Monday, February 23, 2009

Forty Days and a Few Nights

While visiting my Mom in Tucson this past December, it became clear I’ve never really given Pilates a chance. I first encountered Pilates in the early 90’s, and even attended a few sessions of a teacher training program. While the work intrigued me immediately, I wasn’t secure enough in my knowledge of Yoga to confidently embrace learning material that may have challenged my existing view of things. In that uniquely human way, I derived a great deal of comfort by insulating myself from that which is unfamiliar. I was hiking in the Catalina foothills when it suddenly dawned on me that the past few years of occasional Pilates lessons and training had opened new vistas, though I was still framing my view of the physical body through my understanding of yoga. It seemed high time to put the Asana practice on the back burner while I more fully committed to learning another system in order to more fully comprehend its benefits. Knowing my propensity to default back into Yoga mode, the road map was to dedicate a specific period of time to exploring Pilates. In a Eureka moment, I committed to six weeks of daily Pilates practice.

Daily practice has never been a chore, as my compulsive tendencies find a ready outlet in regular practice. Often touted as a virtue, I’ve found daily practice a sanctioned and relatively healthy outlet for my not-insignificant tendency to be a bit OCD. Thankfully life presents us healthier outlets for our pathologies, and I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon daily yoga practice while still quite young, saving me the bother of having to wash my hands more than a few dozen times per day.

The root of this commitment wasn’t the discipline of daily practice, but the focus of that daily practice. I remained dedicated to the essence of yoga, and continued my daily Svadhyaya and Dhyana practice. Rather than practicing Asana after my meditation practice, I’d trundle over to the Movement Insights Pilates Center for a workout. I’m fortunate to have married a Pilates teacher with a fully-equipped studio, and enjoyed learning routines on the primary Pilates equipment: the Reformer, Cadillac and Wunda-Chair. While I still believe the equipment names leave something to be desired, I have a deepened respect for the intelligence of the work. After six weeks of daily Pilates, what did I learn?

The most stark lesson was finding the gaping holes in my core strength. I have gained a lot of functional strength through more than 20 years of daily Yoga practice, though was shocked to find the simultaneous existence of such deeply rooted deficiency in my strength. In certain angles and in specific regions, I could barely lift myself up. It was revelatory, and gave me deeper insight into a longstanding tendency to sacroiliac strain.

The second major lesson was really an offshoot of the first – the Pilate equipment really makes a lot of sense. As I uncovered the holes in my strength/understanding, I found that the discrepancy from the strengths to the weaknesses was significant. The weak areas were so weak, I could barely lift my own limbs. Rather than working from the intended area, I’d compensate by moving from an area that was already strong. I’d done this for years, and hence the build-up of imbalance. The Pilates equipment isn’t as much about providing resistance in the exercises, as it is about providing support. By supporting a limb in just the right way, you can work from the intended core musculature, rather than defaulting to existing strengths. It’s a different way of seeing exercise equipment, as we’re used to doing resistance exercises to build strength. The Pilates equipment builds strength by providing support to help facilitate working from the proper, core place - clever, and oh-so effective!

The third lesson transcends the physical, and relates to studies of the Chakra System. Having a supple and strong midsection fortifies the Third Chakra (or the Manipura Chakra); and whether we express Third Chakra imbalance through excess or deficiency, virtually all of us can benefit from the added confidence and stability that comes from a strong core-body. I found myself feeling more steady and grounded through the forty days of Pilates practice.

Having enjoyed this experience, am I ready to trade my Yoga mat for a Pilates Reformer? Most assuredly not! I feel fortunate that these paths are not mutually exclusive, but rather, mutually beneficial. While I learned a lot from this Pilates immersion, I still consider Yoga my home base, and remain committed to exploring one path in great depth, rather than darting from technique to technique in the search for enlightenment. Since the resolution elapsed, I’ve continued working out on the Pilates equipment three days per week. I’m continuing to learn more, and look forward to becoming even better friends with the Pilates equipment. Perhaps one day, I’ll even look fondly on Pilates mat work!

Pilates is a very intelligent system. It’s no replacement for the mind/body/spirit benefits of Yoga, though it can certainly be of great benefit. If you’re a Yoga practitioner who has yet to try Pilates, I encourage you to give it a shot. In particular, explore the Pilates equipment with a capable instructor, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Namaste,
Scott
www.alignmentyoga.com

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