On December 21, 2012 my family and I landed in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. As I stepped off the plane in my Abaya and hijab I stepped not only into a new country, but also into a world of new beliefs and practices. Little did I know that this world, with such strict moral codes and laws, would open a new freedom that I did not anticipate would be awaiting me. Teaching Pilates without the bombardment of the perfect body images that plague us in the West would not be the case here, really? Of course, the women I encounter do care about the appearance of their bodies, there is just not the unspoken societal strain to achieve the size zero that we often find in the West. Being free from this constraint allows women to enter the practice of Pilates with patience and focus on their overall well-being, which is something that has not always been the case when teaching back in the states.
I began teaching Pilates in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in September 2013. This was almost a year after I landed in Saudi. It took the first portion of our time in the Kingdom just to figure out to live. It was quite challenging to reconfigure the day-to-day life in a country where women are not allowed to drive and the social expectations for women are so vastly different. Only after spending my first portion of time working on the adjustment to life was I ready to start teaching Pilates again.
As I readied myself to teach, I was shocked with the number of women from all over the Middle East and Europe who had never heard of Pilates. At first this news seemed daunting. Daunting because I would now have the responsibility not only to teach the practice but also to introduce the idea and movements of Pilates for the very first time. However, after my first teaching session the intimidation turned into exhilaration. It became quickly apparent how open and dedicated my new students would be to the practice of Pilates, not only in the studio, but as it would apply to their daily lives.
It did not take long before I began hearing how the function of their daily lives had started to improve. One client exclaimed she could not believe that she was able to bend down and plant in her garden all day without fatigue or pain! Others have been able to do a variety of activities with more energy and flexibility. There are also those that have started to become more mobile when in the past they had been sedentary.
It is wonderful to see these women finding new strength, flexibility and relief from their pain through Pilates. This is what they are excited about with regards to their practice. For me, not having to battle expectations from the client that their practice will result in simply a smaller clothing size is really refreshing. Of course these beautiful women do want to look better; this is a natural desire and not a bad thing. Working with my students has been and continues to be liberating and fulfilling! All of my clients have very specific and diverse needs, which keeps me challenged as I endeavor to lend a helping hand on their road to better health.
In terms of my training, BASI Pro Bridge has equipped me to lay the foundations of the Pilates practice here in the Kingdom. Rael’s wonderful study guides and manuals have been at my fingertips as I take this journey. The tools of Pilates Interactive and Pilates Anytime have also been important to my personal and professional growth. As a student and teacher of Pilates, I have been able to grow by taking several online workshops such as “Form and Function,” offered on Pilates Anytime. In this workshop, Rael has so beautifully taught about the ways in which better form will result in better function. This emphasis has been a natural translation in this culture of women.
I never imagined that my personal journey would lead me to Saudi Arabia. There are obvious challenges in any culture with such strict laws and expectations. I have discovered the joy of a new freedom that I did not know I would encounter. It is not only a professional freedom but also a deeply personal freedom. The struggle within us all, to fit into a picture of perfection has undoubtedly affected us all at one time or another (both women and men). Yet, when we are freed from the self- inflicted and societal bonds of the perfect body image, it is a beautiful thing to encounter how much deeper our practice, study and teaching of Pilates can venture.