Embodiment and sense of Identity.

We were talking in the Wednesday night Pilates class about when we become injured or ill and how that can affect  how we see ourselves and feel about ourselves.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to strip away the veneer of the self that has been built or the self that we project into the world. Sometimes it does; a major injury, illness, debilitating pain or disability.

Mental and emotional wellbeing is so important and having good bodily experiences greatly enhances this.

What happens when the self we always took for granted does change? As it does over the course of a lifetime with experiences, old age and changes in our bodies.

If we are lucky the passage of time brings these changes slow enough that we can process without overwhelm.  If we are not so lucky or a sudden change may feel like a shock to our system it can bring up so many feelings; grief, loss, sadness, anger, disappointment , excitement of a challenge, feelings of inadequacy, a drive to overcome; to transcend and many many more.

As a Pilates teacher my identity is bound up with being fit, strong, capable, healthy. As a daughter of elderly parents I identified with coping and being able to help, as a mum always being there with care, kindness, strength resourcefulness and resilience.  And a strong identity with all of these is not letting people down. But what happens when I am ill, injured or exhausted, discouraged, anxious or depressed and I am not those things.  Those parts of myself that I thought were me; were beyond time and change; were and are indeed subject to change.  Of course other life changing events such as retirement or redundancy, moving house or countries can lead us to question our sense of identity. At these times we can see how fluid our sense of self can be; opening us to our vulnerability in this human form. For myself these times have made me more humble, patient, tolerant and more in touch with all of me rather than just the selves I identify with. I have learnt to be present to these less embodied identities and found with acceptance that they can be a great gift and preparation.

I have found for myself that using skilful means such as a heart meditation and bringing kindness to myself really helpful at times of flux. It gives me some space to see these things as characteristics but not who I am; Woman, Man, young, old, etc. We sometimes do a heart meditation in class there is one that I particularly like from HeartMath – scientific studies show that the heart actually sends more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart (Cameron 2002) and that by focusing on uplifting qualities such as acceptance, compassion, love, kindness and sincere appreciation can bring a coherence to the brain and whole system.

Heart-Focused Breathing

Here is an edited version:

Get yourself settled and comfortable and just notice how you are feeling at this moment, let any thoughts and feelings come and go like clouds in the sky knowing that they are not you; just passing through you. Try not to repress or push anything down or judge, but if you find yourself judging just notice that too and let it go.

Now put your hand on your heart and focus your attention in the area of your heart, imagine that you are breathing in and out of the heart, you can count breathing in for 4/5 counts and breathing out for 4/5 counts. Do this until your breathing feels smoother and more balanced, then start to cultivate an attitude of an uplifting feeling; appreciation towards someone or something or a pet, it’s ok if you don’t feel anything, just have an intention to cultivate appreciation or care and continue with the heart breathing. Just keep imagining that you are breathing in and out of your heart.

This simple meditation helps increase brain heart coherence, regulate emotions and can help us to face change.

Let me know what you think and thank you as always to my loyal students who bring such interesting topics of conversation and inspire me to write something!

With Love and Metta (loving Kindness) Susanne

For information about Pilates Classes in Harpenden and St.Albans please contact:


or tel Susanne 07711 847415

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Dana Allen

Thanks, Susanne, for this. I really enjoy your blog! Looking forward to hearing you class through my earphones while i’m on holidays!


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