Pilates isn’t pirates or pilots or piranhas

My quest for physical therapy continues. (A tiny voice says the therapy I truly need is a cure for therapy addiction.) A dear friend of mine, Jim Lehman, invited me to try his pilates session in his gorgeous new studio overlooking the Xindian valley in Southern Taipei. The place was gorgeous enough to withstand the repetition of an already overused and pretentious term as “gorgeous” three times in a paragraph. And a lazy writer.

My previous take on pilates was a glorious (I wrote gorgeous in the first version, I must confess) version of yoga. Maybe it was because of this book. I was surprised to see rows of specialized training tools and full-body fixtures in his studio, waiting to deform—no, fix—my body. I took a mental note: Maybe I shouldn’t follow my curiosity too easily.

My anxiety quickly subsided thanks to a great (again, changed from another word that starts with a g) cup of Chinese tea and—Voila!—a simple yoga mat. I restrained my desire to kiss the floor and focused on Jim’s introduction. For you wondering, here is a video that shows what I went through, somewhat.

(And a Wikipedia article. Now you have some ideas.)

As he explains, pilates has many variations which might lead to confusions on what it is (the previous me), but also make it capable to work for each individual with different needs (the current me). In my case, what I needed most was to maintain a proper posture to feel the world fully.

We started with breathing. The first stage of breathing did not inflate the lower belly, as instructed in any breathing practices. Instead, I had to tighten my muscle around my diaphram (what?) and breath into my back (what what?). Inevitably, my abdomen tightened up and I was squeezing the crucial lower torso. I was exhaling before inhaling.

But the point of the first stage was to utilize the muscle that connects the upper body and the lower body (just watch the video—now you know why I had been such an efficient technical writer). What is incredible is that it is the only muscle to do it.

By inhaling into my lower back, I could pull the muscle and connect my body in one line. Then the second stage came, which is to open my rib cage (thus my chest) using the side muscles. Mentally I became Dwayne Johnson preparing for his brawl. This movement finally introduced enough amount of air into my lung. The first stage was crucial here too, because the abdomen tension worked as a basis for the chest muscle to hold itself while opening up the rib cage.

The third and last stage of inhaling was to raise the upper front side of the rib cage to introduce slightly more air and to connect the chest with the neck. The latter completed the “connection” from the bottom half of my body to the torso to the head, aligning my body in one line. The exhaling contracts everything in the reverse order.

As I breathed along these steps, I started to feel a sensation I never experienced: I was massaging my chest inside out, especially through the second stage. Someone reached his hand directly inside my rib and gently spread the muscle from within. In fact, the sensation was similar to the blissful moment of meditation, when my body starts to warm up inside out through breathing, without any visible movement.

The pilates breathing felt so good I just stood there breathing and expanding my chest, gradually warming my body to a comfortable inside-out chest scrub. I spent a good amount of minutes before I stopped and turned to Jim. I continued more movements to enhance this breathing effects, but I should stop revealing trade secrets (one of essential skills for writers is to find every reason not to write).

Needless to say, my posture returned to straight-up. Note that I did not make any effort to straighten myself up. All I did was to connect my lower and upper body and expand my chest. I was only massaging my chest, which had been incredibly underused in a fixed, contracted hunch position through years of sedentary life. By giving my chest proper movement and flexibility, my body automatically adjusted its posture straight.

I am more convinced than ever that our body is smarter than our brain. All we have to do is to stop sabotaging its proper movement and the body finds the best way to properly function. Stop cooking up plans to “fix” my body according to idealistic blueprints and let my body take care of itself—that’s the lesson I have been learning, over and over again.