When I had just graduated from Physical Therapy school, I was eager to get started working with clients. One of the first patients assigned to me was a standard low-back pain sufferer. Her main therapist wasn’t having much success with her and, considering my Pilates training with dancers, suggested I run her through a few exercises with some Pilates equipment. So I promptly set her up on the reformer with a manageable Feet in Straps routine. As her legs were sweeping in a wide circular motion, she spontaneously burst into tears. She was bawling like I had hurt her. I managed to calm her enough to speak and transplant her to a quiet room so that we could talk. Completely unprovoked, she began telling me that she was sexually abused by her uncle in her youth. She confided that she never told anyone of the torment she endured.
Imagine me, a 24-year-old fresh physical therapy graduate, stunned into silence by this poor woman. I asked myself, “why did this woman feel that she could disclose such personal, intimate information with me? Why did Pilates trigger or facilitate that exchange?” That was when I began to realize there’s more to healing than just flesh and bone. Our physical wellbeing isn’t wholly separate from our emotional wellbeing.
Another memory comes back of a woman with similar back pain. Such a classic problem: I told her she’d be 80% better within two weeks. Lo and behold, two weeks came and went and her back pain did not improve. It turns out that she had been having an affair outside of her marriage. Her staunch Catholic beliefs obviously didn’t allow for that. I then suggested that she had 3 options: She could repent as directed by her priest, through prayer, fasting and the like; she could discard her long-standing belief and adopt an ideology of free love and open relationships; or she could simply continue to have back pain. Later she came to me and said her back doesn’t hurt anymore. When she shared that, she also gestured to her heart.
Two big ideas stuck with me from these moments. First, I have seen that having a positive moving experience is key. Creating an environment for someone to understand their body and mental space is essential to joy and healing. Second, and probably most important: clients come to us with answers. Sometimes it is the case that chronic pain is partly related to another, non-physical issue. I stayed in touch with these women for a number of years. Seeing their development and eventual peace confirmed my philosophy and faith in Pilates.
A person usually knows what’s weighing heavily on their hearts – we as movement professionals can offer them the environment to solve it.