Remember this guy: If a=b, and b=c, then a=c?
Let's take that logic and apply it to the principles of strength and balance as it pertains to the Pilates work, comme ça:
a = strength
b = dynamic movement
c = balance
If strength equals dynamic movement, and dynamic movement equals balance, then what we're aiming to understand and sense in our body as we practice the Pilates method is that all of the exercises and choreography equate STRENGTH with BALANCE. (I knew there was a reason I enjoyed that logic course I took my freshman year at Bucknell.... )
Ok, Stephanie, sure. But what do you mean by strength? What do you mean by dynamic movement? And what do you mean by balance?
I'll answer those questions by explaining what I don't mean by each term. I am not referring to strength in terms of how much weight a particular muscle can endure under a load before failure, as in a dead lift. I am not referring to dynamic movement in terms of intensity of movement, as in how fast you can run 100 meters. And I am not referring to balance in terms of we do at the end of each class, as in standing on your toes with your eyes closed.
Rather, I'm referring to strength as the balanced musculoskeletal system achieved through dynamic movement where the full range of motion of the joints is employed consistently, thereby leading to maximum amount of efficiency for least amount of effort.
Uh, please expand a little.
Sure thing. For our musculoskeletal system to support us efficiently under the weight of gravity each and every day, our muscles must work together. One is the agonist, the primary mover, and the other is the antagonist, the supporter. Think of drinking a cup of tea. The biceps, because they are our main elbow flexors, act as the agonist that brings the cup of warm, aromatic liquid to our lips; the triceps then act as the antagonists to support their partners, the biceps, as the cup returns to the table so we keep our white doily tablecloth spotless.
Think of muscles in terms of a relationship. When the relationship's healthy, a partnership exists. When both partners support each by doing their share of the work, all goes smoothly, everyone's happy and balanced, standing tall and grounded together. However, if one person works harder than the other person, there's not enough balanced support, which leads to feelings of being overworked, stretched too thin, and exhaustion and heat will more than likely occur. Co-dependency ain't great either, because all that passive-aggression can leads to sticky fascia, like duct tape stuck to itself, but that's for a different blog...
Some folks have scoliosis. Maybe you played field hockey as a kid and your spine is twisted to the right because of how you held the stick. Or you were an ice skater and you always took off for your jumps with your left foot. We're not trying to completely rid ourselves of those beautiful quirks, however. Instead, we're trying to embrace them so that we know how to cope under daily stresses. Above all, when we practice Pilates, we're building awareness of how our body has adapted and compensated to keep us upright and mobile, and then using that knowledge to re-balance our body to live pain free.
I know I said that I wasn't referring to balance as the balance we practice in class and our sessions together on all kinds of wobbly surfaces, but I want to mention it here in relationship to dynamic movement. Balance is a dynamic process. Even when we are feeling steady high up on our tiptoes there's a whole host of movement happening externally and internally firing up our neurons and sending extremely valuable information from our body to our brain and back again to tell us where we are in space, how far away from an object we are, and how we may need to shift to avoid falling on an uneven surface. Lucky for us, all of the Pilates exercises engage in dynamic movement, so we're constantly challenging our muscles to work together as efficiently as possible every moment of every session.
Like many other amazing qualities, strength comes from within - literally within our unique musculoskeletal system. The more balanced, aware of, and grounded we are in our own beautiful asymmetries, the more we can take on this dynamic world around us.
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” - Proverb
I am grateful for YOU. The way you show up for yourself. The way you ask questions and dig deeper into the work. The way you share who you are with me. The way you agree to try - and succeed with - the seemingly-impossible things I ask of you. The way you take the time to feel the sensations this beautiful work instills in your beautiful being. Thank you. Truly. Another sensation we can actually feel is gratitude. In fact, we feel all emotions in our body. That's why a smile adorns your face when you're happy; or you feel heavy when you're sad; or you feel momentarily peeved when I ask you to do 10 more bridges. (Sorry, not sorry.)
Plus, research shows that demonstrating gratitude can reduce pain, release toxic emotions, regulate stress, and reduce anxiety and depression. Much like we must practice Pilates to get stronger in our core, we must practice gratitude to feel it in our body and gain all those positive physiological side effects. Look your cashier in their eye and say Thank You. Give your partner a squeeze when they do the dishes. Tell yourself you’re grateful for your beautiful body and all it allows you to do. It literally does your body good - deep into your core - to practice gratitude.
For me, gratitude, it's always been an overwhelming feeling, akin to joy. It usually brings tears to my eyes, and yet I'm smiling; it's warming and heavy at the same time; it at once makes my body swell and feel weightless.
In a time when California and all Californians are reeling from the largest and most devastating wildfires in its history - and we're all feeling that weight, that helplessness, that heaviness - it's perhaps difficult to to feel gratitude. We may feel guilty for what we have while so many are experiencing such loss.
Gratitude is full of opposites. Pilates is full of opposites, plus energetic balancing and awareness. And now, more than ever as we get closer to Black Friday and the holidays, and school breaks, and winter vacations, it's important to remember that doing your body good, does other bodies (and some would argue, energetically, the entire world) good too.
Not only is that true on Stranger Things, the Netflix series that has me feeling so nostalgic for my American, suburban childhood and Christmases, but it's also true when we invert our relationship to gravity.
There are very few goals I set for myself, not because I'm not ambitious, or because I'm not motivated. It's because for me, if I set a goal, I have typically found a way to reach it - regardless of how it suits my emotional and physical health. In my twenties, it seemed like a totally logical and good idea to trek the 40 miles of the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trial in one day. And to get up at 4:30 am to go for a run to beat the summer Washington, DC humidity.
Now, in my late thirties, I realize that my body is different every single day, and I want to listen to it more. Now, I seek out ways to balance myself, my life, and my day-to-day emotional state. Goals sometimes hinder my own bodymind connection.
This all may sound counterintuitive. But so is floating in a bridge with the Wunda Chair. Really, Stephanie? you want me to push DOWN on the pedal to float UP?
I've discovered over the years of moving and teaching movement that when it comes to waking up the body, nothing beats the bodymind work of Pilates. It comes down to this: some exercises and ways of moving simply are better than different kinds - especially in the morning. Now, I need to qualify that word, "better". By "better", I am referring to methods of movement that engage our body and wake up neuromuscular pathways in a more mindful, efficient, and holistic way. I love cardio. I love riding my bike and getting outside. But Pilates, though quite intense, as you well know, is designed to use the least amount of energy to achieve the deepest work. That's why I practice mat Pilates in the morning to wake up my body, I take deep breaths before I look at my phone, and the first thing I ingest is H2O - and lots of it! And you should too. Yup. Here's a few more tidbits why being good to your body in the morning sets you up for the rest of your day - let's make it a good one.
i'm stephanie. my last names mean "hedgehog" in Czech and "pretty calf" in French. i have an MA from Oxford in English lit, and a MFA from Riverside in experimental choreography. i like to write. i have lots of thoughts on the body. and i want to help you understand your own better. oh, i'm also plant-based and love to bake with vegan ingredients.