The Power of Pilates Personalized

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

I have had a shoulder injury for almost 18 months. My neck and shoulder often ache, particularly after a long day of teaching Pilates. The pain makes it difficult to do everyday things like close the rear door on my vehicle or carry even moderately heavy items.

Sound familiar?

It started with a neck injury and concussion sustained in a car accident last year. Aware of the lingering and often long-lasting effects of such injuries, and because I am lucky enough to have a very supportive family and staff, I immediately went into self-care mode. I took time off work, rested and attended physio-therapy regularly. I started doing restorative Pilates classes and eventually was teaching and working -out at about 80% of my pre-injury capacity. I felt pretty proud of my ability to self-direct my injury rehabilitation.

Then we got a dog – a big, boisterous, Black Lab – and I decided it was the perfect opportunity to start running again. Down by the Lake on a beautiful summer’s day I ran one way, and the dog ran the other, literally knocking me off my legs. I landed hard on my bad arm. In one fell swoop my neck and shoulder were re-injured.

This time the injury seemed worse! I was back at square one: weekly physio-therapy and restorative exercises, avoiding movements that irritated the joint and trying to rest as much as possible. I was being so diligent about my recovery but it wasn’t getting any better.

My very talented and kind physio-therapist kept reminding me that the inflammation and pain I was experiencing were being exacerbated by faulty neurological patterns in my movement. Every time I engaged the muscles of my neck and shoulder, I set off a cascade of muscle mis-cuing that was creating more pressure on the injured tissues.

This was not news to me. I’m a Pilates professional. I understand this paradigm. I know what I needed to do to repair the movement patterning and I was working hard to make it happen.

What I didn’t fully understand is just because I understand intellectually what my body is doing wrong, I could not, on my own, make it right. I needed my own Pilates teacher to coach me. I needed outside expertise to guide me with visual, tactile and auditory cues to retrain the faulty movement patterns that had become entrenched in my own body.

We can’t always feel the faulty muscle recruitment patterns that contribute to disfunction and pain in our joints and muscles. We can’t always understand the cascading repercussions of neurological mis-firing elsewhere in the body.

There are physiological reasons why an injury in your neck can create pain in your wrist, or why faulty muscle recruitment in your lower back contributes to pain in the sole of your foot. There may be a reason your hamstrings feel so tight and all the stretching in the world won’t solve the problem.

Pilates teachers are more than exercise instructors. We are movement professionals with years of specialized training. We are able to see and assess movement patterns holistically and determine where bio-mechanic functioning is compromised. We create exercise programs based in sound, scientific methodology using specific equipment to address the whole body’s response to injury. We train our clients to move better, with freedom, ease, strength and joy.

I got myself my own Pilates teacher – luckily I know lots of good ones! I have started to work one-on-one with my teacher regularly and I can already feel a difference. I know I have a long road ahead of me. It takes time, patience and commitment to rebuild new patterns and reprogram default coordination. But I know it will be worth it because I really want to feel good again. I want to do everything I used to do pain -free and with confidence, including go running with my dog. And I know I have a coach and mentor by my side helping me every step of the way.

Because I believe you can teach an old dog new tricks.