Learning is most effective when you are able to discover the learning through your own senses, rather than be told what to do. This type of learning is called implicit learning and although it can be harder to grasp initially, it’s usually the type of learning that ends with the “A-ha!” moment. The A-ha moment is one of the greatest moments for both the teacher and the student in their journey. It is the moment where all the information comes together and finally makes sense. It cannot be taught - the A-ha moment has to be experienced!
The great thing about Pilates is we spend a lot of time experiencing, and so there are plenty of opportunities for A-ha moments. Despite this, anyone who has been a beginner in a Pilates class knows that it sometimes it feels like you are on another planet! The breathing, the moving, which way do I tilt? It can all feel a little bit complicated and cerebral if you try to nut it out in your head. Pilates is a movement therapy, it requires you to trust your body and move. It’s about feeling your way more than thinking your way. This is why I think A-ha moments in Pilates are particularly precious because they require someone to change the way they approach learning.
Below I have shared 5 A-ha moments that clients have experienced during sessions with me at Movementality. I think they beautifully illustrate the complex layers to learning Pilates and the moment when things “just land.”
“So it’s really all about chasing length isn’t it?”
For the most part, everything in Pilates is about length (or width, or space.) You are searching for ways to create space in your joints so that they have greater range of motion; relaxation in your muscles so they freely elongate and stretch. If you think about lengthening when you move, 75% of the work is already done. The problem is we see a C-curved spine shape eg: A roll down or curl up and we think “Oh, I must collapse my spine to make the shape.” Wrong. Even when you are creating a smaller or more curved shape you are lengthening into that shape and in fact, the C is more of a wave shape. Think of how the ocean has to draw back into itself to build up enough height to create the wave shape. It’s actually more of a challenge to lengthen into those curved poses than the upright ones. So next time your in Pilates class, chase your length.
“You ask me to go this way and also go that way at the same time? It’s like everything in Pilates is a contradiction!”
Bingo, you got it! Contradictions are alive and well in Pilates. Strip away the negative connotation for a moment and hear me out. A contradiction is when two opposing things are happening at the same time. If we look at the human muscular system, every muscle is contradicted by an opposing muscle - an agonist and antagonist relationship. Like a pulley system, as the agonist contracts the antagonist lengthens (or the more correct term is that it eccentrically contracts). These two muscles have to do the opposite thing at the same time to ensure the action can occur smoothly and safely. This contradiction is also what helps create ‘length’ especially when it comes to the spine. If you were doing a Swan (back extension) and you only contracted your back muscles, your back would shorten until there was no space left to move. However if while contracting your back muscles, you simultaneously contracted your abdominal muscles, then the two muscles groups work against one another to lengthen you out, ensuring your Swan doesn’t crunch into your lower back. Understanding that to move one way, you must also feel like you are moving in the opposite direction is a contradiction, yes. But it is also the best strategy for creating balanced movement which is what Pilates is all about. Thinking about moving in two directions at the same time might confuse your brain, but experience the feeling and you’ll understand the A-ha moment for yourself!
“My body always tries to cheat”
You body is taking the path of least resistance, the best way it knows how. If there have been any changes to the way your sensory system takes in information and processes it into your brain, there’s likely going to be compensations in your movement. Nobody is perfectly aligned, we all have strange postural shifts and the thing about Pilates is that it points those out very clearly. Pilates main objective is to ‘move the body in a balanced way’ so it is likely going to be the most obvious form of training to show you up where you are cheating. This could be viewed as frustrating, or you can see it as an amazing opportunity! Get to know your body a whole lot better and build awareness around what it likes to do and what you know you can correct with your Pilates knowledge and technique.
“When I go slow, it’s much harder”
That brings us to one of our Pilates principles, Control. Control is the ability to move in any direction at any speed with economy, efficiency and ease. Speed is a great way to mask a lack of control. By going fast you rely on momentum, and are not challenged to balance and coordinate your body nearly so much. If you think Pilates is starting to feel easy, here’s a hint, slow it right down. Pretty soon, you’ll notice areas in your body that could have more control.
“So everything in Pilates is abs, right?”
This is probably my favourite A-ha moment. When you do Pilates the way it was intended, a whole body movement system about finding length, being precise and practising with control, every exercise you do requires your abdominal muscles. Your deep abdominal muscles are designed to support your spine against gravity and in movement, and so actively finding length in your spine recruits those muscles even more. Your superficial abdominal muscles are considered your ‘mobility core’ and these act on the bones to move your spine in all of its directions they are designed to be moved. Stop thinking about core work as being sit ups and realise that every full bodied exercise in Pilates, whether it be a side bend, forward bend, back bend or spinal rotation is going to work your entire abdominal area, and it’s neighbours. So ditch the sit ups which might give you a little burn but really only strengthen you through one plane of movement, and embrace the intensive abdominal workout a Pilates class has to offer!
Whether the A-ha moment is that one exercise finally makes sense kinaesthetically, or you experience an entire class differently in your body because of a single cue - the merit is that you have made the discovery for yourself. An A-ha moment cements itself in your DNA never to be forgotten so look out for them in your next Pilates class and don’t be afraid to ‘feel your way’.