A personal transformation through Pilates and meditation
September 30, 20214 min read
Good health requires a strong body, a strong mind and a strong spirit. When all three are in harmony and balance, we are able to feel and look great. We essentially make a contract with spirit, at birth, to take care of the body we are given, in order to fulfil our human roles during this lifetime.
We know that physical exercise is an essential key to optimum health, and we have learned that breath and the way we breathe enhances the benefits of exercise. Many spiritual and physical disciplines have taught us that breathing is how we regulate our energy, and so it was also taught by Joseph Pilates back in the 1920s. The timing and depth of how and when we inhale and exhale will dramatically affect how we move and feel.
Traditional fitness simply teaches us to exhale on exertion. While that rule often holds true in Pilates, the better way to understand Pilates breathing is to imagine breathing in cool fresh air when you open and expand your body and exhale warm, deep and stale air whenever you close and contract your body.
If you try to inhale and feel the breath fill your lungs deep into your ribcage, stomach and back, you will better understand the type of breathing Joe Pilates suggested. Did you notice how your shoulders lifted slightly, your back extended and your diaphram lowered as your entire chest expanded? If you were to also lift your arms in the air, it will seem intuitive to inhale as you do so, moving your extremities away from the body. It is also at this time that we expand our body or extend our spine.
Now as you exhale, force the last drop of air out of your lungs. As you do so, notice how your diaphragm rises, your chest caves in and you naturally pull your belly button down and into your back as your ribcage collapses and your spine flexes forward. If you add an exertive movement to that breathing pattern like lowering your arms back down, you can imagine how much sense it makes to exhale as you flex, collapse and contract. Furthermore, if you were carrying something heavy in your hands, as simulated by the straps and cords on the Reformer, notice that you exhale on the exertion of that movement.
Pilates is not always so simple, however, it is true that when we exhale we actually engage our core stabilizing muscles and create more stability in our body. So let's begin by learning that we should exhale exactly at the time that we need to feel most stable.
In spiritual practice we learn that inhaling brings energy in through the top of our head or crown chakra and down the spine spreading it throughout the whole body. Exhaling on the other hand, directs energy out of our bodies relaxing us as all the tension leaves with it. As we become more aware of this breathing pattern, we learn that we can focus that energy and place it wherever it is needed for healing in our body.
Without much effort, however, I have found that doing Pilates heals profoundly. As we lie on the Reformer, feeling totally physically supported, and begin to make the very brilliant movements that Joe Pilates designed, we unconsciously inhale invigorating energy into every cell of our body. As we exhale, we release all the tension and toxins from our body. The miracle occurs quickly. One day you realize that you are now consciously breathing in and out, invigorating and releasing, and healing your own body with the power of your breath.
Meditation is merely the ability to quiet the mind long enough to listen to messages from our higher self and to be able to ignore the judgmental chatter that fills our brain much of the time. The most accessible way to achieve this state is to concentrate on the breath. By focusing on cool air filling your body and warm air leaving your body, you automatically relax every muscle and turn off your conscious mind.
Interestingly, in 1920, Joseph Pilates preached about concentration, focus and breath, stating that they were essential in attaining total health and well-being.
In the late 1900's, the very famous body builder Eugen Sandow also spoke about the importance of the Will or Mind in performing movement. Without mental awareness and concentration you are unable to perform any movement properly. You must pay attention to every part of your body and every motion. It is the mind that wills your muscles to move. A mechanical movement done without concentration will not develop strength, and may increase the risk of injury. It is proven that muscles receive more blood and oxygen when the mind is focused. The more attention paid to your whole body, the more complex you will realise each movement is. Since every muscle and bone is uniquely related to every other one, there is a lot to think about as you move, but with focus and concentration it is a skill that once acquired will lead to the mind/body fusion everyone is wishing for. As you practice, the process becomes easier. If you stay focused your nervous system will begin to choose the right combination of muscles, your body will move more effortlessly and you will find that the nervous system and brain are able to relax.
So now you may ask how does this Mind/Body fusion affect the Spirit?
Unblocking channels and relaxing is the key to spiritual connection. Doing Pilates requires concentration. Concentration removes the stress and memory of the day, breathing relaxes the body and correct movement unblocking the channels. If done regularly people notice many benefits from Pilates other than just feeling stronger and looking better. Improved circulation, an increase in oxygen, and the retraining of the body to employ the correct muscles. This makes the work expended much more efficient and the body much more relaxed. Chi is the Chinese term for our life force or energy that moves through the body up and down five meridians on each side. Unblocking these meridians allows Chi to flow more freely. A healthy spine is the key to free flowing Chi and regular Pilates is so corrective in nature that proper use of muscles allows proper alignment which in turn allows free flow and more connection to Spirit. And more connection to Spirit enhances happiness and manifestation of good.
In today's chaotic, stress-filled world, a little exercise goes a long way to adding joy and vitality to your day. If you do nothing else, at least find 10 minutes to slowly stretch your whole body. Stretch to your full extension, relax in that position by exhaling into the stretch and then stretch a little more.
Most people have some kind of physical pain from years of incorrect movement, over zealous exercising and compounded injury. Joseph Pilates understood the negative effects of repetitive stress and touted the benefits of training the body as one integrated unit, in a symmetrically balanced way, on your back, on a machine that supports all structural weaknesses and challenges specific areas to simultaneously stretch and strengthen.
Joseph Pilates developed his method of working out to be performed on various pieces of equipment, the most common of which are the mat and the reformer. Both forms build strength, tone your body, improve your mental clarity and teach you how to use your breath. But there are some key differences between the two you should be aware of before you choose one route over the other.