7 Life Lessons I Learned From Pilates

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My career as a trainer has taught me many life lessons over the years, most of which have come from my experiences as a pilates instructor.

I began pilates nearly 3 years ago when I first started working in Boston.  An instructor at the gym, Phyl London, who has now become one of my closest friends and partner in crime, invited me to take a class and the rest as they say, is history.

Pilates was not something I had ever considered.  In all honesty, things like yoga and pillates were all a joke to me.

You see, I had grown up reading my brother’s fitness magazines as a kid, to playing sports as a teen, to then becoming a gym rat as an adult – which is how I got started in personal training.

In college I was one of the strongest lifters on my crew team, and often bragged about how much I could power clean and squat. So, to then fall in love with pilates was quite the unexpected turn.

However, it has been my experiences in pilates that I have not only developed a deeper body-soul level approach to fitness, but in my life in general.

Although I do not agree with every pilates principle, it has been my pilates practice that has opened me up to a new way of looking at my body, my life, and even, my femininity – something I have always struggled with growing up playing male dominated sports to working in a male dominated industry.

I hope that through reading my lessons, you will open yourself to trying new exercise experiences and possibilities for your life and your body.

7 Life Lessons I Learned From Pilates

1. It’s OK to be feminine.

I can honestly say that this is probably the most influential lesson that I learned through pilates.

Truth be told, I was often mistaken as a boy growing up. Perhaps it was my undefeated teahtherball record on the playground, or my baggy Nike basketball shorts and short hair.  Regardless, this made me very self-conscious as I became a teenager and even as I entered adulthood.

I always felt weirdly uncomfortable when I tried acting feminine, or even to wear feminine clothes, and it was always a constant identity crisis.  I was so accustomed to being tough, to kicking ass, and being competitive that doing anything “girly” was odd for me.

It was not until I started taking pilates that I learned to tap into my femininity, which led to a deeper appreciation of my body, and where I learned to treat my body gentler.

Since pilates has its origins in rehab and dance, many of the movements are very fluid and when done correctly, are very appealing to the eye – they just look pretty.

By allowing myself to explore these new movement patterns, I was able to feel more comfortable with letting my body being more “feminine”.

2. You don’t have to lift heavy to see results.

Pilates also taught me that I did not need to wreck my body to see results.

After years of trying to lift as much weight as possible, (I even held the record for the heaviest power clean one semester in college), I was indoctrined into thinking that all workouts had to leave me dead and lifeless.

If I could walk without pain, then I didn’t work hard enough.

This was one of the biggest changes that I had to overcome when I started my pilates practice, but once I started seeing results in my body, I quickly embraced the change.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t lift heavy weights, as it has it’s advantages, but like everything in life, there is a time and place for it.

To assume that you have to lift heavy to see results, can lead to frustration, and make you more susceptible to injury.

The goal is to not pigeon hole yourself into one form of exercise, but to find out what works best for you.  And that is exactly what pilates did for me: it allowed me to explore new ways to train my body.

My Facebook friend Jen Sinkler says it best here:

Different approaches work for different people, depending on personal preference and physical capacity — often, what works best is simply what you will do. Rather than blindly following an exercise prescription, become willing to ask yourself what, truly, is serving you? And then get ready to tinker with that formula for the rest of your life.

3. Small changes can lead to big results.

Sirena Bernal pilates life lessons

One of the foundational principles of pilates is based around working the “smaller” muscle groups to increase stability and muscle tone.

It’s often said that your larger muscles are doing most of the work when you’re doing exercises like push-ups, lunges and squats, and since the smaller, intrinsic musles aren’t recruited properly, you decrease the effectiveness.

Whether or not you completely agree with this is not the point. The point is that small changes and can yield bigger results.

I can speak from first hand experience, as it wasn’t until I started taking pilates that I learned how to actually engage my glutes. This has allowed me to develop my glutes that I’m proud of.

In fact one of my nicknames in high school was “flat cheeks” because I had no ass.

I can honestly say that it was through pilates that I developed a boo-tay.

In life this means that it’s not always the major changes that allow us to grow.  Sometimes it’s the accumulation of smaller and seemingly less signifiant things that build up and allow us to develop.

4. Always listen to your body, as it is constantly speaking to you.

Unlike a loud group fitness class with its blaring music, the typical atmosphere in a pilates class is quiet and serene, with chill music playing in the background.  This allows for a calm environment for you to really dial in and listen to how your body is feeling.

Most of the day we are bombarded with noises, stimulis and outside distractions which take away from our ability to really listen to what our body is saying.

Being in a pilates class taught me to stop and pay attention to what’s going on in my body.

listen to your body

Where do I feel tension?

How do my hips feel?

I had gluten over the weekend, and now I can’t activate my TVA, boo hoo.

Pilates taught me to shut the chatter off in my mind and listen to what my body was saying.

A lesson I take with me outside of the gym to dive deeper into meditation and self relection.

5. A tense mind creates a tense body.

What’s happening on your outside is a reflection of what’s happening on your inside.  And since I started teaching pilates, I noticed that when a client was stressed, or didn’t sleep well, her body just didn’t respond as well to the workout.

This got me to really look into how our physical body is affected by our emotions, and the biggest emotion that affected our body was fear.

Each emotion we experience has a corresponding physical reaction – this is why we smile when we are happy, and why we frown when we are angry.  However, these emotional responses don’t just affect the muscles in our face, they also have an affect on the muscles in the rest of our body.

Ever notice when you are tense, you feel tight in your shoulders and neck? That’s a tension response to fear, and the opposite can be said when you are relaxed, just think about how you feel when you are in a massage or Reiki session.

So, if you are feeling tight muscles in your body, take a look at your emotions. Stretching and foam rolling may provide some immediate relief, but for long term results, release your emotional tension to release muscular tension.

6. A great pair of Lululemon crops go a long way.

When I first started taking pilates, I wore baggy gym pants and t-shirts. I never worked out in form fitting clothing. As I mentioned, I was very self-conscious about wearing feminine clothing, even though I had a fit physique.

Since the very nature of pilates is very detailed oriented, it helps to wear form fitting clothings so the instructor can see exactly what is going on a muscular level – wearing a baggy shirt covers you up, and thus you can’t really see what’s happening.

As I started to see results, and started to feel more comfortable in my femininity, I started to wear tighter and tigher clothes, because I could see the benefit of appreciating the body.

This is when I was introduced to Lululemon, and my world has not been the same since.

7. Women live by cycles and thus need constant tweaks in their fitness programs.

As women, the very essence of our femininity is rooted in cycles, most obviously is our hormonal and menstrual cycle.

We are complex beings, and we should embrace the constant flux that we experience rather than trying to stifle it.

I find that women, more so then men, need constant changes in their fitness programs inspite of these hormonal and life fluctuations.

As women, we are more sensitive to changes in our environment, changes in the moon, changes to hormones, emotions, and the people that surround us.

These sensitivities typically show up in our body as tension and illness, which is why we must find quite time to listen to what our body is trying to say.

That being said, don’t be discouraged if you find that some days you just don’t feel like running, or going to class.

You’re not going to always be able to muscle through it like your male counterparts. Which is why, small tweaks should be made to your program based on your body and life circumstances.

Embrace these changes and work with then rather than against them.

What about you?

Pilates has been unexpected but very positive influence in my life, one in which has taught me many life lessons not only about fitness but life in general.

I hope that through this post you learn to look at our body from a deeper perspective and open yourself up to trying new fitness experiences.

Now that yourread my experiences, I’d love to hear yours.

In the comments below, let me know what your experience has been with pilates, if any.  And if you haven’t tried, it, I want to hear from you too!

4 Responses

  1. As a fan of pilates for many years, you really zeroed in on the core (no pun intended) reasons I have been drawn to it, and continue to take advantage of any opportunitiy to incorporate it into my fitness regime. So appreciate your holistic take on its advantages and how women can best utilize its principles.

  2. Hi Sirena- another great blog. I have so many to catch up on ( like, um, reasons we sabotage weight loss…). My first experience with Pilates was right after my car accident, like three months after the near fatal car accident where I broke all my ribs and did god knows what to my left shoulder ( never mind my lungs). So, typical me three months after surgery on my ribs and lungs I was like, hmm ok, I’ll try rolling backwards on my spine…, oh, that hurts and I have no abdominal muscles because I was bedridden for two months. So, I didn’t enjoy it very much. Also, compared with yoga it seemed to me “athletic” rather than spiritual. But then I started doing your tailored to me fifteen minute workout ( nine years later), and I’ve just fallen in love with it. It’s fun, it’s fluid, it builds strength, it’s meditative and it is really flexible. As I’ve told you, I’ve been able to modulate it a bit on my own, as I get stronger in some areas, or have different kinds of days. And I’ve been able to scale it *way* back to account for this back injury. Being able to do a little something really helps my body and mind. It’s funny what you say about femininity. I’ve always been very feminine and worn very feminine clothes. When I’m at all fit, I love workout clothes. But I started to hate seeing my body in the mirror when I was getting personal training (especially since I gained weight– and not muscle). No one but my dog, and for a week, my five year old cousin has seen me do my morning Pilates. But I enjoy choosing what I’m going to wear for it– and I’m very fluid about that. Sometimes I just do it in my nightgown or pjs. I’ll let you know how I feel when I work up to a public mat class. Thanks for the neural wake up call and for allowing me to fall in love with Pilates too.

  3. Nice blog Sirena!! Have you taken the STOTT PILATES “Injuries and Special Populations” course? If you haven’t it will give you more foundation to your 3rd point. P.S. – Always thought you were all girl – even from your first Pilates course 😉

    1. Hi Carol – thank you so much for the comment. I have not yet taken the ISP course, but it sounds like it would be very beneficial.

      Would love to take another lesson with you in the future! Hope all is well xoxo

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