My Pilates Journey: Ten years of matwork, mobility and movement!

I qualified as a Pilates instructor a little over ten years ago and with that recent anniversary,  I thought it was a good time to share what I’ve being doing for the last decade.

I trained almost entirely by chance!   My Aerobics Course Instructor suggested that it might be worth me considering Pilates and my friend Tina Leslie said “yes – do it!  Train with me!”  And so i did….

I started my own class in a local Church Hall a few months later and  began to realise the limitations of my training.  It had been  taught very well by a fantastic instructor called Claire Sparow who is still teaching in Leeds but it was only an introduction.   So I embarked on further training.   At that time there was very little training outside London so that is where I went.

I vividly remember the first day of the initial London weekend.  I was so shocked by my lack of knowledge that I was in tears at the end of the day. Anyway, I pulled myself together, went back to Leeds, carried on practising and got better. Then in 2006 I had my second child and the training courses all changed so I had to start again!

All the while Pilates was taking off in a big way. The first equipment based studio opened in Leeds.  Now there are four, with many other instructors, such as myself, who have a Reformer for teaching clients on a 1:1 basis. Many instructors were creating new Pilates businesses.  I didn’t really capitalise upon this for two reasons – firstly because I had two young children and secondly because I had my doubts about my own level of skill and knowledge. I didn’t feel that I could grapple with the complexities of posture and movement and really teach effectively. I did yet more training and got better but  was still scared to be “out there”.

Another friend, Sara Pugh, who is an amazing Pilates instructor (and other things…), also in Leeds, was very influential. Of all the many valuable things she taught me, the most significant was this:  “It’s not Pilates that matters, it’s  movement!” As instructors we should help people to move better. The courses I’d done had taught me about Pilates exercises, but not about movement. This was a breakthrough for me – from then on I started to learn and  understand a myriad of  ways to teach and encourage better movement.  Oh, and not having to worry about telling people to “engage” their abs and pelvic floor. First it was “zip up and hollow” then it was just “zip up” then it was just “engage the abs” and now, praise be, there is none of that. Oh joy! I cannot tell you how liberating it was not to have to bother about that stuff.

The fact that there has been progressive changes in thinking makes me wonder what we’ll be saying in another ten years, and whether some of what is said now will be discredited and we’ll quietly move on. That has taught me a little humility. Pilates, wonderful though it is, doesn’t have all the answers, and theories of how the body works move on and develop. Most, if not all, exercise systems have something to offer,  as do all different instructors, by virtue of their different communication styles,  personalities and  experience.

Ten years ago I was an Office Administrator, now I’m a group exercise instructor.  Pilates  (not to forget aerobics..) has changed my life.  How has it changed my body?  In some ways it is hard to know, but I’m more flexible than I was even  five years ago.  My spine moves better, for certain.  In some ways I can chart my progress by observing others who are starting out with Pilates  – I can see the relative differences between us – my core stability is better and I’m using my muscles more effectively.   I walk a little taller these days and appear to come in at 5 foot 3 inches, an inch more than 15 years ago. 

Some of the benefits are indirect: through Pilates I have discovered much more about that mysterious thing – the human body.  I’m more aware of the need to relax, and how to relax and the supreme  value of breathing properly.  I have learnt first hand  the virtue of other exercise systems: yoga, for instance, and understand  the benefits of massage and other manual/touch therapies.

So what about the next ten years?  I hope to continue teaching classes and really expand my Reformer teaching.  Maybe train using other Pilates equipment.   I will definitely keep learning  and as a result, changing and improving.  Pilates has been good to me – hopefully I can keep my side of the bargain and pass on my knowledge honourably and effectively.

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