These days if you Google just about anything, you’ll find an article with “and Depression” at the end of the headline. Some examples:
- Pets and Depression
- Shopping for Groceries and Depression
- Houseplants and Depression
- Taking a Shower and Depression
So what can be added to the landscape? Only a personal story.
I suffer from acute depression. From my late teens to early 20s, I knew something was wrong. What was once angst started to lose its charm; moodiness just didn’t have a place in my life as a young adult. I was fortunate enough to seek help and find the right fit. With the help of a psychiatrist and medication, I can now manage my mental illness. There are all kinds of depression, which range in levels of severity, not to mention the various other interconnected brain chemistry imbalances. *** For those who know me well, just imagine how angsty and moody I’d be off my meds. A scary thought. Also: I’d never leave my house. ***
This post is not about analyzing the pathology, but the point is to open up the conversation, to anyone interested, on how to find ways to candidly discuss, share, help and self-help without shame.
The Pilates studio is way more than a place to “do Pilates” for many people. For someone suffering from any kind of pain, the studio is a safe space. It’s a place where a teacher is waiting for you—knows your name, your body, your story. The relationship is about movement, but also about company. In a one-on-one setting or a group class, there are other humans involved. To someone who feels utterly alone, this is a big deal. A huge deal.
A few weeks ago, I worked with a very skeptical geriatric student. We’ll call her Betty. We were in the South, in a city where Pilates isn’t yet a household name. After four different back surgeries, two knee replacements, a hip replacement and what sounded like a negative experience in physical therapy, Betty had plenty of reason to be skeptical of me, a tattooed teacher, a Yankee, visiting for the week. What could I offer that she hasn’t already tried? I could only offer what was in my scope of practice: gentle movement within the Pilates method. Betty could not get up and down from the floor. Betty could not comfortably sit, lie down or stand for very long. She expressed that she’s in constant pain—and can’t remember a time when that wasn’t the case.
Betty’s daughter convinced her to come in and try something new. So what did we do? We chatted a bit until Betty felt comfortable enough to take off her sunglasses, a silent sign she would be staying for the full hour. We stood on one foot. We talked about hobbies and travels. But mostly, I eased toward Betty with touch. Not a creepy touch, but a purposeful one. Directive touch. I touched her back, where she had big scars. I held her hand when she had to balance. I touched her feet where I wanted her to feel things. And as we spoke a little bit about arch strength, Betty looked at me with tears and asked:
“So you’re not going to hurt me?” and I said, “No, Betty. I don’t hurt people.” And then she asked, “So Pilates can feel this good?” and I said, “It definitely can.” Betty cried for a while, and I held her hand and smiled at her and hugged her until she was finished.
Does it really matter what we actually did for an hour? I don’t think so. I think Betty felt better than when she came in.
So what makes me feel better as a Pilates teacher? Volunteering.
For the past few years, I’ve kept a few hours on my schedule for reduced-rate or free sessions to the LGBTQ community, for those who can’t afford Pilates but need a place to go without judgment or fear. Because this is a confidential agreement, I won’t go into too much detail, but I will mention one student, whom I worked with for more than a year while he was recovering from cancer. I would visit him in the hospital, and we’d take short walks. When he was ready to return to the studio, he had a colonoscopy bag and was more afraid about spilling in public than he was about chemo. In my mind, the amount of courage it takes to face cancer seems more profound than making a mess. But what do I know? Together we created a space where any kind of movement was a form of healing—even if that just meant lying down and breathing together for an hour. Was that Pilates? I don’t know. Was that the most direct way to address the human in front of me? Yes.
When you’re sad all day every day, you need to find the moments outside of yourself to feel less so. Those moments are moments of grace. Grace in the face of graceless situations.
On the bad days, when I feel the most defeated and low, the only thing that helps is to honor those who are waiting for me. I show up for them. I show up for the unglamorous, frustrating, rejection-filled, ugly moments of the job. Because the job is a practice in humanity. The deep, shameless, unconditional, nonjudgmental patience of loving others.
The geriatric community, especially the widowed, at some point lose the experience of being touched by other humans. When they move into assisted living, they’re isolated from other age groups. They tend to get extremely depressed. Disconnected and patronized.
The LGBT community is similar in a way. If someone is in transition, they can have scars—visible and invisible. They have experienced trauma. Rejection. The local gym isn’t an option. Where do you go to move? To heal?
Recovering from cancer is extremely isolating. The word cancer scares people. A bag filled with excrement isn’t a cute look. Where do you go to just exist?
The elderly, the sick and the “strange” often don’t have the funds for self-care. What if every teacher donated one hour a week to someone in need? That’s just one hour of your time to make someone else feel unquantifiably better. And who knows, maybe you will, too.
Anula Maiberg is a graduate of the Kathy Grant Heritage Training Masters Program led by Cara Reeser. Anula is passionate about upholding the traditions and principles of Pilates while being able to update and personalizing them for the needs of her students. She also feels strongly about volunteering her time to the LGBTQ community, and believes Pilates is a wonderful movement modality and a tool for healing in a supportive environment.