Pilates in Pregnancy

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Can you still practice Pilates with a baby on board? Absolutely, but we do have to make a few modifications to adapt to the changes in a pregnant woman’s body. Many of our clients continue to practice right up to their due date, much to the admiration of their fellow class members! This blog will look at the many benefits of continuing Pilates practice during pregnancy as well as giving some ideas for exercising safely during pregnancy.

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There are some reasons not to exercise during pregnancy and it is always a good idea to check with your physiotherapist or midwife if you have any concerns. See the full list of signs to stop exercising at the bottom of this article.

Exercising during pregnancy is known to benefit both mother and baby – and can have long lasting health effects for the baby long after it is born. Studies have shown that if the mother’s heart rate is raised, the fetus’s heart rate also goes up. So by keeping yourself fit, you are giving your baby a wee workout!

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In general, it is advised to keep the intensity you exercise at to a moderate level. Make sure you can still speak in sentences while working out. You are recommended to continue an exercise programme from before pregnancy and stop any exercise where there is a risk of impact. If you were totally inactive before pregnancy, then it is advised to start some form of gentle exercise. Pilates is a great gentle exercise and can be adapted to any level, even if you have not done it before pregnancy, to exercise the muscles effectively and safely.

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Antenatal Pilates helps to maintain posture, strength and flexibility to reduce/prevent pregnancy-related discomfort and a class taught by a specialist antenatal Pilates instructor will teach awareness of correct body biomechanics and postural alignment while adjusting to the changes in the body – increased weight and the change in centre of gravity with a growing bump.

The pelvic floor has additional pressure placed on it from early in pregnancy. It is a good idea to start pelvic floor exercises before you even get pregnant, but if you’ve missed that opportunity, it’s definitely better to start before the birth than after the birth. Pilates during pregnancy can help you get best function from your pelvic floor while performing the exercises.

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There is a fairly common misconception that a strong pelvic floor is also tight and can cause problems during the birth. Actually, problems of tightness in the pelvic floor, as in any other muscle, tend to arise when there is weakness in some areas of the muscle – the weak muscle fibres build up tension to compensate. A well functioning pelvic floor which is both strong and mobile can actually aid the delivery by encouraging the baby to turn effectively as it is being born. If the pelvic floor is in good condition prior to the birth, it can really speed recovery and limit effects of continence problems after the birth.

An antenatal Pilates class will also focus on the upper back and arms to help prepare the body for caring for your baby. Good control around the shoulder blades will be essential when you spend hours leaning over and carrying baby. When you go to a pregnancy Pilates class you might wonder why you do so many squats! Think ahead, how many times a day will you be picking up baby and getting on and off the floor? If you train this movement prior to the birth, you will be able to maintain better leg and spine alignment when this is probably not at the forefront of your mind!

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It is important to know that you shouldn’t do sit up type exercises after the first trimester of pregnancy. This is because the long stomach muscles which run from the sternum down to the pubic bone stretch to almost double their original length in pregnancy and will split apart in two thirds of women. This split (rectus diastasis) is not a problem in itself – it is a natural part of pregnancy. But any sit-up type movements that strengthens the muscle in the split position can make it more difficult to rehab postnatally. You still want to maintain the control of the deep abdominal muscles and obliques, but this can be done in sitting and standing positions as well as on hands and knees (4 point kneeling) and will not create an intense pull on the muscles.

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The antenatal classes will also give the added benefits of allowing you time to focus on yourself and your developing baby in a relaxed class which is small enough to allow you personal attention when required. You will meet like-minded mums-to-be and get to exercise in a supportive environment where everyone in the class is experiencing similar changes to their bodies and benefiting from the instructor’s expert advice and experience.

As an antenatal class is suitable for all stages of pregnancy, please be aware there might be people in your class in their first trimester. If you know someone in the class who is in the early stages of pregnancy, please help them keep their big secret until they have made their pregnancy public!

All images from darrochphotography.com unless otherwise stated.

Stop exercising and seek advice if you experience any of the following:

  • Ligament pain
  • Pubic/sacroiliac/pelvic girdle pain
  • Low back pain
  • Leg pain or cramps
  • Varicose veins
  • Swelling in hands and feet
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Feeling faint/short of breath
  • Decreased fetal movement

Pilates for Horse Riders

Any experienced horse rider will tell you, your position and movements on the horse can make a big difference to how the horse performs. Sit on a horse like a sack o’ tatties and that’s how the horse will carry you! We’re talking about normal riding position here, rather than anything fancy:

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Pilates is a fantastic way to help maintain rider conditioning and balance so that the horse can function optimally. It is more than just the core. Pilates trains body awareness, balance, flowing movements as well as finding the centre. The coordination of upper and lower body as well as being coordinated in rotational movements and controlling one side whilst the other is working are all fundamental principles. The horse benefits from your improved posture and position, and in turn their condition improves. We have had clients come to us because their horse has become injured and they want us to look at their own alignment to assess whether this has caused the horse’s injury.

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This fantastic diagram (below) of the horse’s musculature shows the main muscles in the horse’s back which contribute their movement. If you look at where the rider sits in connection to that, you will see that the muscles lie underneath the saddle and rider. As we tell you frequently in Pilates, all the muscles in the body are connected and if one is not functioning well, this can have an impact all the way through the chain of muscles. The horse has the same fascial system, but added to this, their walking and running movement regulates their breathing. Look at where the ribs extend to underneath the rider, beneath that are the horse’s lungs. Again, in Pilates, we talk a lot about the importance of breathing, imagine having a small child sit on your chest when trying to breathe and you get an idea of what the horse is going through!

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If the rider has a weakness on one side in the gluteal muscles and compensates with increased activity in their inner thigh on that side, they will be squeezing their thigh in tighter on that side. This will lead to increased pressure on the horse’s latissimus dorsi muscle on that side, which connects to the opposite gluteal muscles and into the chain all the way down the leg and could lead to problems over time. If the rider can retrain their position, the horse starts to benefit and improve their own muscle balance. Often, a riding instructor will give an instruction, such as ‘take your shoulders back’, many people will not know how to do this effectively as they have not learned the principles of effective movement from Pilates. By practicing Pilates, you will learn to align your torso whilst maintaining good shoulder position, plus you will be stronger and have better endurance in this position!

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If the rider does practices Pilates regularly, they increase their own stamina and concentration and reduce the number of aches and pains. The horse’s condition can then improve and both rider and horse will have a better riding experience. Pilates exercises aimed specifically at horse riders will focus on balance, control and mobility and result in that all-important integration into the saddle!

As horse and rider learn to be in sync and each benefits the others’ position, so the horse’s movement can be used in therapy for those who do not regularly get to feel the movement of walking through their legs. For example, someone with a neurological problem who mostly uses a wheelchair will be unable to get the benefit of the walking movement in the lower back, pelvis and hips. By sitting on a horse in a hippotherapy session, they will be able to enjoy the freedom of that movement. A lot of children and adults alike in this position get so much physically as well as psychologically out of these sessions.

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Here is a series of exercises which can help a horse rider find balance in the saddle.

Bridging – with ball between the knees/circle around the knees.

It is important to achieve balance between the inner and outer thigh so these exercises can be done together.

IMG_9107PilPlusExercisesExhale and roll up into the bridge from the tailbone up through the spine, until your ribs, hips and knees are in a straight line, inhale to hold and exhale with each squeeze in on the ball, building up to 5 times. Peel back down into neutral and repeat 5 times.

IMG_9109PilPlusExercisesKeep some pressure out on the pads of the circle as you roll up into the bridge. Squeeze out on the circle 5 times. Peel back down and repeat 5 times.

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IMG_9211PilPlusExercisesStart sitting upright with your arms out in front of you. Keep the shoulders back and the chest upright as you exhale and tuck the tailbone under and roll the lower back to lean back, as far as you are able to maintain the abdominal muscles drawn in (not doming up). Inhale to hold, then exhale to roll back up into sitting and sit tall before repeating. Repeat 10 times.

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IMG_9556PilPlusExercisesLying with the ball underneath your tailbone, take your knees up into table top, using your arms beside your hips for light balance. Keeping one knee upright, exhale and slowly take the opposite knee out to the side, keeping the foot in alignment (you may not get very far!) then inhale and return to the centre and repeat on the other side. Repeat 10 times on each side. Aim for symmetry between the movements to each side.

Please do not perform theses exercises unless you have been cleared by a doctor or physiotherapist to do so. Please see your Pilates instructor/physiotherapist if you have any questions about these exercises.

Images from darrochphotography.com unless otherwise marked

Women’s Health Physiotherapy and Pilates

It is not commonly known that Physiotherapists can specialise in problems of the pelvic floor and bladder. This may be a small area of Physio, but it can make a huge difference to those who are struggling with a little (or a lot of) leakage and a loss of continence. This problem can seriously impact on quality of life for many women, and some men too.

Image from www.myphysiowyndhamvale.com.au

The more accurate term for the service is Pelvic Obstetric and Gynaecological Physiotherapist, however, Women’s Health Physiotherapist (WH Physio) is still in wide use so will also be used here. Specialist Physiotherapists specifically deal with pelvic floor issues, but also with associated problems of prolapse and weakened abdominal muscles post-childbirth. A WH Physio can also look at patterns of drinking and toilet visits and help make practical changes to reduce symptoms of urgency. WH Physios also specialise in the ante- and post-natal period, and can help with pregnancy related back, hip and pelvis pain. Then in the postnatal period we can help you return to function if abdominal muscles have split during pregnancy or if you have any aches and pains following childbirth, or repetitive strains from looking after your new baby.

‘Women’s’ health can be misleading, because everyone has a pelvic floor. Continence issues due to a weakened pelvic floor affect one in three women and one in ten men – as it affects many women after childbirth it is more of a women’s problem. A series of simple exercises and some straightforward lifestyle changes can make a huge difference. The exercises, as in most cases, do not work overnight and ask at least 3 months of commitment 3 times a day from you. However, each set should only take a couple of minutes and can be done anywhere (I do mine on the bus!) so it is just a case of remembering or setting and alarm on your phone. Compared to the alternatives – either a worsening problem that needs to be dealt with by using more and more pads, increasing strength medication; or even surgery which has been the subject of controversy recently – a few moments of your day is really a small price to pay.

Image from Advanced Uro-Gynaecology for Physiotherapists: Michelle Lyons

Unfortunately, it has been found that one third of women with weakened pelvic floor are doing the exercises incorrectly and could make their problems worse. Assessment of the pelvic floor by a specialist Women’s Health Physiotherapist can help you ensure you are performing the exercises correctly. You can also be taught different ways to check for yourself that you are doing it right once this has been established. When the exercises are done correctly with other lifestyle changes alongside them, they can be incredibly effective and give you a fantastic way to look after yourself and help prevent any problems arising in future. There are plenty of descriptions of pelvic floor exercise programmes online, however, nothing can match having this assessed individually, especially if you are having persistent problems.

Much rarer than a weakened pelvic floor is a pelvic floor which goes into spasm, due to an imbalance of different fibres of the muscles. This can be incredibly painful, so it important to learn how to completely relax the pelvic floor as well as how to contract it effectively and to be able to do both under conscious control.

In Pilates we talk about the ‘centre’ – this comprises the deep abdominal muscles which wrap around the abdomen like a corset, the diaphragm at the top and the pelvic floor at the bottom. These 3 sets of muscles which form a ‘cylinder’ work together to provide active support for the low back, mid back and pelvis. If you learn to engage the pelvic floor correctly this will lead to the deep abdominals switching on at the same time (keep breathing deep and wide into the ribcage to get the full cylinder working together!). Unfortunately it doesn’t work the other way – if you contract the deep abdominal muscles, the pelvic floor does not switch on automatically.

In any Pilates exercise where you lift up your head, this can push the abdominal contents down on the pelvic floor, which can put undue stress on the pelvic floor, especially when adding in the additional work on the abdominal muscles. It is necessary with any head up position to engage the pelvic floor before performing the lift of head and shoulders; this prevents any downwards pressure on the pelvic floor and helps it to strengthen and improve control at the same time. I bet you’ve never been told to pre-contract your pelvic floor before lifting something heavy, but you want to do that too for the same reason!

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There is research that Pilates is effective for those with mild continence issues as it teaches you to contract your pelvic floor effectively and this carries over into everyday life.

So, next time you’re in your Pilates class and the instructor advises you to think about engaging through the pelvic floor, really add this into the exercise! You will be making a big difference to helping your pelvic floor work effectively as part of the whole core system.

If you are not sure if you are contracting your pelvic floor correctly, please come and see me in the clinic to check this for you as well as provide you with a personalised programme and advice.

Pilates for Road Cyclists

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Why on Earth would I want to do Pilates indoors if the reason I cycle is to get out and about and feel the wind whistling through my helmet? Hopefully this post will help give you an insight into how Pilates can improve your performance and endurance on the bike.

As anyone who’s ever ridden a bike belonging to someone else knows, cycling position is all-important. You might feel comfortable for the first hour or so, but a keen cyclist will be out dawn to dusk, often covering over one hundred miles in a day. Even if your bike fits you well, the cycling position is challenging to sustain. As you fatigue, your posture suffers – shoulders become hunched, the head drops so that the neck has to be put in an increasingly strained position. The stomach muscles tire after supporting your upper body position all day and the pelvis tilts backwards to compensate. This can lead to a lot of strain on the low back and reduced power output in the legs.

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There are lots of measurements available online to help you set your bike up to fit you better, and to get better power from the legs. However, everyone is different and your own personal shape and abilities might not suit a generic set-up. You might have stiffer hips than others, or a history of shoulder pain, both of which will make a different set-up work better for you. If you can, a proper bike-fit where your power output can be assessed before and after can help you whizz along effortlessly!

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There’s no denying that getting out on the bike is the most specific training required to build up the cycling specific muscles. So, where does Pilates fit in? Pilates trains stability throughout the trunk, which helps support the quads, hamstrings and calf muscles as they transmit force into the pedal, and support the shoulders and neck as they maintain a steady position.

Watch a few moments of the pros in time trial action, even when fatigued at the end, their upper body barely moves when they are sitting on the saddle. This is down to spectacular muscle endurance.

Even though cycling is generally an endurance sport, there is good evidence that strength and power training improve endurance performance. These exercises do not need to be done too frequently, twice a week is sufficient. Therefore, the exercises do not cause the cyclists’ feared bulk-up. Instead, supplementing training with a full body regime, like Pilates, helps the muscles fire more effectively. This leads to more efficient cycling – faster with less effort, who wouldn’t want that?!

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The focus in Pilates for cyclists is on maintaining strength and endurance in the cycling position but also to recognise that cycling posture is not sustainable: when a cyclist is not on the bike, they must be able to come back out of the cycling position into a more neutral posture to prevent aches and pains arising in day to day activities. For example, in cycling the shoulderblades are more tilted and rounded than in upright standing (and this is exaggerated in a cyclist who spends a lot of time on the aero bars). A Pilates programme for a cyclist can help to strengthen them in this position and also teach good posture when they get off the bike.

Similarly, around the hips and pelvis, a strong core is vital in cycling, but the power generation comes from the gluteals (bottom muscles), hip flexors, quads (thigh muscles) and hamstrings (at the back of the thigh). The power is transmitted through the calf and shin muscles which keep the feet in a stable position to transfer the power into the pedals. It’s important to get the foot properly aligned via the set up of the cleats to make sure of good alignment in the legs. Getting the muscles working well together is also vital for good cycling performance. The quads and glutes push the pedal down while the hamstrings and hip flexors pull the opposite pedal up. A well-designed Pilates programme for a cyclist will get these muscles firing well and improve their endurance.

Pilates for life!

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At the start of a new year, we thought we’d take a bit of time away from focusing on how Pilates can benefit different conditions, aches & pains and instead look at how Pilates can be a life-long habit, incorporated into your lifestyle. We are all meant to exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week (yep, at least 5 days a week!), and children should exercise at least double that.

How many of you hear that and are put off because you don’t like gyms, don’t enjoy zumba/jazzercise/whatever exercise trend this year is going to throw at us? Does the thought of going out for a run makes you want to velcro yourself to the couch?!

If you already attend a Pilates class, why not increase the good feeling you get after a class by incorporating it into other days of the week and fitting it around your schedule? Listen to two clients who have come to Pilates for different reasons, and are sticking to it, not only to prevent recurrence of problems, but to boost overall health, give some ‘me time’ every day and incorporate enjoyable exercise into their lifestyle.

Chloe, 35, first came to Pilates when pregnant with her second child. ‘I didn’t have any problems during my first pregnancy but then had quite a short gap between pregnancies. I was very surprised when early on I started to get low back pain and started to struggle bending down to look after and play with my toddler. This got to the point where I was unable to walk for any distance without pain.

‘I went for a one to one Pilates session with a physiotherapist and was helped out with some exercises to do at home to help relieve my discomfort, I was also shown some safe strengthening exercises to help improve the power in my leg and bottom muscles which made walking slightly more comfortable. I was also reminded to get started with my pelvic floor exercises!

‘I was hooked! Although I was so busy at work and with my toddler, I was encouraged to take some time for myself every day, sometimes 5 minutes was all I could manage, but it was so important to me to get that time. I was able to get through the rest of my pregnancy keeping the pain under control.

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‘As soon as I had the baby I signed up for postnatal Pilates as I knew how much I needed to do to get back into shape and be fit for my little ones. I started soon after my six week check and again made sure I took the time to do a little bit at home each day as well as my weekly class. It was even tougher to fit that in! I really think that’s what helped me recover so quickly from the birth.

‘I am now back to work and managing to fit in some running and trips to the gym in my lunch breaks. I’m even busier at home, but still try to get that daily five to ten minutes to myself as it gives me such a mental boost and helps me know I’m looking after my body long-term.’

Alan, 40, is a former rower turned triathlete. ‘Years of rowing and repetitive training had taken its toll on my back. Yes, I was fit, but I was inflexible and would get frequent bouts of pain all through my spine and often into my shoulders and hips. I saw a Physiotherapist who explained that my core muscles were not as strong as they could be and the load was being taken by muscles which weren’t supposed to work so hard to hold my posture. The physio suggested Pilates and I eventually tried a class.

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‘I could have kicked myself for not going sooner! After my first session I felt better already – taller, stretched out and much more comfortable with moving than I had felt in a long time. I couldn’t wait to go back again the next week and eventually signed up to two classes a week.

‘As part of my training I had always done some daily stretching, first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I wondered if maybe my routine was right for me as I had been doing the same stretches for years – hamstrings, quads, calves, shoulders. I booked myself in for a one to one Pilates session where we went over what I did, how much time I had to work at home and what I was hoping to achieve, The Physio designed a programme which really goes for the areas where I tend to stiffen up regularly and also gave me some exercises to support these joints in my spine to prevent them from stiffening up quite so readily.

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‘Even though I’m 20 years older than when I started rowing, I feel in better shape than ever. The one change has been the Pilates and it’s been a great addition to my training!’

So Pilates is not only if you are recovering from an injury or working through pain, think about how good it makes you feel and how you could experience that more frequently. If you’re not sure what you should be doing at home, see us for a one to one where we will personalise a programme for you.

Pilates for winter sports

Whether you’re planning on slithering down the slopes this winter or skating around the winter wonderland whilst visualising your well-deserved mulled wine afterwards, there are lots of way Pilates can help you prepare for getting out there and trying winter sports.

Whatever you end up strapping onto your feet, chances are you’ll be sliding in some way and challenging your balance in ways that you rarely do at other times of the year. Your balance, or lack of it, will very quickly become apparent. Good balance is key to preventing falls and therefore preventing injuries.

The feet are the foundation of the body and act as great shock absorbers. A good skier will use their skis as though they are extensions of the feet and use the muscles around the feet and ankles to stabilise. Where the ankle power is insufficient or the joints are stiff, a skier will tend to rest their shins on the front of their boots, effectively losing this connection with the skis.

Luckily Pilates can help by working through a series of exercises which challenge your balance and improve mobility and stability around the foot and ankle, especially during the warm-up section of a class.

The chains of muscle which start in the ankle, connect via a web of connective tissue all the way up the legs and into the gluteal (bottom) muscles and the abdominals, are where the real power comes from. This core of muscles works closely with mobilising spine and hips, absorbing shocks and preparing for and reacting to changes underfoot. Power and stamina are required in the quadriceps muscles at the front of the thighs, the gluteals and abdominal muscles to prepare for a day out on the slopes/rink/tracks. A Pilates class will always have a focus in on these muscles.

PilatesPlus2013IMG_9642Hip twist for working spinal rotational mobility and stability

Many winter sports demand greater spinal mobility, which is well controlled much more than walking or running do. As your hips rotate on a turn, your torso counters that movement, rotating in the opposite direction. In skiing, the counter-rotation of the torso helps with edge control and provides momentum through a turn. If the spine cannot achieve this counter-rotational movement, it can lead to excessive rotation in another part of the body such as the hips, potentially leading to injuries here. Turns can be more sluggish and again increase the risk of injury. Pilates gently takes the spine to the end range of rotation several times during a class. With repeated practice, this can improve both the range of rotation and the muscles’ support of the movement.

All winter sports require a base fitness level and a week’s cross country skiing, for example, can be a real challenge, especially if a normal week for you involves at least 40 hours of sitting on your gluteals. You will get a little cardiovascular work within your Pilates warm up, but what Pilates really teaches you is how to breathe effectively. This means that when your breathing rate does increase, you are making full use of your lung capacity. It’s also a good idea to add some cardiovascular work to your programme to prepare for the winter season. That way, you’ll get in from a day’s activity and feel ready for a well-deserved stretch of the legs and hot dinner whilst planning the next day, rather than feel exhausted and dreading the next day!

What’s also key in winter sports is confidence. A confident skiier or snowboarder will approach the runs in a completely different way to those who are lacking confidence because they don’t have the balance or strength. A good skier will align their thigh bones with the gradient of the hill and maintain a good upright posture. If a skier lacks confidence, they assume a ‘sitting in the back seat’ posture. This position shortens the front of the body and reduces lung capacity, and overall decreases a skier’s response to changes in the slope. The position also stresses the spine, hips and knees so is definitely best avoided. Once you’ve built that base of balance and controlled mobility in your Pilates class, you can arrive at the slope confident to maintain an optimal posture to get the most out of your trip.

If you are planning a winter sports holiday this year, why not let your instructor know? They will be happy to build in some specific exercises to help you prepare. And the rest of the class will benefit from them too!

Trying a new sport for the first time? You are welcome to book a one to one session in our New Town clinic to help your work on specific issues and improve your balance, strength and mobility to prepare yourself to get the most out of your trip.

Pilates for Relaxation

Pilates is not the soft exercise option it is sometimes portrayed as. Although suitable for people of just about any ability, Pilates Plus have a lot of experience of working with top athletes, and a host of rugby players, marathon runners and club swimmers will tell you it’s a challenging workout!

Having said that, Pilates is also a great way of relaxing.

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Is this having our cake and eating it – how can an exercise modality be both challenging and relaxing?

Many of us have jobs sitting still for hours at a time, expending minimal energy. And yet at the end of the day we still feel sluggish. When this feeling of ‘can’t be bothered’ overcomes us, it’s too easy to slump into another chair for the rest of the day and eventually trudge off to bed, exhausted but not sleepy.

article-1250962-084A3199000005DC-191_468x286However, I’m sure we can all remember one time we decided not to be ruled by the slug and just got up and did something… and then felt so much better afterwards. There are many ways to be tired – much like Inuit have many different words for snow – but it’s easy to see that the satisfied, ’emptied out’ feeling you get at the end of being active is much preferable to feeling ‘meh’.

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Your body is designed to move; it responds to muscles working and joints moving through range in exactly the way a Pilates class encourages. If you want to read more, there is a great book called Spark which explores the inseparable connection between mind and body.

Your mind knows that the body has to move in order to survive and thrive, so it gives you the carrot of serotonin and endorphins when you do… and the stick of higher stress levels and irritability when you don’t.

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If someone gets wound up, we all know they should take a deep breath. Breathing is one of the key principles of Pilates practice, refreshing the air in the lungs by breathing deep and wide, right into the corner of the lungs. Just as important is letting that breath go, sighing it out, letting any tension flood away with it. Go on, try two super deep breaths in and out right now, no one will notice!

Just last week, the TUC published a report stating that stress is the biggest health and safety concern in the modern workplace.

The stressy fight or flight response – appropriate when facing an elephant stampede or escaping a burning building, but counter-productive when on hold to the car insurance people – is calmed by deep breathing, the movement of the diaphragm in itself sends a message to the brain that everything is alright and the brain can get on with rebalancing your hormones.

When doing a Pilates exercise that challenges your balance, or trying to active the right muscles, simply the act of directing your consciousness 100% onto getting it right can have a relaxing effect – the worries of the day can be pushed out by something more immediate, more controllable. Watch gymnasts about to perform their routine, or an athlete about to throw the javelin; their concentration is total, but they are also in an almost zen like state of relaxation.

IMG_3319Leading psychologist Ruby Wax (!) has contributed to the already extensive literature on the benefits of being ‘mindful’, and the role that activity can play in mastering your worries in her book Sane World.

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When you come to Pilates the class will start with a focus on one area of the body or on one or two simple movements. This helps you bring your focus into the class, and into your body, leaving the stresses of the day behind. Of course these issues will still be there once you step out of the door – but by taking a bit of time to service your body and mind and not stewing over problems, you return to real life better equipped to handle things and to put them into perspective. The problems may also not be as end-of-the-world as your cabin-fever brain has magnified them to be.

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The end of the class is a process of stretching / slowing down. If appropriate, it may involve a period of guided relaxation, sometimes known as a body scan. This is a great way of heightening your body awareness, and offers a great opportunity to really ensure you relax completely. Of course, this can be done at home as well as in a Pilates class; the video below is just one of many excellent ones you can find online.

So Pilates can benefit both extremes of activity and relaxation – so enjoy some variety instead of staying in the slug zone!

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