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The Pilates Bookshelf: The Body Has a Mind of Its Own

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"The Body Has a Mind of Its Own" by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew BlakesleeBy Madeline Black
In order to work in a deeper, more expanded way with her clients, Pilates instructor Madeline Black has searched out new ideas and methodologies during her career. This is the third in her series of reviews in which she shares some of the books and resources that have deepened her knowledge and self-practice and have enhanced her teaching beyond Pilates.

The Body Has a Mind of Its Own (Random House, 2007) by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee is a fascinating and educational book about how we process our experiences through our body. The mother-son science writing team explores the brain’s “body map” and its role in our ability to feel, move, perceive and learn motor skills, as well as how it relates to phenomenons such as phantom limbs, stroke recovery and out-of-body experiences.

The authors explain how the brain works in a way that is scientific yet understandable and entertaining. My favorite part is how they describe the history of the concept of body maps and their importance to the body’s way of learning to move in space and experience the outside world. Read on to see how body maps relate to our work as Pilates instructors.

According to the authors, our peri-personal space changes size in relation to what we are doing. For example, when we are lying on the Trapeze Table performing a movement, our body map goes beyond our physical body to include the bar, springs and table. Beginner Pilates students don’t have the body schema of the trapeze table mapped in their brain yet. They will not be moving with flow and grace with the apparatus but handling the bars and springs awkwardly until repetition develops the schema in their brain. When one is working on the mat, the space shrinks to the area of the mat.

Since the size of the peripersonal space changes, it is important to be aware of the changing boundary the client is creating around himself or herself. When we are cueing or adjusting their body, we are part of that space, inside their boundary. At the same time, the client is part of your peri-personal space, inside your boundary. The boundary is a negotiated boundary between us because we have an agreement with the client based on trust to enter their peri-personal space. Awareness of the negotiated boundary is important to the client-teacher relationship because we want the client to respond favorably to an adjustment.

The client’s body schema develops over time with more practice. I have witnessed clients self-adjust their bodies by a mere non-verbal suggestion when I walk near them to place my hands in a position on their body that I have done many times. It is remarkable how the body schema changes to the place of almost unconscious consciousness of movements. In the book, the authors refer to the power of visualizing an activity prior to performing in order to excel in a high-performance sport or dance.

The book is full of information regarding many interesting aspects of the mind-body connection. What stand out for me are the areas that relate to training people to move well, be pain free and feel healthy and happy.

The book covers an important section about body image, which I highly recommend that you read carefully. In 1935, an Austrian-American scientist named Paul Schilder was the first to introduce the idea of body image, which is based on the belief systems we learn and develop from an early age until late teenage years. According to the authors, these belief systems are headstrong and not able to change. I, however, believe there is always room for possibility of change. The body image is strongly shaped on past experiences, emotions, attitudes, expectations, cultural pressures and even delusions. Conflict happens when the body schema and the body image don’t match. For example, a person who has changed her weight or postural habits often still holds the belief that she is overweight or stooped-over. Working with the client to change her belief system of her body image can influence an agreement between the schema and image, giving her a chance to maintain the body change she’s achieved.

By being supportive with positive suggestions, cueing and in some cases a referral to a qualified therapist, you can influence and maybe change a negative body image. In our field, body image is extremely powerful and in many cases unrealistic. I consciously work on providing a positive, non-judgmental approach to each person by providing a reality-based image that is achievable and desirable.

The Body Has a Mind of Its Own is available in hardback and will be available in paperback in September. You can preorder the paperback here.

Madeline Black has 20 years of Pilates teaching experience and currently directs Studio M in Sonoma, CA. Madeline has a B.S. in PE and Dance from Skidmore College, has ACE, ACSM, Gyrotonic® and PMA certifications, and is currently studying Integrative Manual Therapy. Madeline presents advanced continuing education seminars for Body Mind Spirit Expo, Pilates On Tour and the Pilates Method Alliance, and at studios in around the world.

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Posted on Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 10:13AM by Registered CommenterAmy Leibrock in , , , | Comments1 Comment

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Reader Comments (1)

You are one of my favorite teacher of teachers! I am looking forward to reading
"The Body Has A Mind of It's Own" and would like to offer you a book I am reading which has been very interesting as well. "The Brain That Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge, M.D. Although this book deals more with the mind part of mind/body, I have been very inspired and awed by the science behind the plasicity of our brains. Good reading.
Deborah McKeever Watson

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