Pilates to improve your wellbeing

What is pilates?

Pilates was created in the 1920s by physical trainer and gymnast Joseph Pilates to help treat injured soldiers returning from WW1. From its earliest days, pilates has also helped athletes and professional dancers strengthen their bodies and alleviate aches and pains.

Pilates is a form of exercise which aims to strengthen the body and help develop the underlying muscles of the torso, or the core. Similar to yoga, pilates also places an emhpahsis on the mind-body connection. It requires the practitioner to be mindful of their posture, movement and breathing, bringing a sense of calm, focus and relaxation.

However, despite the similarities between yoga and pilates, the latter is more physically demanding and focuses on toning and strengthening.

What are the benefits of pilates?

  • Improved posture through body alignment which is especially beneficial if you suffer from lower back pain.
  • Better muscle tone, including that of the core. This is particularly useful for people who spend much of their time seated at a desk.
  • Improved all-round flexibility which can help you to avoid injuries from falls.
  • A more finely tuned sense of balance as a result of becoming more aware of how your body moves and performs.
  • Reduced stress and a sense of calm. It’s pretty difficult to focus on your day-to-day troubles when you’re totally focused on your breathing and how your body is moving.
  • An overall sense of physical and mental wellbeing because it helps you to connect your mind and body. It also energises you and may improve sleep.

Who can benefit from pilates?

As pilates concentrates on posture, balance and flexibility, the chance of injury is much lower than some other forms of more intensive exercise. This makes it an ideal exercise for people of all ages and fitness levels. Pilates can also be modified to provide either a gentle strength training program or a challenging workout depending on the fitness level of those taking part. So, it’s ideally suited to people who are either looking to try out a new physical acitivty or those who exercise regularly.

Like any form of physical activity, it’s important to speak with your GP before you start, especially if you have a pre-existing health issue such as:

  • Unstable blood pressure
  • A herniated disc or another back or neck problem
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Severe osteoporosis
  • A history of, or risk of, blood clots.

Having one or more of these health conditions doesn’t mean that you can’t practice pilates. It would be advisable for your GP to give you advice on the level of intensity that will be appropriate and safe for you.

Where to start?

If you’re new to pilates, start with basic exercises before you go on to more advanced moves. To avoid the risk of injury when first starting out, it’s a good idea to watch pilates in action from a reputable source, or take instruction from a qualified pilates teacher.

At beginner level, all of you need is a mat for your floor, and you don’t need a special mat, just a comfortable area to lie on. More advanced pilates uses various props such as special chairs or other equipment, but don’t worry about investing in anything before you try it.

If you don’t have any of the underlying health conditions described in this article, or you’ve already spoken to your GP, check out NHS Fitness Studio’s 45-minute class.

You can also visit the UK’s governing body of pilates, the UK Pilates Teacher Association to find a class near you, or learn more about this form of self-care.