The ability of Pilates to completely change and improve someone’s quality of life never ceases to amaze me. It is a true testament to the life-long dedication that Joe Pilates gave to his method that it can improve and enhance the ability to move and function regardless of limitations.
In my job as a Pilates instructor, I have met some truly inspirational and courageous people. One of them is my client, Sam. I first met Sam, a 40-year-old stroke survivor at Akasha Wellness last November about 8 months following her stroke. I had received a short email from her neurological physiotherapist explaining that she had weakness in her right hip and trunk and Pilates would help improve her static and dynamic posture. As with all conditions and injuries, it is only when we actually meet and see the client that we can fully understand and consider their exercise programme as no written referral notes can fully detail the extent and effect on the individual.
Sam was driven to the studio by a friend as she was unable to drive herself. She walked with a stick as she suffered from a lack of strength and mobility in her right leg with paralysis in her right arm. Both her right foot and hand were tightly curled with a complete lack of sensation. Sam could not move either limb unaided. Due to the stroke, Sam found it difficult to speak and express herself. As Sam had led an incredibly active life, swimming, horse-riding, tennis and running, the limitations she now faced made her feel extremely frustrated, angry and helpless.
Pilates was obviously going to be highly beneficial for Sam. Nobel prize recipient Dr Roger Sperry said that the spine is the motor that drives the brain. According to his research,
“90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by movement of the spine”
Not only would the moves stimulate the brain’s function and improve her strength and mobility but just as importantly, Pilates would encourage her to trust and appreciate again her body and mind.
Using the Reformer and closed kinetic chain exercises has been excellent for Sam as it allows her to push and pull against the apparatus, giving her enhanced feedback and deeper connection with her body. Constant reassurance is needed as Sam has lost confidence in her body and its movement.
After just a few sessions, Sam’s foot and toes began to uncurl. By the end of each session the foot would be glowing with warmth and blood flow whereas at the start it was white and cold. Over the months Sam stopped using the stick and began to drive herself again, which was a huge step in her independence. She was able to now move the leg unaided into positions.
With increased confidence Sam’s progress has been fantastic. Her speech is much more fluid and spontaneous and her gait more balanced. She is incredibly strong in her abdominals and back and each session I am continually inspired by her dedication and determination. I hope one day soon Sam will join in the group sessions.
Working with Sam has been a truly incredible experience for me as an instructor, further proving how Pilates can and does help everyone regardless of injury, age or medical conditions.