Whether it is Pilates or Yoga I try to teach the same thing, and that is mindfulness in movement. It's a bit of an overused word these days, particularly in Yoga, but I believe it is the best way to describe my teachings...or rather...explorations.
That involves moving slowly to really feel what is going on. The mind is in the body the whole time, often in one particularly area, feeling how it responds. That could be feeling for movement, muscle activation, muscle holding, or muscle relaxation. And then working with that.
Our body is a miracle! It is so so clever, so that everything you are now is a response to what has happened before. So let me take my ankles for example as it's easiest to speak from personal experience. Plus most of us have sprained our ankle at some point. Well, thanks to skateboarding I've done it well over 10 times! The first time it happened my body would've naturally put less weight on that side to protect the ankle. Due to long recovery times my body learnt this behaviour and eventually carried it on. If you look at my shoes, I now have more wear on the sole of the left foot- the opposite foot to the bad ankle. The ligaments have become so damaged that I now have hyper-mobility in my ankles, meaning my body has responded to help out that situation. How has it done that? It tightened up the muscles attached to the ankle joint to stabilise the area. So so clever! But I could arrive at a class bemoaning my tight calves, and I have definitely actually done that. Instead, we should be thanking our body for its response system and how it looks after us. Now I can work with that and strengthen that area with balance work, which over time will help to release the muscles that shortened to protect me.
We have many of these things going on in the body. It's not just responding to injuries but everything we do. If we do a lot of one type of movement (and equally lack of movement), the body helps us out by being developing in a way to assist us. That can be seemingly negative or positive to us, usually when we are doing something outside or our usual behaviour. For example there is much talk of our now sedentary lives and the 'problems' from that. But actually our bodies have adapted to that life perfectly. It only becomes a problem when we want to move more.
With so many of these stories in our bodies it can become a fascinating exploration of self. It is the same as meditation- where quietening the mind then leads to discovery of mental patterns- but for the body instead. We are discovering our unconscious movement patterns, which in turn makes them conscious. When we work with them consciously, over time new patterns can emerge, which then eventually become the new unconscious movement patterns. That may take a couple of reads to make sense ;)
When we quieten the body we find out so much more. At first- and I speak from experience- we can think of all the things our body cannot do, and notice all these things 'wrong' with it. In fact, I was in that place up until a few months ago. But with an understanding of why, this actually becomes a celebration of our body! It really is a miracle!!!
Working from this slow pace means we can stop before going too far into a movement that may hurt us. But it also gives a chance to notice whether the brain is just telling you it's going to cause pain because something happened x amount of years ago which caused us agony. If that's the case then it can be possible to reprogram the brain (neuroplasticity- a fascinating subject) by doing a movement that has the same effect, but from a different shape so that the brain receives information saying it's safe for that joint to be in that position for example. Again, over time, the first position that may've been painful then becomes pain free.
The whole time when working like this we are in a place of calm- using the parasympathetic nervous system, or rest and digest. The body will ease into shapes a lot easier from this place but it all of this has an added benefit. Focussing inwards whilst in this state has a meditative effect- single point of focus whilst calm. It can counteract the fight or flight mode that many of us spend a lot of our day in. You may not even realise it until your body enters its other state.
I could go into a lot more detail but that will be for other blog posts. I just thought it would be useful to tell you what I try to teach :) if it sounds of interest to you have a look at the class timetable here and hopefully there's one you can make!