A Strong Core

Pilates: it’s all about tiny but precise, controlled movements done in time to correct breathing. It calls for small changes in how you hold and move your body that, supposedly, over time will make a great deal of difference. I’ve just started and I am finding it difficult to get the hang of. I’m attracted to it because I have a notion it will be gentle but strengthening. At the end of the first class, the teacher keeps me back and shows me the breathing again, so I can master it. I’m not yet doing it properly. At her invitation, I place one hand on her ribs and one on her tummy. I concentrate on the rise and fall: the ribcage widening when she breathes in, then shrinking back into place, belly button dropping, on the out breath. Shoulders don’t move. She tells me it will make such a difference to me when I master it. That it will give me a strong core. “How can breathing be so difficult?” I wonder. When I remember, usually first thing after waking up, I take to the floor and place my hands on my ribs and belly and try to replicate what she showed me. “Lace the corset”, I can hear her saying, bafflingly. I’m determined to stick at this breathing business. I can do it!

Why is making incrementally small changes so difficult for us, I wonder? I can be so easily distracted. I tell myself that I don’t have time, I’m too tired, that it’s not worth it anyway. Everything comes from creating habits though, and our old habits are, for the time being, just a little stronger. Old habits can be displaced with small and regular acts of persistence. Take this writing practice, for example. I have a mix of motivations for writing my blog. Primarily, it is simply to write. Secondarily, I do it to keep in contact with the outside world from a point of relative solitude. Then, mixed up with lots of other motivations, there is the personal challenge of sticking to a daily practice: the ability to tell myself I’ll do something and then following through.

I think about how Pilates will, in time, give me a strong core. I read about it: ‘the core, consisting of the muscles of the abdomen, low back, and hips, is often called the ‘powerhouse’ and is thought to be the key to a person’s stability’. And, yes, I will be delighted if that is an outcome. But I think of the metaphorical strong core and stability that we all build by taking on something, committing, and sticking at it. There is an inner strength we develop in showing up for something time after time after time.

My second class comes around. There are only seven of us, so she keeps a close eye. We each get lots of attention. Inexplicably, I close my eyes on the mat when I breathe: all the better to concentrate, or something like that. I can feel the teacher close to me. She stoops down and whispers in my ear, “you’ve got it!” I stride home delighted with myself. I’m on the first step to building a strong core: a Pilates breath!

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