Meditation Through the Backdoor
What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Meditation through the backdoor" is how I've referred to Pilates for years. Anyone who has practiced the repetitive, rhythmic, and cyclical nature of studying movement knows this, and Pilates is no different. Over time, the study of slow movement that applies to larger movement becomes much more than a means to change the body; it changes the mind and the overall sense of being.
I'll never forget the day that I had this realization. After an injury landed me in a Pilates clinic to rehabilitate and strengthen my weakened body, I quickly found myself humbled by the limitations not only of my body, but also of my breathing patterns and my mind/ego. Learning "Pilates" was challenging in more ways than I ever imagined. I was young and impatient, and I was annoyed by the process. I wanted to hurry through this injury, go dancing and running, and feel free again. Yet two years into my injury, my pain was worse and I found myself on my back studying slow movement. Pain is a huge motivator and I was willing to do anything. I had no idea how hard it was going to be to lie on my back and practice breathing, or how difficult it would be to slowly move my limbs while thinking about what I was doing.
The mindfulness of Pilates was so difficult for me that I wanted to quit. I had practiced yoga and meditation for years and while the mindfulness of yoga and Pilates have similarities, the lack of discussion about the mind/body/spirit connection in Pilates and the sole focus on studying movement challenged me in different ways. I fought against the intense focus of the practice as it agitated me. I found myself annoyed more often than not. Quitting wasn't an option, though, as my body started getting better and I was not turning back. Over time, my breathing exercises became more natural, and I became interested in the movement analysis part of the practice. I could feel my body letting go of holding patterns caused by everything from old injuries to old fears. Things were changing. I was stronger. I had moments free from pain. Those moments turned into days, weeks, and months free from pain.
And then, one day, something else happened. I was lying on my back, practicing my breathing exercises, studying how my breathing patterns could better assist my movements, when I went into a what I call an "accidental meditation" and a calm came over my mind that I hadn't experienced for years. Over the next few months, this "accidental meditation" happened often during my practice. As more time passed, I realized that I was practicing what many refer to as "mindfulness" and it was benefitting my mind/body/spirit in ways that I had never experienced. I knew about this practice, of course, but I had never truly experienced it in such an accidental way. This was unexpected as I never dreamed that this deeper level of awareness could come from practicing Pilates.
Since then, even though I can jump onto the Pilates machines and accomplish difficult exercise routines, I find myself returning to my mat and the slow study of movement again and again. Through ups and downs over the years, through various injuries, losses and life challenges, the mindful practice of slow movement has been much more to me than a way to improve my physical state. Much like a musician never stops learning from practicing scales, repeating forms is essential to the unfolding that leads to those "Aha" moments in our mind. I practice the art of Pilates to keep my body healthy, yes, but also to keep my mind focused and my spirit grounded.
As an instructor, I am fortunate to be an observer of the transitions that people go through as I teach them basic concepts of breathing or movement. I am always amazed by anyone who can stick with it because I know that the struggle to learn these concepts goes far beyond the physical realm. Tears well up for many during this practice, mine included. Old patterns fall away as new patterns unfold. And yet, if you've practiced with me, you'll rarely, if ever, hear me talk about the mind/body/spirit benefits of the practice. I merely encourage the focus of attention to return to the breath and to studying the movements that we are practicing.
If you've studied at Posture Studio for any length of time, you may have experienced the calm that comes from the practice and perhaps integrate these techniques into your life outside of the studio. Focusing attention on breathing and movement allows us to become aware of the present moment, and suddenly what seemed like a very external practice becomes a very internal one. Negative holding patterns from our past melt away as we work on releasing movement patterns that have seeped into our lives from injuries, poor habits, emotionally traumatizing experiences, and even from a simple lack of awareness about how we're holding and moving our bodies. The "to do" list that is in our head drifts away, and the present becomes clearer as we look within.
Thank you for sharing your practice with us.
Happy 2018 to all.