“Physical Fitness is the first requisite to happiness”. Joseph Pilates
The older I get the more I value this statement; especially as a fitness professional who’s been in the industry for two decades. I entered the fitness industry as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor and for the last sixteen years I’ve been teaching Pilates. In the beginning of my career, exercise was purely about aesthetics. I wanted to be “lean”, “ripped”, “shredded”. I wanted my deltoids to carve into my biceps, my back to taper into a tiny waistline with 6-pack abs, a gravity-defying booty, and lean legs. And so I trained and ate accordingly. Monday through Saturday I’d do 1hr of cardio plus 1hr of weight training in addition to dance rehearsals and performances. My eating habits were packed with deprivation and rewarded with a cheat day, also known as binge Sundays.
“All in all, we do not give our bodies the care our well-being deserves.” Joseph Pilates
Superficial Intentions & Unsustainable Goals
As a result my weight fluctuated as did my mood and my relationship with my body, because that kind of insanity just wasn’t sustainable. Diet and exercise consumed my brain space and my joy. So did my injuries. I may have looked fit but, trust me, I wasn’t! I wasn’t training for mobility or joint integrity. That would’ve meant training my deep core muscles and joint stabilizers. But since I couldn’t see those muscles in the mirror I neglected them and just focused on looking cute. The idea of working out to build a balance of controlled strength and flexibility wasn’t a priority until injury kept hitting the pause button on my performing career. Herniated lumbar discs, SI joint dysfunction, a torn meniscus, ankle sprains, and lots of tendonitis were my wakeup calls.
“As small bricks are employed to build large buildings, so will the development of small muscles help develop large muscles. Therefore, when all your muscles are properly developed you will, as a matter of course, perform your work with minimum effort and maximum pleasure.” Joseph Pilates
Redefining Physical Fitness
I had to redefine what physical fitness meant to me. I was working out because I hated my body, not because I loved it and wanted to preserve it. My “no pain, no gain” mentality wasn’t helping me achieve the level of fitness I needed to maintain my active lifestyle and dance career. I also had to admit that my inability to function for a few days post-workout wasn’t a sign of being “hardcore”. Or that looking lean wasn’t an indicator of a healthy body or high self-esteem.
In my quest for physical perfection I was depleting my physical power and my ability to feel happy in my own skin. Yes, I still wanted to look amazing but my priorities had to shift. What I really want is a strong and healthy body that feels powerful and resilient versus beat up. Longevity is a priority! I want to be an active participant in my life until the day I die. I want what Joseph Pilates offers through his exercise method, Contrology:
“Contrology is designed to give you suppleness, natural grace, and skill that will be unmistakably reflected in the way you walk, in the way you play, and in the way you work. You will develop muscular power with corresponding endurance, ability to perform arduous duties, to play strenuous games, to walk, run or travel for long distances without undue body fatigue or mental strain.” Joseph Pilates
Physical Fitness That Leads to Happiness
While my body might not be a work of chiseled perfection, I am happy. At age 48, my body feels and functions better than it ever has. My regular Pilates practice is a constant reminder that physical fitness transcends the physical body. Pilates demands deep self-awareness but delivers a strong sense of self-mastery. It teaches me that feeling progressively and systematically challenged is part of the learning process. That kind of growth mindset reminds me to be vulnerable without being self-critical. It teaches me that with patience, consistent effort, and the repetition of healthy movement patterns throughout the entire Pilates Method, I can succeed at what I once believed impossible. I can feel strong inside and out. Those skills become transferrable outside of the Pilates studio anytime I’m trying to achieve something of value. And that makes me happy.