WHY WOULD ANYONE TAKE OUT THE SPIRIT?
I was once told that pilates was not a spiritual practice. It was at a meeting where we were discussing new program ideas to build and grow our pilates and yoga programs. I was told that we need to leave the “spirit” out of our pilates and yoga classes so as not to offend anyone since we were a “Christian brand” of pilates! You can imagine my surprise. Somehow that statement seemed like such a contradiction. It seemed odd to me at the time because I had worked at this particular studio for years and never knew pilates to be without spirit; neither did I understand how encouraging our students to embrace their vital movements as a spiritual endeavor could be problematic or that doing so went against Christian values.
It is my understanding that Christianity is a religion with an underpinning ethical worldview which encourages us to embrace life and to connect to spirit through love. That can be applied to everything we do even pilates. What I was unaware of though was that “Christian” was a term used to describe a “brand” of pilates. “Christian” is a term usually associated with a particular religious belief and church community. It may inform our every action down to the very essence of our souls but it is not usually a term used to identify a “brand” of anything other than a particular religious perspective and institution. Movement may be intentionally identified to express a religious sentiment but correlating a sacred religious essence to a “brand” of exercise or movement feels a little shallow even suspect to me.
We may be motivated by Christian values and an ethical Christian perspective and we may serve many Christians in our neighborhood, but we also have clients from myriad other faiths as well. We do not send them away. We serve anyone interested in learning to move and feel better. I got a little annoyed at the meeting when the yoga teacher chimed in saying she used the term “contemplation” instead of “meditation” so as not to offend anyone. Wow, all I could think then was “really, you’ve got to be kidding me, what a distinction, holy cow, how ridiculous, if not absurd!” We must give people more credit and respect than that. So in my dumbfounded stupor this is what I had to say.
For the record I just want to say that I was never privy to the fact that our pilates studio offered a brand of “Christian pilates.” I know many participants are Christians but I never heard of a Christian brand of pilates. I really did not know what that meant. I understand running a pilates business with what can be considered Christian values, as many businesses do, but that does not include being close minded to other viable intellectual trends happening in the world, jumping over the horizon, offering new insights and understanding. I personally aspire to uphold what I believe to be Christian principles, but that does not make me close my eyes to other practices or epistemologies if they have something of merit to offer, whether they have secular, spiritual or religious origins.
I also explicitly espouse, as did Joe, an underpinning spiritual essence to pilates practice. Not a religious one mind you, but a spiritual one because practicing pilates involves focus on the breath, manifests greater more organized energy in the body and effects a person’s vitality, attitude and outlook. For me pilates is not religion, but it does involve spirit. Joseph Pilates, himself, wrote: ”Contrology” [aka pilates] was a practice of “body, mind and spirit.” He should know what pilates is, maybe even have some say whether the spirit goes in or out. I do believe, have witnessed and promote pilates engaged as a somatic practice to foster and enlighten spiritual channels of being and awareness. The first essential principle in pilates encompassing every activity, is awareness of the breath which ultimately is correlated to wind and the spirit in the Bible.
As I have explicitly asserted I would not call pilates a religion, not even a non theistic one, just as I would not necessarily call any somatic movement practice religious or even spiritual for that matter, however, if the shoe fits, why would you rip it off. When any experience whatever its nature seems to be manifesting a connection to spirit why would you forcefully seek to remove or lessen it. That makes no sense to me.
In any case, history exists. Tradition is tradition, encompassing historical truths, if not facts. You cannot say something does not exist because you do not wish to acknowledge it. You can choose to adopt or adjust to what is useful for you at present and let what isn’t go. However, what you cannot do, is dismiss something that exits, denying its place in history or tradition. To avoid confusion between old and new ideas you simply clarify your terms. You say what you mean; you express how you intend to use the historical teachings and then how you intend to proceed further.
Ideas and movement practices are not rigid. Just as ideas grow and change and evolve so do movement practices. They start somewhere and in the eventuality of their evolution, they are transformed into new inspirations, new connections and new avenues of awareness. The seed that started the journey to its current trend, however, remains as a reality forever. You cannot write it out. Just because the new practice has been transformed into something other than the original, historical honesty and traditional truthfulness should be acknowledged not denied or dismissed because it is inconvenient, or does not serve your current agenda so you wish it not to be so.
Also, If we are going to tout “body mind” practice then we cannot be hypocrites and leave out any part of the whole person. Some people are religious and some people are spiritual, some people are both and some people may be neither. Whatever one is, however, is a part of his or her “body mind” matrix. That is the individual we are serving. The term “body mind” may even be a bit confusing because it sets up a dichotomy which was not meant to be. The intent is actually the antithesis of a split or separation between the two. What the term really stands for is a holistic entity. The initial intent was to integrate the philosophical split created by DeCarte’s proclamation “I think, therefore I am” equating thought with life, valuing mind over body. DeCarte’s fervent decree set up a dichotomy, splitting the two pitting one against the other as two distinct entities. The intention of using the term body mind was to bridge this disparagement uniting the two into one, not to create a deeper chasm that would continue to see each as separate from the other.
In essence, body mind is intended to stand for an integrated whole, a holism that cannot be divided into two separate entities because they are more closely related as one unified essence encompassing multiple facets, one interwoven tapestry or unified partnership of intimately interconnected parts, glued together intermingling into a whole gestalt. It is not a distinction between body and mind we are fostering, but a balanced uniformity or union of body and mind. And, it is also not just body and mind, it is body, mind, heart, and soul, spirit, breath and movement, extroverted Self, introverted Self, fool, sage, artist, advocate, most embarrassing moments, hidden impulses, residual feelings, anticipation, excitement, rumination, contemplation, concentration, conception, peculiar perceptions, sumptuous sensations, ideas, images, memories, clandestine dreams, real and/or virtual road maps, etc., etc., stored in between the interior and exterior of cellular spaces, intermingled into the essence of one’s whole Being.
The body of the Self is not an evil entity of earthly lust and greed to be thwarted and denied, nor is it a mechanical robotic machine, but a very complex living vessel of tissues and impressions, thoughts and emotions, mysterious inklings forever quaking, and profound awakenings of intuition that are contemplated through somatic practices which can sometimes feel like an awesome religious “prayer” for good or a personal embodied spiritual invocation prompting us to embrace life fully, perceived and contemplated by a holistic, whole body, whole mind, whole Self. So how you separate out the spirit is news to me.
Pilates is not just about building muscles or having flat abs. The whole body is a conduit to spontaneous wisdom and intuitive awareness when nurtured mindfully. Body work and focused intentional movement is more than lunges, hinges, arcs, curves, bridges, spinal extensions and rotations. It is a living whole mandala of synergistic awareness. If you cannot see the spiritual value in a holistic somatic pedagogy then perhaps you are not meant for a profession teaching pilates or movement and body mind awareness. If you are a somatic practitioner teaching pilates or yoga or dance etc., and think that making connections to the spirit is blasphemy then I think you should rethink your career choice. As Joe taught “Contrology [aka pilates] restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit.” He would probably not be very impressed if you were set on removing the spirit from any practice of his inspirational, intellectual and spiritual inception.