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Practical Pilates: Benefit Without a Formal Class

September 30, 2011

Pilates is a great form of exercise but you don’t need to visit a studio to benefit from many of the principles taught in a formal class. Pilates is taught to equip you with practical things you can do every day to keep healthy and fit, and help manage stress. Here are some elements of practical pilates anyone can do, regardless of your fitness background:

Posture  – Be mindful of your posture throughout the day. When your body is in proper alignment, all your body systems work optimally. You’re also less likely to favor muscle groups, which over time can make you vulnerable to injury. So, sit up straight and lift and open your shoulders. When you get up from your chair,  pay attention to how you stand and move. The beginning of good posture is becoming aware of how you carry your body right now, so you can correct it going forward.

Repitition – Repeated activities will build strength, whether you are lifting two ten pound weights or a toddler. Use the time with your kids to play and lift them. Make sure you are in good alignment, bend your knees when lifting, and stop if you start to feel sore. Make it fun and include the kids. Do leg lifts while you’re standing at the stove or sink, controlling your movements, or practice “ballet” with your little girl. Kids love it when their parents enter their world, and you can exercise at the same time.

Adapting movements – You should never feel pain, so if you do stop! Overdoing exercise whether in the gym or at home will only result in injury. Think of exercise as part of your everyday routine, some days you have more energy than others (and more sleep) so adjust your daily activities to meet your needs if you can. Give yourself some grace if you need to, there will be plenty of days ahead when you can pick up the pace and do more repetitions. Use time in the car driving or standing at the grocery store to engage your muscles, simply tightening your calves, thighs, and buttocks when you think of it.

Core muscles – The focal point of Pilates exercise is our core muscles, the area between the navel and the pubic bone. If you have not done Pilates before, it will take some practice to learn how to engage these muscles. Simply start by drawing your belly button towards your spine. In a Pilates class, you learn how to control these muscles and how they connect with your entire body. You learn to use your core muscles whether you are lifting your leg or twisting your torso. Drawing your belly button in and identifying your core muscles takes repetition, with best results when done periodically throughout your day.

Training your muscles – All of these elements work together to train your muscles to be stronger, longer and more flexible. When you repeat movements you create muscle memory, so train your muscles the way you’d like them to be. You’ve heard the old adage “Use it or lose it,” this totally applies to physical fitness. Whatever you do, be aware of your posture and repeat it, ideally throughout the day, or at least 3-5 times a week.

Intentional movement – You can move in many ways, in fact, many of the movements are involuntary. When you move each day, think about what your body is actually doing and try controlling your movements. This simple step brings awareness to your muscles so you can engage them more. Over time, you’ll bring strength to your body.

Climbing stairs & carrying babies – Take advantage of each situation you’re in and look for opportunities to use your muscles: park your car further away at the store, carry your bags out to the car instead of pushing a cart, carry your babies instead of pushing them in a stroller. If you begin carrying your babies early, your strength will grow with them and keep your arms and shoulders fit.

Awareness of breath– Breathing is your body’s way of releasing toxins. We have a natural tendency to hold our breath, especially during times of stress. Become aware of your breath, notice when you might hold it and if you catch yourself – breathe! Notice how your breath changes with your movements and posture. Once you are aware of these things you’ll get better at identifying situations where you might hold your breath and be ready to respond in a better way.  Deep breaths can also be a great way to relieve stress, just make sure your shoulders relax when you exhale.

Love your body wherever you are at! Good health is not an endpoint, but a journey. It involves your body, mind, and spirit. Love your body right where you are at, there are different seasons of life that require varying expectations. A healthy perspective is to acknowledge your body’s needs and respond so you can to become stronger and stay in balance. With these simple principles, you can add some elements of Pilates to your routine every day and make physical fitness a part of who you are whether you make it to the gym or not.

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