I have a client, let’s call him Tom (because that’s actually his name), who has been doing some great work in the studio over the last 3 months. He’s gained strength, muscle and endurance, and he’s lost weight, all of which is fantastic. More importantly though, last week he crossed a milestone in his development even though he himself wasn’t aware of it at the time. It’s a quality in training that Pilates and yoga instructors look for in their students, which you might call working from the inside out.
Usually, when people first start training, they look at the equipment or the trainer as the catalyst for change, the thinking being something like “the weight I am pushing is making me stronger,” or “the trainer is telling me what to do and therefore I am improving.” The resistance or the programming is coming from an external source, something “out there” is doing something for the person. This is working from the outside in, and is one of the reasons why I think people enjoy the Pilates Reformer so much. It is reforming you, it is doing something to you for your benefit, which is why I often hear clients say, “I love the reformer, it gives me a great workout.” I also hear them say the same thing about our instructors: “I really love Kitty: she works me out really hard.”
There is nothing wrong with working from the outside in. I have clients who have operated this way with me for years and they have worked hard and made progress; I am proud of them and love being with them.
I have also lost clients over the years because they didn’t get what they wanted. I will take ownership of my part: it has sometimes been the quality of my instruction, or my personality didn’t mesh well with theirs. But in addition to that I often perceive a sense of dissatisfaction with the training process because it isn’t a magic pill, or because it doesn’t pay dividends immediately, or because it is harder than originally anticipated. And who is to blame when things aren’t working out? Not the person, certainly. Rather, it’s that reformer, or that instructor, or that process “out there.”
Working from the inside out is different. There is a shift toward recognizing oneself as the agent of change: The reformer isn’t doing something to me, I am moving the reformer; The kettle bell is just an object, and I am the one who is engaging my muscles to pick it up; the instructor is giving me cues, but I am the one who is doing the work, and receiving the benefits. If I am not achieving what I want, then I need to evaluate whether it’s the methods, the instructor, or me. I am an active and integral part of this process, or even more, I own my part on the process.
Something significant happens when a person begins to practice from the inside out. Their self-confidence increases as well as their sense of self-efficacy. They are usually able to better tolerate the temporary discomfort that occurs during intense bouts of exercise, partly because they understand that they are the ones choosing it. Exercise, rather than being a drudgery or an obligation imposed from the outside, becomes a vehicle for accomplishment, both short and long term. For my clients who are open to talking about their experience, they point to the positive experiences of increased self-control, resilience, personal power, and an ability to lean into the wind, so to speak. The work outs become more satisfying, so much so that it becomes the new normal, and missing exercise feels like a missed opportunity. The role of the instructor for them is someone who provides a path for growth, though it is understood that they are the ones who are walking it.
These are the kinds of things I am seeing in Tom right now: Fewer rest breaks between exercises; sustained focus; greater attention to form because he’s no longer bowled over by the effort; better breathing; bright eyes; more energy; more confidence in his movement patterns; more active engagement with his class mates when paired up with others; if he is behind the group, he finishes his reps before moving on to the next thing. In short, he is owning his process, and as a result, he looks great, he feels great and he moves well.
I applaud Tom for his progress and welcome him to the band of “insiders”, and I invite you to consider yourself an insider as well; membership is only one thought away.