Joseph Pilates studied animal movement as he developed his method, which he called Contrology. He appreciated and wanted to imitate the efficient and graceful way in which animals move. In “Return to Life Through Contrology,” Pilates wrote, ” Cats as well as other animals acquire this ideal rhythm of motion because they are constantly stretching and relaxing themselves, sharpening their claws, twisting, squirming, turning, climbing, wrestling and fighting.” Apparently, a picture similar to the one above, of a bear on its haunches holding its paws, inspired Open-Leg Rocker.
I’ve observed my animals more than usual over the past three weeks. Some of you may have tired of hearing about my cats, but bear with me — no pun intended — I’m house-bound with little other entertainment, and I’m trying to paint a bigger picture. The cats allowed my presence to disrupt their schedule for about a day and a half. As I was figuring out how to work at a computer again, how to take care of my body when it wasn’t standing and moving as much, the cats went back to their routine. They were curious about why I was home and what I was doing, but before long they returned to what works for them. I imagine their inner dialogue went something like this:
“Listen, after breakfast we watch squirrels and birds. Then we chase each other and wrestle, followed by second breakfast and another check of the perimeter, maybe a few more laps around the house. After that, we nap, deeply and unapologetically, usually on your bed, though we have multiple options. You are welcome to participate or to provide a lap from which we can enjoy our activities, but that is what happens until the time you used to come through the door in the evening.”
Social distancing disrupted all of our routines in some capacity. Whether you find yourself on the front lines helping others, working from home, not working at all, or missing your usual activities, life changed. I’m learning to incorporate pieces of my former routine with new habits I plan to carry with me when we go back to “normal.”
The first day or two of virtual teaching, though I worked less than half the hours I typically do in the studio, I felt exhausted and stiff. Jessica said she had a similar experience. We had been sitting, relatively frozen, in front of our screens. We realized that we can watch the screen intently, change positions, move our bodies, and still see and be seen. So much better!
I’m used to drinking at least a gallon of water daily. That first day home, I had none from breakfast to dinner. My body revolted with a headache. The second day I drank a glass of water between each client. Better, but not enough. Then I thought, “Hey, why don’t I take my water bottle with me like I do in the studio?” Genius!
I’m not naturally a morning person, and as much as I can’t wait to see my early-morning clients in person before and as the sun rises, for the moment my first clients are either on the West Coast (bless you, three-hour time difference!) or home with flexibility in their schedules. I wake up more slowly, make my coffee as I listen to the news, then lift my spirits with a round of Song Quiz. (Do you know about Song Quiz? This is not an advertisement, but if you have an Amazon smart speaker, ask Alexa to play Song Quiz. You’ll thank me or hate me. I sample any decade when I’m feeling good and stick to the ’80s when I need positive reinforcement. Meet you in that magical decade of Wham! and Culture Club.) I have time to work out myself before I help others move. I’m enjoying this new ritual, and while I can’t fathom setting the alarm earlier than 5:30 when we’re back in the studio, I want to give myself more time in the morning.
Jessica has her girls at home, and before official home-schooling started, they put together a schedule to help keep everyone on track — when to do chores, when to have “recess,” etc.
Humans crave routine, partly because routines remove guesswork and eliminate decisions about necessary tasks. Finding that comfortable groove eases our minds, especially with current uncertainty and stress occupying so much brain space. Nearly every day at the studio, I see an older man walk past with his dog. The dog is distinctive, with the long, low body of a dachshund and coloring, coat and face somewhere between a collie and an Australian shepherd. I smile every time I see them. The other day, I saw them outside my house, which isn’t that surprising since I live near the studio. The site brought me such simple joy, I can’t describe it. That little bit of familiarity filled my heart.
By now you’ve probably settled into somewhat of a routine, consciously or subconsciously. Think about that routine for a moment, and whether what you’re doing meets your needs. What combination of nourishment, movement, socialization, rest and stimulation makes you your best self, and how can you sprinkle those throughout your day? Maybe you feel as if it’s all you can do to get by right now. That’s OK. Tell yourself it’s OK. While we’re in this state of stress response, that fight-or-flight mode necessary for survival, give yourself as much normalcy as possible. Take a page from the animals and embrace what works for you. In whatever ways you can, give yourself the comfort of a routine.