Creating new possibilities with Pilates

Breakthrough”: A sudden, important and dramatic discovery or development.

 I had a session last week with a longtime student. We were working through a series of exercises, and I was slowly increasing the challenge. As I asked her to take the final step, I saw her hesitate for a moment before she did it. “I almost said ‘No,’” she laughed.

 But instead she used everything she knew, and she did it. She did something she didn’t think she could, and in doing so, earned a whole new sense of strength and accomplishment. I call that a breakthrough. 

You may think “breakthrough” is too strong a word for doing a new exercise, and I would agree. But the breakthrough isn’t just in executing a series of movements; it’s in giving a student a new sense of what is possible. Whenever I can help someone move further and do more in the Pilates studio, I’m helping them move beyond whatever limitation or limiting belief they had before they started. 

 In that way, I believe that students’ literal movement in the Pilates studio creates a pathway for them to move beyond limits in other areas of their lives. For me, teaching Pilates is about so much more than giving students a good workout. It’s about creating an environment that allows them to experience new possibilities in their bodies and in their lives.  

Don't just do Pilates, do Pilates AND...

I’m going to bust a Pilates myth right off the bat: Pilates isn’t the only exercise I do. That’s right. Teaching Pilates is my job, and Pilates still is my favorite workout. But I also hike, bike, paddle board, do TRX and more. While my other activities get me out in nature and give me a great cardiovascular workout, I know my Pilates practice informs those movements to help keep me strong and injury-free. I’m embracing what I call “Pilates AND” -- Pilates and other sports -- and I’m here to invite you to do the same. 

We got a Peloton a couple of months ago, so lately biking has been my “AND.” Two things happen every time I’m on the bike: First, I think about all the ways my Pilates practice is helping my ride, and second, I hear the Peloton instructors say things that are very similar to things I say to my own Pilates clients. 

One of the benefits of a regular Pilates practice is increased body awareness – really being able to feel how your body is working together and knowing if something is “off.” Oftentimes when I ride, my dominant leg wants to take over on the downward pedal stroke, leaving my other side to do more of the upstroke. In my body, that feels like overworking the quadriceps on my dominant leg, while the hamstrings on my other leg do more of the work. Over time, that could lead to a muscle imbalance and possible pelvic rotation. So I use my body awareness to check in on my pedal stroke and work to make it as smooth and even as possible. 

During one of my very first Peloton classes, the instructor told us something like, “Send energy out the crown of your head,” as a way to help keep us from rounding our spines and collapsing. “What?” I thought, “That’s Pilates.” That’s what I say to my clients to help them engage the spinal extensor muscles in their upper backs. Another Peloton instructor tells riders to imagine where their belt buckle would be and pull it back to help engage the core. In class after class, Peloton instructors offer tips on form that sound like my own words to my Pilates clients. It just confirms to me that we’re all working toward the same goals. All forms of exercise work together to create strong, healthy bodies. 

Which brings me back to Pilates AND. Two months in to my Peloton experience, I feel in my own body how Pilates AND biking work together. My ride gives me a great cardio workout (and some serious sweat sessions), and Pilates keeps me riding in a more balanced and efficient way, without back pain. In the weeks to come, I’ll be sharing a series of articles here about Pilates and biking, with exercises I use to stay strong during my rides. If you’re a biker, I hope you’ll stay tuned to experience Pilates AND for yourself. And if you’re ready to try a personalized Pilates workout to jumpstart your Pilates AND experience, I’d love to hear from you.  

Strength grows in stillness: How NOT moving can make us stronger

“Pilates isn’t about what’s moving. It’s about what’s NOT MOVING.” And with that, my Pilates teacher trainer gave me a totally different way of looking at Pilates.

Her point was to help us understand the stability factor inherent in Pilates. NOT moving one part of your body while another part moves requires the not-moving part to be strong enough to hold still – to be able to hold its own against other moving parts.

It can be a tricky thing as an exercise professional – a teacher of movement – to ask students to focus on not moving. Even more challenging is to help them understand, and maybe even believe, that the stillness is as important as the movement.

We equate movement with strength because we can see something happening. We see a runner’s legs move, see a weightlifter’s muscles contract. So when something is still, we don’t see strength.

As a Pilates teacher, I have come to see things differently. I know that even though I can’t see them, muscles deep inside our bodies have to work really hard to provide stability within movement. I know the hardest thing I can ask students to do is to move one body part without moving anything else. I know strength grows in stillness.

I see that now as a metaphor for my life outside of the Pilates studio. My life, and probably yours, too, is full of movement – working, caring for the people I love, driving here and there and back again, and doing all of the mundane chores that keep my household humming. There is always something to do, and yet, I have found that I feel better if I allow myself time to NOT do.

It’s hard to avoid the pull of movement in exercise and in life. And yet, I know it makes me stronger. So this year I’m working to find more stillness in my life – in the Pilates studio and out. I hope you’ll join me.