Pilates + Depression = A Welcomed Respite!

Recently, I found myself running in a charity event 5K road race for an organization that provides social services to U.S. soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. The organizations aim is to prevent military suicide. A fellow coworker had lost their sibling to suicide at the end of the summer in 2016. That tragic loss was heartbreaking for me to learn about, and more difficult to process. I felt compelled to do something, not for altruistic reasons, but for compassion and empathy for those suffering from mental illness. This tragic event was the closest I had ever been to suicide; yet, I am all too familiar with depression.

I put on a mask every day when I teach Pilates to cover the “me” I do not want people to see.  Just like Peter Parker does not want anyone to know his true identity in order to protect himself and those close to him, I do not tell anyone what is behind my mask.  Fear and anxiety guide this decision. I have probably lived and suffered from depression since I was sixteen: more than twenty years. Depression is not a condition I like to share, show or discuss. Even now, I prefer to remain anonymous, though not from shame.

Around the time I stated practicing Pilates I was regularly attended psychotherapy sessions. I valued both. I also like to believe that practicing Pilates rescued me on several occasions, helping me find some sort of inner strength that was so lost in my condition. While the abdominal series would not heal a heart, the consistency of a time and place, and community to do the method, had a magical medicinal effect. The movement method could have been yoga, Zumba, or whatever, but my body chose Pilates. I loved how my body felt. I did not know right away that I wanted to teach Pilates: it took me five years to ask my teacher how I could train. There I was, an introvert, isolated, in therapy on SSRIs, and really…I’m going to teach Pilates?

Training and teaching revealed a hidden extrovert inside me, or maybe the person I dreamed I could be. I was thrilled to share my passion for Pilates with others. At the same time the extroverted me was hiding my unhappiness. I recall after one group mat class, which I thought went quite well, a client asked me, ‘Are you an actor?’  My answer inside and outside was ‘Yes’; I had to be an actor. Instead my answer was, ‘No, I’m actually really quiet outside of teaching.’

Traumatic events occurred in my life that would impact everything, including my ability to practice Pilates. There were times I could not breath for months, suffocated by my hidden pain. I felt like my spirit was ripped away from me – a lifeless being does not breathe. But, I could relate to my clients through the benefits they receive from their Pilates practice, because for what it was worth I felt the same when I practiced too. I hope – no, I know – I am one of many who pour their hearts out when teaching. I truly love this profession and the rewards I see in my clients.

Mr. Pilates mentions on several occasions in his book the importance of Contrology on the health of the mind. Even in my constant mental and physical work, I am far from feeling “better,” but Pilates has become a useful tool to center me. Practicing Pilates allowed me to feel good physically and mentally – if only for that hour, fine.  While working out I did not have to be that “other” me who felt awful. My mind and spirit were regularly taken away to a place with a different focus. Numerous cite the mental health benefits of moving and exercise.

With Pilates I could be stronger and have a more positive self-reflection. Over time I learned how to breathe again, and how to have passion for movement. Pilates has the inner focus that reaches to a level of control of mind and body. We work more than on a superficial level, or even those deeper levels: I think Pilates can touch the spirit. Considering the dreary and isolated situation in which Mr. Pilates developed Contrology, he believed and hoped.

I have to recognize the truth that Pilates cannot heal me. But, Pilates can be a constant in a time when the world is bleak. I can be reminded that I have something in my life that can bring about positive change to people, including myself. Sometimes the stories our bodies hold, the emotions we carry, can change a little in an hour.

So, I have been there. I am still there. Maybe you are too.

I love what I do, and in a way Pilates shows me some of the love requited. I would be in a much worse place if it weren’t for Pilates. I started this blog describing a suicide. I’ll end by saying we need to listen to those in need, we need to recognize them and be there. As a Pilates teacher, I can faithfully say, Pilates helps.