The Promise of Happy Exercise®

“In ten sessions you will feel the difference. In twenty sessions you will see the difference. And in thirty, you’ll have a whole new body.” This is the promise of Joseph Pilates. And as every new client passes the 10, 20 and 30-session mark I ask them about their experience. Do they feel different after 10 sessions? Can they see a difference after 20 sessions? Do they feel like they have a “whole new body” after 30 sessions? And the answer is always yes.

But this is not a blog about “Pilates.” Sadly, Pilates has become nothing more than a marketing term to describe “core strength.” And this is not a blog about honoring the legacy of the man – Joseph Pilates – who left us with this incredible body of work and various apparatus (although I should write one). This blog is about the power of Happy Exercise®. And while any form of physical activity – in the correct context – can be considered Happy Exercise®, the first time I personally experienced it was with Pilates.

Pilates has made its way to the echelon of pop culture. So even if someone is unfamiliar with the specifics of the discipline, the average person knows that Pilates is a type of exercise. And most people know something about exercise and personal training. And thanks to the marketing efforts of the fitness industry, most people think of exercise as a “way to burn calories and lose weight” or “get into shape” and that the personal trainers are the coaches who “hold them accountable.”

And none of this is necessarily a “bad” thing. It’s just that this perspective misdirects our focus and puts limitations on the potential benefits of exercise. In this traditional way of thinking, the “benefit” comes from that hour sweating with a personal trainer. And, yes, some would argue that there are also caloric and metabolic benefits that continue on after the workout. But the point is this: the general perception of exercise is that its benefits come as a direct result of the workout.

So it is natural for new Pilates clients to ask questions about how often they should come into the studio for a workout and how long it might take them to see results. And this is where we have a potentially life-changing conversation.

The power of Pilates (and of Happy Exercise®) is not in the one hour a week (or three) that the person comes into the studio. Even if the client were to come in for a workout every single day, the 7 hours a week they spend with me could not override the other 161 hours in the week spent in the unconscious habitual movement patterns and lifestyle that brought them to the studio in the first place. The power of Pilates (and Happy Exercise®) is that it teaches us how to become embodied. It teaches us how to take this new way of moving our body and this new way of inhabiting our body into the rest of our life.

For example, it doesn’t do you much good to spend time “working on your core” if you don’t then use your core when engaging in the rest of your life activities. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend strengthening your arms, your back or your upper abs if you continue to use your neck and shoulders to do everything from grabbing a coffee cup out of the cupboard to driving to doing laundry.

The power (and point) of exercise from a Happy Exercise® perspective is that the time spent in physical activity teaches you how to feel your body and how to be in your body. It teaches you how to use your body. And when you take these lessons – learned and practiced in your daily exercise time – out into the rest of your life, you become embodied. When you are embodied, the new movement patterns you learn create sustainable change in your strength and flexibility. And when you are embodied, you instinctively know when and what to eat – and how much. When you become embodied, you can create sustainable weight loss and well-being because all of your choices and actions come from a place of harmony and congruency that is authentic to your highest self.

So I can’t promise how many Happy Exercise® sessions it may take. For me, it is a life-long adventure. As my body gets stronger and more flexible, I can find deeper muscles than I could before. When I get injured, I find new ways of moving through the range of motion. But understanding that my results are not coming from the workout per se, but from the connection to my body that the workout provides me has been priceless. Happy Exercise® has given me not only a new body – but a new freedom, a new happiness and a new life.