The Poetry of Pilates

The Poetry of Pilates


At a time when yoga seems not only to be booming but often seen as the answer to many internal and external ills, it seems time to help people understand the benefits and the mysteries of its cousin (let’s say for now), Pilates. In speaking to a number of instructors, and in having my own experience, I know it to be a source of inspiration about the body-mind connection that I have never felt anywhere else.

Pilates suffers to an extent from a public relations dearth in that the instructors I have met are both shy and somehow reticent about making claims they know to be true, at least some of the time. One instructor, Joanna, tells me how some clients come for a couple of months and then leave. But they are clearly — it seemed to both of us — not really prepared for the experience of having subtle and nuanced movements be at the core of a practice that holds the literal core to be the center of all of the bodily movements it teaches.

“(Pilates) can however, be of enormous and far-reaching benefit if people coming into it learn that it is an inside out practice”

Subtlety and subtle movements are not at the epicenter of our culture. If yoga and meditation can be practices that yield less stress and better performance in other arenas, they are then considered blessed and they become sacred for many. At the same time, those who teach Pilates will not come close to making such claims: They are too modest and they know it won’t be for everyone. It can however, be of enormous and far-reaching benefit if people coming into it learn that it is an inside out practice, where the little movements and the focus on breathing, the neck and the core will lead to greater bodily strength and flexibility — and to focus as well.

Joanna, who works in Port Washington, will tell her client to see what is happening in her/his feelings and body. Sometimes a simple movement will open up space — it literally feels that way — in a different part of the body entirely. A simple request to access one part of the body becomes amazingly easy just by the mind focusing on that part with no or little apparent effort.

And sure, there are classes in Pilates, both mat and reformer classes; and yes, not everyone can afford the private lessons. But Pilates teachers know the benefit of someone watching out for the strains that often come to the neck in particular, and the benefit of the one-on-one to the creativity (poetry?) of the experience. And it is that amazing grace of focusing on oneself with the gentle protection and very gentle pushing of a teacher that makes the growth and progress both soothing and surprising.

So what about poetry? Of course there is no obvious or precise correlation except that I think it’s worth noticing that Pilates, though quieter in its claims, or perhaps too modest, or perhaps attracting those who make fewer and less vast claims to fame, can in fact be poetic — at least to some. One way of seeing the quality that is “poetic” relates to “a quality of beauty and intensity of emotion regarded as characteristic of poems.” So poetry, like certain kinds of music, can transport us to deep emotional spaces where we can feel or think in ways that are not so limiting.

“And it is that amazing grace of focusing on oneself with the gentle protection and very gentle pushing of a teacher that makes the growth and progress both soothing and surprising.”

For some time I have been motivated to find out what can lead us from superstition to surprise. And although the body and the brain are connected, as we hear in perpetual motion, we aren’t always encouraged to explore what that connection is for us. My friend Craig — Craig Stuart, who is owner and founder of Hydrofit — has been such an explorer of the nuances in and out of the water. He is now doing and teaching Pilates in the water, in fact. Years ago he had a nearly-fatal car accident and even after tons of therapy he still was having spasms, so he asked to be in a pool. It was the subtle, nuanced movements with which he experimented that he believes healed his body.

We are all different, and on emotional levels we are too much of the time given advice that leaves us flat, that is made of masses of people, instead of for us. Parents are given advice as to train or regulate their children while many parents have had poor training, if at all, in emotional regulation per se. It is quite the exploration on an emotional and practical level to sit with a family and explore the subtleties of feelings and potential solutions, in a group where parents and children and mentors or guides or therapists can collaborate. There is something very deep, soothing, and refreshing about the true curiosity about the little reactions, a curiosity that can lead people to breathe into knowing more about their feelings. And then there is the breathing into their own curiosity and creativity, when they feel safe enough not to anticipate judgment and dignified enough if they expect their insights and feelings to be valued.

Every time there is a new dance of living, on emotional levels as well, it can feel like poetry: the discovery of connection and the resonating in our deepest places. It can feel even that if family members who can’t tolerate each others’ presence for 10 minutes start to wage peace, this very well could extend to more and more people.

Pilates, of course, is not the key to solving all matters of war and peace or global warming, etc. But it may be emblematic of some of the things we need. And even though the instructors and the moves tend to be on the quiet side, subtle movements and attention can give us the space to flourish in ways that both surprise us and have the air, the sense, the passions of poetry as well.

Originally published by Carol Smaldino on Huffington Post, April 8, 2013

For more by Carol Smaldino, click here.

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