Pilates: how the magic of the exercise form made me strong again.
I slipped into pilates by accident, flailing around the fast-paced Eastern suburbs of Sydney, like a fish out of water. Without knowing it at the time, the journey that led me to be here began around a year prior.
I had randomly suffered a spontaneous vertebral artery dissection. That is a tear in one of the two main arteries that travel down the back of your neck. There was no predisposition, no lifestyle or medical reason this happened, it just did. Half my body paralyzed from the lack of blood to my brain. My trademark invincible positive nature left my body along with the cannulas draining my blood, as I was being told the news.
Eventually, I was told to buy a lotto ticket as, after a few hard intensive months, my physical body was back to symmetric functioning. My recovery throughout that year consisted of rehab, strength training sessions at the gym and truckloads of PTSD therapy.
Like hard rain on a cheap tin roof, the pressure I put on myself to return to a healthy “normal person” was relentless. The running a marathon goal I had set myself, not the kindest of things I could have rewarded my damaged brain and body with. Nevertheless, I had bought into the infamous culture of needing to aggressively train my body and make it hurt. For it to be “healthy”. I had subconsciously set out to punish my body for how it had failed me. I believed that proving it could handle pressure would be the best thing to do.
So, simply to compliment my running, I entered the Pilates studio for a private lesson with excited energy. My head racing instinctively like a cheetah, miles in front of my body. I was going to run this marathon.
I was greeted by an instructor who was as sweet as the smell of the saltiest sea air. As I explained my goal, smiling delicately, my instructor asked me if I had been cleared to run a marathon? I bent the truth. My neurological professor would most certainly not approve.
After we chatted, I lay on the mat, over the peaceful pale timber floorboards in the studio and listened. Instructing me to breathe slowly, we lay for a while, to really feel my breath move into my body, all the way into my organs, then out again. This soothed my panic-stricken body, the sweet relief of calm energy like sharing a sunset with my best friend. Then she explained that the global muscles I had been recruiting to lift at the gym, pick up the kids and run on the hard concrete, needed some support. We focused on the smaller stabilizing muscles so they could support my movement in life.
Over the next month, whilst creating space in and lengthening my body, I started to unwind. Like a fierce ocean rip, whilst I wasn’t watching, my strength increased organically. I no longer craved a physio or a massage therapist. I didn’t have to psych myself up with an energy drink before the class. Music didn’t have to pump and I wasn’t gritting my teeth.
Closing my eyes and being gentle with myself, holding my composure when it burned, I loved the power of breathing through Pilates. At the end of each session, my instructor would ask us to place a hand on our body and thank it for one thing we were grateful for. I went from feeling disappointed in my body, to appreciate it. These subtle little movements were bringing my exhausted body and soul back on kilter.
As the months went on and I started to master how to move with greater technique, the progression became harder. I couldn’t isolate my muscles or follow instructions whilst my brain was outside my body. It became impossible to do Pilates whilst simultaneously worrying about work or wondering if I had made my son’s lunch healthy enough. Instead of rushing (or running) through something, I had to sit with the discomfort. Embrace and enjoy my breath so I could prepare and focus on the next move. By the time the class had finished, I no longer cared about the school lunch or what was going on at work.
This really is when the mind-body-soul connection gift from pilates began to take place. My body loved the movement and my mind loved the break I gave it. The combination was euphoric. I was healing myself. I became addicted to moving. Not for my kids or my husband, not for my work, not to get skinny, not to run a marathon, but just because of how it made me feel to move.
Six months after I entered that studio, I danced my way into my 40th birthday in a glamorous dusty pink dress with confidence and alignment in my body I never knew I was missing.
A year on, I am continuing to surprise myself with my strength and what my body can achieve. I look around my studio and I love the personal empowerment it gives women in my studio from all shapes, sizes and life stages. I see people in their strength, core turned on, beaming like little care bears standing proud in their magic.
Empowerment through adversity is a good reminder for all women. The Roar Republic’s activewear is designed in Australia and can be tailor-made. Empowering women to be their happiest and confident selves. Read our interview with Roar Republic founder Aysun Abal on body-positive image and staying active.
To learn more about the stylish activewear brand visit https://roarrepublic.com.au