I don’t believe in magic. I know from first hand experience that there is always a gaff, a sleight of hand or some other trick. Magic is great for entertainment – but the metaphysical “magic” floating around the self-help and personal growth industries will do absolutely nothing to help you create the freedom, peace, happiness – and the body that you desire.
I don’t believe in “diet and exercise” either. This transaction-based model perpetuated by the fitness and weight loss industries sets up calories as a “currency of exchange.” It creates a relationship between food and exercise (that isn’t real) and as a consequence, keeps us stuck in pain and dysfunction around food, exercise, our bodies, our weight and our wellbeing.
I do believe that what you eat is important. I do believe that daily exercise is important. And I do believe in the power of thoughts, feelings, beliefs and unknown or unseen forces. So how do we work with all of these elements to create sustainable health, vitality and beauty? To answer that question I will refer to my work as a Pilates instructor.
Although most of my time is now spent working as a body image and weight loss coach and speaker, I do continue to teach Pilates to select clients. Most of my Pilates clients work out regularly. They come into the studio at least 2-3 times a week, so they are familiar with the exercises and have certain expectations of what they will be able to do during their sessions. And even though I know them – and their bodies – I still begin every session with the question, “How is your body feeling today?”
This is important for two reasons. First, bodies are in a constant state of change. Every moment millions of cells die and millions more are reborn. Our strength, flexibility and energy levels are affected by the physical things – how well we’ve slept, what we’ve eaten, etc. – as well as the emotional and spiritual things – what has gone on at work or at home, how long we’ve sat in traffic, etc. Second, the question about how their bodies are feeling today gives my clients the freedom and permission to release any preconceived expectations about what they think their bodies should be able to do, thereby allowing them to tune into their bodies in the present moment.
This idea of “today” promotes an acceptance of “what is.” (It’s not for forever it’s just for today.) Acceptance helps release any anxiety around “what should be.” And with the anxiety over “what should be” gone, there is space to explore “what could be.”
Furthermore, by focusing on “today” it is much easier to get my Pilates clients to relax into their workouts. I recognize that “relaxing into a workout” may sound like an oxymoron so let me explain.
Our bodies are entire systems – systems of muscles, bones, organs, blood, nerves, etc. And for our bodies to be optimized, each system must work cooperatively with the others. For our bodies to be uniformly developed – in strength, flexibility and shape – our muscles must work in harmony with each other.
However, most of us have not developed movement patterns that harmonize and optimize our muscular engagement. We overwork one set of muscles at the expense of others. By focusing on getting my Pilates clients to “relax” the overworked muscles, the other “forgotten” muscles can finally begin to engage.
This is where the real power of Pilates lies. I have to constantly remind my clients that it’s not about the shape that their bodies make when doing an exercise – it’s about the muscles they recruit to make that shape. It can be very easy to “power” or “muscle” your way through a Pilates workout and never really get into the deeper muscles the system seeks to address and connect. But when you connect with your body and begin using your muscles differently – when you use your muscles in a more congruent, cooperative and efficient way – in a workout – and throughout the rest of your day – your entire experience of your body (and your body shape) can change.
This principle is as powerful in “real life” as it is in the Pilates studio. We can get so focused on achieving the end goal that we can sacrifice the means. And if we sacrifice the means, the end is never really sustainable.
This is one of the primary reasons “diet and exercise” programs fail. They do not support and sustain the other “systems” of our lives – our work, our relationships, our play, or our state of being. We “overwork” the diet and exercise at the expense of the deeper connection with our bodies and ourselves.
And this is why the magic fails. The metaphysical wish fulfillment peddlers teach us to “reprogram” our minds by repeating affirmations and “acting as if” to “raise our vibrations” without connecting the shifts in our state of consciousness to the rest of the “systems” acting in our lives.
To truly create sustainable health, vitality and beauty we must continually address, optimize and integrate all of our various “systems” of self – our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions – in a harmonious and congruent manner. By doing so, we move beyond the physical. We move beyond the metaphysical. We move into the unknown. This can be scary because it is something we cannot predict or control. But by focusing on the means, the end is assured. As we address, harmonize and integrate all aspects of ourselves as human beings, we are able to do what had before seemed impossible. We are able to find peace, happiness AND create a body we love.