Pilates Students' Manual

Learning to Listen to Your Body

October 15, 2020 Olivia Bioni Season 2 Episode 6
Pilates Students' Manual
Learning to Listen to Your Body
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Listening to your body may sound intimidating or even impossible, so I've got a few tricks to make it more accessible. Paying attention to what's going on inside is important and can add new layers of discovery to our Pilates practice, but using what what see and feel on the outside of our bodies can help. Tune in to learn more! 

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[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.

Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. I've got a pretty fun episode for you today, all about learning to listen to your body. This is something that teachers say a lot as you are [00:01:00] in class, you know, "listen to your body" or "do what feels best for your body." And if you're just getting started, or if you are not entirely aware of your body, that can be a really intimidating thing or a really big ask, to hear "do what feels best in my body." Well, how do I know it feels best in my body? 

So what I'm going to share with you is what I've learned in my journey of listening to my body. I started doing yoga before I did Pilates and so a lot of my learning to listen to your body came from my yoga practice. And then when I started doing Pilates, I already had that skill set well-honed. That I was able to do those things to listen to my body and do it feels right in my body because I had practiced it. And just sharing a little bit of what happened in my journey towards listening to my body.

And that is, when I first started yoga I had zero idea of what I was doing. And so I just [00:02:00] want it to look like everyone else so that the teacher wouldn't know that I did not know what I was doing. So I was imitating the shapes that people were making. I was following the movements. My breath was definitely not linked in any way, shape, or form.

You may relate to that at the beginning of your Pilates experience as well. Once I got the hang of what I was doing- I was younger, I was in my teens and then early twenties- and then it became very much an ego trip of, I want to do the hardest thing and I want to look better than everyone else. I want to do it better than everyone else.

I did that for a few years after a while I figured out that that wasn't serving me well, like I wasn't doing better because I was doing a harder thing. It was actually not getting the benefits of what I was doing. And that's when I began to shift into how I was feeling as I was doing things and not just doing things for the sake of doing things.

So what I'm going to share with you [00:03:00] are some of the tricks that I have to kind of get into my body and to begin that process of listening, because it is a process, it's an ongoing thing. You don't get a certificate that's like, I listened to my body and then you never have to do it again. You have to do it every time you step on the mat or the equipment or whatever. And regardless of where you are in your movement, adventure, it is always better to me move the, not move. And if you can move compassionately while paying attention to what your body is telling you, that's even better. So here are some tips to help you tune in. 

One tip is to watch your breath. Breathing is something that we're doing all the time, often subconsciously. We're breathing automatically. And by paying attention to your breath, which is a link through all of your Pilates exercises and then into the vast beyond of your life that is not Pilates, we're always breathing. So you can always pay attention to how your breath feels. 

[00:04:00] The first step is just noticing that you are breathing, or maybe if you're doing a Pilates exercise, if you stopped breathing, right? That's a pretty big clue to what's going on, right? If we are adding on layers of difficulty, layers of coordination and complications to an exercise, and you notice that you stopped breathing in order to do it, maybe we take away some of that complexity so that you can keep breathing while you're moving, right. That's probably going to be better. 

Or if you notice that the quality of your breath changed, if your breath got kind of short or staccato. Our breath can tell us a lot about, you know, our emotional states as well. If you think about when you're crying, our breath is often, you know, really short and shallow. It's kind of happening in our upper chest instead of, you know, deep, full breaths. So if you notice that breath has changed in a way that is no longer full or deep or even. You know, okay. So, you know, what's going on here? You can become a little bit more curious. [00:05:00] That just gives you a hint and a little peek, just a little piece of information about what could be going on. 

By that same token, if you are doing an exercise and you pay attention to your breath and you're like, wow, I'm breathing so deeply and so evenly and with the movement right now, like amazing. That is a good place to be. That's kind of where we want to be.

 When we talk about the meditative aspects of Pilates, I think that linked breath and movement is really a big piece to it. If that's a part of the Pilates practice, that's really intriguing to you or something that you want to develop deeper, paying attention to your breath is a great place to start. 

We can also get some really great external feedback and the external feedback we get can help feed into the internal feedback, this listening to your body component that we're really looking for. If you're on the Pilates equipment, the spring resistance is going to tell you some things, you know, if we're moving in a jerky way, you're going to lose the tension and then [00:06:00] regain the tension, right? If you're doing like an arm spring exercise and you're pressing, and suddenly you catch some airtime, as I call it, you'll be like, Oh, you know, I'm not pressing continuously. The equipment's given me some feedback. 

Also, if you're on the reformer or on any piece of equipment, if you're on the mat, you're going to get feedback from the carriage or the floor and the parts of the body that are touching it. So if you're doing an exercise where your teachers asking you to be a neutral spine, and you notice that that your ribs are no longer resting on the mat or the carriage. Okay, well, you know, what's going on if that I've lost this point of contact. Maybe you don't feel, you know, my back is feeling pinchy, but if you don't feel the ribs anymore, you're like, you know, my back muscles are working because they've lifted my rib cage. How can I bring it back? Or what can I adjust to get back into that shape? That's going to give you some feedback. 

But the equipment, the mat, whatever you're touching is going to [00:07:00] give you some information about where your body is in space, even if you can't feel that for yourself, just yet. 

Another great piece of external feedback are mirrors. If your studio, or if where you're exercising has mirrors, then you can check in with yourself externally and just see where your body is in space. For some exercises you can look down, but if you were doing something like footwork, you know, maybe you can't see your feet from where you are lying down. So a mirror can help. It is useful because it is giving you that piece of information, but it does have a limited usefulness because it's more important that we get the feeling rather than just seeing it, because there's a lot of our life where we won't have a mirror to check ourselves. So the mirror is like a way to check in. 

I like to use the mirror as a clue, like if I'm doing an exercise and I feel something, there's some sensation in my knee. [00:08:00] If I'm able to look at my knee in the mirror, maybe see where my knee is relative to my toes, relative to my hip. That might give me some information about why my knees feeling that way. So in that case, I would want to look in the mirror, see what's going on. Can I adjust it? Did that change how it's feeling and then maybe take my gaze away from the mirror so that I can, again, focus on that internal experience instead of just, you know, checking myself out while I'm exercising. 

Coming up after the break, I'm going to talk a bit about the difference between pain and discomfort and the lifelong journey that is listening to your body.

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The difference between pain and discomfort is really nuanced and every body's experience of pain and discomfort is a little bit different. There really isn't a universal pain scale of, you know, this is something we can work with, and this is like, [00:10:00] no, no, this was like in the danger zone. Right? The important thing like any part of listening to your body is that you want to be curious and you want to investigate sensations when they come up.

I like to say in my classes, notice what you notice, because usually what we feel really strongly is the easiest thing to pay attention to. Right. We may not be able to feel, like how does my neck feel right here? Unless your neck is yelling at you, right? So when you notice those strong sensations, which can often be somewhere around pain and discomfort, they are a really nice way to get into your body.

You can kind of explore from there, always safely. And again, it's like a little bit of a trickiness and it's a little bit of navigating and every day's a little bit different. But here's some things that I can share with you about pain versus discomfort. 

Pain is just feedback. It's your body telling you that something is going on, just like how you look in the mirror and see where your body is in space. Just like how you feel your [00:11:00] body parts in contact with the mat. Just like listening to your breath, or watching your breath move in your body. Pain is a warning that your body doesn't like what's happening. Often it's a tissue damage response. 

Words or feelings that I associate with pain are short, sharp, stabbing, shooting, tingling, numbness. Those are all sensations that are not great. We don't really want to explore those sensations. If you feel something like that in an exercise, you do want to stop. See what's going on. Maybe look in a mirror, maybe check in with your breathing because that's your body telling you that something is not right.

Usually when we perform an action and that's the response, it's like, if you think about if you put your hand like on a hot pan, we recoil out of that. It's a reflex. Before your brain can process it, your [00:12:00] body pulls away from that sensation. So if you're doing an exercise and your body does that, like that is a sign that your body doesn't want to move that way, is not interested in moving that way, would very strongly prefer to not move in that way. So we don't want to keep doing it, right. We're not here to push through pain. That is not the game in Pilates or life. 

I would say discomfort, on the other hand, isn't pleasant. It's not like, Oh yes. Discomfort. My old friend. I mean, maybe we get there eventually, but discomfort is more like when you're doing the hundred and you're feeling sore. And they're like, that doesn't feel great. Or when you do a glute stretch at the end of side kicks or something, it kind of feels like the muscles are resisting or they're reluctant to do what you're asking them to do.

But the quality of the sensation is not the words that I used before. It's not sharp, shooting, or tingling, or numb. Right. It's [00:13:00] not pleasant, but it's not so strong that you can't sit with it. And again, gray area, what is discomfort for one person might be pain for another person. And if it's pain for you, that's not something we want to engage with, especially if you're in a group class, especially if there's not a teacher, like right there you can ask about what's going on. In those, the situations we're going to try to avoid that.

But if it is something like discomfort where the muscle is tired or sore, or just worked really hard, that is something that we can engage with and we can pay it attention to. We can check in with our breath. We can breathe a little bit deeper. And then really watch how that sensation changes, because it definitely will change. 

Discomfort when we're doing something, like if you're holding a plank and you're feeling like muscles are working and they're doing their job, maybe you check yourself in the mirror and you see like, okay, I'm still here, is different from [00:14:00] feeling discomfort because, you know, you're hanging in your shoulders or your hips are getting really, really low. 

Often our body's going to give us some feedback. And if you were to look at yourself, you'd be like, Ooh, my hips have dipped really low. I can either lift my hips up a bit so that I come back into the alignment for this exercise, or maybe I lower my knees down so that I'm responsible for a little bit less weight in my legs. And then I can, you know, be in this place of discomfort because the exercise I'm doing is challenging, but it's not to the point of, you know, that really strong sensation of pain. 

Every day is going to be a little different. Every exercise is going to be a little different. And the great thing about listening to your body is that it's a conversation that's ongoing. Every time you do an exercise every day that you step onto the mat, you're open to hearing new things and learning new things about how your body's feeling. The more you do it, the more you tune in, even if we just start with [00:15:00] noticing what we notice and tuning into like the strongest sensation, right? Very much the squeaky wheel gets the grease and this scenario. 

You begin to notice those big things. And the more you pay attention, you also begin to notice some smaller things, or notice some things that you didn't notice because you'd been paying attention to those bigger sensations. The more you pay attention, the more nuanced your understanding gets of your body and how it feels. You begin to explore that spectrum of discomfort and pain. We begin to lean in to discomfort a little bit. We can engage with that discomfort a little bit, and we become I'm better at identifying what is pain. 

If you're coming from a background and you have chronic pain, or if you have a really high pain tolerance, like it could go either way, you could be really sensitive to sensations, or you could be really numb to sensations. Wherever you are, the more you do Pilates, the more you pay attention to what's going [00:16:00] on, the more you're going to be able to listen to your body. 

And then when your teacher says, do what feels right for you. You can actually kind of assess for yourself, you know, of the three things that we just did, the teacher is now giving me an option to do one of them again. You know, I liked the way this one felt. We began to have some opinions about things, which is fun too. I hope that gives you some tools to listen to your body and maybe engage with your Pilates practice in a new and fun way. 

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Thank you so much for tuning in. Have a great week. And I'll talk to you again soon.

Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of Pilate [00:17:00] Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates too? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.

I hope to see you next episode. Until next time.

Using the Equipment
Pain vs. Discomfort
Every Day is Different