More Mindfulness

Ballerina Project

On the basis that you can’t have too much mindfulness, here’s a follow-up to the two previous posts on the subject (Mindfulness and Its Benefits and a Guided Meditation) – an article by Nicola Preston Bell from the latest issue of the Pilates Foundation members’ newsletter, Connected…

Changing Habits, Changing Your Life Through Mindfulness

This fast-paced world

When, around 25 years ago, the internet age was born, it was predicted that technology would free us up to have more leisure time, work less and have more time to spend doing the things that really give us joy.

Here we are today, joined at the hip to our digital devices, bombarded with information, most of which is poorly researched and out of date within weeks. Colleagues, family and friends feel they can reach each other 24/7 – this seems a great idea, but can lead to a state of hyper vigilance, constantly ready for the next text, whatsapp or email, trying to respond before it joins the heap that needs to be sorted “manana”, (when we will ever have more time!)

This state of hyper vigilance is physiologically a low-level fight-or-flight response, and sometimes not all that low level.

Tension has to go somewhere

The brain is on the look-out for threats as it senses the tension. This could be a sense of urgency induced by “I must get this done, I should have done that yesterday, I ought to try and…. etc.”

The body holds tension in the muscles, breathing might well be shallow and rapid, and although the adrenaline can kick start energy, by the end of the day you might well feel frazzled, wired or just plain exhausted. Adrenaline is part of our survival package, but when it becomes a way of life it becomes a poison as the body and mind get sucked into a spiral of stress and exhaustion, poor health and well-being.

ballerina-project-tree

Thinking and doing on autopilot

If you have the virus of busyness (have you noticed how contagious it is?) then your wonderful brain will operate many systems of behaviour on autopilot. You can drive places while mentally writing your shopping list, sit in a meeting and quietly think about your next Pilates session, shower while worrying about how you are going to fit everything in today, eat a couple of biscuits when you really need a glass of water. Autopilot systems make sure that you can do at least two things at once. Autopilot is like sleepwalking, you are doing something but not really present with all your attention. Once we have learnt a pattern, a sequence of actions that seems to “work”, like cleaning your teeth, tying up shoe laces, then you can do those actions without thinking about them consciously. So you can continue to plan your day, mentally “be somewhere else” while undertaking mundane tasks. This can seem very efficient, but when do you find time to slow down and reflect, rest, recuperate.  How often do you allow yourself to do that? It takes practice to be good at relaxing, focusing and reflecting.

What is the antidote to 21st century life? (apart from Pilates)

Take a deep breath and stop for a moment…yes, you are allowed to stop for a moment. The sky won’t crash in on you. Be mindful of how your body feels in this moment, right here. Observe without judgement where you are relaxed and where you are holding tension – in your jaw? Shoulders?

How does your posture feel? Balanced or lopsided? Where is your mind racing off to? Rehashing the past? Rehearsing the future? Are you aware of your breathing, or the noise around you? Notice with compassion, with a kind curiosity, how it feels to be inside your one and only body in this moment. Can you find a comfortable feeling?

Take another deep breath, see if you can let go of your shoulders on the exhalation. Congratulate yourself for permitting yourself a breathing space.

You have just done a mindful check-in.

ballerina-project-cave

Living in our heads

So much of life is planning and doing, we take for granted the energy and comfort of a healthy body and just get on and use it to get all the tasks accomplished. We tend to only pay proper attention to this amazing meat case when it stops performing in the way we would like. Endless thought-feeling loops creating tension and dis-ease are a side-effect of this culture of busyness.

We are rarely taught how to manage our thoughts, however it is possible with practice. Buddhist psychology, Mindfulness and hypnosis are all showing us the way to calm down and take stock. Better for your body; it can begin to feel safe.  Better for your mind; when you are calm you can see the bigger picture, come down off that “do or die” soap box and develop a more flexible approach to how you can think about things.

I remember when I was a teenager my mother having sleepless nights and worrying constantly about a tree that was quite close to the house. She was convinced it would fall on the house and we wouldn’t be able to pay for the repairs. Her mind would be on a constant loop of fear and worry, conjuring up worst case scenarios that would keep her awake at night. The tree never fell down, it was taken down when they built an extension. All that worry and exhaustion…

The power of the imagination to terrify is most apparent to us in the small hours of the night, when we have no reality-checkers available to us. Entranced by the contents of our nightmares, we don’t notice how the body is stiff with anticipation of the disaster being conjured up by our unconscious.

Harnessing the wild horses of the imagination

When you begin to meditate, or to relax and focus the attention, you might well notice how the mind wanders off the chosen topic. A train of thought comes along and you jump on it without a second glance, then a few moments later realise you’d chosen to focus on the breath, not tonight’s dinner. Guided meditation is really an opportunity to practice attention focus. Informal meditation, when you attempt to stay present with an activity such as showering or eating, also encourages us to be more aware of how we can manage our thoughts and what we are attending to.

ballerina-project-cave

The attitudes of mindfulness are really important to embrace if you are interested in making changes in your life. Lead yourself gently by the hand with kind discipline and consider the following attitudes:

  • Beginner’s mind – be curious about what you encounter without having to give it a story. See it as new and unique.
  • Non-judgment – try to cultivate impartial observation, develop your “observing self” without labelling but simply taking note of what is happening from moment to moment.
  • Acknowledgement is a quality of awareness that validates what you are experiencing.
  • Non-striving – remember you are not trying to get anywhere, you are learning to be here right now with yourself.
  • Equanimity is about seeing the bigger picture, much easier once you are calm. Develop a deep understanding that everything changes and you can transform along side it with greater insight and compassion.
  • Letting be means you don’t have to let go of difficult sensations or emotions, but you can consider letting them be.
  • Self-reliance is a quality of awareness that helps you to see for yourself, from your own experience, what is true or untrue for you.
  • Self-compassion is very important and may be the most important of all. Cultivating love for yourself just as you are without self-blame or criticism.

So make sure you carve out time for yourself every day to come to your senses, allow your body to feel safe and calm each day, even for a few minutes and you will notice differences settling into place over time. A bit like a Pilates practice, except you are exercising the muscle of awareness and attention, so that you can tune in to what makes you smile and feel joy.

Studies in Cognitive Bias Modification have shown that when we regularly pay attention to the good stuff around us, we develop a more positive mindset. This, plus feeling calmer and more in control, provides a great foundation for changing those autopilot unhelpful habits. Relax and imagine your day going well, think about when you are going to draw breath and congratulate yourself and feel a sense of achievement. Enjoy moments when you allow yourself to pause and be really present. Rick Hanson, a neuroscientist and meditation teacher says that we can rewire the brain to be Teflon for the bad stuff and Velcro for the good stuff. It takes time, just a few minutes a day, and it is well worth it, just like your Pilates practice.

Photography by the Ballerina Project.

To close, a bit of mindlessness from punk band, The Vibrators who I’m going to see in London this weekend…gertcha!

Why You’re in Safe Hands with a Pilates Foundation Teacher

Pilates Foundation logo

As I do each year, last weekend I attended the Pilates Foundation AGM and workshops in London.  It is a great opportunity to discuss Pilates and movement issues with other professional teachers, catch up with old friends, make new ones and continue to develop and learn from one another in our shared passion for the Pilates Method.  In turn these new ideas I bring home with me and share with my clients.  This not only helps to keep my classes fresh, but also at the cutting edge of new thinking about health and well-being.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the Pilates Foundation.  Founded in 1996, it is the UK’s first and therefore oldest Pilates Teachers’ Association.  One of the founders of this not-for-profit organisation is Alan Herdman.  He was taught by Joseph Pilates and is credited with introducing Pilates to the UK.  One of the other founders of the Pilates Foundation, Hana Jones, herself a student of Alan Herdman, luckily for me, was my teacher on the Pilates training course I took in 2003 at The Place, the London Contemporary Dance School.

The Pilates Foundation was set up to promote the work of Joseph and Clara Pilates, honouring the original repertoire and principles, while at the same time bringing current knowledge and research to teaching the Pilates Method.

Hannah Hoch

In a nutshell, the Pilates Foundation is dedicated to maintaining excellence in the practice and teaching of Pilates, and through this powerful method, promoting health and well-being.  That is our mission and guides everything we do as Pilates Foundation teachers. To gain membership of the organisation, students must undergo extensive training and pass a rigorous examination process, which takes at least a year. This is not the case for the vast majority of teachers delivering Pilates classes in the UK.

Membership of the organisation is renewed annually and Pilates Foundation teachers have to meet on-going professional development requirements and adhere to a Code of Ethics and Conduct.

For all the reasons highlighted above, this means when you attend group classes or private one-to-one sessions with a Pilates Foundation teacher, you can be sure you are in safe hands. But don’t take my word for it.  Here’s what West London Osteopaths’ David Tatton has to say about the Pilates Foundation…

“At West London Osteopaths we have been referring patients to Pilates Foundation teachers for over thirty years. The training and knowledge of the teachers from the Pilates Foundation fits in very well with the needs of our patients for exercise and rehabilitation. Osteopathy and Pilates is a very powerful and effective combination, with many patients maintaining and improving on the benefits of Osteopathic treatment with Pilates.”

lola-mora-fuente-de-las-nereidas

To close, here’s cover queen, Lissie with her version of Kid Cudi’s Pursuit of Happiness. Being happy, making others happy – perhaps the key to physical and emotional well-being…

Become a Member of the Pilates Foundation

Pilates Foundation logo

The Pilates Foundation, the professional body for elite Pilates teachers in the UK, welcomes all who share a passion for the discipline to join the organisation.

Affiliate Membership

Affiliate members of the Pilates Foundation are professionals working in varied movement disciplines, complementary health fields like osteopathy, chiropractic, physiotherapy, reflexology, holistic massage, or Pilates teachers trained outside the the Pilates Foundation, who want to be involved with the organisation.

Pilates Foundation workshops qualify for continued professional development credits for osteopaths, physiotherapists and other complementary health professionals.

Benefits of Affiliate Membership:

  • Access to Friend and Affiliate events
  • Access to negotiated vendor discounts with Sweaty Betty, Asquith, Pilates Mad, Physio Supplies, Pilates Plus and Balanced Body
  • Pilates Foundation welcome gift
  • Quarterly newsletter
  • 15% off Pilates Foundation workshops led by world-renowned presenters from varied disciplines
  • 15% off Pilates Foundation branded accessories including the Pilates Foundation Matwork Handbook

The annual Affiliate membership fee is £80.

Balance and support

Friend Membership

Friends of the Pilates Foundation may be clients inspired by their personal work with a Pilates Foundation Teacher, potential Pilates Trainee Teachers or members of the general public who love Pilates and want to support a not-for-profit organisation committed to promoting the Pilates Method and ensuring excellence in the way it is taught.

Benefits of Friend Membership:

  • Acces to Friend and Affiliate events
  • Pilates Foundation welcome gift
  • Quarterly newsletter
  • 10% off Pilates Foundation branded accessories including the Pilates Foundation Matwork Handbook

The annual Friend membership fee is £35.

To register for Affiliate or Friend membership, click here.

People holding hands

Pilates Foundation AGM and Workshops

Pilates Foundation The Highest Standard logo

This Sunday 3rd May I’ll be attending the Pilates Foundation‘s AGM and workshops.  It’s a great opportunity each year for members of the UK’s leading body for accredited Pilates teachers, to meet and discuss the latest developments in the discipline.  As on previous occasions, I’m hoping to be inspired by what I hear, to learn new skills and bring some fresh ideas to my Pilates classes.

Yamuna Body Rolling

The two workshops I’m attending on the Sunday afternoon should be interesting.  The first is on Yamuna Body Rolling, a completely original fitness and therapeutic practice that works on muscles at the point of origin and insertion to ensure optimum function.

The second workshop is Finding Length and Space, looking at mobilisation exercises which achieve a sense of ease and space within the joints. The workshop teacher has developed an approach to working with the Pilates Method based on her experience of Inflammatory Joint and Connective Tissue disease, finding a way to move efficiently and with ease without stressing the tissue around the joints.

Male Ballet Dancer Stretching in Splits

Specificity – The Pilates Secret

Capoeira

For those who have ever played competitive sports, studied an instrument or practised martial arts, you have already experienced the magic of specificity. Any task that requires attention to detail draws upon the same elements – mental and physical focus. Joseph Pilates knew this when he created the Pilates Method. The exercises he developed draw on moves from disciplines like gymnastics, yoga, body building and dance, which require tremendous concentration and a high level of precision. Pilates called his method Contrology to reflect the blend of body and mind effort required to execute the movements. Control is at the heart of it all.

Perhaps the most beneficial part of Pilates is the mental focus that makes every workout a reward rather than a chore. Running through a mindless movement regimen while your thoughts remain anchored in the mundane, is neither physically effective nor mentally rejuvenating. Come to Pilates regularly and you will experience what it feels like to be in the moment and acutely present in your body.

Looking at the physical side, the Pilates Method is defined by the precise instructions detailed for each and every move. The rhythm, placement and muscular recruitment are all clearly specified. Likewise, there is a choreographed breath pattern for every movement.

Tightrope walker

Acute precision is what defines Pilates. Each exercise is performed deliberately and specifically according to a detailed set of instructions about what is right and what is wrong. Working towards these standards is what elevates each Pilates student over time to achieve their highest potential.

The specificity required in Pilates is applicable to all types of activity, whether that be a sport like golf or running or tennis, or something more everyday like gardening or cleaning the house. Learn specificity in your Pilates practice and then apply it to your real life.

This article was developed from a piece by Alycea Ungaro on the Pilates Foundation website.

Pilates balance exercise