When you step foot into a Pilates studio, and you are completely new to the game, it is going to be overwhelming. You are going to see straps, wooden poles, beds in metal frames and furry straps, and once you lay down onto the Pilates reformer bed, it is going to become even more confusing. You are going to be asked to move parts of your body you didn’t even know you had and to find muscles that are completely foreign to you. You will be asked to imagine your body to be something or to move in a way that seems impossible. You will be coached on how to connect this body part to that body part and to move this body part while keeping that body part still. If your teacher had any success, you will leave your first session with your head spinning, wondering what the hell just happened.
From the very start of my career as a Pilates instructor I have used a puzzle analogy to describe how Pilates works. Dumping the puzzle out of the box is the first step. The pieces are unorganized, some are flipped up, some are flipped down but there is no order to anything. You have a photo of what the pieces are supposed to piece together to become but you have no idea where to start. So, you begin by flipping them over. One at a time you make sure every puzzle piece is facing the correct way.
This is very similar to how you start the Pilates journey. You lay down and you start to familiarize yourself with your body. You work this muscle and that muscle. You feel this body part and that body part. There is really no expectation besides creating awareness in your own body. Waking up your breath. Finding your pelvis. Moving your shoulder blades. Engaging your deep belly.
The next step in building a puzzle is to take the pieces and start to organize them into groups. Looking at the picture on the box for direction, you begin to group the pieces together. Maybe you take all the edge pieces and put them into a pile, then you take the pieces that look like they are the trees and group them together. Then you place the mountains into a group and the ocean into a group. The pieces are not put together yet but they are starting to organize themselves into something that is faintly looking like the picture on the puzzle box.
This is the next step in the Pilates journey within your body. You start to work your scapular muscles, but independently of everything else. You learn how to move your scapula and you learn how to keep them still. You learn how your pelvis moves on your leg bones and how your legs move in your pelvis. You learn how to use your abdominal muscles to lift your torso and you learn how to use your core muscles to stabilize. Parts of your body are starting to wake up but nothing is quite connected yet.
Now, back to our puzzle. The next step is piecing those groups together. You piece together all the trees, the mountains, and the ocean. You build the outside edges. It is actually starting to look like the picture! This is exactly what you will do next in your Pilates journey. Your shoulder blades will start to move your arms. Your hip flexors will start to move your legs. You abductors will open your legs, adductors will close them. Your belly will learn how to pull you forward and your breath will start to expand your back. Things are working and working together.
The last step in our puzzle build is to now take each section that we have pieced together and connect them to all of the other pieces. Start to complete the full picture.
That is when you have started to master Pilates. The body is working together. Muscles are stabilizing areas to allow other parts to move. When you move your arms you feel that movement coming from the center. Your hamstrings elongate when you fold forward will at the same time you feel your deep belly lifting in and up inside. The pieces that were once unorganized and scattered have learned how they all need to work together to create efficient and controlled movements.
In your journey of Pilates you will never actually complete the picture. You will never be perfect. You will continue to seek progress. You will always search for new space within your body as well as more connection between your body. A Pilates journey is a never ending journey but a journey where you are constantly learning along the way.