There are plenty of things you don't need in Pilates class, or in many other types of workouts for that matter. You can usually show up with just yourself, your workout clothes, and maybe a water bottle. That's it.
The thing is, though, that sometimes we take a lot of extra baggage into our workouts and don't even realize it. The habitual stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and our experiences run in the backs of our minds and they get in the way of almost every move we make. There is the story of the day: "I'm late." "I'm tired." "I'm happy." "I'm sad". Or the stories of how we define ourselves: "I'm good at this, not good at that." I'm too fat, thin, old, inexperienced...". "I wish I could do a teaser, a roll up, a half decent jacknife." Even, "I look/feel great" gets in the way of being truly present.
It's ironic that we sometimes end up with a head full of self-limiting chatter when we are in doing Pilates to experience more freedom and potential. There are, however, simple ways to cut the fog of the story and get present. The most powerful is to become aware of the fact that we are telling ourselves stories about who we are and what we're experiencing.
Then, when you catch yourself caught up in a story, the trick is to not perpetuate it -- judging it, adding to it, wishing it wasn't there -- but to simply acknowledge it (trying to do anything with it just keeps the cycle going) and release it to find yourself in the Now.
Among the most effective and widely used techniques for centering oneself in the present is paying attention to the breath. Throughout many integrative practices, the breath is understood as the connecting element for body, mind and spirit. Fortunately, attention to breathing is an integral part of Pilates practice, so there is a tremendous opportunity to use the breath in centering our minds and movement throughout a Pilates workout.
We talked about things like this in a class I took recently at The Spirit of Pilates Conference held at the Pilates Center of Boulder, CO. In one part of the class, instructor Deborah Kolewey took us through a short workout where she cued us to pay attention just to the breath, and to connect directly to our experience by appreciating what's going on in that moment. It went something like this: I breathe in, I'm grateful for how my leg moves. I breathe out, I appreciate that I can be here. I breathe in, I sense the fluidity of my spine as it rolls up.
Afterward, as the class talked about that experience, many people commented on how much more present they felt in their practice, and also how much more connected and energized the class felt as a whole. We contrasted that with the disjointed experience that sometimes happens in Pilates where it feels like everyone is just in their own little world, maybe competing with themselves or running some other sub-story. This workout was so much more alive than that.
Being aware of stories we tell ourselves during our workouts; becoming more fully present by letting them go; using the breath to center; and tuning in to an appreciation of direct experience is available to anyone in their practice at home, gym or studio. We don't have to go to a workshop or happen to be in a class where someone reminds us to wake up. Just be willing find out what's there when the story goes away.
As always, your comments are welcome.