Neurodiversity and Pilates

I don’t consider myself to be neurodiverse but do have close family members who are Autistic.  Seeing people close to me having to navigate the world designed for Neurotypicals has inspired me to try and make sure there is always a welcoming space for every individual in my community classes and studio.   I have written this page and so perhaps frustratingly for you, it is with a Neurotypical perspective looking in from the outside.

How might Pilates help you if you are Neurodivergent?

You can use your Pilates practice as a form of mindfulness.    You have to bring your attention to all the aspects of each exercise and then necessarily, you focus less on random or repetitive thoughts.

We do focus on breathing and ideally this is calming for the nervous system.  In addition you have the opportunity to practice a tool: breathwork, that you can use anytime to help you allay feelings of agitation or anxiety.

The class structure is generally slow and predictable which is perhaps, both a good and bad thing.

If you tend to remain in one body position for quite a lot of each day, then Pilates will teach you about ideal body alignment and remedy some bad postural habits.

Regular exercise is really good for helping general wellbeing.  You know you are doing something useful for your body and your mind/body (not that those things are different).

If your brain is whirling around like a tornado, repetitive focussed movement can provide a different experience for your brain/body.

The Class Environment

In a community class there are number of things which you might find a bit difficult but I do hope we can overcome them.

Starting a totally new thing, with new people.   That is tricky for a lot of people and I completely sympathise.   If you want to bring a Pilates buddy along,  they can attend for free for your first 3 sessions.  Please bear in mind that the spaces in class are often in high demand and so I can only offer this deal for 3 classes.   If you want to do this, do please contact me here to explain.   You can email me, text or phone up.

Noise.  Kati and I  generally use music although Charlotte who teaches at Meanwood teaches in silence .  I find that the background music creates a relaxing atmosphere but if you struggle with this please let me know and I will turn the music down or I will help you find a position far away from the music

Light.   To an extent the lighting depends upon the venue and often they have overhead lighting.  Whenever it is possible we will avoid using bright overhead lights.

Temperature.  Pilates classes are generally on the warm side.  Not hot, but definitely no air con like you find in a gym.

Exercise mat, clothing & shoes. We can work together to find the best space in the room which meets your needs.    Mats vary in terms of cost and thickness.  If mat thickness is a problem and you find classic yoga mats  too thin, I’d recommend buying a thicker one, bringing 2, or placing a camping mat underneath your own mat.    Wear clothes that you feel comfortable in.  There is no need to buy anything special however I would advise against shorts.  They are too revealing.  We generally don’t  wear any footwear except for socks as your feet and toes are very much part of the body movements required.  However if you cannot cope with the feeling of having no shoes on you can wear your trainers.   I can’t cope without shoes because my feet got far too cold and I wear barefoot shoes when I teach.

Hands on correction. Most teachers do this, and certainly I do.  If you prefer not to be touched, please do say.   I do walk around the room during the session and if you want me to keep me distance please let me know. Depending on the room size you may struggle to find a floor space with a comfortable distance between you and your neighbours.  The biggest venue with most space is Meanwood Primary School, followed by Wigton Moor Church.

Predictability.  You may prefer the security of a lot of predictability.   I do vary my class plans quite a lot but I can explain what elements are predictable and make things more predictable for your first few sessions, whilst you are just getting used to things.  You could have the same conversation about this with Kati and Charlotte too.

Co-ordination.   Some Pilates exercises require co-ordination which can be really challenging if you are dyspraxic or generally have an issue with co-ordinating your body.  I’m mentioning this just to flag it up.  It is in theory a good thing to practice, but may feel really difficult to do.  This is not an unusual feeling and most beginners will struggle at first, although, no two clients are the same in this respect.

Hypervigilance.   If this is an aspect of your neurodivergence, then consider coming to class a few minutes early to meet the teacher, observe  the room and the general set up.  I am happy to answer any questions you may have before you make the leap, and you are welcome to bring a buddy with you for the first 3 sessions free of charge.   I would mean a great deal to me if you were able to present your true self to my sessions without fear of judgement or embarrassment.  If have a stim that helps you relax then please don’t feel that you have to hide it in my classes, as then you will be able to truly get the most out of your Pilates sessions.

The Studio Environment

This is easier to organise and control to meet your needs. I can make modifications to the space, such as the temperature etc and look really carefully about choosing suitable exercises.  This is integral to 1 to 1 work anyway of course, but beyond that it is reassuring to know that a 1 to 1 plan can be changed on a whim, depending upon how you might feel on a particular day.   The Pilates machines can give an amazing sense of control of your body because you are held and guided by the springs, pedals and straps.  If you struggle with balance and body awareness they can really help.    There is a bit more info about my studio here.

Autism, ADHD and Hypermobility

There is a proven link between Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder (HSD), Elhers Danlos Syndrome Hypermobility Type (HEDS) and Neurodiverse conditions.

Hypermobility is something we can work on using Pilates.  You can train to work within the safe limits of each joint, learning where the ideal alignments are.  Also crucial is developing strength in the muscles that can protect the joints, ligaments and tendons.  In some ways this is a niche kind of increased body awareness and will reduce the risk of overuse injuries.