A Pilates-inspired poem by one of my clients!
Good posture matters, and it's not just a vanity thing. Posture affects your health, energy levels, aches and pains.
Proper posture means your body is balanced, in perfect alignment. Your muscles are working as they should — not too much or too little. When you practice good posture, the correct muscles begin supporting your body properly, resulting in a release of tension. If, on the other hand, you practice poor posture, your muscles work overtime to keep your body balanced, with certain muscles overcompensating for others. This can result in back pain, tension headaches, or low energy levels. Pilates can help us move efficiently and correct these imbalances.
Benefits of Good Posture
- Increased energy
- Prevents back and other injuries
- Helps prevent aches and pains, tension headaches and other stresses on the body
- Decreases stress on joints and ligaments
- Improves airflow and breathing
- Improves flexibility
- Boosts confidence
How Pilates Helps
When we practice Pilates, we learn to support our bodies using the deep core or powerhouse (the abdominals, back and pelvic floor muscles) rather than with superficial, inefficient movement. By strengthening our core, we relieve stress on the rest of the body and allow our neck and shoulders to move freely. We can stand straighter and more easily hold our bodies in proper alignment.
Furthermore, the principles of Pilates that we learn in class carry over and affect how we move throughout the day. We learn to move with concentration, control and precision. We can improve our posture by practicing mindfulness and becoming aware of how we hold ourselves.
As we age, staying fit is essential. This can be difficult, however, as many forms of exercise can cause injury or strain on the bodies of older adults. Pilates is increasing in popularity among seniors as a safe and effective way to stay in shape — for good reason.
Pilates is a gentle, low-impact exercise.
As a low-impact exercise, the risk of injury is reduced. It is a great option for those who haven't exercised in a while and would like to re-start an exercise program.
Pilates promotes quality over quantity of repetitions.
Seniors will learn proper movement as they rebuild their bodies for better function. The exercises can be modified to accommodate each individual's needs and abilities.
It is gentle on the joints.
The gentle mid-range movements used in Pilates decrease the chance of joints compressing. It can benefit adults with ailments such as arthritis or osteoporosis.
It is accommodating to those with balance issues.
Many of the exercises are done in sitting or reclining positions. On the reformer, you can strengthen the appropriate muscles needed for balance without fear of falling.
It focuses on the core.
While other forms of exercise build short, bulky muscles — which are injury-prone — Pilates focuses on lengthening and strengthening the "core," or the deep abdominal and back muscles.
In 2001 I was bored and lonely in an unfamiliar Canada with no work visa and nothing at all to do that seemed worth doing. A dull depression started to burn in my mind, a poison that threatened to work its way south into my body.
Near desperate I joined a co-ed baseball team, but I’d been lazily inactive for months and the running, throwing, and swinging (alright, flailing) proved too much. I woke up one morning paralyzed in bed, my back refusing to allow even my head to lift up off the pillow.
The doctor hardly looked at me. “Painkillers,” he said. I was handed a prescription and shown the door.
The medication did alleviate some of the pain, but not nearly enough. Tasks as simple as getting out of bed each morning became monumental. I suffered every time I bent and reached down to tie my shoes, and the back pain made working the clutch on my car a near impossibility. Chiropractors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists all worked with me as best they could, but my back just wasn’t improving despite their efforts.
I dealt with the pain for the better part of a year, my quality of life declining all the while. I tried new medications and therapies but my depression only deepened. When I thought of my young children and of the mother I was on course to become, I made a choice. I gathered all the pills and flushed them. I saw a new doctor, determined to communicate my desperation for relief.
“Pilates,” he said. It was a strange word I’d never heard in my life. “You’ve torn ligaments in your lower back and you need Pilates.”
The first studio I visited was more a boot camp from Hell, the instructor a sort of drill sergeant who seemed only to know the words "harder," "longer," "faster," and "more." I quit after my first day and promised never to try again. Thank God that was a promise I broke.
In Toronto I found my saving grace, a new Pilates studio where the instructor listened to me cry about my fears for my children. She put her hands gently on my slumped shoulders and straightened my posture. “Breathe,” she whispered. “Just breathe.” She gave me a soothing focus and taught me to strengthen my core.
Six weeks later I hopped out of bed, smiling and feeling rested and alert. I was agile, light on my feet, more stable and capable than I’d felt in years. My back was no longer seized up in knots and I was free from the pain. I got dressed quickly, bent effortlessly to tie my shoes, and pumped my car’s clutch all the way to Toronto, wailing along with the radio to my favorite tune. My entire body felt serene, my mind filled with a beautiful clarity. It was really a miracle.
My friends started coming to me with their own concerns – aching necks, sore backs. I showed them what I had learned. I taught them the techniques, and I found I was good at it. I could help these people – I saw the gratitude in their faces and felt I had to help them.
And my dream was born.
Pilates is often referred to as “the thinking person’s exercise.” When practiced correctly, Pilates will help you achieve a deep mind-body connection.
how it works
The seven principles of Pilates — centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, flow and endurance — all require you to think about the way you are moving your body.
This exercise emphasizes proper form. It’s about the quality of the movements, rather than the quantity of repetitions.
Pilates teaches you to understand your body’s framework. You’ll learn to feel misalignments, as well as structural and muscular imbalances; and then you’ll learn how to correct them.
The instruction you receive will help you visualize the relationship between the muscular and skeletal system. For example, your instructor may refer to the “space” between your hip bones and rib cage, and show you how to maximize that space by strengthening and lengthening the deep abdominal and back muscles.
Proper Pilates exercises are not about mindlessly strengthening and toning. Rather, they require you to actively use your mind as you move your body (therefore fostering a mind-body connection).
You’ll start to notice that the principles you apply during Pilates class and the mind/body connection you learn to achieve become present as you move in your everyday activities.
You’ll move more effectively with less strain on the body. As you become more aware of your body in relation to the space around you, you may find that you’re more balanced and graceful, and even have better reaction times.
Many injuries occur because of incorrect movement — either while exercising or during everyday activity. The control and precision that Pilates teaches can help avoid injuries.
A mind-body connection can also help reduce stress. As you strengthen your sense of body awareness, you might start to notice how your stress manifests physically — whether you carry it in your neck, shoulders, back, etc. When you learn where you carry unnecessary tension, you can start to correct it. The reduced physical stress will result in reduced overall stress.
Disconnect between the body and mind can result in a lack of awareness about what your body needs, leading to poor posture, muscular imbalances, discomfort and even depression. The mind-body connection you build in Pilates can help correct this.
On July 22, I attended the Inflammatory and Auto-Immune Diseases workshop at Body Harmonics. It had such an impact on me that it was all I could think about on my long drive back to NJ. It continued to consume my thoughts for the next few days. I sent an email to Margot, Founder & Director of Education at Body Harmonics, letting her know that “of all the courses I have EVER taken this was THE MOST POWERFUL I’ve ever experienced.” In part it is because I have a lot of personal experience with the subject due to having Celiac and Hashimoto’s. I also told her “I never cried in a class before!”
What really resonated with me that Margot said was that “a lot of people with autoimmune diseases blame themselves for their condition, and it’s really not their fault.” I don’t even think I realized until that moment that I felt that way. But my eyes welled up and I felt like I was punched in the gut. I said to myself: “I do blame myself!” I think back to first getting the diagnosis and thinking “if I only ate differently, if I only would have addressed my issues sooner...”, etc.
Here's my story ...
Growing up, I was constantly hurting myself. Extra sore muscles, torn ligaments in my knees, ankles and back, knee surgeries, repeated soft tissue injuries, unbearable migraines, and constant sick-to-my-stomach feeling were all chalked up to: "Oh, she's just clumsy." "She's just accident-prone." "She plays too hard." "It's growing pains. She's too tall for a girl." "She's just being a picky eater...make her eat it." "She's just trying to get out of school." "She tries to keep up with the boys...get her some dolls."
Then came a series of miscarriages in my mid to late 20s (it happens dear, it’s nature’s way). There were bouts of depression (it’s just baby blues, it’ll pass) that I never had time to address, as I was too busy raising a family.
A back injury in my 30s brought me to Body Harmonics. I was still not aware that I had Celiac or Hashimoto’s, but Pilates got me going again. I was stronger, happier, and healthier.
In my mid 40s I started fighting depression again. I was tired beyond tired (sleeping 18 hours a day), constantly sick to my stomach, and had headaches that could not be helped by any drug. My emotions were all over the map, and would change within five minutes. I literally thought I was going crazy!
I went back to the doctor and was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. A few years later, at my insistence I was checked for and diagnosed with celiac disease. It seems like the pieces of the puzzle of injury and “un-wellness” were starting to at least make sense. I was tired due to thyroid issues that had probably been going on since my pregnancies in my 20s. It explained why I would be sick to my stomach almost immediately after eating, with rashes, headaches and mood swings beyond any sort of control. The injuries and muscle soreness (it was more than just "playing too hard" as a kid) were likely caused by celiac disease; my body was not absorbing the nutrients I needed to keep my tissue healthy and injury-free.
Finally having an explanation for my symptoms has helped me see that I am not "crazy" and, as Margot said at the workshop, it was not my fault! With the proper diet, correct medicine, and Pilates (and lots of fighting doctors for what I need, and more specifically, what I don't need) I feel that I at least have some control over my body and moods again. A very freeing realization. Yet it is an ongoing process of trial and error, with new information often replacing the old — frustrating for sure, but also just a part of my journey.
I was a bit hesitant to share my story, not wanting to put my personal life out there for all to read. Then I realized that not many people would associate Pilates with being such a powerful tool for those suffering with autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, and that sharing this just might give someone else the same opportunities to put the pieces of their own puzzle together and maybe try a different path toward better health if the one they're on isn't quite the right one. Nothing is more rewarding to me than helping ease someone's difficulties when they come to me.
Designed by Joseph Pilates, the reformer is a machine based on spring resistance. It has a carriage that moves forward and back along stable rails. For certain exercises, cords with straps for your hands or feet may be added. The reformer challenges you to use your core as you push and pull against the springs.
Because Pilates is the “thinking person’s” exercise, and direction on the reformer is key, many report leaving reformer classes with a sense of clarity and focus. Building on key Pilates principals, you will leave the reformer feeling balanced and strong, lengthened and open.
Reformer classes are for all levels of fitness, various body types, and can be beneficial for people with specific needs. Depending on the class, a reformer workout can be challenging, very releasing and gentle, or both.
You should consider a reformer class if ...
- you are looking for a physical and mental challenge.
- you have balance issues. You can strengthen the appropriate muscles needed for balance without fear of falling.
- you need to lengthen and release. The reformer’s corded straps — which you can attach to the arms or legs — will help you do this.
- you have an autoimmune or inflammatory disease. The flowing motion is gentle on the joints, and the mind-body connection is like no other workout. A reformer workout helps stimulate the central nervous system, which the muscles respond very positively to.
- you have bone density issues. Osteoporosis is on the rise — 1 in 4 women and 1 in 8 men over 50 reportedly have it. Keeping the spine in a safe position while exercising is crucial. The reformer can help you focus on safe positions while working with resistance, which is exactly what you need to keep osteoporosis from progressing.
If you have any questions about the reformer, or if you'd like to schedule a session, feel free to contact me. You can view my upcoming group reformer classes here.
If you have contemplated trying Pilates and are not sure whether to take a group class or private session, here are some things to consider.
Injuries: If you are recovering from an injury and are ready to start moving again, a private session is a wise choice. Your session will be focused exclusively on you. You will be assessed and instructed on how to stay stable and strong while moving. Your posture and alignment will be the focus so you can strengthen and balance while staying safe. You will be able to give immediate feedback as to what may or may not feel right, allowing for adjustments in both your alignment as well as your range of motion.
Illness: For many of the same reasons listed above, people recovering from illness choose private sessions. The session will be adjusted to your ability, with the goal of building on strength, length and posture.
Specific Goals: You may be training for an event such as a marathon or have another fitness-related goal. Private sessions will enable you to be specific as to what you need and how you want to be challenged, and a plan can then be developed to master the goals.
You Prefer One-On-One: Private sessions—with their many benefits—may simply be your preferred way to take classes.
Transition: People new to Pilates may like to start off by taking privates to receive individual attention while they're learning. They will then transition into group classes but more often than not, they will also have private sessions.
Overall Workout: Group classes are usually a great way to get a well-balanced, full-body workout.
Group Setting: Some may prefer working out with a group for various reasons, such as the social aspect, the encouragement and motivation of others in the class, or simply the enjoyment of attending with a friend.
Accountability: Seeing others on a regular basis encourages some to show up weekly when they may not have otherwise.
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Whether you decide on private sessions or classes, a certified, professional, knowledgeable instructor is what will make your experience a positive one.
Contact us for more information on whether privates or classes are right for you.
Recently, I posted about pain and my personal experience with it — specifically, low back pain. I told you how Pilates gave me the release I needed and the strength to allow me to heal. The first step in healing is understanding your body wants to feel good! You just need to show it how to transition from a bad cycle to a good cycle.
cycles (noun): a set of events or actions that happen again and again in the same order: a repeating series of events or actions
We can all relate to cycles, good and bad. Often, chronic pain creates “bad cycles.” You feel pain ,which very often causes inefficient movement (such as limping or a posture you develop due to the pain), so you stop moving. The lack of movement makes it more inefficient, which in turn causes more pain. So the cycle continues.
I discovered very quickly that Pilates is a powerful “mind/body” experience that works muscle systems rather than a specific muscle. To some, those systems can sound very complicated when presented through an anatomy standpoint. When someone is in pain, the last thing on their mind is an anatomy lesson — they just want the pain to go away. As a professional Pilates/movement educator, I continuously study anatomy so that I may help people facilitate the use of their systems properly. I start slowly and layer movement and support simultaneously. You are being cued to move as well as constantly thinking about what it is you are doing. When you are in control of how you move and why you move in a certain way, the body starts to feel release.
That release will allow you to call on the correct muscles to do the job. When usage of the correct muscles is achieved, they become stronger. With strength comes balance in the form of opposing muscles working and releasing simultaneously. Muscle balance creates efficient movement, often allowing pain to subside. Less pain means easier movement, which allows for more movement, and with more movement comes more strength and balance — the “good cycle."
pain (noun): physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury
We all know what pain is. We also know that pain is relevant. Sometimes that papercut between your fingers makes you aware of its annoying presence but doesn’t stop you from going about your day. Sometimes your back hurts so much you can’t climb stairs. There is the type of pain that you “push through” knowing it is temporary and will soon disappear. Sometimes pain is extreme but you know that as you heal it too will subside.
Then there is pain that is chronic and you feel utterly at a loss. Perhaps at first it started as what you thought was a temporary situation, but as time goes by it doesn’t seem to be getting better or even growing worse. This is the type of pain that sends you to your doctor hoping for relief. Often, your doctor is able to help, but there are times when specialist after specialist and test after test still give you little in the way of answers or relief. This is the type of pain that can cause some to feel helpless as well as hopeless. Your life seems to revolve around your pain, planning your day around having someone to help you with small tasks you thought nothing of before. Things like housework, meals, shopping, and even getting dressed are difficult without help. You are angry this has happened, you are sad about missing out on your old life, and scared that you may not get back to the way you were.
I write this with experience, having lived with this type of pain. I went to more doctors than I can count without significant results. After a year I chose to find an alternative route to pain medicine and cortisone shots. I have never made a better choice. After talking to my doctor about my choice, he suggested Pilates. I scheduled an appointment at a Pilates studio in Toronto where I lived at the time. After a few sessions I realized this was the best advice I was given throughout the entire healing process. Within six weeks I went from back pain that made me unable to climb steps, push in the clutch on my car or tie my shoes, to doing ALL of that! I continued my sessions and found myself showing friends and family “what we do in Pilates” to help with this or that. Soon I found people calling me with questions about what to do for this pain or that ache. I knew then I wanted to help others feel better.
Now, 15 years later, I feel healthier than I ever have in my life — free of pain and with the ability and knowledge to help others find their paths to being pain free. My education and career have evolved over the years but — just as in the beginning — when someone walks out of my studio with a bit of hope in their eyes, a bit lighter step in their walk and eventually a smile on their face, I know that I have done what I set out to do, and nothing is more rewarding.