Finding Freedom through Pilates in the Middle East

by Christina Spring

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.

Photo from 19 Feb 2014

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.

Photo from 20 Feb 2014

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.

Photo from 19 Feb 2014

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.

CHristina Family

17 Responses to “Finding Freedom through Pilates in the Middle East”

  1. sheri long says:

    Great Article Christina,I love reading about other cultures and reconfirming for myself that Pilates is universal!

    • Chris Spring says:

      You are welcome to visit Saudi anytime! So glad I had the opportunity to learn with you and from you at Pro Bridge!

  2. Hi Christina,

    So good to hear your experience in KSA.
    I ave been living in the ME for the last 20 years. The first 10 we lived in Khobar, where my 3 children were born. Since 2004 we have been living in Bahrain.
    I bought Dance, Aerobics and Pilates during my time in Khobar and since 2004 i have taught Pilates in Bahrain. i used to teach Mat Pilates at a local studio and then moved to my home studio with equipment and in 2011 we opened Equilibrium. A Pilates Studio in Sar area.
    I did the CTCC training with Basi in Athens, where I met Rael during the Symposyum and followed him to CA to attend “Passing the Torch” a Mentorship course, followed by Mentor and Master and Master Reunion course. equilibrium run the first CTCC in Bahrain in October and we just finished in March.
    I Hope you can come and visit us. I have a client who comes take classes here from Khobar.
    Check our website: equilibrium me.com
    Call me at 973-39093665
    I look forward to hear from you.
    Great article!!
    take care

    Patricia Kabalaoui

    • Christina Spring says:

      I would love to meet up sometime! It is great to know you are here. I have not found a group of Pilates teachers in my area. It would be great to take a few classes myself:-)

  3. Arwa says:

    How can i contact you if i wanted to join your pilates classes?

    • Christina Spring says:

      Please feel free to contact me through my email. It is christinaspring73@yahoo. I look forward to speaking with you!

  4. I teach in Qatar and also find it exciting to see improvement in clients who first just tried Pilates as the latest fad, and now religiously attend classes as they start to feel the benefits in their own bodies.
    Sometimes a struggle but always rewarding to teach in the Middle East!
    Thank you for sharing. I feel inspired.

    • Christina Spring says:

      Theresa,
      I would love to be in touch and share our experiences. I want to encourage you to keep on seeking the positive in the good days and persevere through those tough ones.

  5. Great article Cristina, I am in Qatar for the last 9 years and
    I have also Private Pilates and Yoga Studio. Welcome to Medle East and all above! Namasté

  6. Sabah Saad says:

    Hi Christina, how r u dear?. Do you still give Pilates class from ur home studio?!. If so plz let me know I would love to join one of ur classes.
    Thanks.

  7. Rana says:

    Hi Christina:
    I was so inspired by your story and how you harnessed the healing powers of Pilates to ease the pain of your condition.

    I too suffer from scoliosis and have practiced Pilates while I was studying in DC and it did me wonders !

    I live in khobar now and would love nothing more than to get back into Pilates

    Can you please provide me with a means to contact you to explore the possibility of enrolling in your classes ?

    Rana

  8. Christina Spring says:

    Thank you all for you sharing your thoughts with me! I look forward to meeting those of you who are near by and hearing from those of you from afar! My email is [email protected] . I hope that I can answer any further questions or assist those of you looking for training in the near future! All the best in your personal journey to better health and well being!
    Chris Spring

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