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Cultivating a conscious and personalized Pilates practice: The value of listening, not watching

In the words of Joe himself, “Pilates is complete coordination of mind, body, and spirit.”

Pilates is a mind-body practice, and it cannot be learned or meaningfully practiced by simply copying what you see another person doing. Without personally forging that connection between your mind and body -- without being fully present and dialing into your own intention, observation, and consciousness -- it’s not fully "Pilates".

This is a huge reason why actually listening to your instructor and to your own body is more important than copying what think you see your instructor or other people in your class doing. A Pilates workout is about so much more than just visible choreography or shapes — half of the value of the workout comes from what you as the practitioner bring to the table by how thoughtfully you approach the exercises and how deeply you want to connect to your practice.

Half of the value of the workout comes from what you as the practitioner bring to the table

In our Root + Reach group classes (in person and blended online/in person), our instructors typically do not teach by demonstration and they instead focus on purposeful verbal cueing while carefully watching you move in order to guide you through your personal internal process and help you to better understand and engage with your own body. Every person’s body is different, and it does not make sense to expect everyone’s Pilates practice to visually appear the same, even in a shared class. Your body’s expression of a teaser or a mermaid or a swan might look significantly different from another person in your class, and that is actually awesome.

Achieving the intention of an exercise is of much more profound importance and value over the appearance of an exercise. You’re searching for a feeling, not a pose.

In a group class, everyone is collectively developing their individual movement practices by applying the cues they are hearing from the teacher while they are in motion — not by pausing the class, watching the instructor do some choreography, and then imitating it. Our instructors do their best to keep the class flowing and moving. Your class is YOUR workout; your teacher's practice is their own and they can exercise on their own time, not yours.

That said, not everyone is an auditory learner, and that’s okay — we’re happy to offer specific visual instruction when it’s needed or more practical. Let’s be real: No matter how well a teacher describes a movement, some classical Pilates exercises are kind of wild and inconceivable until you actually see them done (and even then, they can still be baffling for a bit 😆). If your teacher is getting a lot of blank stares, they will very likely hop down to the floor and just quickly show you what they mean.

For what it’s worth, though: Many Pilates practitioners (including some Root + Reach clients!) are blind or visually impaired, and they have wonderful, strong, meaningful Pilates practices. There are also some wonderful audio-only Pilates workout guides that you can play in your headphones to follow along to a teacher’s cues and dial into your own movement experience and sensations — no visuals needed!

To have a fully conscious, high-quality group Pilates class experience (either in person or online), try:

  1. Arriving to class feeling grounded, present, and clear-headed. This might mean being extra mindful about your scheduling and pacing so that you can arrive to your class on time (not rushing or stressed). It might also mean having enough to eat and drink and adequate rest before your workout.

  2. Checking in with your body before you throw yourself into the workout. There are many reasons why we start with a warm up (and why our studio has a lateness cutoff), but one big reason is so that you can “arrive” on your mat physically AND mentally. Your warm up gives you an opportunity to actually check in with your body.

  3. Making sure you can hear your instructor clearly. Let them know if their microphone isn’t clear or if the music or surrounding noise is too loud/distracting.

  4. Determining WHY you are doing a specific exercise. What is the purpose? What are the essential “ingredients” of the exercise? What does that mean in YOUR body? If you’re not sure, you can ask your teacher. (This is also a motivator for doing occasional 1:1 classes so that you and your teacher can work together to communicate freely and specifically while you sort out exactly what you might want to focus on for your individual practice)

  5. Breathing. Intentional breath keeps you in the moment and helps to regulate your nervous system. It also helps you determine if something feels off or how your body is responding to a certain exercise. It can also help you set the pace for your workout or conscious flow of process through an exercise.

  6. Relying less on visuals/watching what others are doing. Could you do parts (or even most??) of the class with your eyes closed or not looking at your screen at all?

  7. Healing and regulating your nervous system. Sometimes slowing down, being present, and listening to our bodies can be hard and unpleasant because something isn't quite right -- maybe we're dysregulated or in a fear/trauma response or avoiding big things happening in our lives or below the surface. In such circumstances, being present in our bodies can be really, really challenging, and sometimes not always practical or helpful. If you observe that this is an ongoing experience for you, it may be beneficial to add more focus on mental and emotional health outside of your exercise practice, perhaps by enlisting the assistance of a somatic therapist when you're ready.

When your practice is intentional and conscious, even in a group class setting, you'll feel even more integrated and capable -- on and off your mat! You're also more likely to see progress in your movement goals, and you'll very likely feel more empowered and confident about taking ownership of your own practice and doing independent workouts.

Best wishes while you cultivate your unique and intentional Pilates practice!!!!


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