by Joslyn Hitter
When I began practicing Vipassana, or Insight Meditation regularly, I noticed immediately how much I relied on my core to sit upright. My first love was the abdominal series. So when I attended my first long silent Vipassana meditation retreat in 2016, I committed to doing the abdominal series every day while on retreat.
28 days of the abdominal series. I had never done any form of physical exercise that continuously. I had been doing Pilates semi-regularly for about 12 years before that retreat, but I had never done it every day. For 28 days, I sat cross-legged and upright on the floor for 12 hours a day and had zero back pain. If I didn’t have the abdominal series, I would have been dumping in my low back, and that would have led to back pain, a common malady for meditators.
When I came back from retreat and started taking Pilates classes again, I noticed that I was absolutely stronger. It seemed like I did everything more from my core. I also kept meditating every day and it just seemed natural to continue doing the abdominal series at home.
Almost 2 years later, in February 2018, I returned for another month-long retreat and ended up staying for 6 weeks. I did the abdominal series every day, but my body wanted more, as I was stronger. I added in any other mat exercises I could remember, even though I had no clue as to their order. I kept getting stronger, and I could sit for 12-16 hours a day in formal meditation practice without back pain. I knew I had Mat pilates to thank for this.
I left that retreat with a commitment to sit for another 6 weeks in the Fall of 2018. The upcoming retreat would be in more difficult conditions; it would be cold, less outside time for hiking and walking, and the schedule for practice would be more rigorous. Additionally, doing two long retreats so close together can be emotionally intense. It was important to prepare both physically and emotionally.
I ordered the Return to Life book written by Joe Pilates and planned to take it with me on retreat. I began willingly to opt for Mat over Reformer during Pilates group classes. I started paying attention to the order of exercises and the corrections offered to me. I read the book’s introduction start to finish several times a week. I did the Mat series every day alone in my room with the heat on full blast. Some days it felt like a special treat, other days it felt like torture. Some days I found the order and the precision enchanting, other days I found it exhausting. I started out only doing the exercises I knew from class. I was scared I would injure myself and not be able to keep doing Pilates.
During the first week, just doing the exercises I knew took 50 minutes, and I had to constantly check the book for the order and the instructions for each exercise. Inhale to come up? Exhale to roll back? How many repetitions? After 2 weeks, I stopped being scared. I began to trust my body. At the start of week 3, I committed to doing the Mat series every day in order, teaching myself the new exercises as they came up in the book. By the end of week 4, I had learned the full series and could do it in 45 minutes, only occasionally checking the book. The last week of retreat, I was flowing through the whole series in 35 minutes without looking at the book. I had fallen in love with the Mat series, and I had fallen in love with my own heart. I felt like I had just met my real self for the first time.
Joslyn Hitter has been studying Insight Meditation since 2008. Her approach to Insight Meditation is greatly informed by her multiple advanced degrees in counseling psychology, depth psychology and somatic studies.
She is a Mindfulness Facilitator certified by the Mindful Awareness Research Center at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. In addition, Joslyn is certified to lead groups specializing in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as well as Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention (MBRP).
In addition to her one on one, group, corporate, and drop-in meditations, Joslyn teaches at InsightLA and Cancer Support Community Center in Los Angeles. She also teaches with iACT in refugee camps in eastern Chad.
A life long dog lover, Joslyn lives in West LA with her rescue dog Cleopatra.