My Own Personal ‘Return to Life’
by Allie Greene
Return to Life — as Pilates teachers that is what we help people to do. A person may have a serious illness or physical condition and Pilates can play a meaningful role in their recovery. It can also be as simple as getting on the mat where they finally take their first real breath of the day. Joseph Pilates saw our society moving down a path of less exercise, more stress, and more industrialization (which means more pollution). I wonder what his reaction would be if he could see our world now. Would it be “Yes, I told you so?” Or would he be flabbergasted at how far we’ve taken things? Our terrible love affair with processed foods, childhood obesity, and automated everything. So many people drive to sit to drive to sit to drive to sit. Guilt in doing nothing unless it either prescribed or placed strategically within the calendar. So many people so disengaged with their bodies that it reminds me of taking my car in to be serviced.
“Excuse me, car service person. My car is broken. I know nothing about my car. Can you fix it?”
We are not cars. We have souls and, for me, soul equals life force. Most of our environment is rough on that life force. The noise and movement, the often frenetic pace of our day, and the voice in some of our heads that keeps talking about how you should probably be doing more and by the way, doing it better. Exercise has taken on many of these characteristics. It should be done faster, heavier, higher, and many times, in not a particularly mindful way.
Pilates is the antithesis of all of that. It is the exercise vitamin. It creates balance within the body systems. It returns us to our life. Our true life. Our true self. Not everyone wants to do Pilates all the time, even though some of them should. So I am happy if someone comes once a week. The beautiful thing about Pilates is that it still works even if that person doesn’t understand its elegance like those of us reading this do. But honestly, most people come around to it. Usually in the form of “I don’t know what it is, but I always walk out of here feeling better, feeling taller.” They are “returning to their life”. They got a fill up on their life force.
I have struggled with anxiety for many years. Two years ago, it came to an ugly head. I was teaching and traveling a lot, running a studio, and starting to deal with many physical issues mostly brought on by the severe anxiety and panic attacks that would usually ensue. I felt like my body had been hijacked and I was a hostage on a crazy ride to an unknown destination. The one life preserver I held onto was Pilates. Even during my worst episodes, movement brought me down a bit, reassured me I was still there. Yes, that’s my spine articulating. Yes, I know the rhythm of single leg stretch. After a day of stressful travel, I couldn’t wait to get to the hotel room, lay a towel down on the floor and return to my body even if it only lasted for a few hours.
The end of this story is that I said “Enough!” after a vacation with my husband to St. Maarten was almost ruined because I was struggling to get through the day. On vacation! I made it through with the help of rum punches and Pilates. I came home, did about six months of talk therapy with a wonderful therapist, got on anti-anxiety medication, and educated myself on the nervous system. I started meditating, doing focused breath work, and slowly began to feel myself again. I wish I had done it sooner. Two years later, I am almost anxiety-free. I have returned to my life. I have reconnected with my life force. I now want to help others who suffer. I believe it is slowly changing, but our society has a negative view of anxiety/depression and mental illness in general. Too many people suffer in silence because they are embarrassed or ashamed to admit they need help. They are afraid that people will look at them differently. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is no different than any other body issue. I’m the same person before and after I tell my story. I tell it because if I can keep someone else from suffering the way I did it is worth the discomfort.
As a Pilates teacher, and therefore someone who understands the mind/body/soul connection, my first question to every client is “How are you today?” The answer creates the session we do. Even if that person says “I’m great!” and they’re not, their body exposes them. They move too fast or without flow. They can’t maintain focus or become easily frustrated. I am not a psychologist, but I can offer “body therapy.” I hold fast to the belief of “change the body, change the mind.” I make it my mission to have each person walk out feeling better than when they walked in. Pilates is a practice and therefore Pilates can teach patience, self-awareness and discipline. It offers us an opportunity to create a positive relationship with our body, no matter what is going on with it. It is movement-based meditation and during our practice, that little voice in the head goes to sleep as we focus on breath and creating flow.
My studio is a community of people who embrace each other and cheer each other on. All are welcome. It is an environment of kindness and passion for movement. It is a place of respite for some with difficult situations such as a sick family member at home, or a stressful job. It is a place of healing and hope for those battling a disease such as cancer, Lyme, or MS. There are always laughter and smiles but also room to cry and work through issues, if that’s what’s needed. There are also many moments of accomplishment – such as when a person finally nails a challenging exercise or a light bulb goes on regarding the mind-body connection. It is a place to find strength – both inside and out. I feel blessed every time a person walks through our door to Return to Life.
Allie Greene was introduced to Pilates in 1988 as a part of her dance career with the Cleveland San Jose Ballet. In 2007 she obtained her certification through STOTT PILATES®. In 2013 she was honored to have been asked by Tracey Mallett to become a master trainer for the bootybarre®. In 2016 She began helping bootybarre® as the Assistant Education Director and is part of putting new education material together.
Her other certifications include the PMA ( Pilates Method Alliance) and AFAA (The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America), and The Pink Ribbon Program which is a Pilates based program designed to help women regain full range of motion to those areas affected after breast cancer surgery. She also completed the Pilates for MS and other Neurological Conditions course and is certified in Applied Functional Science through the Gray Institute. She is always working towards increasing her knowledge about the body, movement and Pilates. Along with Laura Burke, she is the co-owner of Equilibrium Pittsburgh Pilates. She is passionate about helping empower people to find a healthier, happier self and introducing Pilates and mindful movement to all ages.