Many people begin Pilates lessons as a means to improve their overall health, enhance athletic performance, and recover from injury. Many of my clients have started Pilates on the recommendation of their doctor, physical therapist, or friend or family member who felt that they would benefit from strengthening their core and improving their flexibility.. The Pilates method of exercise is one of the most recommended ways to safely and effectively strengthen your core and stretch tight muscles. Pilates is especially recommended for people who need to build core strength due to a spine, hip or shoulder injury. “The Core” refers to what Joseph Pilates called the body’s “powerhouse” of muscles. These are the muscles of the abdominals, low back, pelvic floor and hips. These muscles wrap around the torso, spine and the internal organs like a girdle or corset. The core muscles create a strong and stable central pillar to support the body’s functional movement. Core strength refers to the ability to efficiently recruit these muscles during daily, functional activities in order to prevent injury, maintain correct posture, and to protect injured tissue or bones. Pilates has been found to be extremely effective in building core strength, since it emphasizes concentration, control, movement quality, and deep breathing.
For many chronic conditions or injuries, daily stretching and exercising will become a necessary part of life until the condition improves. For maximum benefit, working with a trainer or attending a good group class 1-3 times per week is ideal, but the benefits of Pilates can also be achieved at home with a book or video as part of your exercise routine. Look for Pilates trainers who are certified and experienced in working with people who have your condition or abilities. Not all exercises are appropriate for every body. A good trainer will use his/her experience to teach you the difference between a “good pain” and a “bad pain.” If an exercise causes sharp, shooting or aching pain or just does not feel right, skip it. When you begin a new exercise or stretch, your body may be tight or weak and resistant to the movement. With a little practice and patience, muscles will eventually become stronger and more flexible. Start slow and gentle. When stretching, a good rule of thumb is to hold a stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds and a maximum of 2 minutes. Even though you may be stiff, a stretch should feel good and help to release tension. If a stretch is causing pain, tension, or you find that you are holding your breath, you are probably pushing too hard or not in the correct position. Your trainer will help you to develop your body awareness so that you are properly aligned while stretching. Never stretch to where you feel the stretch or pain in the joints or ligaments.
Deep relaxation is also an important element in whole body wellness and pain management. 1-15 minutes of deep breathing while lying on your back either on a foam roller or with your legs supported on a bolster, pillow or a chair will help your spine to decompress and will also relax your stressed-out body and mind. Breathing fully into your chest, belly and back can send a message to your nervous system that you are not in “fight or flight mode,” and that it can release all of those adrenaline-fueled pain messages that it keeps sending throughout your body. Your quiet relaxation time is also an opportunity to repeat a positive mantra or affirmation to yourself of your choosing that reaffirms your body’s health and well-being. Above all, be patient with your learning and healing process, have fun exercising, and tell yourself that you are doing something good for the long-term health of your body!