel the need to compete with someone else becomes easier. We can find space to appreciate our own goals and achievements, be they getting stronger, being more flexible, being less critical and kinder to ourselves, or just having a calmer approach to life. Surely in this day and age of over comparison this is one of the most empowering things brought by moving mindfully within the Pilates environment - we learn we all have a unique and special design and are, works in progress. We too, are able to take greater responsibility and have greater control over our own wellbeing and health, which can only serve to enhance all aspects of our lives beyond the weekly session.