Do you get headaches sometimes? Do you like 80% of the population get backache? Perhaps you suffer with recurrences of Asthma or Eczema?
Do you have a mental health issue, are you weak, fragile, nuts or fruit loop or any other derogatory terms that might be applied?
Be honest, did you just wince slightly at the last one, did you shift slightly in your seat at the question in a way you didn’t with the previous ones?
I’m a Pilates teacher, I am also a functioning addict with 26 years of disordered eating patterns. In other words I have a mental health issue just as I have slightly uneven teeth (2 chipped), am long sighted and struggle to hear people if I can’t directly see them talking to me. (I spent a proportion of my childhood with impaired hearing and although I hear fully now I have this odd idiosyncrasy as a legacy)
Do I really see what you see.
Perhaps you are wondering why I’m disclosing such personal information, or perhaps relating to it yourself, perhaps you wondering what on earth it has to do with being a Pilates teacher. The point is I teach a Method that recognizes that what we think affects what we do. Originally called Contrology, the art of applying the mind to discipline the body. Joseph Pilates recognized just how important physical health was in supporting a healthy mind and vice versa. One without the other can leave us vulnerable to depression, anxiety and exhaustion, both physical and mental. As a teacher of corrective exercise I know I’m not a Physiotherapist, I’m not a doctor and I’m not a Psychotherapist. I can however, recognize that when I’m moving bodies I might also just be affecting minds positively or negatively.
“Pilates develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirits” Joseph Pilates
So what is my responsibility to my clients? For starters the way they talk about themselves in sessions is something I’m strict about. I listen, I observe, often what they’re not saying, and I do not allow the term Weak into my sessions. Just because somethings not as strong as something else does not make it weak. I’m tough on my classes and clients, I expect concentration, effort and commitment, It’s not uncommon for my inner Malificent to make an appearance if my Advanced group don’t raise their own bar but equally I acknowledge how scary opening up the chest is if you’ve had open heart surgery. If any client felt less than empowered mentally and physically after our session I would feel like I hadn’t done my job right.
Pilates helped me come to terms with my own body image, OK in truth I’m still a work in progress there but Pilates did empower me in a way that dancing couldn’t. Teaching has taught me that we are all vulnerable at times, that if we can keep some things a constant in our lives and create stability where we need it we will be better able to navigate the inevitable periods of instability. One of the most profound moments of my life was teaching a long standing client on a psychiatric ward, she had tried to end her life and having reluctantly survived wanted cigarettes, chocolate Brazil nuts and Pilates, in that order. My code of practice at the time would have required me to refuse, but since I ‘leave no one behind’ I would find myself in the safety of a locked down ward teaching breathing. She was and will remain posthumously my greatest advocate.
So as World Mental Health Day (October 10th) proves we can acknowledge and discuss Mental health as comfortably as we might discuss broken bones or muscle strains, we must also be OK with talking about how we really feel without fear of judgement and just as those suffering episodes of backache and many other physical conditions are likely to suffer recurrences. We must learn to appreciate our minds are equally capable of more fragile periods. Our job as teachers is to remove judgement and shame from ourselves, from our clients and to concentrate on creating stronger and more flexible bodies and minds.