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How Home Pilates Practice Can Help Heal

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Giving Responsibility to Your Student and Eliminating Dependency

By Barbara Stamis 

Practicing Pilates at homeI have had the opportunity to work with individuals seeking physical therapy or alternative methods as their “last hope” to get out of pain. Some clients reach this pain-free goal, while others do not. Some students progress rapidly and others progress so slowly that I must continuously refer to my progress notes to remind myself that I am actually doing some good. I have found that much of the students’ success boils down to the depth of their home practice and the level of dedication they apply to it. Those who take full responsibility to use the tools I’ve given them on a daily basis amaze me with their quick results. Those who think it is my responsibility to take away their pain simply don’t move forward and become stuck in a vicious cycle of questioning and bemoaning their chronic aches and pains.

Knowing this, I’ve developed a system for instructing and motivating my students to keep up with their practice at home.

Setting up a Home Practice
Here are some tips for developing a home program for Pilates clients.

1. I give my students clearly defined home-exercise programs which include stick-figure illustrations and instructions for exercises and stretches with the number of breaths. I dedicate a session to reviewing each exercise, explaining the benefits of the movements. Some students take their own notes, which can be even better, because they jot down cues that really work for them and fully understand what it is they are writing.

2. I explain that the longer they stay in a stretch with deep exhales, the more they will open and become aware of the depths of their bodies. I also explain that the home programs usually begin with an emphasis on the breath in order to calm the nervous system and to focus any discursive energy.

3. I incorporate daily reminders into the home programs, such as, “While sitting at your desk at work, feel and ground through your sitz bones, while you feel length through the top of your head.” “Think of lifting and stretching your ribcage away from your pelvis while walking.” “Let your shoulder girdle rest and hang on your lengthening spine.” My students are more likely to incorporate these ideas into their lives the more I repeat them in each session. I have found that you really cannot repeat something too much. It is incredible how quickly new positive habits are forgotten.

4. Most importantly, I stress that a home practice is not just the half hour they spend stretching, but also the awareness of how they feel in their bodies from moment to moment, and how they can incorporate the tools they’ve acquired into their daily lives.

Motivating Clients to Do Their Home Practice
In spite of being given carefully and thoughtfully structured plans, I’ve noticed that some students do not progress. Time passes, and a month down the line, when reviewing with these students what they have been doing at home or in yoga class or throughout the day, it becomes clear that the lessons have eroded. The illustrations I drew up have been lost, the breaths have decreased and are short and shallow, there is “no time” for the last few exercises or stretches, or there is only time to do the program once a week.

All of this is rationalized by these students, because they see me once or twice a week and expect me to “fix” or “cure” what is not right in their bodies. The responsibility somehow shifts back to me.

Here are some tips for motivating them to keep up their home programs.

1. First and foremost, explain that it is your responsibility to teach and give them the tools to lead a pain-free life, and it is their responsibility to take action, participate and practice these tools.

2. Explain why an active, deliberate and consistent practice is important. For example, if your client suffers from migraines, explore the possible causes. He may have first noticed a slump in his shoulders while at work, and the amount of stress created during a work day may be manifesting in his neck and jaw and producing the headaches. I try to help the student to understand where his pain originates and how his Pilates practice can help overcome it. If he doesn’t actively participate and continually practice these lessons in his own daily life—forming a new positive habit while letting go of the negative habit—then he will still need to take pain medication and never improve his condition. The student must begin to understand that sitting at a desk in a stressful, busy environment eight to 12 hours a day is not conducive to healing. Encourage standing/walking stretching breaks, long breaths while writing, shoulder shrugs while typing. Alignment is something that has to be practiced during a busy work day just as much as in a Pilates session.

3. To effectively support the home programs, it is vital to have continuous, honest conversations with the students regarding their dedication to the program drawn up for them. I ask my students every week how their breath work is, how the exercises feel and how well they are integrating their personalized programs into their daily activities. They tell me about their routine; what they believe works, what doesn’t; and what positive changes they are noticing in their physical bodies as well as the elevation of their emotional spirits.

4. Have a few trustworthy, like-minded practitioners to whom you can refer your students, such as appropriate yoga teachers, massage therapists or acupuncturists . This way you are giving the responsibility to your students to continue on their own, while knowing they are in good hands.

5. Give them inspiration from other sources. Here are two of my favorite quotes—both from Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss, PhD—that support the idea of taking responsibility for one’s own healing process.

“I am responsible for the creation of my health. I therefore participated, at some level, in the creation of this illness (pain). I can participate in the healing of this illness by healing myself, which means simultaneously healing my emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual being.”

“Healing and curing are not the same thing. The process of curing is passive; that is, the patient is inclined to give his or her authority over to the physician and prescribed treatment instead of actually challenging the illness and reclaiming health. Healing, on the other hand, is an active and internal process that includes investigating one’s attitudes, memories and beliefs with the desire to release all negative patterns that prevent one’s full emotional and spiritual recovery.”

One of my clients has been able to eliminate all pain medication because she feels so empowered from her home breath work and stretches. Another student tears up at the end of our sessions together because he has never felt so alive. He has taken his life back into his own hands and realizes that feeling healthy and awake in his body is his choice. The physical and emotional shifts I have seen are beautiful and moving, and I feel relief and joy that these students are taking full responsibility for living healthily and happily within their bodies.

Barbara Stamis
has been teaching Pialtes since 2002.  She was certified through and taught at the Kane School of Core Integration in NYC.  She is currently teaching Pilates and yoga privately, and at Postureworks Physical Therapy in Santa Monica, Ca. 

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Posted on Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 07:00AM by Registered CommenterAmy Leibrock in | Comments3 Comments

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Reader Comments (3)

More than strength, stamina, and flexibility, Pilates taught me body awareness. Rather, my Pilates teacher taught me how to be aware of my body. Not just during exercise, but through out the day. My health and quality of life drastically improved. Really insightful article.

July 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLeigh Ann

yay barbara great article!!! :) great advice on how to encourage clients to take responsibility for their own health!!

July 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCarolineW

thanks for such an encouraging article. Ihave recently spent a lot of time photgraphing and writing 'blurbs' for home programs for my clients, they really appreciate it but your article gave me some good ideas on how to keep them going at hteir home practise. Keep moving! Abbey

July 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAbbey

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