So I took the last 10 months out of my life to throw myself completely into the study of Pilates. What a luxury! I'm so grateful I had this opportunity. It wouldn't have happened without the support of my family. It takes a village to raise a child, and the same is true for this Pilates Teacher- so many people in my life have given me a hand and helped me along this path to where I am today. Here's a huge thank you to you all- you know who you are!
As for the course, it was amazing- incredibly detailed, and I was able to ASK ALL THE QUESTIONS I've had buzzing around in my head over the years. It also felt like a non stop questioning of everything I've done in my teaching career over the last 10 years. This questioning is a good thing, but also, a challenging thing when you've been doing something for a long time, and are forced to reflect on your past over and over again. Our teacher told us almost everyone on her course experiences an existential crisis at around the halfway mark, once you start to come to grips with the magnitude of the material.
Totally happened to me too, in May last year, right on schedule.
I'll be honest here, it didn't feel great at the time. The amount of information I had to absorb was absolutely incredible... and it felt like my brain wasn't operating at peak efficiency. It was right after experiencing a worldwide pandemic which caused a whole lot of unexpected changes in my life. But I persisted through that time, when I felt I couldn't take any more, and I didn't give up. GO ME! And here I am, now fully qualified to teach pilates on all the amazing bits of equipment- reformer, caddilac, chair, barrels, mat. But this feels like only the bare bones of what happened on this journey. I am also a whole lot more organized in terms of how I look at bodies, how I consider teaching, and how I want to work moving forward. To help me reflect on this, I started writing down some of the biggest lessons I learned these past 10 months and I am sharing it here on my blog for all to see. So here is the first installment- and there's going to be more to come, so stay tuned.
IT IS ALL ABOUT MOVING THE SPINE
Seems simple, and incredibly obvious, doesn't it.
But here's the thing, I didn't really understand the depth and complexity of that idea before.
I thought - flexion, extension, lateral flexion, rotation. bada-boom bada-bing and you are there.
It's actually looking at each single vertebra and seeing how each one either sticks or moves. There are often sticky sections which means when you ask someone to move, it hinges above or below the sticky section. This creates compression in that spot. So it really is more about maintaining length in between each section while you move, in all directions. Not an easy task for anyone especially without a teacher. A major personal realization I had this year about my own body was that I thought I was doing extension in my upper back all these years, but I really wasn't. I was hinging in my thoracolumbar junction. This is why having a teacher is so crucial to doing pilates safely and effectively.
Our bodies are going to take the path of least resistance, if left to move on their own. If your spine is used to hinging in a certain spot, it's just going to keep doing that every time until you consciously make an effort to move differently.
(If you are reading this and thinking, but I do pilates on my own!- It's ok, take a breath. I didn't have a teacher for many years. You are still moving your body which is better than no movement by a long shot)
I strongly believe something is better than nothing when it comes to movement, of any kind. However it simply isn't going to be as effective for your body as having someone help you create new, healthy patterns. Becoming more efficient in all things, including movement, is a good goal for our bodies- both to prevent injury and to improve our function in everyday life. It also means we don't need to spend our time doing a lot of movement if it's done efficiently. You will see results faster, and without all that extra stress and tension your body has been holding onto.
It also takes time to change movement patterns we've had for a long time. Potentially we've had years and years to make these patterns a habit. I do feel it's important to honour the fact that our bodies developed these patterns for a reason. If you are always carrying a baby on your right hip, your body adapts to this and does what it can to keep you able to hold your baby on your hip. It may not be the most efficient way, but it got the job done. However, once that baby starts walking and not needing carrying around anymore, how do you let your body know it doesn't need to keep those same movement patterns? How do we even know what changes have occurred in our bodies in the past, aside from when we push too far and injure ourselves or have pain? Let's just say that this course has given me even more appreciation for the human body than I had before (hard to believe!). Small changes in movement patterns can make a huge difference with time and practice. We are never going to be "perfect" or even close... I still hinge in my TL junction during extension, that's a fact. But it's definitely better. And I'm continually trying to find ways to move in extension that are flowing, smooth and lengthened. It's getting there for sure. Our bodies are capable of so much. We are truly adaptable creatures.
Joseph Pilates said: "You are only as young as your spine is flexible."
I couldn't agree more. I hope when I'm 90 my spinal extension is such that I feel as young as I do now. #LifeGoals
Thanks for reading!
Stay tuned for the next installment, "props are for supporting movement, not just for extra challenge"
Diane Archer, Pilates Instructor from the UK now living back in Canada. Blog of tips, thoughts, home challenges.