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‘Folding’- A Feminist Intervention in Mindful Fitness

Write By: Valentin Rosca on


Feminist research often condemns the fitness industry as a site for women’s oppression because it tends to reproduce the singular focus on the narrowly defined ‘body beautiful.’ Consequently, some of these researchers consider the fitness industry so thoroughly penetrated by negative commercialist ideologies that it is not worth further attention. At the same time, exercise and fitness are currently promoted as positive practices that contribute toward improved health. In westernized countries, the promotion of increased physical activity is a strong part of governmental health campaigns, but the responsibility of providing exercise services is usually left to the commercial fitness industry. This has further increased the commercial force of the fitness industry where promotion of health often blurs with aesthetics of the ideal body. As feminist researchers, we obviously need to continue to critique the discursive construction of the industry, but at the same time, there is no guarantee that such critique will actually change the way women’s fitness is understood and practiced or even decrease the popularity of the industry. To provide a more active feminist intervention, I aim to analyse, through Gilles Deleuze’s interpretation of Michel Foucault’s work, how to create more positive practices within this industry. In my research, I focus particularly on how positive change might take place through so-called mindful fitness forms that have become an increasingly popular part of this industry. As a Pilates instructor and a feminist researcher of women’s exercise I have witnessed yoga and Pilates classes replacing aerobics and step classes in many health club timetables. In the commercial fitness world, mindfulness embeds such features as ‘being present’ during the activity, process orientation, slowness and embracing the activity itself (e.g., Monroe 1998). The most common mindful fitness forms are yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi although several hybrid forms as well as new adaptations such as Body Balance, Chi ball or Yogalates continually emerge in this environment. In addition, elements of ‘mindfulness’ are increasingly ‘fused’ into step, spinning or toning/strength classes, and personal training sessions. In this  article, I will first locate mindful fitness and the commercial fitness industry in the current power/knowledge nexus. I will then problematize the formation of this knowledge and the exercising self within this nexus to conclude that alternative, more ethical fitness practices are needed. Constructing such alternatives is, nevertheless, a complicated task: despite substantial feminist critique of the fitness industry, there are very few feminist ‘interventions’ that investigate options for changing the current practices. Haravon Collins’ (1995) study of yoga offers one brave attempt for creating fitness practices informed by feminist principles. In this  article, I will present my struggle for a feminist exercise intervention in a Pilates class. To conclude I will analyse what positive force mindful fitness might have in contemporary society. 


The Formation of The Contemporary Fitness Industry

Mindful fitness forms, some might argue, could transcend the discursive construction of such exercise practices as aerobics (Gimlin 2002; Markula 1995, 2003), circuit training (Craig and Liberty 2007), cardio-vascular training (Dworkin 2003) or even weight lifting and bodybuilding (e.g., Bolin 1992, 2003; Grogan et al. 2004; Heywood 1998; Roussel et al. 2003; St. Martin and Gavey 1996; Wesely 2001) that have been critiqued for reproducing heteronormativity through ‘feminization’ of the exerciser’s body. Mindful fitness forms that propose to include the ‘mind’ into physical exercise can be argued to provide an alternative to the singular focus on building the ‘body beautiful.’ By embracing the activity itself, these forms provide multiple foci on the physical body, the mind and health. Do mindful fitness forms, regardless, have to negotiate the ‘feminization’ permeating the other fitness practices? 


The Power/Discourse Nexus and Mindful Fitness

woman-wild-freeMindful fitness forms differ from other commercial exercise practices through their search for mind-body integration. In these exercise classes, mind and body are to be united to create a holistic sense of self. This is possible through an engagement in physical exercise that is executed with a profound, inwardly directed awareness or focus (Monroe 1998). The awareness of the mind during exercise is to be achieved, for example, by focusing on proper breathing, bodily alignment, slow movement patterns and embracing the activity itself. Consequently, mindful fitness emphasizes process orientation: the participant is to be ‘present’ during the activity itself and concentrate, inwardly, into one’s own movement patterns. Such refocus is particularly pertinent in a ‘gym’ environment where exercise is frequently understood as purely bodily enterprise— often so much so that the exercisers keenly escape the boredom of the monotonous physical exercise by engaging their minds by watching television, reading or listening to music. It is also common that the exercisers claim not to enjoy the exercise itself, but are happy with the results after the session, particularly with the improved looks of the body (Markula 2003). Therefore, they do not want to be ‘present’ in the actual exercise session. Against such unpleasant exercise experiences that entirely divide the mind from the body, mindful fitness aims to bring the ‘mind’ back into the gym to provide more meaningful and varied exercise practices. While building a holistic self appears to provide a positive exercise goal,  from a Foucauldian perspective, it is also constructed within the power/ discourse nexus of fitness in contemporary society. Mindful fitness forms are, thus, a part of the same commercial fitness industry with other fitness practices. Therefore, they are also influenced by the dominant ways fitness is understood in this field. I will now analyse, through a Foucauldian lens, how mindful fitness practices are subjected to the powerful ways of knowing about the fit, feminine, healthy body. 


Two main discourses or ways of knowing about fitness strongly shape the fitness field. The discourse of aesthetics of the ideal, healthy looking body refers to the understanding of fitness as a means to achieve the ideal thin, toned and young body which is often also understood as the ‘healthy body’ (e.g., Duncan 1994; Dworkin and Wachs 2009; Eskes et al. 1998; Markula 1995). Medical discourse, in turn, promotes exercise as a means to ensure a disease-free body (e.g., Markula and Pringle 2006). For example, inactivity is often identified as a cause for obesity and consequently, a cause for numerous life-threatening illnesses. Both of these discourses place the responsibility for engaging in exercise and achieving a better looking, illness-free body on individual women (Cole 1998; Dworkin and Wachs 2009; Jette 2006; King 2003; Markula 2001). Connected with particular, strategic use of power relations, these discourses have gained dominant positions in the fitness field. I will now illustrate their impact on the ways mindful fitness is practiced.

Mindful Fitness and the Discourse of Health

woman-exercisingCurrent governmental campaigns for active, healthy lifestyle, are aimed at increased longevity and illness prevention in a population. Foucault refers to this function of power as bio-politics (Deleuze 1988; Foucault 1978). Bio-medical or exercise science research functions as a reinforcement for bio-power as it connects scientific evidence of increased physical fitness and thinness with absence of illness. The fitness industry supports this discursive construction by providing exercise services that observe the scientific principles of health-related fitness. This governmental power/ medical discourse nexus, thus, sustains certain forms of exercise as the correct ways to prevent illness (Markula and Pringle 2006). As part of the fitness industry, mindful fitness forms operate within the same discursive formation. They can, thus, benefit from the medical discourse of illness prevention, but are also limited by it. For example, mindful fitness forms can be promoted as ‘alternative medicine’ that prevents or even cures ‘diseases’ ranging from cancer and back pain to psychosomatic conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, eating disorders, substance abuse problems, hypertension and chronic pain (Markula and Pringle 2006). While it is positive that exercise can function to prevent illness and promote longevity, this understanding of healthy exercise also controls the population because it tends to obscure the actual causes for ill-health. For example, relaxation in a mindful fitness class can offer stress relief. However, such relaxation often acts more like a pain killer that alleviates the symptoms, but does not necessarily cure the actual cause for stress that can stem from increased demands at work, tightened economical situation, or the general pressures of the lifestyle demanded from ‘good,’ successful, useful citizens. Several researchers observe that bio-politics also functions to place the responsibility of one’s health entirely with individual women. This neo-liberalist rhetoric promotes individualism as the way of dealing with contemporary health problems. While medical discourse and governmental bio-politics operate to support each other, power can also function through less formal structures by forming mobile strategies with other discourses. 

Mindful Fitness and the Aesthetics of the Healthy Looking Body

In addition to bio-politics, Foucault (1991) examined how power operates through techniques of discipline that normalize individuals into useful, docile bodies. Foucault named the use of power that typically employs the technologies of discipline on multiplicity of individuals, anatomo-politics (Deleuze 1988). Through the discourse of aesthetics of the body beautiful, exercise begins to function as an anatomo-political form of power: a form of disciplinary technique that legitimizes a particular, yet unachievable, body shape. This discourse normalizes the thin and toned body as the ideal fit, healthy-looking feminine body. Through normalization exercise practices turn into discipline techniques that the exercisers follow in their never-ending quest for beauty and health. Because mindful fitness operates within the same diagram of anatomopolitical power, it is not devoid of the disciplinary techniques that make docile bodies. Consequently, these fitness forms are easily colonized by the body beautiful discourse. When celebrity devotees market yoga as a means to a slimmer body and long, toned muscles, the idea is obviously to obtain a better looking body. When a yoga instructor assures clients that in yoga they gain muscles, but not bulky ones, she re-enforces the discourse of body beautiful. Or when Pilates is loudly advertised as a means for a ‘slimmer tummy’ or ‘killer abs,’ it is used for building the ideal looks. In addition to the body shape, mindful exercisers state that their minds are properly harnessed within the exercise session to further create docile, productive, stress-free citizens. 


It is evident that mindful fitness is quite tightly codified through the discourses of health as absence of illness and the aesthetics of the ideal body. Such a codification of knowledge, allows power to operate in a flexible, localized and unstable manner. The current power/discourse nexus appears necessarily to produce docile exercise bodies. Even alternative forms, such as mindful fitness that might aim to emphasize other knowledge from the healthy looking body, tend to be harnessed and understood by the consumers through the current discursive framework (Markula 2004). After such a negative conclusion, one can only ask: Are women doomed forever into docility? Is it possible to change the discursive construction of fitness to operate with less dominance? Is it possible to provide exercise practices that do not build docile bodies? Is it possible to construct multiple fit feminine identities that transcend the aesthetics of the healthy body? And I had to reflect on my role as a researcher: how can a researcher create social change by folding the outside, become recuperated by power and knowledge without being dependent on them? I had to begin actively problematizing the fitness knowledge, the ways of instructing (mindful) fitness and the (mindful) fitness practices. Following Deleuze, I was to think what could I be as a researcher/mindful fitness instructor: how can I produce myself as a subject? As an academic I asked particularly: what can I know about mindful fitness in certain conditions that allows me to think differently, to problematize, to fold the outside into inside. What could I do with my knowledge of the fitness industry?


Research Setting and Research Methods: What Can I Do, What Power Can I Claim?

woman-squatting-at-gymTo begin my project I qualified as a Pilates instructor from a commercial instructor training program. I wilfully chose a short 40-hour program as it was likely that this was the type of basic qualification most Pilates instructors who teach in commercial settings would acquire. I qualified officially by completing written assignments, a written test and a practical test. As a research project, I engaged in teaching a weekly Pilates class at a commercial recreation centre operated in connection with the University where I worked at the time. The class met once a week, for 60 minutes at the time, throughout the year with a one-month summer break and a Christmas break. The class was open to the general public, but the majority of the participants worked at the University in various roles. The recreation centre lacked a Pilates-specific space and thus, our class was scheduled in a martial arts dojo. The number of participants varied, depending on the time of year, from 10 to 30 people. While the majority were women, several men also attended the classes. I taught the class for 12 months. During this time, I wrote detailed field notes based on my observations of the participants, but the notes also included reflections of my own teaching success, lesson planning (what worked, what did not work, and the numerous incidents that disrupted our daily class routines. In addition, I actively sought feedback from the participants through informal interviews before and after the class. I did not, however, conduct any formal interviews with the participants. I want to emphasize that my purpose here is not to represent Pilates as an exemplary form of exercise practice—no exercise practice is inherently good or bad, but what matters is what is made out of it within the current power/discourse nexus—but to demonstrate how any exercise form can be problematized and then used in an attempt to change the current field of fitness. Therefore, other exercise forms, and not only mindful fitness forms, can also be used to fold, to problematize, identity construction and individualization. I chose Pilates purely as a personal preference, but also because it lacks the religious grounding of yoga and Tai Chi which would need to be analysed as a discursive construction and disciplinary production of its own. This is not to argue that yoga or Tai Chi cannot be used to transform docility, but rather that there is an added discursive element that needs attention before a problematization of the westernized production of identity and individualism can take place.


Folding The Outside With Movement Instruction

To think differently means problematizing mindful fitness as an activity: what are the aspects of it that discipline us to docile bodies, and bind us to individualism and confined identity? This would mean problematizing the aesthetics of the healthy body and the feminine identity it produces, the medical/health discourse and the individualism it embeds, and the actual practices of mindful fitness that produce the disciplined bodies. The most effective way of problematizing the feminine identity construction and individualism is probably to give talks and lectures that reveal the limitations of the articulable discourses maintaining them. I, of course, do this through my teaching, research writing and media campaigns where I have particularly challenged the construction of the ideal feminine body. In fitness classes, however, the body’s practice is the main focus and the instructors spend most of their time providing instruction of how to execute the exercises correctly. It is definitely possible to give health instructions or provide an occasional comment to challenge the body ideal. It is equally possible not to talk about health in terms of illness prevention and not to ever bring up the ‘body beautiful’ during the class. I certainly made a concerted effort never to mention the looks of the body by refraining from, for example, promising my clients slimmer tummies, more toned legs, or ‘bikini ready’ bodies. However, when in a Pilates class the clients are there to move and thus, expect to be exercising. As a matter of fact, a common complaint in Pilates classes is that the instructor talks too much and the clients have too little chance to move. From Foucault’s point of view, however, discourses manifest in practices and thus, to transform the discourses, one has to also transform bodily practices. Therefore, the most effective way to problematize identity construction and individualism in the context of an exercise class is to focus on the actual exercises and ask: How can I create exercise practices that transcend femininity and individualism instead of disciplining the exercisers into docile bodies? I will now explain how I attempted to fold the outside into the inside through movement practices that are recuperated, not controlled, by the current power/knowledge nexus. For Foucault (1991), space and bodily practice were not innocent aspects of life, but similar to the discourses, these were an integral part of the process through which power relations diffuse through society. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider how these aspects of fitness knowledge intersect with current power relations and how they can be folded to create more ethical fitness practices. Foucault identified that disciplinary techniques of the body included such elements as time, space and control of the activity. As an instructor, I had more control over the activities done in class than the class space, the duration of the class or its position within the weekly timetable of the centre. Therefore, my attempts at problematization were limited to the activities done in class.


Problematizing Identity Construction through Pilates Practice

woman-pilatesFoucault (1991) demonstrates how repetitive, progressive exercise programs are designed to control the body and normalize it into the limited feminine identity. Pilates classes share many of the characteristics of disciplinary ‘exercise’: each class is segmented into warm up, exercise session and cool-down; correct execution of exercise is emphasized for maximum benefit; the exercises are organized to progressively become more intense and complex. The entire Pilates program could be described as ‘series of series of exercise’ where each exercise is carefully named with detailed instructions for execution and progression. Typically, while there might be several modifications of each exercise, no new exercises are added as a Pilates class should be constructed to include only exercises from the accepted Pilates vocabulary. From a Foucauldian perspective, such a program could ensure a continual and increased control of the body that leads only to docility. Why would anyone, then, choose such a highly codified, disciplinary exercise form to challenge the discourses that control the feminine body? Would one not be better off by creating an entirely new type of exercise class free of disciplinary segmentation and codified, progressive exercises? While this might be an option, from a Foucauldian perspective every practice is constructed through discourses and thus, nothing can be outside of power relations and certain control. Therefore, even a ‘new’ exercise class would be a form of codified practice, albeit through different discourses. In addition, codification is strong in the current fitness industry and Pilates, as a well-established practice, has a strong, existing client base which a ‘new’ class would not have. Therefore, my idea was to use the existing practice, with all its limitations, to problematize, to fold, the feminine identity construction.

Problematizing the Control of Activity

The key for my folding was to problematize the ‘goal’ of Pilates. Obviously, the goal of constructing the body beautiful needed to be replaced with another goal. Pilates already has a strong emphasis on improving alignment and core strength for better everyday movement ability and thus, my idea was to emphasize these through the actual exercises. According to Foucault (1991), segmenting time for effectiveness served as a disciplinary technique. My Pilates class continued to be loosely segmented into a warm-up during which we aimed to locate the body’s ‘natural’ alignment, the deep abdominals and practice breathing. This was followed by the Pilates exercises and an ending which usually took a form of relaxation. These segments, nevertheless, departed from the health-related fitness premise that each of the components of physical fitness had to be fitted into the class to ensure improved physical fitness. Foucault (1991) further asserted that an emphasis on correct execution of exercise to obtain maximally useful bodies creates docility. As most mindful exercise forms, Pilates exercises are performed in a detailed, precise manner to serve a specific purpose assigned to them. Usually these ‘purposes’ refer to either strengthening (e.g., the core, lower back) or obtaining more mobility (e.g., neck, lower back, pelvis) in certain body parts. This is the aspect of exercise that has also been harnessed to contribute to creation of the body beautiful when the ‘benefits’ of certain exercises have been re/misinterpreted for the purpose of body shaping. Therefore, it is important that the instructor is clear how each exercise, instead of guaranteeing a better looking body, might improve everyday movement ability or counteract the stresses of everyday life. Consequently, I continued to provide detailed instructions of how to keep the movement continuous, use the appropriate range of motion and engage the required body parts for the performance. To avoid disciplining the clients, they were to consider their own everyday needs (such as counteracting the strain of repetitive daily activities on their bodies). I also used music, but not to create an army of uniform exercisers (as might be the case in aerobics classes), but in the background. The exercisers were to work to the rhythm of their own breathing and thus, everyone started and ended their exercises at different times.


Problematizing the Organization of Genesis

beautiful-womanIn addition to control of each exercise, Foucault (1991) saw the disciplinary bodily techniques building into exercise systems. Successive segments with increasing complexity and intensity formed progressive systems to discipline individuals into docility. Clearly, Pilates could be considered as such a system of docility that locks individual women into an endless search for the healthy looking body (and mind). In my beginners’ level class, I also incorporated modifications that were designed to progress into increasingly complex and intense work. The participants often requested that we ‘work harder’ as they did not ‘feel anything.’ This presented an interesting dilemma as the participants often did not know how to do the exercises in a manner that allowed them to ‘feel’ their bodies. Neither was it clear why they really needed to work harder. I interpreted this need stemming from the unquestioned force of discourses around the body beautiful: one needs to work hard, feel the ‘burn,’ to tone the body into the ideal shape. For me then, ‘working hard’ was a disciplinary technique that was difficult to counter. I often ended up providing more advanced modifications so that the clients could work harder although they did not possess the skills to do such modifications yet. It was also difficult to ‘resist’ the force of progression (to provide such difficult movements that every participant would be forced to ‘feel’ them) because it seemed like many of clients had lost the ability to ‘feel’ their bodies. I interpreted this to be partly due to the current disciplinary body training techniques that mechanically aid the exercisers through ‘correct’ movement pattern without the participants having to ‘think’ about it. For example, many resistance training machines are designed to strengthen isolated body parts (such as biceps brachii) through one dimensional, repetitive movement that leaves little room for deviation. In addition, the machine provides the resistance or intensity for the exercise instead of the exerciser ‘feeling’ it. In a Pilates class the exercises are based on the exerciser knowing/feeling themselves how to execute the movement and intensity is determined by adding more of one’s own body weight. This provides possibilities for a less disciplined form of exercise where the individual can determine the intensity and complexity of exercise themselves instead of depending on the machine. However, it is not easy to fold the exercise practice this way as it requires thinking, feeling and concentration. Teaching the participants to ‘feel’ their bodies presented the most challenging task, particularly against the powerful notions of hard work and continuous progression. However, (re)learning this skill could then help each participant to problematize the need for progression or progress in a manner that is defined by them, not by the discourses surrounding the feminine aesthetics of the healthy body beautiful. In this sense, progression through increasingly complex and intense modifications of exercise is not, in itself, disciplinary, but there is a need to constantly problematize the goal and thus, the need for such progression.


Problematizing the Expert Knowledge

With the increase in the disciplinary techniques, Foucault (1978) demonstrated, there was a need for ‘experts’ who could provide definitive advice on how to do things correctly. A Pilates instructor can definitely be classified as such an expert who has obtained a special qualification to teach movement vocabulary commonly identified as Pilates. In Pilates classes, we are to teach only exercises developed and named by Joseph Pilates. While Pilates as an exercise form has grown into a large field with multiple ‘systems’ (such as the Stott Pilates, Body Control Pilates, Fletcher), qualified instructors are still the exclusive experts to teach this form. In a mat Pilates class like mine, the instructor controls the planning and organization of the class. This leadership is also expected by the clients who come to the class to follow a program planned for them by someone else. At first sight, one could imagine problematizing such an unquestioned position of control by overthrowing the entire idea of an instructor-led class in favour of a student-led class. While this is possible in a gym setting where everyone follows their individual programs (albeit planned for them by someone else, for example, a personal trainer), it is unlikely that the clients in the current cultural context would attend a student-cantered class. Therefore, it was important for me to think how I could make my instructor-led class less disciplinary. Is an instructor-led class always necessarily disciplinary? What are the positives of being an expert? It was clear that I knew a lot more about how the body works than the participants, was able to provide exercise alternatives and explain what muscles should be activated during each exercise. However, it was also important that I shared that knowledge with the participants instead of simply ordering them to do one exercise after another. I, therefore, aimed to explain why we were doing certain movements in addition to how to do them. I also believed that it was important to explain how the Pilates exercises might translate into moving in every day situations. For example, how might strengthening the deeper abdominals help in everyday situations? How does improving spinal twist aid in everyday life? 


In addition to one’s knowledge, in commercial fitness settings one’s expertise is also determined by one’s looks. Such a judgment, of course, draws from the feminine aesthetics of the ideal body. As an instructor, I tried to problematize this aspect of current construction of fitness expertise in favour of an ability of analyse movement performance. I always dressed in loose clothing instead of revealing, tight exercise wear. I also avoided demonstration, because I believed that the object was not for the participants to imitate my movements, but to learn to feel their own bodies that had different strengths and limitations from my body. This strategy did not always work well because in the contemporary world much of our perception is visual and we are often lost when that feed is taken away. Consequently, my clients were often confused with only verbal instruction, but at the very least they had to concentrate on their movement execution instead of mechanically following me. My expertise on movement analysis stems from exercise sciences, the same discourses that construct the current understanding of health related fitness. As I have demonstrated earlier, this discourse tends to produce docile bodies through individualism and the narrowly defined feminine identity. How could I, then, use the same discourse in my folding of individualism and feminine identity? It is important to remember that folding entails problematizing the discourses to be able to use them differently, to be recuperated, not dominated, by them. Therefore, this was my attempt to use my knowledge on movement analysis and anatomy— not unproblematically or unquestioningly for a better looking, illness free body—to think of possible different understandings for exercise. This meant that while Pilates provided the overall structure to this effort, the actual class aimed to help participants think of their particular movement needs, their possibilities to move differently in everyday life, their limitations and strengths, and their preferences, movement sensations and enjoyment. However, providing comfortable movement experiences, I believed, meant also knowing about the body: how it works and how it moves. It was in this intersection that I felt movement ‘expertise’ was needed. Many clients, however, expressed continual ‘movement needs’ that appeared embedded in the medical discourse.

Problematizing Individualism through Pilates Practice

woman-running-gymAs an exercise form, Pilates is not constructed around the components of health-related fitness. For example, there is no cardio-vascular segment in the class. In this sense, it could be argued to be less embedded within the discursive construction of health as absence of disease than, for example, aerobics. Therefore, problematizing individualism of the health discourse, one would have thought, would be relatively easy: one could simply restrain from emphasizing Pilates as a form of illness prevention. This proved a bigger challenge than I expected as many of my clients were recommended Pilates by their physicians or their physiotherapists due to such conditions as back pain, MS, cancer or general muscle tension. How, then to think differently about ‘health’ in a Pilates class when many participants were there to seek a ‘cure’ to their existing, ‘real’ conditions? Because I was teaching a mindful fitness class, one solution could have been to emphasize an alternative ‘eastern philosophy’ rather than the ‘western,’ scientific, medical discourse. However, problematizing the ‘health’ discourse does not mean entirely denouncing it in favour of something else but rather asking: how can I derive from this knowledge without being dependent on it? Consequently, the solution is not to switch from ‘bad westernized’ discourses to ‘good’ eastern philosophy and then blindly follow this new discourse. On the other hand, if we create illness free bodies through disciplined work in a mindful fitness class, we are defined by the medical discourse, not folding the outside to create diversity. To fold, one should problematize the prominent notion of health as illness prevention that pushes the responsibility for disease-free existence solely to the individual. 


I could certainly not ignore the clients’ existing conditions in the name of challenging the medical discourse. Instead, I did attempt to provide exercises modified for each client’s particular condition and also provided modification of each exercise for clients to decide which level was the most suitable for them. ‘Individualized’ instruction is, nevertheless, impossible in a commercial fitness class where clients tend to come from all fitness levels with different exercise backgrounds. Can such individualized programs and the focus on one’s own body be considered as assigning the responsibility for illness prevention solely to the individual exerciser? Naturally, this can happen when the conditions for the individual body ‘problems’ are not problematized. However, it is also difficult to spend time in a commercial class talking about the work conditions or other life factors that might result in, for example, back pain. At the same, as the discourses manifest in the body, a detailed, ‘thoughtful,’ attention to its movements can also dismantle the previously ‘numbed,’ disciplined, ‘voiceless’ and docile body. It also seemed that touch played in important role in awakening some bodily feelings. For example, by touching I was able to direct a participant’s attention to body parts that were tense or create a different movement path for limbs conditioned to take on extra strain. In contemporary society, some participants might perceive such touching as obtrusive. Forcing someone’s limbs into unused positions can also be dangerous. However, even with these prerequisites, touching seems to often help clients sense the movement patterns and many of them commented positively of such individual attention. Again, there was not enough time to provide that to everyone, all the time. Nevertheless, I felt much better prepared to problematize the aesthetics of the body beautiful than the powerful discourse of health as an absence of illness. This was particularly difficult when faced with participants with debilitating conditions. I also felt that my Pilates training did not address such special conditions—and it was definitely made clear during the course that it prepared us only to work with so-called ‘normal’ clients, not with clients who had ‘special’ needs—and I was surprised by the amount of participants referred to Pilates classes by medical professionals. My fold of discourse of health needs to be deeper as continual work is required to negotiate this discourse in the commercial fitness setting.




Following Foucault and Deleuze, I engaged in ‘folding’ knowledge to transform myself as a fitness instructor informed, but, hopefully, not defined by this knowledge. My aim was to problematize the discourse of aesthetics of the healthy body—that locks women into a limited, predetermined identity—and individualism stemming from the medical discourse that defined health narrowly as an absence of illness. I focused particularly on how the actual movement practices can be changed as a result of such folding. I encountered plenty of resistance by the participants who, informed by previous fitness knowledge, had preconceived notions of Pilates or exercise in general. Not all my movement experimentation was successful and I certainly needed more tools to challenge the individualization of the medical discourse. It is clear, thus, that ‘folding’ requires one to continually problematize building a self, a body and a practice. Because discourses manifest in the actual practices, it is important to change the practices that align with the dominant discourses. This means that we have to actively problematize the movement patterns in ‘traditional’ forms of mindful exercise such as Pilates also. We need to think of each exercise—what does it do?—by using knowledge of science but not becoming dependent on it. We need to think about the meaning of the movement, not copy pre-established patterns. We need to teach participants to feel the movement, to find their own rhythm, to find their own bodies. Folding through movement education requires a problematization of the self, discourse and power dimensions. This also necessitates problematizing the actual movement practices and the meaning of ‘authentic’ exercise forms. To fold, to transform individualization and limited identities through (mindful) fitness, to create a self recuperated within power/ discourse nexus means asking: What is this practice for? What is its discursive construction within the westernized commercial settings? What can instructors transform by problematizing their practice? How can an individual practitioner/instructor fold forces to affect upon herself—to create a ‘self-fold,’ a dimension of subjectivity that is derived from power and knowledge without being dependent on them?


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