Pilates: My Asana of Choice
by Kaitlynn McShea I was raised on a good dose of meditation and Hatha yoga. After graduating from Indiana University with my bachelor's degree in Elementary Education and a minor in Dance, my plan was to get certified in yoga and be a yoga instructor after school.
But life had other plans.
The yoga instructor certification was expensive and didn’t start during the summer like I wanted it to. However, a Pilates studio in town was offering a BASI Pilates mat certification course for half the price of a yoga certification, so I went for it. I figured that it would be a quick and easy certification. I had taken Pilates classes at gyms before, and with my dance background, it would be a piece of cake. “Maybe I’d even teach a class once a week at a gym or something,” I remember thinking.
As all instructors know, the mat certification course was a whirlwind of anatomy and precision. I fell in love with the dynamic movements and pairing breath with movement. After a few months of teaching elementary school, I realized I could afford to take YTT-200 yoga teacher training, too. I was thrilled, and I was even more excited that my mom and I could take the certification course together.
I loved learning about the eight limbs of yoga and how they meshed with the ten principles of Pilates: moral restraints, observances, mindful breathing, turning inward, concentration, meditation, bliss, and asana, or the physical practice of connecting the mind and the body. Physically, though, my body rebelled. I was used to slow, Hatha yoga—not the fast- paced and chaturanga-fueled practices seen in Vinyasa studios across the west.
After dozens and dozens of sun salutations, I started to have pain in my hips. Excruciating, I-can’t-walk-without- pain, pain. The doctor’s diagnosis? Torn labrums on both sides. I was devastated but determined to heal. Not only to dance again, but to walk without pain. I couldn’t dance, and I definitely couldn’t do yoga. Even sitting in a cross-legged position was excruciatingly painful. Still, I tried a variety of classes: Restorative, Yin, Choice Vinyasa, Hatha...they all led to pain.
Finally, I realized that I could practice yoga without the yoga. I could follow the eight limbs of yoga and change the asana by doing Pilates along with physical therapy. Over time, the trauma of my hip joints settled, and I started the long, deep work of learning how to use my lower abdominals without tucking and engaging my hip flexors.
After a year of healing and working through my injury in mat class, I started taking Pilates equipment classes. I officially fell in love with the comprehensive work the first time I spent an hour on the Wunda Chair. I was able to burn my leg muscles with little to no pain in my hips. I remember sitting down on the top of the stairs to put on my shoes: exhausted, shaking, and happy. I knew then that my journey didn’t end with the Pilates mat course and would continue through the comprehensive training.
I received my BASI Pilates mat certification in 2016 and recently received my BASI Pilates comprehensive certification in April of 2019. As a Pilates instructor, yoga has impressed upon me the necessity of centering the mind and the breath before movement--much like how Rael starts his mat classes! After all, mindful breathing and turning inward from the eight limbs of yoga read quite similarly to awareness and breath from the ten principles of Pilates. At the core of all mind/body practices, there are truly more similarities than differences.
Five years after my injury, I’m happy to report that I’m now back to walking pain free, dancing, and you can even find me in the occasional yoga class. But my real mind/body work is done on my mat. I appreciate BASI Pilates for its constant redirection of the breath along with the muscle focus. This helps my mind stay in my body and not on my never-ending mental to-do list. The BASI Block System® ensures that my body is working towards symmetry. Even on my worst hip-pain days, I know that I will walk out better or the same than I walked in. The focus on precision over flexibility helps ground my ego—I’m in class to learn, improve, and to be guided, not to show off. Most of all, though, Pilates helps me be kinder to myself. Every day on the mat, or the carriage, or the chair, is a new experience with ever-changing variables. It’s a sustainable practice that will be with me for the rest of my life.
I’m eternally grateful that BASI Pilates brought me to such a sense of rejuvenation. Sure, you can find mind/body awareness in a yoga class, on a run, or even driving. But for me? You can find me on the mat.