Pilates for mind and body

I have been teaching Pilates for almost 17 years, having trained in classical Pilates at The Pilates Institute, London under the guidance of Michael King and Malcolm Muirhead. At the time I’d been working as a Personal Trainer & Sports Massage Therapist for two years and loving it, especially the functional fitness and rehab work. I’d been taking Pilates classes myself for a few years to help with an old back injury and couldn’t believe the difference it made. So when I was offered the chance to train to teach Pilates, I jumped at it. Over the years my work evolved: most notably to enable me to have a family I had to step away from Personal Training and focus mainly on teaching fitness & Pilates classes and providing Sports Therapy Massage, and this is when I started my own business – A Sense of Balance. I began to suffer physically though from too much high impact high energy exercise, and not enough stretching or self-care, so I decided to start practicing yoga regularly. I’d really enjoyed attending antenatal Yoga during my first pregnancy, and although a totally different kind of practice, I instantly felt the benefit – both physically and mentally. It wasn’t long before yoga had drawn me into its magic and I went on to study my 200hrs yoga teacher certification in order to share it benefits too.

I now focus primarily on teaching yoga and Pilates classes, plus a fusion style class of my own making that blends the two styles, and I also teach 1-2-1 private clients and small groups, as well as running occasional workshops and events. I’m nearing the end of my Level 4 Advanced Pilates Matwork training now, and it’s true to say that I’m a bit of an anatomy geek, but I just love learning more so that I’m able to help more people.

What is Pilates?

The Pilates method was devised by Joseph Pilates in the mid 1920’s and was one of the first exercise systems in the West to take a holistic approach to fitness and wellbeing. “Contrology” as Joseph Pilates called it (in fact it only got renamed Pilates after his death) is based on the idea of muscle control - stretching and strengthening the muscles whilst improving flexibility and balance. “Contrology develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit.” - Joseph Pilates.

Benefits of the Pilates include:

§ Developing deep core strength, including pelvic floor strength.

§ Improving balance, physical coordination, posture, stability and flexibility

§ Increased muscle strength and tone, particularly of your abdominal muscles, lower back, hips and buttocks

§ Balanced muscular strength on both sides of your body

§ Enhanced muscular control of your back and limbs

§ Rehabilitation or prevention of injuries related to muscle imbalances

§ Relaxation of your shoulders, neck and upper back

§ Safe rehabilitation of joint and spinal injuries

§ Increased lung capacity and improved circulation through deep breathing

§ Improved concentration

§ Increased body awareness

§ Stress management and relaxation.

How does Pilates work?

The pelvis, the spine and the shoulder girdle are the three most unstable areas of the body. When we move, we typically engage the more superficial muscles to initiate movement without first stabilising these areas using the local stabilising muscles. These stabilising muscles form a tube-like arrangement around the spine, down into the pelvic floor and up into the diaphragm. The Pilates method teaches us how to neurally engage this inner tube, co-activating all the muscles involved, to create stabilisation throughout movement. This is known as “Centering”, and is one of the 6 fundamental principles that define the classical Pilates method. These 6 principles were not actually written by Joseph Pilates but were derived from studies of his written work and film footage, and it’s now widely considered that for an exercise to be deemed a true Pilates exercise, these 6 principles must be applied. The other 5 key principles are Concentration, which is needed in order to achieve and maintain this centering and to execute subsequent movements with Control and Precision – these being two of the principles. Next up is Breath. In fact many see Breath as the most important of the principles to master. Joseph Pilates himself is quoted as once saying “Breathing is the first act of life, and the last… above all, learn how to breathe correctly”. He encouraged us to picture the lungs like bellows, consciously deeply inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth whilst co-activating the neural “tube” from the pelvic floor to the diaphragm, and allowing 360 degrees expansion into the rib cage. He also described the importance of the breath in pumping the working muscles and indeed all of the body with oxygen and ridding the body of the waste products of respiration. Furthermore, synchronisation of breath with movement is key to being able to perform Pilates exercises correctly. Then and only then can we begin to execute each exercise with the grace, ease and fluidity needed to create Flow – the final principle.

I’m often asked which I prefer, Pilates or yoga. And honestly, I love them both. For me they both deliver the ultimate mind-body package of physical benefits and mental well-being, because both require your complete attention and focus. And whilst Pilates appears to be a more scientific system (based on physics mostly), plus there’s no ancient philosophy, chanting or “mumbo jumbo” (as someone described it to me once) like in yoga, it is in fact just as much a mindful movement practice as yoga. Mindfulness might still be a bit of a buzz word, but its benefits on our mental health have been evidenced widely. The importance of the breath is also a common factor in both practices. Deep, slow breaths in and out are encouraged to deliver oxygen to the working muscles but also to the brain, stimulating the Parasympathetic Nervous System - the part of your nervous system that signals to the brain to calm down. Heart rate then slows, blood pressure decreases and tension in the body relaxes. For this reason good breathing habits whether gained through Pilates or Yoga can lead to a reduction in stress.

If the above hasn’t already persuaded you to give Pilates or yoga class a try, then just look at the NHS’s “5 Steps to Mental Wellbeing”, and notice how many of them you could tick off by attending a regular class.

1. Connect with other people ✔️

2. Be physically active ✔️

3. Learn new skills ✔️

4. Give to others —

5. Pay attention to the present moment (i.e be mindful) ✔️

I teach a Pilates class in the dance studio every Wednesday at 4.15pm, and have plenty of space for more members. The class is suitable for all levels, from beginner level upwards, and for all ages. Whether you do no other exercise or whether you play 2 sports and visit the gym 3 times a week, regular Pilates practice will benefit you. Staff that come have expressed how much easier it is to get into the habit of coming when it’s at your workplace. After all we all know how difficult it can be to go back out in the evening to a class after getting home, especially during the winter months when it’s cold and dark, when curling up on the sofa looks so inviting! I try to incorporate exercises that will help counteract the sedentary nature of their work and iron out any minor niggles that present themselves. Staff also say they appreciate the “switch off” from the day that’s just been, which comes with the mindful movement practice of Pilates, and relish the few minutes of peaceful relaxation at the end of every class.

For anyone interested in my other classes, private sessions or occasional workshops and events, you can find me on Facebook at . I will very shortly have my new website up and running – , where you will be able to find all the information, plus a blog where I’ll publish regular articles about all aspects of Pilates and yoga.

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