“I have diabetes.”

Alexia Simmons’ journey toward acceptance of her diagnosis and the balance it takes to live with it begins with Pilates. Here’s why.

By Alexia Simmons

I have a confession to make: I have diabetes.

It’s been a vaulted part of my life, known only to those in my closest sphere of meal cohorts and intimate whispers. The diagnosis came later in life that my irascible pancreas packed up its insulin, went on vacation and came home with some unexpected metabolic bile.

So I had to learn to deal with “the sugar troubles,” as the hen-pecking biddies of my grandmother’s sewing circle used to call it. Nobody in my ancestry has this brand of genetic demerit; to boot, I have the official diagnostic stamp of a Latent Adult Diabetic, which usually strikes babies and youth. I suppose that makes me a bloomin’ Benjamin Button of the metabolic world.

It’s an even rarer slap of fate because I have neither type 1 nor type 2, thus my splenetic pancreas plays ping-pong with the insulin.

In practical terms, I’m a type 1.5. This means I’m being battered between a rock of lancet-scarred fingers and a hard place of very sore ass that is harried by insulin needle attacks. Sometimes I almost expect Dracula to come begging at my door, but then realize that any leftover crimson drops are either keeping me alive or have already been slurped up by the ravenous blood-glucose meter.

I’ve pondered why I’ve so publicly flung open the lock to my medical safe, in order to display some of the flawed facets of my chromosomal family…uhh, jewels.

Mostly it’s a human reaction to long-simmering anger, nursed passive-aggressively on years of annoyance. On the infrequent occasions I’ve had to disclose my “sugar troubles,” too often I’ve been pummeled by the ersatz authoritative reactions of:

• People telling me that it must’ve been something I did (or didn’t do) mindlessly to my body.
• That I was somehow short-shrifted by my DNA.
• That I’m “lucky” because it’s like a divine reason to cut out the carbs (ummm…do they advise a providential excuse for alcoholics to drink, too?!). Just precious.
• That it’s been “undiagnosed since birth”—which, of course, would mean that this post must be literally written by a ghost writer because it would’ve killed me before I donned my first dozen Pampers!

My confession is my way of finally saying firmly, “nope, nope and more NOPE!” Anybody’s pancreas can foist carb-counting and deluges of bloodwork, at any time, on anybody.

The Diabetes-Pilates Link

My passionate journey into The Bible of Joseph Pilates began many, many lancet-free years before the endocrinologist stamped my pancreas AWOL. Recounting my head-over-heels attraction to Pilates, it was the mandatory focus and concentration that made me a devotee for life. The more consummate my understanding and practice became, the greater my appreciation for just how brilliant Joe was in his incorporation of mind and spirit into what could’ve been just another exercise fad.

I often sense that my clients come to their sessions lamenting divorces, family mishegas, age-related woes, chronic physical or emotional pain, or the symptoms of crushing type-A existential stress. I also know that by the end of that session their energy is almost always centered, rejuvenated, and chock full of “ahhh.”

I’ve asked myself precisely what is it about Pilates that creates such a powerfully restorative healing of not only a body but, equally, a besieged mind and battered soul, too?

The short answer: Practicing three Teasers in a row leaves no room for tax problems or a bad day at the water cooler. Obsessing over money troubles and concentrating on moving through the precision of achieving a proper Open-Leg Rocker? Impossible. Enough mental room to be beaten down by a crappy metabolic diagnosis and being fully engaged in Pilates Push-Ups? Dracula’s dead, Baby!

The century-proven Pilates system with an instructor demands a holistic synchronicity unlike other exercise regimens. Pilates exceeds because its transformative healing power exists in the details, requires all of a practitioner’s energy, thought, determination. It is uniquely cathartic because Pilates produces an inseparable choreography of body-mind-spirit integration. It cannot be mindlessly sweated through like the newest “_______-Bo” iteration or some music-blasting, repetitively mechanical, rep-step-pep romp in a designer gym. The unforgiving pulling of the belly up and in must be seen with the marvel and genius of its deceptively simple execution: Never has the belly and the spine so strengthened the brain and spirit!

Joe Pilates promised that “change happens through the precision of movement and movement heals.”

Now, not even the most fanatical devotion to Pilates will heal my pancreas; nor will it vanquish roller-coaster A1C levels; nor will it help me make the agonizing choice between the obscene carb content of parmesan-encrusted fries or a sumptuous chocolate dessert.

My demon pancreas and “the sugar troubles” will eventually regress me from this maddening type 1.5 to a vampiric, hypodermic-dependent type 1 finality. Sigh…

Of course, it constantly pricks at me like the hungry little lancets that infest my days. But this I know: My regular Pilates practice—not wooden crosses, judgemental advice or pretentious exercise crazes—will always produce a curative prognosis of centeredness and harmony!

Alexia Simmons is the owner of Pilates Perfect Studio on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where she teaches the classical Pilates method to all age groups and abilities. She is an adjunct lead teacher trainer for Core Arts Pilates in California. Alexia recently collaborated with the Museum of the City of New York to create a community Pilates Mat Series program. In her previous capacity as director of education of a NYC-based Pilates teacher-training program, Alexia developed the syllabus and established unique guest workshops with luminary Pilates figures. She maintains regular attendance of seminars that feature renowned industry leaders, specialized Pilates education, physiology and anatomy courses, as well as national conferences. For more information, visit pilatesperfectstudio.com; follow Alexia on Instagram (@pilatesperfectstudio).

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