Living Breathing Life
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
Did you know that as an embryo your arms developed before your legs did? Or that your heart was beating and developing before your brain was even on the horizon?
I didn't until I studied this video the other week. It's fascinating stuff. Have a look!
It gave me a new perspective on movement and my interest in bringing our own patterns back to the essence of who we are.
The arms essentially originate from the heart, and come straight out of the body and around it. It looks like a big hug to me! A huge big hug from the heart saying "Here I am world". This really interested me as I thought about how we use, or don't use, our arms to express our heart.
Arms are a tremendous source of our expression. When I see someone talking passionately I often notice the use of their arms to add more vigour and depth to their subject. As they get more involved in their subject the gesticulations can get bigger, involving the whole of their arms, the space around them and eventually the whole of their body. I see it as a real symbol of talking from the heart. I often admire this sight as I 'found' my arms quite late in life. I never crawled, so never developed the full function of weight bearing on them. That coupled with being a shy, unconfident and fearful child meant that I either kept my arms by my side, or hanging onto my mother's hand for reassurance. Even during my pilates training I hated learning the upper body exercises with the group as I felt so exposed and vulnerable. Rationally I knew this was ridiculous, but emotionally it was very real for me.
I think that in some ways many of us have lost the full expression of our arms. We spend a lot of time with little gadgets in our hands, working away with great finger dexterity, but keeping our arms quite close in to our body and expressing through our gadgets rather than with our body. Very often I hear people telling me that their shoulders or arms are weak. My feeling is that arms and shoulders are often restricted from movement, natural movement, and simply moving them more to begin with starts to unlock some of the strength within, which can then be channelled into more specific movements and activities as they start to find some freedom.*
For me, an 'arm-shy' mover, I took things slowly to begin with and I became curious to the movement. I pushed things and I pulled things. I tried swinging my arms more when I walked and using them a little more when explaining things. I also threw them about a bit in the privacy of my own room while playing music (I believe it's called dancing!).
What I did discover is that moving my arms gave me a real sense of joy. Give me a down dog in yoga and I'm a happy bunny. Let me hug those I love and I sigh with bliss. When I exercise my arms now I have a sense of strength that my legs have never given me.
What I love more than anything about this embryology video therefore is the very real and original connection that our arms have with our heart. The arms' movement comes from the heart, both literally and metaphorically. And when I close my eyes and imagine my movement as an embryo, discovering and then extending my arms from my centre, before I was even conscious of it, I can't help but feel a deep sense of internal power, growth and potential. It connects me deeply with my essence and taps into a part of me that I very rarely consider. I find that exciting!
If you're arm-shy in any sense, close your eyes and picture yourself as this embryo (you WERE an embryo once!), feel your arms developing and giving you form. Feel them growing from your heart and your essence. What do those arms say? What do you want them to do? Where are they being restricted?
You may come up with some amazing new insights about yourself! I know I did!
CT :-) x
* certain shoulder pathologies may need more formal and individualised guidance to movement
As I was massaging my breasts this morning I realised that it was one of the most valuable things that I've ever been advised to do and I need to share it.
Every morning after my shower, I use an organic body butter or coconut oil and I massage my breasts. I concentrate particulalry on the outer sides of them and into the arm pit and I massage towards the centre of my chest.. i use smooth strokes and am gentle but purposeful in my intention. Im aiming to smooth out any 'grissly' / lumpy bits. As I'm doing it I'm really feeling my breast. By that I mean that I'm taking in how it feels and getting to know what it's like each day.
Why does this matter?
This is stimulating the lymph nodes in the breast where the body can store a lot of toxins. These can manifest as sore, painful, swollen and / or lumpy breasts. Stimulating the lymphatic system like this stops the fluid stagnating helping your breast health. It can potentially prevent breast cancer. Massaging daily allows you to get to know your breasts and understand what is normal and what's not. Before I started doing this I was very poor at checking my breasts as I didn't have a routine to it, now I know them inside out.
When I first started this it was quite painful as I tended to suffer from painful and swollen breasts. I took it gently and over a week or so the pain dissipated and now doesn't bother me.
Let's have some fun today....! Start every step that you take up stairs to day with the foot that you wouldn't normally use! Catch yourself the first time you go up a step today, see which leg starts, and then for the rest of the day make a point of starting with the OTHER leg.
It's a really interesting insight into your movement habits and also how easy (or not) you find it to change them.
Why does it matter?
Doing this exercise matters for two main reasons (other than just pure self awareness). Firstly, if we always use the same foot to start a step up then we have a deeply ingrained pattern of one leg leading a lifting movement and one leg following it. It means that this side of our pelvis is unconsciously 'more ready' and ever so slightly forward of the other, meaning imbalance. If you never do anything to address this (stretching, yoga, pilates, balance work etc) then this repetitive pattern may be what leads to niggles, pain, injury etc in the future. Consciously changing it every so often can be enough to reboot things.
At another level, by asking your brain to do something different (which you are doing because movement ultimately originates in the brain), you are connecting into a different area of it from the normal habitual section. This opens the brain up to the possibility that things can change and can be different. So while you are focusing on 'just' changing the habitual lead leg, your brain is unconsciously realising that ingrained habits can be broken (so increasing the possibility of those new fitness, health, lifestyle habits becoming part of your new routine)
When have you felt at your strongest before? What was happening at that time that gave you that feeling. What were you doing physically that helped you feel strong. It may have been regular walking, it may have been yoga, pilates, running, weight training... It may have been a period of your life where you had to find emotional or mental strength. We are all different and I believe strength can be found in many different places and activities (not just 'strength training').
Personally, I find that when I feel strong physically, I feel an overall sense of strength elsewhere. I'm more confident within myself and I feel that I can take on whatever comes my way. Conversely, when I feel strong mentally and emotionally I also feel like superwoman physically. Infact the best strength training I ever did was when I climbed regularly because I completely integrated mind and body. I faced my fears on the climbing wall, strengthening my mind, and my body had all over strength like I've never felt before.
What does strength mean to you?
I have a question:
Are you being the health that you want to be?
It's January 23rd 2015, and, TODAY, are you walking that health dialogue that you want for yourself...(or are you just talking it?)?
I ask this because this is when new year resolutions start to wane, or any that haven't been actioned yet get completely forgotten (until next new year). It's the week when it feel much easier for many to just return to old habits.... Weather, money, time and so on and so on can sound like reasons not to put talk into action. Or we can put things off until the weather gets warmer, until we get paid, until this stressful period is over etc etc etc.
If you are not actively working on your health and wellbeing then you are not being your health and wellbeing.
This can mean many things to different people: daily meditation, regular aerobic exercise, daily stretching, eating organically, training for a specific event, dealing with pains and niggles or illness.....
Whatever it is that you want for yourself do something about meeting that goal today. Even if it is just something small, do something.
If daily meditation was your goal but you haven't done any today or don't know here you'll get the time, do 1 minute. It's still meditating today. 1 minute today, tomorrow, the next is 3 minutes more than aiming for 30 mins every day and doing none.
If daily stretching was your goal, pick 1 stretch and do it today. Pick another tomorrow.
If it was yoga three times a week, can you go today, if not then plan when you will.
You get the idea :-)
Me? I'm hauling myself outside today for a run because I've not been outside as much as I need to be to feel happy and healthy. I might walk / run it if it's a bit icy or my legs get a shock from being off the treadmill, but I'm getting out there and getting on with it or it'll just feel even harder the next time....
What do you do to keep your goals and intentions to the forefront of your mind?
Goals can be something we desire to achieve or reach in the future. Intentions can be something that we intend for ourself. When we are doing something active about our goals and intentions then they are in our mind, but what about when we aren't actually working on them in that moment. For example, when I am running I'm in it, I'm on it and all the reasons that I want to bring my running back into my life are right there in my mind body and soul. But on the days that I'm not running I do find it easy to forget why I need it back in my life. Other stuff takes over and I can forget to make time for it during the week.
There are many things that you can do to keep these important things for you in your attention. Some example are: meditation, diary planning, placing notes in visible places, buying something that motivates and reminds (eg new running kit), getting friends or family on board with support (be careful with this one, make sure they are fully on board and only have your interests at heart).
I do two things: I take a piece of a4 paper, write 3-4 bullet points on it, and stick it to the mirror in my bedroom where I dry my hair every morning. I also make a visual collage of my aims, dreams and desired life balance. The first works really well for me for short term quick reminders. The latter keeps me in tune with the overall balance of my life.
The mirror reminders have been working really well for me this last couple of weeks. I'm long overdue in making a collage though, so that's what I'll be doing this week smile emoticon
Let's today celebrate all the wonderful things that our body can do, and where and how it moves well.
It can become all too easy to focus on what isn't 'working', what feels weak, where we have issues, what we don't like about our body, or focusing on what we feel we need to be improved.
Our bodies ARE wonderful. They take us through life, they tell us exactly what we need and they store our memories and emotions.
Our body is always trying to return to an optimal level of health, a homeostasis. Some of our aches, pains, ailments and issues are the signals that it trying to do this, and it is the body's way of communicating that it needs some changes to be made. The signals can be loud, and for some all consuming at times. Sometimes we can get frustrated by how our body looks and it perhaps doesn't seem to represent how we feel inside. Or we discover that we don't seem to have the strength we thought when we try new moves or activities.
But there is always something good to find in our body. There is always somewhere that we can be grateful for within our body. Just knowing that what you are feeling is your body's signals to you, can change the way you look at them. Look for some positive signals, even if that is just it telling you it needs to sleep, eat, stand up, sit down..... It's there. If there is part of your body that you don't like then find somewhere in it that you do - you will.
In my job I often hear people say that they feel their body has let them down, or they wish they'd done something about xyz earlier, or that they are discovering where they are weak. In actual fact, your body always wants to support you and help you to be the best it can be. You are with your body for life, so let it love you and let yourself love it.
Start today with something positive smile emoticon
This quote has been floating around my head this week. It often does when I know I'm ready to action something new that I've been wanting to do but where it's just fear and a lack of confidence in myself that is holding me back. It is the phrase that builds the energy and positivity in me to get me on and doing it.
A client of mine (who is happy for me to share this with you) came in yesterday and was in a similar space. She has been wanting to move forward with a few things but wasn't sure if her previously frozen shoulder was ready or not and feared that she might set herself back or dent her growing confidence with it. She had been watching some of the holocaust documentaries on last week and her mantra struck her loud and clear 'one life, live it well'. She got herself to the swimming pool and discovered that far from being an issue her shoulder actually flourished from the swim and her confidence got more than just a wee boost!
So whether you have your own internal quote, or you wish to borrow either of ours, ask yourself what you might be holding yourself back from due to fear of moving forward.
Because, if NOT now, then when?