“Broaden your minds!” a commanding instruction given by a character from one of the Harry Potter books. It is a teacher giving the directive, and urging her students to “use your inner eye to see the future!”
While I don’t expect anyone in class to invoke mystical powers to see the future, it is a significant task within the practice, to ‘use your inner eye’ to stay present in your movement. This is why mindfulness and the mind body connection are a key element in Pilates.
In the blogs from earlier this month, we talked about your body’s Center of Gravity in the Pelvis, and the Feet as a Foundation. So from the feet at the base, we’ll now take a trip to the top – brain central station. Here’s the first sentence of the introduction to Joseph Pilates’ book “Your Health” (originally published in 1934) 1
Perfect Balance of Body and Mind, is that quality in civilized man, which not only gives him superiority over the savage and animal kingdom, but furnishes him with all the physical and mental powers that are indispensable for attaining the goal of Mankind – Health and Happiness.
His philosophy ‘Balance of Body and Mind’ is a collaborative effort executed at both the mental and physical levels: that maintaining a healthy and fortified body better supports and invigorates growth and development of the mind. And, that that integration feeds back into the system – a mind of clarity and purpose directs the body to efficient movement. He intended the outcome for “…body, mind and spirit functioning perfectly as a coordinated whole…”2
How do you improve your mind body connection? Well, pretty much what my piano teacher used to say to me: practice practice practice. What can you expect on the Pilates path to developing that “inner eye?” There are some obvious benefits like stress relief and enhanced coordination, but consider these as well:
Body Awareness. I like what W. Timothy Gallwey says in his book, “The Inner Game of Work.” He calls awareness “The Light of Focused Attention – Awareness is like a light. Whatever it shines on becomes knowable and potentially understandable.”3 Ideally in a one-on-one session or even a small group class, your instructor will provide assessment and cues to help guide your observation of your own movement. The great thing about Pilates is once you’ve mastered a certain level of awareness; you can always delve a level deeper. It’s one of the reasons you may have heard the phrase “intelligent movement” applied to Pilates.
Keeping sharp through the years. When you focus on learning something – a particular move or a sequence, you become skilled and in doing so, your brain builds new neural pathways. The grey matter, really does matter! Check out this IDEA article that talks about the mind and aging.
Agent of Change. The first ‘place’ you need to go to make any kind of change in life is in your mind. But, so often our heads are filled with critical or negative messages. Practicing mindfulness can help you harness your thoughts and break through the static noise. Want to try now? In under 4 minutes, learn this thought exercise from Eric Franklin’s YouTube channel
All in all, focusing on the brainwork of the workout is integral to developing the skills to master all of the Pilates Basic Principles which include Concentration, Centering, Control, Precision, Breath and Flow.
When you walk through the door for your Pilates session, don’t be like that guy in the photo – put all the cluttered thoughts, distractions and stress aside and give yourself the gift of time to focus just on you and moving your body. It’s one reason Pilates is a workout for your body and for your mind.
1 “Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising that Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education” by Joseph Pilates. 2 “Return to Life Through Contrology” by Joseph Pilates 3 “The Inner Game of Work” by W. Timothy Gallwey
See you in the Studio!