Can pilates help with mental health?

 

People normally start doing pilates with us because they have a bad back, want to gain more core strength or are pregnant. However Pilates has more benefits than just the physical ones. Joseph Pilates believed mental and physical health were closely connected and I think this is one area we need to explore further in this busy world where levels of depression are high.

I know for myself, teaching Pilates is the best job. After a stressful time in my other work as a dietitian or as a mummy, I get to chill out in a relaxed, beautiful space and teach a calm, mindful class. Focusing on your breathing, your body movements and your muscles is part of mindfulness so you can instantly see why Pilates has more benefits than just the physical ones. One statement I heard this week was “I always sleep best on a Thursday after Pilates”. I can see why that is. Pilates helps you slow down your pace of life, move your thoughts from work, home and stress to your body and draw plenty of oxygen into your muscles, using deep, thoracic breathing.

Breathing Quote

 

Mindfulness is a therapy that is being used for all kinds of mental health conditions now. A definition of it is: “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” It uses compassion and breathing to help you to let go of negative thoughts, stress and even pain. The similarities to Pilates are easy to spot. Even if you went to a Pilates class and did nothing except lie on the mat and breath you would feel some benefits for your mood and stress relief.

So there seems to be an obvious link between Pilates and mental health. One thing I always want to know is what is the evidence? Has there been any actual research done? There is actually quite a lot that shows a link between Pilates improving your mood, lowering stress and helping with cognitive function.

Look out for my next blog post that looks at the research.

 

Reformer Pilates March Madness

Reformer March Offer

 

OH MY DAYS. We are SO SO lucky. We now have a reformer and a half Cadillac in our 1-2-1 studio. A friend reminded me yesterday how I have been talking about having one of these for around 4 years, finally the day has come.

The reformer is pretty much like a bed with pulleys and springs, which means you work against resistance. This makes you focus on your technique a lot more, makes you work harder and gives a greater depth to a lot of the exercises and amazing stretches.

The cadillac is a frame that goes over the bed, with bars and springs you can pull on that give beautiful length and enable you to go further in movements.

Both of these pieces of equipment were designed and used by Joseph Pilates himself and are just awesome for focusing on your body, working your weak areas, stretching the tight areas and getting stronger session by session. You really will see and feel a difference with it.

I’d highly recommend you give it a go hence we are offering it at a special rate in March. Personally I find doing some sessions now and again on the reformer makes a huge difference to how I then do Pilates on the mat. It also help me work on the imbalances in my body – shoulder tighness, leg length, tight hip flexors, tight back etc…

If you even just want to have a peek and a 5 min lie down on it after class let us know.

You can guess where I am spending all my spare time at the moment!

 

What to look for in a good Pilates class

Pilates is such an amazing form of exercise, in fact I would call it a lifestyle and something that everyone needs to be embracing. Like all things there are a lot of variations on a theme out there and a lot of different types of classes around, some amazing, some less than good. Whilst I am certainly a fan of variety and keeping it fresh, there is also the need to make sure the class you are going to is teaching you correctly and that it is actually Pilates (if that is what you want to be doing).

Pilates with Priya: what makes a pilates class great

So here are my thoughts on what makes a great Pilates class:

  1. Check the qualifications of your teacher. Have they got a Level 3 Pilates qualification. Ask them how long it took them to qualify. If it was just a weekend then there is something wrong! A decent Pilates qualification takes time and more money than you may expect to complete, it involves course work, theoretical and practical exams and ongoing training. I do several courses a year and am continually learning through reading, practising and watching others teach. They should also be attending some sort of class or pilates 1-1 session themselves regularly to improve their technique.
  2. A small class is key. Too many people and you will not get that individual attention and help from the teacher and can end up doing the exercises wrong. I take a maximum of 8 people in my classes. I started out being asked to teach large classes in sports halls, I had to stop as for me it just wasn’t pilates, there was no way I could correct and watch everyone.
  3. Is it safe? You should have to complete a medical form of some sort and be screened for any health issues, injuries, muscular problems, back issues, pregnancy etc. It is important to keep your teacher up to date on your health.
  4. The venue – for me this is important. Is it lit well enough so you can be seen, the teacher needs to see your body to be able to correct it. Mirrors are a big bonus as they help you see your form and help your teacher see everyone easily. You don’t want to be a in large hall, miles away from the teacher.
  5. The teacher – are they approachable and do they explain things well? If you don’t understand, can you stop them and ask? You should expect to be corrected either verbally or through the teacher moving your body. If you don’t like their approach or manner it isn’t going to work in the long term.
  6. There are many Pilates bodies and variations out there now. Body control Pilates, Stott Pilates, Pilates Foundation, to name a few. Whatever class you go to, Pilates is meant to be controlled, fairly slow, there should be plenty of emphasis on posture, on the technique, on using the right muscles and on the breathing. If you end up in a fast paced class it isn’t necessarily not Pilates, but it may not be appropriate for a beginner.
  7. Is the level set right? Beginners thrown into an established class can make it hard to pick up the technique and hard for the others in the class who may have to slow the pace down. Learning the technique and basic principles is key in Pilates, so a beginners course or a 1-2-1 session first is a good idea before joining a regular class.
  8. Does it progress you? Doing the same exercises week in and week out is not going to challenge you, after a while your body will adapt and you will plateau. Having fresh challenges and harder exercises to do as you improve is important to help you improve and to keep your interest.
  9. Is there a passion and enjoyment in the room? If there is a good vibe then it is likely that it is a good class. A teacher who loves to share their knowledge, wants to help you understand it, cares about how you are feeling and will give you homework, extra helpa and chat afterwards is a good indicator that it is a good class.
  10. Do you feel good after the class? Pilates shouldn’t hurt – well not in a bad way! You may have slighly sore abdominals, legs, arms or bums but not to the point it is really painful. Many of our clients will say they feel lengthened, like they have worked but also they feel more relaxed.

So when you are looking for a class, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Have a good nose around the persons website and social media, it can tell you a lot about that teacher. Expect a teacher to ask you lots of questions about your body and to correct you with their hands and voice. Small classes with teachers who are known to know their stuff are the way forward.

 

Why can’t I do a roll up? PART 2. Hip Flexors and Hamstrings.

The hip flexors include the deep muscle called the Psoas. This runs from the middle of your spine to inside the top of your thigh bone. It helps pull the spine up towards your legs. The other hip flexors are the ones you can feel in the front at then top of your hip. If you stand on one leg and hug the other knee into your chest you should feel them. So the hip flexors need to be functioning properly. Not too short and tight, not too weak. If you spend time sitting a lot in your daily life then these muscles may well be tight and weak!

HIP FLEXORS:

Shortness in these can make it hard to move through your lower back. If you struggle to sit on the floor upright this could be the case. There are a lovely range of hip flexor stretches that will open your hips and make you feel less “stuck”.

For those people who find their legs lift off the mat as they come up, well that is probably down to your hamstrings, hip flexors and back. Your hamstrings help you keep your thighs on the floor and help lever the body up. If you can’t keep your knees straight in a roll up then it’s due to tight hamstrings.

TIGHT LEGS AND BACK:

The band is your friend. Get stretching your hamstrings daily. Open up your lower back in the rest position, in hip rolls and in hip flexor stretches. Find the part where you are tight. Now work on your roll down – going from seated down to the mat using a band around your legs going vertebrae by vertebrae keeping your heels heavy and stretching out through your legs and feet. Stretching the upper and mid part of your back is also useful and the Spine Stretch is often put at the end of a roll up for this reason.

And finally here is a get out clause for some of you…. I don’t tend to use this one in classes as I like people to try without having a reason why they can’t do something. However your body proportions do play a role, making it harder to master but certainly not impossible.

PROPORTIONS:

If you have a long torso then a roll up will be harder than a short torso person. You have more weight to lift up compared to the weight staying on the mat. Teasers however will be easier for you!

I also firmly think that for some people CONFIDENCE is the key. If you believe you can do something and are determined then you will get there!

Why can’t I do a roll up? PART 1. Stiff backs and getting stuck.

Roll ups can be one of those nemesis exercises that people struggle with and they can cause so much frustration. I’ve got a number of people in various classes who struggle with these so it’s made me get my thinking cap on. Why are they such a struggle? How can you get better at them? How do people suddenly manage to be able to do them?

What is a roll up?

A roll up can start from seated or lying down. I’m going to start from the mat. So we start with a curl up, chin towards the chest, working through the upper spine.

To do this you use primarily the rectus abdominus muscles (six pack muscles) and also the obliques (waist muscles). So this part of the exercise means you need to first off work on those curl ups.

The next stage is the most challenging part and brings more muscles into play. Bringing the ribs and torso off the mat. The aim is to do this segmentally, working vertebrae by vertebrae through the spine, keeping the shoulders down and not using momentum. So not only do you have too deepen and increase your curl up but you need to bend at the hips as you come up towards seated. This uses the hip flexors to pull your body up off the ground. Many people get stuck at this stage.

STUCK ON THE MAT: work on your breathing. If you get stuck at the ribcage, exhaling properly and using the diaphragm as you breath can help. It will open the ribs and help lengthen the spine. Also use spine stretches and the shoulder bridge to help mobilise your spine. Go back to the 1/2 roll back and focus on really deepening your C curve, this will stretch the tightness in your lower back and strengthen your abdominals. Think of scooping and bring your belly button towards your spine to really get the curve. When you try the full roll up, keep your ribcage heavy and down into the mat as you roll up, then once your ribs are up keep the lower back heavy on the mat and keep peeling the spine up.

For the roll up to work well you need your back to be flexible. It doesn’t matter how strong your abdominals are, if your back is stiff you won’t roll up segmentally. If you struggle with the rollover and rolling like a ball then this is likely you.

STIFF BACK: work on shoulder bridges. Get that spine moving piece by piece letting gravity help you. Focus on your breath as you do it. Breath out as you come down to the mat.

Use the spine stretch to stretch the upper-mid part of your back. Also work your C-curve. Focus on the half roll up and also rolling like a ball without rolling! So getting into that position really rounding the lower back and sinking into the tilted pelvis.

To learn more look out for part 2 of this post focusing on hip flexors.

Pilates, build on the rock and not on the sand

Pilates is one of those back to front type of practices I always think. In other exercises the aim is to go as fast as you can and as hard as you can for as long as you can. In Pilates it is the opposite. Before you can actually jump in and do an exercise we want you to learn how to :

 

Breath

Maintain neutral with good posture

Engage your core muscles 

 

It is so important to master these basics first before adding too much movement. I know if can be frustrating to have to SLOW DOWN and focus on the small things but these really are the key to a strong, functional body.

Why?

Well this basic triad underpins everything you will do in a Pilates class. You can do all the moves without the magic trilogy and it will feel easy and like you’ve not worked. Add in the breathing, posture and core then suddenly it becomes a lot harder. Use the old parable of the foolish man built his house upon the sand and the wise man build on the rock. Lets say the house is your body. If you build on a good, solid foundation with a firm understanding of the breathing, a solid connection to your core and knowing how to correct your posture, then your body will get stronger and won’t fall apart when everyday stress is placed on the body. Think moving from sitting to standing, lifting, rotation movements and just bending down to the floor, all movements we do all the time that can impact the body if not done with good form.

 

Pilates with Priya: Build on the rock, pilates foundations

 

I’ve had to slow down and reconnect with the basics after every baby I’ve had. It’s really shown me how important it is to do this so I am a bit advocate of it, but also know the frustations with it.  So if you are new to Pilates, it is perfectly OK to go at a slow pace, get to know your body, connect with your core, learn to breath and find out which parts of your posture you need to work on most. You will continually learn more about your body as you progress through the classes (heck, I’m still learning now) but those initial few months are precious ones, where you can form the best foundation. Practise the breathing daily, engage your core when breathing out and work on that posture between classes. You will click with it quicker if you practise more often.

If you have done Pilates for a while it can be amazing to go back to the basics, really check you are using thoracic breathing (breathing into the ribcage and not the tummy), focus on your posture and the muscles you are using in each exercise and work that core even harder!

Check it out and let me know, I would love your feedback.

Posture, Breathing and Pelvic Floor Problems

Your posture plays a huge role in helping your body work effectively and functionally. Many of those aches and pains can all be related to poor posture, which can seem obvious. What can seem less obvious is the relationship between your posture and a weak pelvic floor. Posture can affect your bladder control, prolapse issues and weak pelvic floor problems. So it’s vital to work on getting it right.

Try this out…Sit in a slumped position, with your shoulders rounded and your chest compressed. A fairly typical posture for those who sit alot, and often how we relax on the sofa! Now try to breathe deeply, you should find it is difficult to fill your lungs. In this slumped posture your abdominal contents become compressed and your diaphragm can’t move downwards, so instead of using your diaphragm effectively you use your upper chest muscles to help you breathe.

Slumped forward position and breathing with the upper chest muscles increase pressure on the pelvic floor. Not good.  In this position your core muscles (including deep abdominal and pelvic floor) can’t effectively counter the increased pressure.

Guess what, sort out your posture and breathing and suddenly the core muscles start to work in the right way. Our bodies are built in an amazing way.

So start focusing on your posture, with a tall spine, shoulders down in the back, ribcage soft and not pushed out, tall neck and allow there to be space for your abdominals to work.

the-core2

Next focus on the breath. You want to breath using the diaphragm. That may sound obvious as it is how our bodies are built to work, but so many of us do not breath correctly. It is called Diaphragmatic breathing or thoracic breathing.  Some people breath with just their tummies, some people breath with just their ribcage. You want to use BOTH.

breathe_titled

Try out this exercise:

Place 1 hand on the bottom of your ribcage and 1 hand on the side of your ribcage. Breathe in slowly and deeply so that you feel your tummy rise and your ribcage expand out to the side. You want to focus on breathing into the tummy and ribcage whilst keeping the upper chest muscles relaxed. Think of your lungs like balloons expanding out to the side of the body.

Breathe out by letting the rib cage fall back to resting and the tummy fall back down.

It takes practise and you may find it quite forced at first. Try practicing when you are relaxing or use it as a way to relax throughout the day and it will become habit.

Exercise 2: breath with a band:

Tie a band or a scarf round your body just below the ribcage. Sit with good posture, your ribcage over your pelvis. As you breath in feel your ribcage expanding into the band. As you breath out the ribcage decreases in size. The band can be a nice way to practice your breathing.

Why we all need a Pilates class. 

Having had a baby just a few weeks ago my body is not what it used to be and I am in the rehabilitation phase. Moves I can usually do with ease I can currently not do with proper technique. Harder moves I know I shouldn’t even attempt until I am stronger. So instead of teaching them, I am attending some of our postnatal classes. It’s actually something I’ve never done before as we’ve never had a teacher who was able to cover those specialist classes for us.

It’s made me think about the benefits of  being in a class. When I’m fully fit I usually attend a teachers Pilates class. Why? Well to be a good teacher myself I still need to continue to be a student. I need to be challenged t

o work harder and do exercises I am unsure about. I need someone to watch me and correct my technique. I need to work my body in different ways. I need to learn how someone else teaches and pick up tips from them. I need to be inspired.

Yes you could do Pilates using a book, a DVD or an online video. Those can all work but personally I think the class is king. A DVD or online class is great if you know what you are doing. A book is good to read but I don’t see how you can properly do Pilates from a book!Pilates with Priya: Class in action
What you get out of a class:
1. A teacher who watches your body, corrects you, gets to know how your body works and what needs strengthening/stretching. Some of my clients have been with me for years and I can tell them exactly how their body will respond to a certain exercise or give them an adaptation before they even start.

2. Teaching points that are designed for you. I may not hands on correct you but may talk to you about the exercise to get you to think it through and use your body to respond. Self correction can be better than teacher correction. It builds that body awareness but with feedback from someone who has a different view. I can see if someone’s gluts are working hard when they shouldn’t be and coach them to switch them off at each repetition.

3. If you don’t get an exercise a teacher can explain it in a different way, give you an adapted version or physically move your body. Sometimes we all need a hand to adjust us.

4. A class is designed for you. I have a lesson plan but adapt it as I go along for each class. I may give different people in the class differing levels, give them equipment or a completely different exercise. It’s more personalised.

5. You can ask questions and get answers.  I still do this myself. It’s how I learn. Some people in my classes ask heaps of questions and want to know exactly how an exercise works. Others just want to get on and do it under a watchful eye. However you work that’s fine!

6. Any aches and pain can be taken into account. Our bodies differ week to week. A good teacher will ask his you are and adapt accordingly. I’ve had people unable to put weight on their knees, wrists or who have fallen over and broken a bone – but are still in class!

7. You are accountable to others and in community. Doing exercise with others makes its more fun and encourages you to attend more often and to keep going for longer. In our classes people make friends and really support each other. It’s a lovely
Vibe.

8. There are less distractions. With 3 children I have a lot that can distract me and stop me from doing exercise. Often it’s only after the children are in bed I have time to myself and by then exercise is not the first thing on my mind, the sofa can be more inviting!

Rounded shoulders and how to help them

Take a look at people around you, especially if they are sitting. See any rounded shoulders? I guarantee that once you start looking you will find more and more people that fall into this camp.

Sitting at a desk, slouching on the sofa, carrying heavy bags on your back, leaning forward to play with your kids on the floor or changing nappies, breastfeeding, driving, lifting heavy loads …all these activities can lead to rounded shoulders, tension in your back, neck and shoulders so pain in those areas and headaches.

What happens? Well it’s known as upper crossed syndrome. Here is how is affects your muscles:

The pectorals in your chest become tight and short. They need stretching and releasing.

The lower trapezius and serratus anterious (mid back and shoulder blades) become weak and need strengthening.

The upper trapezius and levator scapulae become tight (neck and shoulder area, the classic areas most people want massaged), these need releasing.  

The deep neck flexors are weak and lengthened, so need some strengthening and postural correction.
Uppercrossed-syndrome

Some exercises to help:

1. Pectoral stretch on the wall: Put your hand against the wall with elbow at shoulder height. Rotate your body away from the wall to stretch through the pec (chest) and anterior deltoid (shoulder).

pectoral stretch

2.  Chin Tuck: Lie on your back in neutral. Push the chin down towards the chest while pushing the head into the floor.

chin_nod_horizontal

3. Dumb waiter: Starting with the palm facing the ceiling, elbows bent and against your sides as if you have a tray of drinks on each hand. Rotate the arm out to about 45 degrees while maintaining a neutral wrist. Add a resistance band held over your palms and between thumb and first finger for more of a challenge.

Pilates with Priya: Dumb Waiter Start

 

Pilates with Priya: Dumb Waiter End

4. Scalenes and upper traps stretch: The scalenes are muscles in the sides of the neck. To stretch the right side, tilt your left ear to you left shoulder. You will feel a stretch through the right side of your neck. Now tilt your head up to look at the top corner of the room or the coving. The stretch will move from your neck to your upper back.  Place your left hand over your right eat and using gentle pressure push your ear into your hand and hand into your ear. Hold for 30 seconds.  Bring your head up slowly and roll the shoulders to release. Do the same for the left side. You can either sit or stand when doing this stretch.

scalenes stretch
5. Wall Angels : Stand with your back touching the wall, arms by your side. Engage your core, think about your posture, lengthen up through your spine and the crown of your head. Raise both arms up so you can still them slightly in front of you. As you breath out bend your elbows and think about your arms sliding down the wall behind you (they probably won’t actually touch the wall it is there as an aid). Bring your arms down to a right angle or a chicken wing position, then straighten them back up. You should feel this strenghtening in your shoulder blade and upper back area. Keep your neck long throughout.
Think about your posture as much as you can. These exercises will help but ultimately correcting your posture throughout the day will make the biggest difference. Try setting a reminder on your phone/screensaver or stick a post-it note somewhere as a visual. After a few weeks of working on your posture you should notice that you automatically remember to adjust your body and things feel better but keep working on it. It  is an ongoing lesson to complete!

Pilates with Priya:  wall angels exercise 1

 

Pilates with Priya:  wall angels exercise 1

Carpal Tunnel: how to help.

This is one of those conditions that you certainly know you have when you get it. I’ve had it twice now: the first time was 4 months after giving birth to my boy. I would wake up in the night to feed him, pick him up, get pins and needles in both hands and then they would go numb. The end result being by the time we finished a feed I had to use my arms to put him back into his cot. It led to me having mutliple massages, which helped a little, and doing lots of research. I learnt a lot about my posture and how breastfeeding plus general stress was a huge contributing factor. A few changes to my feeding posture, extra pillows and a magic stretch really sorted me out.

Moving on to pregnancy 3 and the delight of carpal tunnel popped up again in the last few weeks. Certainly not as badly, this time general weakness in my grip strength, pain when in a hands and knees position (not ideal when teaching pilates) and pins and needles when sleeping or holding items for too long a time.

So as someone who has suffered from carpal tunnel I thought I would share my top tips on how to deal with it and how to help it.

Symptoms:

Pin and needles in your hands/fingers

Grip weakness

Numbness in the thumb, first and middle finger, that may extend to the whole hand

A dull ache in the hand/arm

How does it occur?

The median nerve runs all the way down the inside of your arm. It originates from the brachial plexus which is just above the shoulder (think halfway between the bottom of your neck and your shoulder, that bit that is often tense and you want a massage in!).

When this nerve is blocked, inflamed or has pressure on it, you can get the the above symptoms.

The carpal tunnel is a tunnel in your wrist designed to protect the median nerve. Pressure on this puts pressure on the nerve and hey ho, carpel tunnel syndrome.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 19.37.36
Image from: http://www.thebodyworksclinic.com/carpal-tunnel-syndrome/

Stats:

About 50% of pregnant women develop carpal tunnel, it will normally disappear all by itself.

More common in women then men.

Common in people with wrist injuries or those who do repetitive actions with the wrist.

For some people such as myself the issue can be to do with the tension and pressure on the nerve at it’s origin. So I know I carry my stress around my shoulders. Hence when teaching people pilates I so often focus on their shoulders! I can pinpoint the areas that are especially painful at these times. Those points are where the median nerve originates. So  it explains the carpal tunnel issues.

For others it is due to pressure or problems in the wrist areas. Perhaps you hold your wrists at an awkward angle for work or when bottle feeding a baby? Repetitive wrist actions or strenuous wrist activity can also be a cause especially if you have a weak wrist from an injury.

How to help:

Firstly, see the GP.  It is always good to get thee things looked at. They may offer you splints and depending on how bad things are you can even be offered surgery if it doesn’t clear up. I would suggest you try out some stretches and think about why you have the problem in the first place before jumping to surgery.

Exercises:

  1. Stretch your arm out to the side of your body and point your fingers down to the floor. Now take your ear towards your opposite shoulder. Bring the head back up and repeat.
  2. Wrist circles and making your hands into a fist, then extending the fingers into a star (think twinkle, twinkle little star).
  3. Place your arm out to the side, with fingertips on the wall. Glide your palm down so the whole palm in in contact with the wall. Work from fingers to palm a few times.
  4. Bring your right ear to your right shoulder, drop the left arm and shoulder away from you, this should stretch and release in your left side.