In Lance Armstrong’s 2001 autobiography, It’s Not About The Bike, the pro cycler depicts his inspiring journey from cancer diagnosis to Tour De France champion. He helps us to understand how the miles on his bike led him to a state of enlightenment far more powerful than any victory ever had. His words resonated with me, particularly because throughout my many years of teaching Pilates to people of all ages and abilities, I continue to witness a similar kind of mind/body/spirit transformation in my Pilates clients.
Pilates founder Joseph Pilates believed that our physical and mental health are closely connected, and as a result, centered his method on principles that provided both internal and external benefits. Initially, such benefits are generally physical. We feel more toned, more flexible, stronger and leaner. Most people will admit that they started Pilates to develop a body like J-Lo but notice that as they continue to practice the method a transformation far more powerful takes place. We notice that stretching becomes less of a chore and more of a stimulating and relaxing experience. Pain and stiffness begins to ease and physical activity outside the studio increases. As physical activity increases so does our self-esteem and self-confidence. As we learn to control our bodies on the equipment we learn to control our minds off the equipment. We learn how to function more efficiently in the real world thus helping us achieve a positive life.
Pilates isn’t just about going through the motions of the exercises; it is about practicing the method through mindfulness and conscious movement. The more we learn how to fine-tune our movement on the reformer (a machine we use to help us develop good alignment, core strength and flexibility), the more we will gain self-awareness of our movements off the reformer. This awareness creates a better understanding of how our bodies function…how we sit, walk, bend, lift, run, as well as how to create a more efficient and effective way of moving thereby decreasing injury and improving quality of life.
When you ask your body to learn a new exercise or place your body in a posture that is foreign or outside your comfort zone, your body/fascia (the tissue enclosing a muscle) learns how to take a new shape. Learning new movements not only helps your physical body take new shape but it also helps your mind take a new shape. As you gain strength in your body you will find peace in your mind. As you release tension in your body you will learn to free your mind. You learn how to let go and allow yourself the opportunity to overcome obstacles, both physical and mental; that can limit us from thriving in our daily lives. This type of mental focus helps us become more mindful. Mindfulness allows us to pay attention to our feelings, perceptions and judgments…all of which help us tap into our inner truth and peace.
What most people try to get out of other exercise forms for decades, some can achieve with Pilates in just a few months. There is definitely a fitness activity of choice out there for everyone – one that’s enjoyable and that produces results – but what Pilates can do for you is so much more than getting you back in your skinny jeans (although it certainly helps with that too!). Knowing how to use your body and mind properly and efficiently is the basis for enjoying physical activity over the course of a lifetime and a key to loving your body no matter what.
If you ask me, Mr. Pilates knew what he was doing when he so appropriately named one of his apparatuses the “reformer.” And that’s because his method can truly reform you into YOUR BEST SELF – physically, mentally and spiritually. And what could be better than that?