Learning Underwater: learning to scuba dive and how it applies to Pilates

My husband and I have just successfully completed our Open Water Scuba Diving Certification with a wonderful, talented instructor from Blue Dive PADI Scuba Certification named Adriana. We finished the 2 day open water portion of our certification on the Agincourt Reefs in the Great Barrier Reef, North Queensland, Australia.  While the intensity of scuba diving far surpasses any type of Pilates workout, there are a few things that I picked up as a student learning something new and exciting.  I think these aptly apply to what we learn and how we teach a Pilates workout.

1) Keep Breathing –

Forever emphasized by our instructor, it amazes me how much we can do with our breath and how quickly things can go wrong when we hold, stifle or restrict it. Remembering to breathe, albeit in very different circumstances, is not only key in calming yourself in various situations, but is the most effective tool that you have to link your mind with what your body is doing.

In Pilates, remembering to breathe throughout your workout, regardless of level, is such a primary way to connect into the work. It demands that you pay attention to what your body is doing and ultimately, how you want it to move. Remembering that we want the ribcage to expand and contract with each complete breathing pattern involved in every exercise is a good workout reminder. Try to imagine the ribcage expansion like opening an umbrella – we want to feel it move to the sides and back of the ribcage (posteo-laterally). Likewise, the inhale is like gently closing the umbrella; not quickly, forcefully or tightly..just in a manner that allows it to continue in a fluid, constant way throughout your workout.

2) Know that your body knows –

Without a doubt, I am not a natural scuba diver…BUT! Once I got comfortable in  my surroundings and with, of course, my breath, I quickly realized that my body seemed to know what it was doing and I didn’t always have to think about it. A lot of times with physical activity of any type, we tend to over think how we’re about to move. This ‘over-anticipation’ can make the movement restricted, forced and depending on your desired outcome, frustrating. As many of our intermediate/advanced clients know, there are some pretty fantastic exercises in the Pilates method (let’s think of; Semi-Circle, Front Splits, Magician Series, Tendon Stretch on the Chair, to name a few) that often require a fine balance between knowing the movement and then letting your body go so that it can move in a way that is stable yet as natural as possible. As your workouts get more complex and more advance in movement patterns and endurance remember to trust your body’ strength and know that it knows how to move.

3) Trust your instructor –

For me, the experience of learning how to scuba dive would not have been as rewarding if it had not been for the patience and guidance of Adriana, our instructor. Again, we’re talking about 2 very different things. But as someone who teaches others this was probably the most valuable lesson I take away from this experience.

For clients, trusting that your Pilates instructor knows what is best for you at any given stage of your workout progression, is just one step in having a rewarding relationship with him or her. You must also trust that how the exercises are modified, introduced and integrated into your workouts are all with the primary focus of building up your strength, skills, stamina and coordination in such a way that isn’t frustrating, defeating or overwhelming.

For instructors, learning how to adapt the work so that it is customized for any client ought to be one of your first and primary goals in becoming a really amazing instructor. It goes without saying that in order to do this you must practice what you preach, love what you do and have a lot of patience to work with those who may be a little slower at grasping what seems to be what is so natural to you. But, most importantly is that you genuinely demonstrate why you love what you’re teaching and do your very best to share the fun and benefits that come with doing it – something that I, a long time Pilates enthusiast, picked up from the amazing scuba instructors out here on the Great Barrier Reef these last 2 days…