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‘It’s a very slow process – two steps forward, one step back – but I’m inching in the right direction’. director Rob Reiner on change
I was working my body and brain as hard as I could when she said, “That’s it, Rosalind. You’re using your core to move your feet. Good job!” And, you know what? She was right. Lifting my legs using only my core muscles, I arched my feet as I curled my toes. Sound easy? Trust me, it’s not for me. Childhood dreams of being a ballet dancer long gone, I haven’t been able to arch my feet or even wiggle all my toes in decades. Now, with intense focus and training, my brain was directing my body to behave differently, a difficult accomplishment given the nerve damage I live with. Since multiple sclerosis first showed up almost 40 years ago, my body has often felt like a foreign object. Now after working with Monique, a highly trained and gifted pilates instructor for the past 8 months, I could see signs that my body might seem familiar again. Even if only when I’m working with her. I’ll take that. It’s one step forward.
I’d practiced pilates on my own for many years, self taught using videotape instruction. I knew I was skimming the surface of what this might do for me but I just didn’t know how to connect the exercises to improving my walking and balance. I needed a teacher, a guide. From our first meeting, Monique adapted her expertise to my goals and needs, creating the space for me to increase my capacity. Technique always important but only useful if I could apply it properly to my body.
I’ve worked out daily for my entire adult life, mostly in my home. The most dramatic shifts have been when I’m working with a teacher, a ‘guide’. About 20 years ago, when pain and poor balance became debilitating, a physiatrist recommended a physical therapist who specialized in pain. The first thing she asked was, “What are your goals for working together?” Huh? She wanted to know what I wanted from this! That was a first for me in a healthcare or sports environment. As she listened intently to what I said, I could see she understood. I trusted her immediately and even felt hopeful. Over time, that trust was rewarded by my significant improvement. She introduced me to a new concept for me– strengthening exercises to build the weak muscles that contributed to my pain. Just as importantly, she guided me to think about my body and the pain I experienced in a different way. Her thought provoking questions about my experience and the pain research articles she shared engaged me in my development. When she said, shortly after we started working together, “It’s just pain”, I thought she was minimizing how I felt. But in time, I saw that statements like these encouraged me to challenge my beliefs about pain so I could approach it without fear.
Unfortunately, she became ill and was forced to stop working. But she’d made a significant difference in my life and her teaching and words stuck. Clients tell me long after we’re done working together that they continue to hear my voice in their head. I hear Jane’s voice when pain or other symptoms threaten to overwhelm me and I rely on the toolbox she helped me to create, including the pilates tapes she’d given me to do at home. I occasionally tried other teachers and classes. But at best, there was no improvement. At worst, the lack of guidance led me to injure myself.
Then when longstanding physical challenges became too big a problem to ignore in the past year, a friend recommended Monique. At the start, I saw her twice a month, rather than more typical weekly lessons. Before investing too much, I wanted to know if this would be worth my time and money. Within a few months, I could see that infrequency was preventing me from getting traction. Sure enough, increasing to weekly sessions changed the dynamic. Now I focused more deeply and consistently on strengthening and building muscle memory and Monique grew to know my body’s quirks and weak spots. When MS symptoms acted up and my brain/’body connection grew weaker this summer, I moved to twice a week. The more frequent sessions are helping me maintain my gains when my body is under particular stress.
Monique calls herself a Pilates instructor but I think she’s more than just an instructor, a giver of knowledge. She’s my Pilates coach. Her approach is similar to how I work with my clients. She practices what effective coaching should do:
- Guides me to think and act differently so I can be more of who I want to be,
- Provides appropriate skill development based on her expertise,
- Offers non judgmental support that provides the safety to take risks,
- Meets me where I am, not where she thinks I should be.
Change starts with deconstructing the behavior that doesn’t work. It relies on being able to replace what doesn’t work with more effective behavior or thoughts. It can also create frustration and it test our patience. Change inevitably takes more time than we expect, and is more likely to happen when we stay present in the ‘now’ rather than focusing on future. Finally, deep sustainable change requires practice and more practice.
Are you inching your way in the right direction? How’s it going for you?