Cheating on Yoga with Pilates

I’m cheating on yoga with Pilates.

Full disclosure, I used to really hate Pilates. When I was in grad school for dance a million years ago, it was a requirement, and the octogenarian that taught it was even meaner than she was old. She would tell the class daily how terrible we were, and would push on my belly so hard I thought I would barf.

But she was a legend in the Pilates world, had studied with Joseph Pilates himself, and there was a sort of hushed awe when people would say her name. Whatever. I absolutely hated it. That also happened to be the same time period when I was getting my first yoga certification, and I was over the moon, smitten, googly-eyed in love with yoga. In my shamelessly dualistic worldview (not very yogic, I know), I pitted yoga against Pilates, and yoga won out big time.

Fast forward two decades, and I feel like I have done a 180 (proof positive that I am still pretty entrenched in duality I guess!) Now I love Pilates. It gives me so much of what I have needed for so very long. Stability. A strong center. Feeling like I can’t so easily be pushed off-kilter. And, oh, how it helps my yoga-injured back! Seriously, I love it. I can’t get enough of it.

But I do feel a tiny bit like I am having an illicit affair, like I am sleeping with the enemy. Currently, I take Pilates classes far more often than yoga, and my body is actually doing better. So what does this mean? Is Pilates better, safer, healthier than yoga? Have I wasted all these years getting the wrong certifications, teaching the wrong classes, doing all the wrong things?? Agghh!! (See how many times I used the word wrong in that sentence? Oh, duality, you ARE a beast!)

If I am honest with myself, I have to acknowledge that my issues with yoga aren’t really because of yoga itself, but rather pieces of evidence about the ways in which my own yoga lacks balance. There are plenty of ways to practice yoga with the same support, stability, and center that Pilates provides. But yoga does require that you work (or in some cases, work less) in order to figure it out. Finding balance is different for every single individual, and since balance is also dynamic, it means different things for the same individuals throughout various moments of their lives. At this point in my life, my own personal balance requires doing much less of the deep stretching that so many of my favorite asanas involve (yes, I know, I’m not supposed to have “favorites,” but you know…DUALITY). I would be lying if I said I am not sad about this loss. But there you have it. Balance isn’t a cakewalk, and neither is yoga.

In terms of teaching, balance needs to come in the way I communicate with students. The same stock phrases I have used to describe poses a million times already simply won’t cut it. Honestly, if I never again utter the phrase, “Send your sitting bones back,” I’d be fine with it. My sitting bones don’t need to go any further back; they need to squeeze in! Meanwhile the student in front of me may need something else entirely, and the student next to them may not even know what a “sitting bone” is. All the words I offer my students should be in service to helping them find their own individual balance. Full stop. Stale language and stock phrases have no place in that discourse.

But back to Pilates! Even as I’m writing this, I am feeling that post-Pilates class buzz, that gentle core ignition that my back and my body love so very much. Of course I am having an affair with Pilates; it is so damn easy to love! Yoga on the other hand, not so easy. Yoga asks a thousand different things from all of us. It asks us to work our asses off as well as do absolutely nothing. It asks us for single-pointed focus and also to clear our minds. It asks us not to run away from ourselves over and over again. And you guys…all that is really hard! But even I, in all my disenchantment and shortcomings, know that it is worth it.

For now however, I am going to get the most out of my Pilates affair. I am going to try to strengthen my center just as much as I can so that I can bring it with me into yoga and everything else that I do. I know that this is much easier said than done. I also know that I have a very long way to go.

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