Joseph Pilates wrote in Your Health, “neither the mind nor the body is supreme – one cannot be subordinated to the other. Both must be coordinated, in order not only to accomplish the maximum results with the minimum expenditure of mental and physical energy, but also to live as long as possible in normal health and enjoy the benefits of a useful and happy life.” (page 41)
A client arrived at Pat Guyton Pilates, Inc. for her first lesson. A psychologist recommended this person to me. The client announced that she lived too much in her head and that it was hard for her to feel anything. As we began some simple centering and core work, we laughed as she immediately went into her thinking mode and forgot to feel her body. She was focused on her diagnosis, which is a mental construct.
I have also experienced in my teaching the other kind of student who feels everything related to emotional and physical trauma. These people can be so consumed with sensation that there is little room for movement education until there is mental focus with clarity. Eckhart Tolle describes this as identification with the “pain body”. The mind is still the manipulator of the feelings and it thinks that the perceptions of pain and anguish are real. The job of the teacher under these circumstances is to distract the mind from the preconceptions so that the body is tricked into feeling new movement sensation.
When I apply myself to new material, I need to understand why I am doing something. Understanding means different things at different times to different people. Some may need to simply understand the directions and patterns of the movement presented. Some may need clarification regarding the reason and outcome of the exercise. Others may even respond more fully if there is an anatomical explanation, a relationship to daily activity, or a guided imagery that helps direct the thoughts of the mind to the movement. Other people need to repeat the movement and feel the process. Others need to feel someone else doing the movement as if they were blind and cannot learn by seeing but though feeling. The goal is to guide these diverse learning styles into the experience of feeling the body.
Joseph Pilates continues to inspire me with mind and body exploration. By applying knowledge and guidance of a good teacher, we can direct our physical bodies to perform more efficiently and maximize our benefits. As our bodies become more proficient the nervous system reflexes into the brain. We are rewiring old habits, patterns and thoughts. This is followed by improved mental focus, which increases the performance of the Pilates movement principles. The richness of the Pilates practice is this continuous cycle of mind – body – mind – body in infinite repetition.
In practice the mind thinks and the body feels and each feeds the other with wisdom. If one takes control or becomes subordinate, Joe’s words, to the other, the cycle become concrete. It is for these reasons that all students and teachers must return to the basics. The mat series of exercises is not a race or competition. It is a thoughtful progression of flowing movement that leads to expansion of mind and body. It takes vigilance, perseverance, enthusiasm and joy in every repetition to reach this goal of mind and body.
The Real is Spirit. The focus of the mind and the feeling in the body are the paths to Spirit.