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Things I Learnt from My 30-Day-Pilates-Challenge That Are Nothing To Do With Pilates

For some people, going to 5 Pilates classes a week is what they do EVERY week. Some people run marathons. Some people routinely make time for exercise, regardless of what is happening in their life. Those people will probably find this blog post boring!

But for anyone who battles with physical illness or limitations, for those who struggle to prioritise their own needs, or for those looking for the motivation to make a change (no matter how big or small) this post might be for you.

Last month I signed up for the "30-Day Inside-Out Challenge" at the Pilates Fitness Institute (where I work as a counsellor). This would mean going to 5 classes a week for 4 weeks and I had three goals in mind.

  1. To improve technically – I’ve done Pilates on and off for several years but I wanted to feel stronger and achieve some of the more intermediate movements that I struggle with.

  2. To find the 5:30am wake-ups more tolerable – I am not a morning person and I hoped if I did them several times a week, I might find waking up at that time a bit easier.

  3. To push myself to achieve the challenge – after many months of conserving my energy because of symptoms related to low iron levels, I was ready to push myself more than I had in a long time.

Instead of just a physical challenge, I found I learnt a whole load more than expected.

1. I don’t need to be a morning person to exercise at 6am

It turns out, despite doing loads of 6am classes, I still hate waking up early. I often found myself stirring at 4am or 5am to make sure I hadn’t slept through my alarm. Many days I felt fatigued and exhausted. But I was signed up and committed to the Challenge and along the way I learnt that I don’t have to be alert or even coherent when I arrive at class, because by the time I leave at 7am, my body feels limber, my exercise for the day is finished and there is coffee waiting for me at home.

I don’t need to love waking up that early, I just need to do it.

2. I don’t need to be perfect

Due to my family and work schedule, most of my classes are done early in the day, with only 1 of the 5 classes each week taking place at night. Which is unfortunate for me, because my body is far more receptive to Pilates in the evening. I feel stronger and more physically capable and I leave those classes far more invigorated.

I came to accept that my progress to achieve some of the more challenging movements may be slower, because while I’m more able to stretch myself in the evenings, for now, those classes simply don’t fit with my schedule.

But if I wait for a time when I can attend those later classes, I may never achieve my goals. I would much rather attend more regularly than only when my body is feeling its best.

3. Pushing through my usual pain barrier was easier than expected

On the evening of day 4 of the challenge, I was doing a class when I felt my shoulder pinch. Under normal circumstances I would have rested my shoulder indefinitely until it was pain-free.

Instead, I went to a class the following morning. I then took the weekend off as planned but for the next two weeks, I continued to go to classes 5 days a week. I adjusted certain parts of each class so my shoulder didn’t ache, but I kept going. (N.B. medical advice was sought and I was cleared to carry on).

At any other time, I would have taken a break, out of fear of doing more damage to the injury. This challenge taught me to carry on and make adjustments (PFI having amazing instructors who facilitate this in every class), rather than stopping altogether. It helped me to reflect on the times I may have stopped things in the past when I may have been able to carry on, and will definitely help me to push myself further in the future.

4. Routine takes some adjustment but everyone does get on board

My household was not overjoyed by the news of my Pilates challenge. Although most of the classes took place while they were asleep, the idea that I was out of the house on my own 5 times per week was a change in routine for my family that they had to get used to!

One of the classes took me away during our bedtime routine and there were often tears and “Miiiisssss Yoooouuuu” declarations which wasn’t easy for any of us. But they adjusted. They used the garage door opening at 7:10am to signal it was time to get out of bed. They took my Pilates mat from me when I got home and did their own versions of pelvic curls.

My husband, a very giving man with his time and support to others, was finally able to give himself permission to make his own time to recharge.

I often speak to my children about the importance of exercise, self-care and having time to ourselves when needed and there is no better way to teach this than to demonstrate it.

5. Self-care starts here.

Setting aside five hours per week to exercise isn't easy, right? Aside from two long weekends away with girlfriends, I haven’t dedicated 5hrs a week to myself in over 4 years.

The challenge made me realise that I was genuinely investing in myself, and although I may need to do that at 6am, it is a sign of self-esteem that I value myself enough to invest so heavily in me.

6. There is always a way

Shortly after finishing my 19th class, I took a misstep and badly sprained my ankle. My first thought as I watched the swelling set in was “How am I going to finish my 20th class?”. I was so close yet so far.

Thankfully, with the support of the wonderful Suzanne Newby who is one of the owners at PFI and Teacher-Extraordinaire, I was able to attend her class just a few days after my injury and complete my 20th class, heavily modified but I managed it.

There is always a way. It may not have been graceful, it may not have been the way I had envisaged, but there is always a way.