In common with most people it seems, my first exposure to the Pilates Method was via matwork. I have only a hazy memory of this but remember clearly my introduction to working with the Apparatus. I definitely enjoyed working on the mat – I have enjoyed lots of different movement techniques – but the real conversion was when I began classes using the Apparatus. I was given a block of classes as a birthday present and went along to a local studio as soon as I had had my six-week check after giving birth to my thirdborn. I had done pregnancy yoga classes, swum and played tennis during all three pregnancies. With the first two I had been keen to find my own body again post-partum and so had joined a gym with a creche and diligently ‘got myself into shape’. It has always been important to me to be physically fit. I decided this time to add in Pilates to my fitness regime.
At first, I could not believe how different it was, being in the studio and learning the very basics. I had worked on and off with a personal trainer before and had enjoyed the personal attention and motivation, but this was another thing entirely. There was so much detail in how I was being taught and yet the actual movements that I was being taught were so small. It felt as though I was merely lying on the floor and breathing for an hour and a half, whilst I learned how to isolate and recruit tiny muscles which had been shot to pieces by a third pregnancy and birth within five years. But despite the very slow pace at which I was learning to rebuild, I loved it. I loved the feeling of working from the smallest, deepest muscles and kind of stripping the body back to its essentials, like a car in a body shop being stripped down and then restored so that its engine runs smoothly and everything works as it should. Almost like when the car was new, but not quite. My body would never be the same as the one which had carried me into motherhood, but I could learn how to inhabit it fully in its new state.
The physical environment of the studio was also very new to me – the strange mix of wood and metal, springs hanging from various attachments, the furniture that seemed part medical, part gym and even part S&M chamber (not that I could have at that point articulated that – but there is definitely more than a suggestion of that in all the fixings, the straps, the cuffs…). There were two or three teachers, each with their own client or clients, quietly but authoritatively guiding their clients, spotting things it seemed to me then as if by magic, giving cues which were imaginative and intelligent. My mind and body were focused and harnessed. It was the start of a beautiful relationship.
Gradually my deep abdominals and pelvic floor re-emerged from the trauma of pregnancy and birth. My centre became less jelly and more capable of holding. I was taught a warm up which did not vary – essentially Pilates matwork but with much more precision than I’d ever worked with in a group mat setting, then after a couple of weeks I was allowed onto the machinery. Immediately the wonder of the springs became apparent – to the evocative sonic twang that they emit when coming in and out of full tension came the glorious mixture of support and challenge that they provide. Of course, it began utterly simply – pliés on the Reformer, shoulder isolations on the Cadillac, eventually and deliciously a Mermaid on the Wunda Chair. Already I knew that this was much more ‘me’ than yoga. I did not yet grasp why, but the springs were at the heart of it, from the start. That coil and recoil, what I would later learn was the control of the springs through both concentric and eccentric phases of movement – in layman’s terms this is the difference in how the springs challenge you as you make them stretch out and then control their return to their resting state. It feels and is really different to working with weights in the gym. And my teachers seemed absolutely attuned to how much physical challenge my mind and body could take – I was, after all, a mother to three under-fives so therefore chronically under-slept, breast feeding and doing class after the children’s father had come home from work to pick up the parenting reins.
I was, however, hooked. I went up to twice a week and started to feel and see real physical changes, whilst enjoying the breadth and depth of the repertoire. I was lengthening and twisting and centring in a way I had never had access to before. The exquisite blend of support and challenge that the springs provide, with expert tuition and the concentration which the Method demands, they all helped me beyond measure as I progressed. Often the exercises which brought me the most were the ones which at first, I thought I didn’t like, didn’t ‘get’. The ones I had to work at, over time. The ones my body really, really needed.
Then came a real turning point. We were actively considering a move out of London, for a school for our firstborn. Ever since having that first child I had been trying to work out what to do in terms of work and career. I had written a draft of a novel. I had been a volunteer in a photography gallery successfully drumming up Champagne sponsorship for an awards ceremony (I did work in sales in the pre-children world). I had even begun a science access course in order to study a degree in Human Nutrition (I’m still very, very interested in human nutrition). When discussing this potential move with a friend, I mentioned that the thing I would miss most about London would be my Pilates. There was no Pilates Foundation studio in the town to which we were considering moving.
“So why don’t you open a studio?” asked the friend. She was a management consultant so I’m pretty sure she just meant the bricks, mortar and equipment – employ teachers, rather than become one. I knew otherwise, though, as soon as I heard her question. I needed to become a Pilates teacher, if only to teach myself. It turns out that even as a teacher I need to be taught and of course that house move never happened, but the seed was sown. So now I get to hear the sound and share the benefit of those springs every day.
If you would like to find out more about how Ruth can
help you with Pilates, click here to get in touch.