Her name was Bella, but we renamed her Frida. Her original family decided they couldn’t keep her so in lieu they dropped her at a horse ranch. All dogs love the outdoors so any four legged friend would love to live on a ranch, right? Wrong. Frida was the opposite of a ranch dog. She was terrified of horses, people, and just about everything. She hid under a porch morning to evening shivering and shaking trying to disappear. It wasn’t long before the ranch owners decided Frida had to go. Things just weren’t working out. A friend of a friend worked part-time with the horses and knew I was looking to adopt a dog. My boyfriend drove his Audi up the winding Hollywood Hills to ranch-land and brought Frida home in the backseat with us.
We noticed right away that she was very damaged. She couldn’t walk a straight line while on a leash, darting and cowering like a PTSD’d casualty of war. Whatever trauma she endured she carried it with her in every situation dodging and weaving away from an invisible enemy. She just needs time to adjust and get comfortable, we thought. We had no idea how serious her wounds were and what was entailed in her healing. A month into her adoption we stupidly took her to a 4th of July party and she lost her shit. A little boy with a giant water gun spooked her and she went for him, drawing blood.
I was devastated. I never had a dog that was aggressive or violent. People’s advice was to put her down or give her away but I believed in her sweet face and searched for other options. A Pilates client of mine who had dogs suggested I reach out to this guy who was known as the “Dog Whisper” who had an unusual way of training dogs with issues. Two weeks later Ceasar Milan showed up to our Venice apartment to assess Frida. Terrified she lunged at him right as he crossed the threshold but he didn’t flinch. “Her problem is not that she’s a ‘bad dog’ but rather that her psyche needs a tune up” he said, “but she’s a red-zone case and won’t get better without help”. She needed to go to his center in a compound tucked away in East LA for doggie misfits, STAT.
In my work as a Pilates instructor I have lots of opportunity to observe what make people tick. Sure, they’re taking Pilates to improve their posture, get stronger or more flexible, maybe even heal from an injury but what they don’t realize is they also get an attitude adjustment. Our body and psyche are not separate and unconnected. On the contrary. According to my friend and Pilates anthropologist, Benjamin Degenhardt, Joe Pilates was adamant about Contrology’s original trifecta: body, mind, and spirit – not just body. Benjamin tells me that he believed exercises alone won’t do much if you are not present in your practice and don’t bring the willingness to take control of yourself. His idea of mindfulness and spirituality was straightforward: “it is the spirit which builds the body”. We see it everywhere in the Pilates studio. The lack of music to aid in concentration, the specificity of the movements, the use of visual cues bring us into harmony with the whole of us. When we change our mindset we change how we feel inside and out. We literally change our body by focusing our mind on muscle, bone, and breath.
Frida spent 3 weeks at the Dog Psychology Center and when we went to visit her we saw a completely different dog. She was present and bold, with snout and tail lifted high, a doggy smile on her lips. I was amazed to see her playing with other dogs and strutting around without a care in the world. We brought her home with lots of advice from the master- “you have to change your energy to keep her like this. I train humans, and rehabilitate dogs,” he said. We got this I thought.
Turns out it was harder to do the work we had to do. Frida instinctual by nature, was always in the moment, but it was us humans who live with one foot still in the past. See, while behavior may be easy to change, mindset is not. It takes daily practice and determination to “train” the muscle that is our brain. Benjamin says of Joe’s work that “if willpower was a muscle, it’d be the single-most important one in the practice of Joe Pilates’ work”. If Joe was alive today I believe he and Ceasar would be buds. If we want to change and grow we can,we just need to meet the way with the will. We are not slaves to our genius, species, or our mind.
Interested in seeing what your mind can build with your body? Join us for the Pilates goodness in our NYC studio today! Click here for more info!