Minding The Pain: Moving With Mindfulness

One of the most challenging periods of my life started on a rainy day in February 2014. I was training Yoga teachers at a leisure centre around 30 miles from my home when I slipped on a patch of water, carrying files through the facilities entrance. I landed on my left hip, essentially “squashing” my Sacroiliac (SIJ) joint and fracturing T7, (one can only assume through vibrational shock or some kind of violent lateral shunt on landing). I had been an exercise/Movement Professional for over 15 years at this point and felt that if anyone was able to rehabilitate themselves from such an injury, it was me.

I am writing this 3 years later having sold my fully equipped Pilates and Yoga studio, completely ceased Pilates and Yoga Teacher Training, re-trained to work with children in schools and am waiting (not very patiently) for an SIJ fusion operation to hopefully reduce the consistent pain I have suffered since that fateful day. I changed my life to try and manage my symptoms but along the way, my entire perspective on movement, (and life), changed.

I have a little room at the back of my house in which I can indulge my evolved approach to teaching movement and whilst I may only teach a few hours a week at the moment, my methods have allowed me to walk, work and function at a level that others in my situation may not be able to.  Allow me to explain…

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As an experienced Movement Professional, I tried to bridge the gap between rehabilitation, functional movement and fitness training. I taught classes of 8 (never more) and cued my participants according to ability and background. But as I struggled through life on pain relieving medication, trying to be the physically competent person I used to be as an example to my clients of why they came to me, I had an awakening. In order to manage my own body I needed to tune into it 100% and listen to what it needed in that precise moment, not yesterday, not last week, not last year…..

I looked around my small class one night and my heart sunk as I realised each of my participants needed something different from the next and I felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of needing to address each of their individual needs by first exploring their personal awareness. I had deliberately kept my groups small so that I could individualise but in that moment, even 8 seemed too many.

Unfortunately, in a group environment a degree of competition will always creep in between participants or even just within an individual who wants to achieve more than they did the previous session, but for them to progress and understand their bodies I needed that judgement to melt away, I needed them all to be in their bodies, in the moment, in their movements and be mindful in the way that I was learning that I needed to be.

I used to train my students (trainee teachers) to ‘teach’ rather than ‘instruct’ and prided myself on that specification but layering in mindfulness was a new challenge. The deeper my research into the methods took me, the more complicated I found it to pass on the importance of individual mindfulness both in teaching and in practise. I found many people just wanted to be ‘told what to do’ and my students wanted ‘rules’ based on ‘don’t do it this way, do it that way.’ Whilst a certain amount of structure is always valuable, I was personally moving on from biomechanics towards a blend of science, with an organic and spiritual understanding of human action.

blog_mindthepain_bookIt was perhaps a more mindful understanding of what my physical well-being needed that led to the very difficult decision to move away from the business and career for which I had fought so hard. Fortunately, I do not regret the decision. It is easier to manage my pain and the volatility of my condition when I am not teaching and moving all day. However as with all endings there was a beginning. The transition birthed my Pilates and Yoga manual, blending my understanding of human anatomy and biomechanics with Mindfulness methodology entitled, Opposition in Pilates and Yoga, Newton’s Third Law meets Mindfulness.

Thanks to positive reviews and sales, I started to think about using the Reformer I had at home to support others in my position and at the risk of sounding silly, the universe heard my thoughts almost immediately and the exact right amount and type of clients got in contact and asked for my help.

Human beings are not mechanical, we are biological and it is not just our physical actions that dictate our muscle behaviour and habits. Our emotions, nutrition, the weather, (high tides/full moons), all impact on our biological condition making it almost impossible to plan for either my own practise or my clients sessions. As a result, when I get on the reformer, I give myself 5 minutes to tune into what my body is telling me it needs. I need to get in my body and in the moment, in the way I wanted to teach all that time ago.

I mentally scan from head to toe trying to remain non-judgemental in the sense that I may know which muscle attaches to which bone but if I feel something different I will explore that through my session. I ask the same of my clients. Often this leads to a deeper session with focus being on how does it feel and less about doing the same number of repetitions of something on each side or balancing the body. If someone comes to me with an imbalance, doing the same thing on each side maintains that imbalance. If we focus on training weaknesses and stretching tightness in an imbalanced way, we effectively create; balance.

This approach has helped me reduce my pain medication significantly, but I still have to be mindful of my body as I go through life, protecting it whilst it remains vulnerable. My approach has seen one client evolve from an inability to walk to the shop at the end of her road, to being able to go to the gym (mindfully) twice a week. It has helped with the tendency towards OCD in one client and pain management in another. It is promoting less fatigue and depression in a post-natal client and motivation in an elderly man. As for me, I don’t know if I would have coped with the last few years if I had not found value in practising mindfulness both in movement and in my day to day life.

My world was turned upside down by an accident. I live in pain and everything I had, has gone.  But, practising mindfulness has stopped me from sinking into depression. It has allowed me to value everything I have right now and to enjoy the changes that this different life path has offered me. In fact, I am also currently exploring the possibility of teaching mindfulness in schools to introduce this powerful concept at a younger age.

It is my hope, that after the operation later this year I can look to supporting even more individuals through either Pilates or Yoga methods, who perhaps find that the generalised group class or even private session is not managing their physical well-being sufficiently, for whatever reason.

I highly recommend exploring mindfulness in terms of movement but also, for every humans fundamental well-being. It can ensure that all aspects of life can be enjoyed, even the darker times.

You will only remember this life, live ALL of it.

Marie-Claire Prettyman

About Marie-Claire Prettyman

Marie-Claire has been in the fitness industry since 1998 working as everything from a gym instructor and swimming teacher before finding her passion in Pilates & Yoga teaching. Combining teaching with sports massage therapy, she ran a dedicated studio for 12 years and was actively teacher training for 7 years. An accident in 2014 forced her to change direction leading now to a focus on supporting others with injuries and illnesses, who would be contraindicated in the group class environment. Her easy to follow Pilates and Yoga practise guide 'Opposition in Pilates and Yoga' is available to buy or download on Amazon. Find Marie-Claire at: www.themovementspecialist.co.uk and on Twitter @PilatesYogaMC.