How Pilates Helps People with MS

The benefits of exercise for people with multiple sclerosis have been well-documented. There is evidence that in addition to supporting general health and well-being, a regular exercise program can be particularly helpful to MS patients and may work to ease common symptoms such as fatigue, strength and mobility issues. A 2016 study found that exercise may even help reduce lesions, relapses and slow the progression of the disease.

Yet many people with MS might find it difficult to begin or maintain a regular workout routine. It’s important that each individual chooses a program they enjoy and that will work with any limitations they may have. Pilates is a viable option for many, as it is gentle, low-impact and accommodating to those with balance issues.

A 2018 study, published in the International Journal of MS Care, concluded that Pilates can help with balance and mobility issues and have a positive effect on people with MS. For the control group that practiced Pilates, the study saw an improvement in walking ability as well as “alleviation of side-to-side strength imbalances and improved ability to recruit motor neurons, which is severely affected in persons with MS.”

The study noted the positive effects of activating the core muscles. As the deep core muscles are strengthened and stabilized, the body relieves tension while learning proper movement. The correct muscles begin supporting the body properly, which can help correct imbalance issues common in MS patients.

Pilates exercises can be adjusted to the needs and abilities of the individual, and many are done in sitting or reclining positions. On the reformer, the muscles needed for balance can be strengthened without fear of falling.

Additional benefits of Pilates for people with MS include:

  • Improved flexibility and mobility

  • Better posture and stability

  • Potential help with cognitive symptoms

  • Relieved stress and tension

  • Improved mood; aiding depression and anxiety

  • Lessened fatigue

  • Improved quality of life

If you’d like to learn more about how you can benefit from Pilates,
contact Corrine today for more information or to schedule a private session.

The Importance of Good Posture — And How Pilates Can Help

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 concentrationcontrol and precision. We can improve our posture by practicing mindfulness and becoming aware of how we hold ourselves.

Pilates for Seniors

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.

Corrine's Story: How I Got Started With Pilates

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 and the Mind-Body Connection

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).

the effects

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.

Pilates: A Powerful Tool for Autoimmune and Inflammatory Diseases

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.

The Benefits of the Pilates Reformer

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.