This past August, I had the pleasure of taking part in Rhyanna Van Leeuwarden's "In City Winter Escape" A three-day Yoga retreat in the gorgeous Camelot building, Perth.
I have very limited experience when it comes to Yoga. I expected to feel like a fish out of water... (most people assume Yoga and Pilates are basically the same, and yes, they have their similarities in regard to movement but as a whole tend to be worlds apart) ...but I was excited to dive in!
I walked toward the studio, it was a cold night and the warm light and candle scent spilling from the doorway drew me in. The studio was bustling with people, mats, chatter and anticipation. I rolled out my mat, grabbed some props and watched as others settled in. I was nervous, eager to fit in and trying my best to blend. Yoga, like Pilates, draws to it so many different types of people and from the get-go any preconceived stereotypical notions that I may have had quickly dissolved, and with it, my nerves. It was clear that we all had our strengths and our struggles, our different backgrounds and our unique motivations. As different and as seperate as we all were, it instantly felt as though we were connected by a common goal: to be present in the moment and to fully absorb the experiences to come. We were in it together.
Our instructor Rhy (a friend of mine, and client at Pilates House) has a commanding and calming presence. She quickly hushed the buzz and grounded the energy in the room. We were taken through a "restorative practice" and meditation.
The class was flowing, with pauses to deepen a pose and the sequences were repetitive, which helped me to figure out what I was meant to be doing. I started the class out in my head, I had my "Pilates brain" working overtime- long lines, muscle recruitment patterns and alignment were my focus. Throughout the session, I began to let my mind soften and came to recognise that the point to Yoga seemed different to what I was use to. What I was meant to be doing, was focusing on how the postures made me feel. It mattered far less, if at all how 'well' I performed the movement, how deep the stretch, how strong the balance, how precise the execution...it was all about connecting the movement to a feeling, being present and aware. It was less about a mind-to-muscle connection, and more about a unity of all things. (DEEP!) As clear as the intention was, putting it to practice needs far, far more practice.
After that first class (in which I was able to experience some of the "in the moment" connectedness that I speak of, thanks to Rhy and her teaching style) I felt open, uninhibited and nourished- and not just by the delicious vegan food. Note to self: Tofu is actually delish and giving yourself permission to shut off the outside world for an evening is bliss.
Day 2 had a different vibe: less mysterious and more familiar. It was daytime, the mood lighting was replaced with gorgeous natural light and the room took on more of a classroom feel. Note books and pens were at the ready for a Back Bend Workshop. Torso extension is usually either loved or loathed depending on how easily it comes to you. I personally love it and so this suited me and my 'Pilates brain' just fine. On the opposite side to the analytical, practical workshop, there was a Meditative Art Therapy session. Oh my gosh. If ever I need practice at anything in this world, its meditation. I can't switch my thoughts off to save myself...if anything, they get louder the more I try. I must admit, the techniques taught did help me to focus on one thing at a time for a short while, but for the most part I used this time to observe and familiarise myself with the different bodies in the room knowing tomorrow, I would be teaching Pilates to them.
It was the last day of the retreat and lets not even go in to how shocked my hip flexors were at the intense stretches throughout the weekend...they have never received that much attention, ever.
I stood in front of the group, ready to give them a taste of Pilates. I hadn't prepared a 'class' but more a theme to explore for the session: I planned to bring these Yoga-loving people, the people who by all accounts are drawn to Yoga for the very reason of feeling unified, free and calm into a place of working as an individual, feeling perhaps a different type of a 'muscular burn', to be controlled in ranges and focused in a different way..to be 'in their heads' and to experience the "Pilates brain" for an hour. I expected that as challenging as Yoga was for myself, the Principals of Pilates may be equally foreign to them.
The event was filled with amazing experiences, lessons, people, food and movement. I believe, as different as Yoga and Pilates are; they compliment each other in a special way. Yoga offers what is not offered by Pilates and vice-versa. I suspect that you are generally in one camp or the other, that you are drawn to one first, while dabbling in the other second. The principals of both, at their core are almost opposite in nature, and so together they balance each other out.
While I am naturally 'team Pilates' and feel most at home amongst Joe's gadgets and guidelines, it is beautiful to know that the Yoga mat is a welcoming place to visit whenever I feel the need to loosen the restrictions and control that Pilates sometimes demands. It is even better to know that I have a new little network of friends to enjoy it with and an incredible teacher in Rhyanna from whom to gather inspiration, lessons and warm, beautiful hugs!