I am asked many questions about pilates: what it is, how it compares or differs to yoga, which do I prefer, what's my stye of pilates, what do I get from pilates - amongst other things.
In truth, I have searched for the answers to many of these myself. My thoughts have changed over the years, but there's always been a sense of me just knowing, yet not able to articulate it, and so I've waiting until I had *THE* answer before I dared express my opinions. It's almost 10 years since I first "found" pilates and finally I realise that pilates is many things to many people. There's an origin to the practice and there's also an evolution to it. And each and every individual who practices pilates has their own origin and evolution of the movement method. As I've found my tribe of fellow teachers I've realised that they too have at times struggled with what pilates is to them, especially when they have made transitions in their personal and working life, and most definitely when they have deepened their knowledge of the body and of human movement. I've been grateful to realise that I'm not the only one who questions my connection to the practice, and who some days questions their whole relationship with it!
I've explored many edges and roads off pilates, and I've de-constructed the exercises to a point where they are no longer recognisable. It's given me an incredible array of tools to use with my clients, and it has helped me heal my once broken body from years of physical and mental abuse. That journey has been invaluable and I am forever grateful for the tangents that I decided to explore. Yet, I've known that there is something magical about the traditional repertoire and there is depth and complexity within its seeming simplicity. I know it because it's what I felt at the very beginning, in my first few months of being taught pilates. And while I learnt and practiced the repertoire back then, almost a decade ago, the path I thereafter chose to follow avoided the most obvious exploration of all: that of the traditional repertoire. I have craved that exploration often, yet been taken off tangent once again, or I've been distracted by a shiny new object (oh, hello yoga training...!).
Finally, here I am now, 10 years later, finally exploring it and keep my practice within the tradition. And finally I understand my journey.
Pilates smacked me in the face 10 years ago. It was a last chance saloon at healing an injury that had been dogging me for months, and I reckoned I had nothing to lose by trying. I left the session not quite knowing what had happened to me, but my body felt like it had never felt before. In fact, the phrase that I am actually looking for is 'I felt my body'. I'd spent decades living inside my head and being disassociated from my body, but in that hour I felt it, properly felt it. It was the weirdest, most wonderful, most terrifying thing ever. But I knew I didn't want to go back. The feeling was so so strong that my connection to pilates was sealed forever. It is that memory that brings me back to pilates every time I stray and every time I wonder if I have moved on from the practice. As I practiced over the next few months I felt things I hadn't felt for years. As I moved in forgotten ways and experienced releases of tensions and pain in my body, I was gifted (and sometimes tormented) with memories of my past. The body remembers and these memories had been trapped in my body, stuck in my protective posture. As I gradually released the protection I was able to deal with these memories and feelings and I did truly go through a psychotherapeutic process along the way. At times it was too difficult to go through myself and I was supported by a therapist, at others times all I needed was pilates (and yoga - I was also doing yoga at this point which is another story for another day).
It's easy for me to see now why I couldn't delve in to the depth of the repertoire as a teacher in training. I didn't have that capacity at the time. I'm glad I didn't really, as I would not be the person that I am now - strong and healthy of body AND mind. But what the repertoire WAS for me then was a mirror. Each time I practiced and revisited an exercise I was able to feel the difference. When I felt that my mind, and its years of thinking, were being broken apart I could feel how my body could position into something easier or could feel somehow more connected. Yoga did exactly this same thing for me, and together they became my places of safety. I knew I wasn't falling apart because I could still do xyz.
What pilates also gave me was a mirror into my behaviour, and its consequences. The pilates studio became my little social laboratory of how to interact with forces, and ultimately people, around me. As I moved with the equipment, and my body interacted with it, or the floor, I became patently aware of my intention behind my movement, and when it was authentic, or protective. If I moved the springs and bars with aggression they bounced straight back to me and jarred my body. If I moved with fear and too much trepidation, I found I often couldn't moved the equipment at all. All the nuances of interaction seemed to me like a dance between the authenticity of the equipment and the then inauthenticity of myself. The most beautiful thing about pilates was, and is, that it was teaching me how to be me - completely me with no apologies and no protection. Yes, it taught me about my core, but in the sense of showing me the very essence of who I am.
Pilates STILL means this to me. This IS what pilates means to me. I am at peace with my body and I enjoy all the ways it moves. The mirror is there now in any movement practice that I undertake (be that yoga, running or even circuit training). But I have still yearned for the return to the origin, to finally explore the traditional repertoire with depth. And so that is what I am doing. The mirror of pilates is teaching me once again. Where before it often showed me where my behaviour was not perhaps the healthiest for me, it often now shows me that I'm doing ok. Certainly I'm doing my best! A few weeks ago I realised I was meeting tension with tension. This is very true of me in my relationship with others. Today I realised that I can actually disperse the tension, and I can also understand where the tension is teaching me to be true to myself, and hold my ground. Am I actually learning how to not be afraid of conflict? All by doing leg circles with springs?! I think perhaps I am.
The final piece I feel I must add to help you to understand what pilates means to me, and for my teaching, is that I realise that this is MY journey through pilates. When I first started teaching I felt that other should feel the way I do about pilates. It had to be a mirror for those I taught too. Then I could be sure that I was teaching them 'correctly'. What I know now is that no one else can ever feel that same way that I do about pilates. It's my origin and my evolution. Others may feel similarities to my connection with it, but actually, what's so incredibly interesting as a teacher is to discover the relationship that the person in front of me has with pilates and to help them deepen their practice from that place. Whatever pilates is for someone, it's true and real and valid and worthy of respect. My relationship with it will of course interact with theirs, and we'll meet at a place where we can connect as two human beings through the method of pilates. Sometimes we can't connect and it simply means that I'm not the right teacher for them at that time. And that's ok. There are others.
For those who have practiced with me, taught me, been taught by me, I thank you for helping make me me. Quite literally.
Caroline <3 <3
I am Caroline Toshack. Movement is my passion, my mirror, my creative source and outlet. I am a teacher, educator, writer and coach.