February 29, 2020

29 Life Lessons from 2 Decades of Hardcore Pilates.

I teach Pilates. I’ve been practicing for 20 years and teaching for four.

I work in a studio that offers rigorous, classical Pilates performed on every piece of equipment made. It’s hardcore.

No sh*t—one of our master trainers and studio owners is a former Green Beret. So, staff instructors give out a lot of corrections. There’s a focus on integrity of motion, control, precision, strength, and discipline. We’re not a great fit for everyone.

Yet, my clients come in every shape, size, age, gender, and level of fitness. They’re teachers, carpenters, musicians, nurses, mathematicians, fast food franchisees, software engineers, at-home care providers, and retirees. They train for a myriad of reasons—some love the structure, rigor, and exactness. Some cross-train for their passion sport. Others because a medical professional or friend suggested it. Some to prevent or forestall surgery. A few simply to move and carve out time for themselves. They are as different from each other as imaginable.

I adore every one of them. They sustain me. Inspire me. And, they’ve changed me.

Every single day they become my teachers. I learn how to be a better instructor. How to cue more effectively. How to break down exercises into learnable, attainable chunks. How to help students connect mind, body, and breathing. How to make the unseen seen—how do you learn to pull up on your pelvic floor muscles anyway?

I am awed by their progress—even when they can’t see it.

But, by far, what’s most rewarding is how they connect me to our shared humanity.

Here’s what I’ve learned about life from my hardcore Pilates students and my own practice. It’s important to:

  1. Witness progress—we don’t always see it for ourselves.
  2. Not give up on others, because we all give up on ourselves at some point.
  3. Embrace ups and downs—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—it’s all welcome.
  4. Encourage others and root for them rather than comparing ourselves against them.
  5. Continually raise the bar—the uncomfortable edge is where most growth happens.
  6. Keep practicing fundamentals while adding in the new, exciting, and challenging.
  7. Tap into our inherent resiliency and grit—it’s highly correlated with success.
  8. Do our best on any given day and refrain from judging what that is—honor where we’re at.
  9. Stretch—try new things even if it’s outside current abilities.
  10. Take the necessary time to come into our bodies (regardless of if we’re working out or not)—be fully, mindfully engaged, and notice when we’re not.
  11. Offer genuine compliments and actionable critique—both are needed for learning and growth.
  12. Not let our inner critic get the upper hand. In the studio, I’ve had my students name their inner critics when I can see they’ve taken over (preferably something snarky, like Gert, Bubbles, or whatever sounds laughable), and metaphorically give them an ice cream to go sit in the corner. Inner critics can come along for the ride, but they aren’t allowed to drive the bus.
  13. Enlist mates/build a community—they help us show up, stay committed, and cultivate authentic connection and camaraderie.
  14. Laugh at ourselves—I’ve lost my balance, my clients have rolled off equipment—it’s healthy to let things fall apart when they do and find the humor in it.
  15. Channel tortoise wisdom—slow and steady. Some Pilates exercises have taken me 10 years of practice to perform.
  16. Whatever challenges, situations, and conditions we find ourselves in—physical, relational, professional, financial, you name it—stay flexible.
  17. Ask for help and clarification—if the feedback we’re getting or giving isn’t making sense, we need to be willing to restate, reshape, and reframe it in order to create actionable understanding.
  18. Consider Technique + Determination + Effort + Patience + Rest as an instructive formula for life.
  19. Occasionally let go of goals. Losing expectations opens us up to new possibilities, and some things may always remain elusive or out of reach no matter how hard we try or how much we practice.
  20. Lean in to mental and emotional discomfort—moving away prolongs and intensifies suffering.
  21. Keep in mind that communication through words is not always the most effective. Tell the whole story with hand gestures, touch, facial expressions, pacing, energy, eye contact, pantomime—whatever it takes.
  22. Stay curious and open. Inspiration and instruction to enhance our craft—whatever it is—can come from anywhere and anyone.
  23. Stay true to ourselves—accept that not everyone will like us or benefit from our style or point of view.
  24. Increase our ability to hold dissonance and appreciate the difference—it’s frequently absent and a critical life skill.
  25. Know what not to do. Fail and fail again, but hopefully not in the same way.
  26. Recognize our limitations and be humble. I declare out loud when something is not my forte, “Now watch me flunk this” or “Try not to lose your balance like I just did”—it gives others permission to be imperfect.
  27. In fitness training, anatomy and physiology knowledge is critical. But getting caught up in technical jargon can create anxiety and a barrier for those who don’t share this background, like…“Engage your pubococcygeus.” Huh?
  28. Offer meaningful context—without it, content is often lost. I listen intently to my clients’ stories—their fears, hopes, and passions. Then, I find ways to relate exercises to their personal contexts, not my own.
  29. Welcome newcomers—we are all beginners at something.

My Pilates students are remarkable humans. Together they’ve created a safe space and a deeply caring community—committed to the work, self-care, and to each other. On many occasions what they request, and need, goes well beyond the bounds of typical Pilates practice. For this, I could not be more grateful.

To me, their greatest, most rewarding gift is this: When we allow ourselves to appreciate differences, we can be uplifted by our shared humanity. There is no sweeter source of healing than genuine empathy.

It doesn’t get more hardcore than that.


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