Recently a dear friend asked me to do a month long gratitude challenge where at the end of each day we text each other 3 things we're grateful for. After a few days of this it occurred to me that I hadn’t shown any appreciation for my body at all. As a healthy person who has earned a living through dance and now Pilates, you’d think I’d be grateful every day for my body…but instead, like most healthy people, I take it for granted. I expect a lot from it and rarely pause to give it much thanks in return.
I’m ashamed to admit that appreciation for my body does not always come with a lot of genuine enthusiasm. Sometimes I get too concerned about what I can’t do, how uncomfortable I feel, and how much better I should look and feel in my body. Do you ever find yourself in this downward spiral of thought?
As long as we remain focused on perceived physical limitations and shortcomings, how will our bodies ever be good enough? How can we expect our bodies to keep showing up for us when we have a tendency to talk shit about it?
This sort of negative mindset trap reminds me of what meditation teacher Tara Brach refers to as the “trance of unworthiness.” I realize that if I don’t start showing my body appreciation then it will always be a source of discomfort, and I’ll accept that discomfort is what I deserve. The way to break out of this trance is shower the body with thanks, ASAP.
I actually believe that the body is not a problem to be solved. It is not a burden or a curse. It is not something that needs to be checked off a to-do list, and happiness can not be on pause until whatever needs fixing gets fixed.
The body is a gift, and a healthy one is a privilege. The body is a portal for giving and receiving love, a vessel for our work, a vehicle for soulful expression. The body is a miracle and should be treated as such!
There is a fine line between challenging the body (woo!) and punishing it (woof)... and it’s harder to feel happy and satisfied when we lean toward the later. The way to feel strong, confident, beautiful, healthy, and fit starts with a gratitude mindset. This mindset includes the ability to give ourselves credit for hard work, to see the positive in ourselves, and give thanks and kindness to the body - especially if we’re asking it to serve us and perform in a way that sparks joy.
Here are a couple of mindset exercises to put this in practice:
Body Scan Meditation
Mirror Body Scan
Knowing when it’s time to slow down and rest vs when it’s time to pull up the bootstraps and push through is not a skill that comes easily to most of us. It’s something I see occurring both in and out of the Pilates studio...
Some people have a tendency to overwork themselves, rush, take on too much and then become frustrated by pain and exhaustion. Other people tend to look for the easy way out and are unwilling to endure enough discomfort to meet their goals. Some of us swing from one end of the spectrum to the other...pushing until we burnout in one area while we reserve ourselves from important growth in other areas. Finding that sweet spot is often hard to see when we’re caught inside in our own habits.
Here are 4 tips to help get clarity on rest vs push:
1- Clarify your priorities. When you’re able to get really honest about priorities then it is a LOT easier to determine if it’s time to rest or push in certain arenas of your life.
2- Make your priorities trackable. We tend to over/underestimate how much we are really devoting to our priorities. Checking-in with a journal or calendar is a great place to get a reality check about where you’ve actually been spending your time and energy. If you say something is important to you, it needs to be reflected in your schedule.
3- Get a second opinion. Even the most self-aware people can get stuck in routine making it hard to objectively see life’s imbalances. Feedback from a respected friend or family member is a great way to get a different perspective if you suspect your values might be out of alignment with your actions.
4- Hire a pro. If you’re already clear about your priorities but still need the accountability to commit and follow through, it might be time to hire help. A teacher, coach, or even an assistant can push you where you’ve been slacking, and/or help you lighten the load where you’re burning out. Pilates teachers are good at this ;)
Understand that the need to rest or push is ever changing, and our priorities will naturally shift. Where we needed to pick up the pace in our life a few months ago might be the same place we need to slow down today, and where it made sense to take a pause on something over the weekend might also require us to buck-up and endure a bit of discomfort Mon-Fri. Making a habit of frequently checking-in with priorities is always a good idea, and having the willingness to learn from mistakes and ask for help when needed goes a really long way.
Do you know what your highest valued activities are?...mine starts first thing in the morning!
While my morning coffee and journal ritual technically earns me zero dollars, it definitely makes me more equipped to do good work and be kind to people… so it easily qualifies as a high value activity.
My morning routine goes like this: upon waking up I stroll into the kitchen and put water on the stove to boil… as it heats I admittedly check the internet for all the things. When the kettle starts screaming at me I know it’s time to focus and begin the day. In the 3ish minutes I let my coffee steep in the french press I’ll wash my face (SPF!) and pick out my clothes (these leggings or those leggings?). Then I’ll sit down with my coffee and review all of my to-dos for the day and make a list of priorities (I still use an old school planner). By the time my coffee is ready to drink I start journaling...
Journaling is the best tool I have for checking-in with myself and giving a space for all the junk stuck in my brain. The words that get dumped onto the pages of my journal help to give my life focus- and when I’m focused I feel lighter, and happier, and can ultimately do my work better - therefore it has high value. It’s a virtuous cycle!
I also consider sleep, nutrition, quality time with family and friends, time in nature, meditation, and exercise (Pilates, duh!) to be on the list of my highest value activities.
Recognizing what YOUR high value activities are - and most importantly, making them your highest PRIORITY - will always help life feel full and RICH!
If you’re not sure what your highest valued activities are (or think it might be time to re-prioritize) ask yourself these questions:
What simple actions are crucial for you to...
I became enlightened! … haha, well- not exactly- but I felt AMAZING and some very magical things DID occur.
First of all, let’s clarify what I mean by, “doing Pilates.” Most days this meant putting my body through a variety Pilates exercises (duh) on Pilates equipment (double duh). A few days though, “doing Pilates” simply meant exercising/moving my body with the intentions of centering, concentration, control, precision, breath and flow.
OK! now that we’re on the same page about what I think doing Pilates is… here’s the magical stuff:
I started waking up before my alarm. Say what!?
Without changing any of my other habits like nutrition or bedtime, somehow by committing myself to a daily Pilates practice I started to feel more naturally energized. Before starting this 30 day challenge my alarm would jolt me out of sweet slumber with an aggressive slap across the face, ugh. Now my eyes flutter open just before the scheduled face slapping - a bold power move by my body- and I’ve decided to credit this to Pilates.
I can’t find my knee pain. Not mad about it!
I was delighted to discover that by increasing the frequency of my Pilates practice, I didn’t have to sacrifice any of my other favorite exercise modalities (running, biking, and yoga). In fact, after months of severe knee pain while running, I’m finally able to slowly ramp up my mileage again! With the added focus on hip mobility and adductor/abductor, glut/quad strengthening through Pilates, my running was more supported than it had been previous to this 30 day challenge.
I made new friends. Who knew!?
Just before the start of the month I discovered a few other Pilates instructors and enthusiasts on Instagram who had also made the social media declaration of a 30 day daily practice. I challenged myself to reach out to them, and through our connection I felt an important layer of accountability and community. As a raging introvert who prefers to stubbornly do my work solo, stretching myself in this way was an important and humbling reminder on how much more successful we can be when we support and share with others.
“Am I doing this right?”... As an instructor and a forever-student I’ve been on both sides of this question, but what is REALLY being asked here?
Generally - as long as there isn’t pain - I think people are “right enough” to KEEP MOVING and allow more instruction to come as they move.
Brand new clients usually require more firm, black-and-white instruction. Instead of overwhelming them with my woo woo “there is no wrong” philosophy- I’ll usually answer with “you’re doing great!”...and then sprinkle in some positively phrased directions to keep them moving with confidence.
If I hear the “am I doing it right” question from someone I’ve been working with for a while, it helps to figure out what they REALLY mean in order to gain clarity and avoid frustration. Below are some of the different meanings I’ve discovered behind the “am I doing this right” question and how I address them:
This is new & I feel awkward
Assuming things will be effortless and beautiful the first time we try them is unrealistic. If an exercise is brand new to a client there is a good chance it will feel awkward and even look like a hot mess. This is part of the process of learning and progressing in the practice. In these cases I will gently ask my client, “isn’t this your first time doing this exercise?”...and then remind them of the first time they tried short spine, or some other life event for the first time. I’m also mindful not to fill a session with 100% new content which can sometimes discourage or frustrate clients both new and experienced.
I don't FEEL this
As someone who feels all the feels, this one is sometimes tough for me as an instructor. I've been a mover all my life, but through teaching I’m reminded that this is not the case for a lot of people and some clients are even somewhat disconnected from their physical bodies. If I’m lucky to get the feedback from a client that they don’t FEEL anything in the intended area of focus, then I have enough tools in my toolbox to offer alternative variations or different cues to help stimulate...something. But sometimes they still don’t feel anything- and you know what- THAT'S OK! As a Pilates instructor it is my job to teach exercises to the best of my ability, not to shame people into feeling a sensation in a particular muscle. I want people to feel successful after a session and proud of themselves for getting curious about how their bodies move. Just because they don’t FEEL it, doesn’t necessarily mean its wrong.
Do I look good?
Pilates is not a performance or part of an audition for a major dance company. It doesn't actually matter how ugly or pretty we do the exercises. That being said, some people really need validation to keep moving, and once I learn this about a client I will (usually) give it to them. Ultimately I just want people to move, but if possible I’d like them to feel good about it too.
Is this what you wanted?
Sometimes a client will misunderstand my instruction and start moving in a way that I did not intend. Depending on where they go with it I’ll often allow them to carry on intuitively as it can be a pathway to inspiration. Sometimes though... I’ll make a face (enter smirky-face emoji here). In this case if the client asks me if what they’re doing is right, I’ll be honest and say something like, “truthfully its not what I intended but what you’re doing is great and I’m inspired. Keep moving.”
I don’t use buzz words like “core strength” or “long and lean” (unironically) on my website or social media platforms as a way to market my services. Not that I have anything against it, it’s just not what I actually teach about or the kind of language a client would hear if they work with me - so why would I use it to sell myself?
I’m more experience driven than results driven - and I get how that might not jive well with some peeps, I’m OK with that. Maybe what I value most about Pilates is not as sexy as flat abs… but practicing skills like coordination, concentration, breathing, and balance seem to produce the results that are the most rewarding for me to see in my clients. When I’m working with a client I talk about awareness, curiosity, creativity, discipline, stress-management and kindness. I want people to MOVE THEIR BODIES, to know their bodies, and to laugh... and these are things I’m interested in selling through Pilates.
I literally have no idea how a new client will benefit from Pilates before they start. I am not intimately familiar with the latest research proving certain benefits to be true or not, nor am I a fortune teller, nutritionist, bodybuilder, or physical therapist with the authority to guarantee certain aesthetic results within my scope of practice. Don’t get me wrong, tight abs and lean muscles free of back pain sound AWESOME...its just not the current brand I’m selling.
I suspect a multitude of health benefits can be achieved through a regular practice and I’m hopeful that people who work with me will be able to experience them. The ways people benefit varies exponentially, and often amazes me. I think people who are curious should just book a few sessions and see for themselves if there is any magic. As I’ve heard many people say, Pilates is for every BODY but its not for EVERYBODY. And until a body tries it, they’ll never know.
One of my favorite college dance professors used to say, “there’s always room for one more in the front.” He was referring to the front line in class, closest to the mirror and his critical eye. More important than the literal position we took in class, I assumed he was referring to something deeper - courage and grit. He was referring to our potential for success and suggested it was open to anyone brave enough to go get it. I’ve referred to his advice time and time again in my life when I needed a quick pep talk to get over my fears of unworthiness.
Like many other Pilates professionals, I already had established careers before starting my teacher training - I was a professional dancer on cruise ships and then an administrative manager for American Ballet Theatre. By the time I started my first teacher training I was already 31.
When I worked on ships we had a pretty derogatory acronym for rookie crew members who hadn’t learned the ropes yet, “FNG” (Fuckin’ New Guy). Being the FNG is painful at any age, but can be truly humbling to be back at the bottom of the totem pole in your 30s...or in the case of some of my colleagues, in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.
Regardless of whether or not you have decades worth of courage and grit built up, fear and doubt can start to emerge at any age when you’re the FNG. Thoughts like: someone else has already done it...the market is too saturated...am I too late? Who do I think I am? What could I possibly have to offer? I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!
When I’ve been stifled by those discouraging thoughts I visualize a dance studio with lines of dancers preparing to learn a combination for an audition. I’m in the back line and have to make the choice to either let my fears take over and stay where I am (unseen and un-hired), OR find a gap in the 1st line and make a beeline to take my place at the front. Through this visualization I easily make space for myself and am reminded that there is no difference between doing this and whatever else I want to achieve in life.
Particularly in the world of Pilates, I think there is room for everyone who wants to be successful to step up to the front. One of my favorite clients is 63 years old and in the midst of completing her comprehensive Pilates training. It is not too late for her and there is no doubt in my mind that there is room for her if she wants to take it.
I’m especially inspired by this piece of advice as I start to share more of my personal writing which is one of the ways I plan to take my teaching to the next level. It’s hard to be the FNG and post a blog for the first time with no readers or followers out there to receive it, but nobody will ever see it if I don’t push my teaching and my writing up to the front to share it.
I have a feeling there is room.