I've always known that Pilates has a huge mind-body connection. But what I didn’t understand until recently was just how powerful the mind can be, and have how much this can have an effect on every aspect of your life. When I found out I was pregnant this time around, I decided to spend more time and energy on my meditation practice. I’ve been meditating for about two years off and on, at home. I use an app called Headspace that I absolutely love and which taught me everything I know about it. I'm not an expert or anything, I simply set aside 10 minutes almost every day to listen to a meditation, and I don't stress it if I can't get into a clear frame of mind when I do it. I simply commit to the time. It’s amazing how this small amount of time has improved so many aspects of my life- my stress level is way down, my ability to recover from feeling low is way up, and my relationships with my family are generally much improved. When I first began meditating I realized quickly that there was a component of it that was fairly easy for me, a part of it that felt accessible to me right away. It was, of course, the ability to tune in to my body and how it feels. This is clearly because of all the pilates I have done over the years. It has prepared me to be able to really just sit in that space within my own body. So I've always found this aspect of meditation- the breathing, and the body scanning- to be really simple and comfortable. When I got pregnant I decided I was going to see if I could improve on my mind-body awareness even further, for both pregnancy and birth. Headspace has some really useful tools for this. I did their 30 day pregnancy pack, and I also did a 30 day pain management pack. I repeated the pain management one twice- because it was so amazing and challenging- so I actually did 60 days of pain management meditation, for 10 minutes a day during my pregnancy. I'm so glad I did! When I first went into labour I was asleep, and I was jolted out of sleep by the contractions. At first I was feeling the pain, and it was tough and shocking in that moment. But then I remembered my pain management meditation practice. I began focussing on the sensation and actually delving into it, and bringing my attention very gently onto the sensation. A normal reaction to pain is to fight against it, to resist it, and pull away in fear from it. It's only when you try the opposite approach that you realize how strong the instinct to resist is. I discovered that by stopping the resistance to pain, and actually feeling the pain, and allowing myself to feel it, that it actually wasn’t so bad. I also was able to easily remember during the contraction that it was temporary- and that it would pass every single time. Knowing there is an end makes it all so much easier to deal with!
So we called the midwife, and she spoke to me on the phone to check in and see how far along I was. She was at first convinced that I was in very early labour, but said OK, we will be there in a little while to check on you. And so she was very surprised to discover that I was already 6cm dilated when they arrived. They could see I was breathing deeply, I was very calm and not at all in distress. Every time that a contraction started I would practice my focused attention technique and breathe deeply. It would pass and I would enjoy the present moment in between. Please be aware, if you want to try this technique yourself that it does take practice. Your mind needs training just like your body does, I spent at least 10 hours total practicing with the app as well as little bits here and there, in between, on my own. Now that I have the skill I find myself applying it to any pain in my life that crops up. I highly recommend to anyone out there who is in pain, that they consider trying to manage the pain with meditation. I'm absolutely serious that all it takes is practice!
Pilates was definitely good grounding for me in developing this mind and body connection. In fact, in the recovery phase I’ve discovered that I am more body aware than ever. I can feel everything coming back into position, and I can feel when it’s beginning to be more balanced and working together. I can feel all the sensations of healing and it’s simply nice to be so present in my body, to be in the moment with it. I can appreciate and engage with my body more now because I’ve been through this process. I've never been less interested in the conventional postpartum ideals around "losing the baby weight" or "bouncing back" after birth. You know why? Because those thoughts are not relevant to me. They don't encompass the scope of what my body is doing right now- it's simply not important. It also doesn't allow for how grateful I feel toward my body at this moment. It's been on a journey through birth and postpartum, and it's continuing to work hard now as it recovers. These kind of thoughts are placing the focus on how others view my body instead of what's actually happening. No thanks! I'd rather not spend my time dwelling there. Instead I'm going to feel and appreciate it all without worrying about what others think. I'm going to treat it right- by exercising at my own pace, stopping and starting as I need to. By really listening to it, and recovering in my own way.
As a consequence of this experience I have begun reflecting on the idea of resistance, and how it applies more broadly to my day to day activities as well as my teaching work. I can sum it up like this: If my body is sending me pain signals I need to listen, but I also need to not resist when I feel that pain and create extra tension. I understand now that so much of how we treat our bodies is to resist and react unconsciously. I see my clients creating unnecessary tension all the time, in their shoulders or necks especially. It’s the way we are conditioned to react to the unfamiliar or the stressful. It also becomes a habit over time. An example I see often is when I ask someone to move their arm, and their shoulder goes up toward their ear and their neck stiffens up. They automatically pull back and resist what could be a gentle and easy movement. We often fight tooth and nail against the flow of our bodies. So I think, in my classes, I’m going to incorporate more mind-body meditation practice. I always did some of this, but we can definitely do more with it! The mind is the most powerful tool that we have in our lives, and it’s time that we learned how to harness that power. It's time to become stronger in our minds, and to learn to move easily without that extra tension and automatic resistance. I look forward to developing this idea more for both myself in my own practice, and for my clients when I return in September!
Thanks for reading. Comments are always welcome!
Diane Archer, Pilates Instructor from the UK now living back in Canada. Blog of tips, thoughts, home challenges.