What does decluttering and ‘death cleaning’ have to do with Pilates?
Margareta Magnusson, who claims to be between the ages of 80 and 100, has written a recent bestseller called, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. She breaks the Swedish word dostadning into two words: death (do) and cleaning (stadning). This Scandinavian artist reminds us (gently) not to burden our families with our stuff. Her idea of downsizing is not shrinking one’s world, but making room for what really matters, so we can focus our vital energy on what is really essential in the limited time we have left.
For my dear friend in Alberta, in her mid-seventies and recently diagnosed with a serious strain of osteoporosis, ‘making room for what really matters’ means the adoption of a rigid and specialized exercise program coupled with strong medication to combat her condition. She told me, ’I don’t want to be a burden to my family.’ This is something I hear often from my students. They must, they insist, take responsibility for their health. They don’t want to burden their family with their failing body or lack of independence any more than they want to leave a house full of stuff.
Lately, like millions of others, I have become obsessed with another ‘tidying up’ guru, the Japanese author Marie Kondo. Kondo helps people around the world organize and downsize their stuff in order to live a more joyful life. What is so appealing about getting rid of all the things we spent our hard-earned money on? Decluttering one’s house is a safe and (relatively) pleasant way to effect a transformation. Everyone who performs this task swears to a new-born sense of balance and focus.
If ever there was a time to be more anchored and alert, it would be now. The coronavirus is far from being contained. Problems in our personal sphere are adding up, not dissolving. Our own parents are dying (or gone) and so are some of our friends. Suddenly we feel in our bodies, and see in our faces, how time is condensed. Do-or-die decisions must now be made. Values are re-evaluated. Time to clean up, simplify and face up to ageing. As Kondo would say, ‘Category by category.’
Decluttering one’s space, decluttering one’s mind
One of the first questions I ask any new student who enquires about my online classes is whether they have a designated workout space. If they don’t, I encourage them to clear out a room or a corner of a room so that they can have a permanent place for their mat, weights, band, and ball. Your workout space should be neither too cold nor too hot. You should not be disturbed. It should be a place that is always waiting for you, whether you want to just sprawl on your mat and relax, or do a full workout. It must be welcoming. Keep it simple, clean and decluttered.
Because of covid-19 we have all been spending more time at home. Perhaps you’ve already removed some unnecessary items and furniture. Keep going. Make your apartment or house as pleasant, functional, and tidy as you can. Doesn’t having less stuff make you feel calmer?
Once you’ve unearthed a corner for yourself, unroll your mat, lay down close to the ground and enjoy the space around you. Take a moment to feel the deep gratitude of actually having a home during this unnerving time.
Get into the habit of lying on your mat each day to restore equilibrium after a stressful part of the day. ‘Doing Pilates’ might just be breathing and doing nothing. Just doing nothing has benefits. Calmness and a feeling of being grounded is so needed during these challenging times. And it might help you distinguish between what is in your control and what isn’t.
The breath is a direct link to some aspect of our inner world
-Stephen Cope, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self
After a few minutes of peace you might be in the mood to do the Body Scan Exercise highlighted in the video below. Here the goal is to consciously relax the body, and to also connect to it. The exercise is done lying back on the mat, but could also be done seated in a chair if necessary. In this exercise you notice how different parts of your body feel without dwelling on the pain, the sense of lightness, or tension you might be experiencing. The goal is not to change the body, or to judge it; just accept where you and your body are right now. Some students claim they use this exercise to prepare for sleep. That is okay, but try and practice the body scan during times of the day when you are not fatigued. As Jon Kabat-Zinn, (the author of Full Catastrophe Living and creator of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program MBSR) writes, ‘Keep in mind from the very beginning that in this lying-down practice, the intention is to fall awake rather than to fall asleep.’