“Man should develop his physical condition simultaneously with that of his mind.”
“Contrology is complete coordination of body, mind and spirit.” —Joseph Pilates
As I have shared throughout this series, I truly believe the Pilates method is more than just a form of exercise. It is a study of the human body, mind and spirit. To understand the work, one must open up to both the physical and mental part of the practice.
When a person suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI), the person you become is often different from who you were. In my husband’s case, we have to accept there will be a new normal. I often ponder the idea that my husband, who was in the passenger seat during the car accident, suffered such a severe injury, while the driver walked away with only minor injuries. But, when those thoughts enter my mind, I quickly stop myself and focus on my faith. I know God has a plan for us all and chose Jon for this journey for multiple reasons, many of which I may never understand. Yet, I cling to two ideas of why this happened to Jon:
1. The mental strength, willpower and determination ingrained in Jon is what will get him through this difficult time. I truly believe not just anyone could fight this battle.
2. Faith has always been part of Jon’s life. He always enjoyed serving others. I think God is using Jon as a vessel to share the beautiful work of the Lord.
I feel that the Pilates method is a representation of how we should live our lives physically and mentally. Joseph Pilates was definitely ahead of his time. Let’s look at how similar the mechanisms of the Pilates method are to the process of rehabilitating the brain.
JOSEPH PILATES ON HIS METHOD: “My work is 50 years ahead of its time.” “The attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure—Everything should be smooth, like a cat. [The exercises are done supine, sitting, kneeling, etc.]…to avoid excess strain on the heart and lungs…natural movement…with the emphasis on doing and beings.”
AN EXCERPT FROM BRAINLINE.COM: “Neuroplasticity is the brain’s amazing capacity to change and adapt. It refers to the physiological changes in the brain that happen as the result of our interactions with our environment. From the time the brain begins to develop in utero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains reorganize in response to our changing needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences. Neuroplasticity is definitely a factor in recovery from brain injury. In fact, it is the basis for much of our cognitive and physical rehabilitation practices. Part of rehabilitation is aimed at trying to rebuild connections among the nerve cells—or neurons. This ‘re-wiring’ of the brain can make it possible for a function previously managed by a damaged area to be taken over by another undamaged area. The connections among the cells are infinitely receptive to this type of change and expansion.”
Joseph Pilates’ experiences with his own health issues led him to a deeper understanding of how the body heals. This knowledge is evident in the method he created. The Pilates method is not just another form of exercise—it is a lifestyle, an understanding of a way of living and a system to help life be pleasurable not only in the way we move, but in the way we connect internally.
Joseph Pilates created a system in which the exercises are performed in a certain order. This order has a purpose. Each exercise performed in sequence creates a connection in the body and builds new patterns, which, in time, helps to create new space in the body. Similar to neuroplasticity, the Pilates method helps to build new pathways.
Many clients ask me if they will ever be able to perform an advanced movement. My answer is always yes. I explain that first they have to believe they can achieve the goal. This can be achieved by having the right mind-set and the willpower. Next, the client needs to understand that success happens with practice, patience and persistence. Following these steps will create new pathways in the body and allow the movement to happen. Each person’s journey will be different, which is the beauty of life and the method. But the key principle in the process is sticking to the work in order to allow the body to find a pattern by building upon the sequence created by Joseph Pilates.
Both in Pilates and with brain injury, it is important to be consistent. Constant variation of any part of the sequence is confusing to the mind and body, and interrupts the connection needed to build new pathways. But with time and repetition, new pathways will form and the ability to do new tasks will develop. In other words, allow the body to master the foundations of the work before moving on to variations. Like a baby learning to walk, you have to crawl before you walk. Don’t overstimulate or overcrowd the mind and body by always changing the practice. Stick to the order created by Joseph Pilates, like brain injury patients perform repetitive patterns to create new pathways. The body needs to find its way, break through patterns and progress at its own rate.
Jon attends rehab sessions six days a week. He repeatedly performs the same tasks over and over until it is clear that new pathways have been created in his brain. The biggest problem right now is the severe damage to the Broca area of his brain, causing speech and language problems. The hope is that new pathways will be created in other parts of his brain, allowing him to communicate in one way or another. But I have faith that he will be able to communicate, just like I believe my clients will be able to perform difficult movements.