How does Pilates effect ones Body Image?
When I began Pilates I was extremely critical of my body and my weight. As a dancer the goal was to keep my “dancer body” and that look no matter what it took. Trying to maintain that “image” has had a long standing emotional effect on me.
Fast forward to 3 years into opening The Pilates Movement I had stopped dancing and my body began to change, significantly. I was not exercising nearly as much as I was when I was a dancer, but I was still eating as if I were still dancing. I started gaining weight and developing curves in my body that weren’t there before. I actually really enjoyed it! I finally had breasts and a butt! I thought “this is wonderful”. However, the critical dancer in me was always trying to find a way to sabotage the positive body image I was having.
The scale was my enemy. I would get on it and immediately feel depressed that I wasn’t at my “dancer weight”. After feeling this way for a long time it was clear that I needed to change my thinking behind all of this. I was still in the target weight for my height. Not overweight, just not at the low end of the scale.
As we often hear “change your thoughts, change your life” I had to change my thoughts about my body. So how did I get there? I started looking at all the amazing things my body allowed me to do. I began to realize that although I was thinner and weighed less when I was dancing, I was hurt all the time and spent a lot of time in physical therapy. Now my body was strong and vibrant. It allowed me to do things that I never thought possible.
I began by finding one thing about my body that I loved and celebrated that. I would use affirmations such as “I love my eyes”. Soon enough it was easy for me to find more than one thing about my body that I loved.
Personally I have used Pilates to connect to my body and to work on any injuries or areas of my body that needed strengthening and conditioning. I’m very careful to not to try to “spot treat” which we all know is not possible for everyone. Pilates has given me such confidence within myself that I even opened a business at age 29 to spread the message!
Teaching Pilates and Students Body Image
I love teaching Pilates. It 100% is my true calling. It’s important to communicate with your instructor how you are feeling in the present moment and if you have any goals you are working towards. This helps the instructor design a workout for you. Most likely they have an idea of how they want the session to take shape. That idea most likely will shift and change as you open up and get deeper into the workout.
Sometimes when I ask a student about their goals, the student will use it as a way to beat up on themselves and express all of the things they hate about their bodies. This is the complete opposite of my intention and what I believe Pilates can do for someone.
The wonderful thing about The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning is that it is a body, mind and spirit workout. What does that mean? It means that the mind connects to the body through movement and through movement and breath we connect to our spirit.
Pilates teaches students to connect to their bodies in a healthy way. Pilates is for all different types of bodies. My goal as a Pilates instructor is for you to connect to your body and therefore to your spirit through movement. Joseph Pilates developed the exercises and the apparatus in such a way that not much needs to be said about connecting to the spirit. It happens organically. When you connect to your body with a regular consistent Pilates practice you gain self confidence, strength, flexibility, better coordination, increased circulation, better nights sleep and your body will change (for the better).
My experience has shown me that as the work begins to really enter into one’s body, mind and spirit they begin to love and accept themselves more. But what about the percentage of people who do the work and that shift doesn’t take place?
I started to realize that sometimes I do not have the tools to reach this client. Pilates instructors know how to do it through movement and teaching. So what do you do when the movement isn’t helping someone connect to their spirit?
I brought this up with a long time client and friend, Dr. JoAnn Magdoff and asked her for help with this. How can I understand what it is people are feeling and how can I help them? We spoke about this many times and she helped me personally understand what is going on and how to handle it when I’m in this situation. I asked her to write a special piece for all of you and for my blog. I really hope this resonates with some of you.
In good health,
Pilates and Body Image
By JoAnn Magdoff, LCSW, PhD
I don’t think any of us can be mindfully present in a Pilates class if we repeatedly feel negative about the body we have today. Feeling uncomfortable with your body-self distracts from being connected to your Pilates practice. It prevents you from letting the class encourage a different, more positive experience of working to make your body more responsive, stronger. It would be hard to feel badly about yourself if you were positively engaged while doing Pilates! As a psychotherapist, I encourage positive attributes about the individual or couple that they have already shared with me. That gentle reminder is usually enough to summon up a part of themselves they can hold onto to feel more positively about who they are. I am not suggesting that everyone feel “fabulous”; few of us feel that way most of the time. But we can learn to accept and enjoy whatever we can do, whomever and wherever we are that day, in each class.
The world we inhabit is unkind to aging and to the appearance of it. Our culture, and how it presents women, has a narrow bandwidth of what beauty is. But I think being able to love and accept yourself has deeper roots than not feeling somehow perfect, or perfectible. Many women have grown up in critical environments, at home with parents, siblings, or in the world with friends, teachers people with whom we work. Some women are criticized in adult life for how they look by their partners – explicitly or implicitly. We may internalize patterns of self-deprecation that feel natural and familiar to us. If we start feeling like we aren’t seen for what we can do, who we can become, we may find loving ourselves, or even enjoying what we are doing in class, whether or not we are terrific at it, to be a difficult challenge.
Don’t give up! Between psychotherapy and body-work, like the Pilates we are doing, we can begin to understand where our particular bad feelings about how we look and how we feel about our bodies came about. Being in a Pilates class is a process – like therapy is. With thoughtful exploration, talk and experience, together we can begin the process of co-creating, building a different, affirmative way to experience yourself and your body.
If you’d like to work on this with JoAnn Magdoff she can be reached at:
Office address: 3 East 65th Street
New York, N Y 10065