Several years ago, I picked up a cheap Pilates DVD. I watched it once through completely and tried to do it on the second watch. It was difficult and the cues the instructor used didn't make a whole lot of sense. My takeaway? Pilates was a silly, pointless way to exercise. I completely wrote it off.
Let's fast forward to a couple of months ago where I have my first physical therapy appointment. The root of my problems? The deep core muscles that are supposed to stabilize my spine and pelvis don't engage when they should and everything is all out of whack. On my drive home, a little light bulb lights up in my head. My problems sound like something a good Pilates class would help me with. The studio where I take Zumba, The Core Connection, is also a Pilates studio and since they offer a fantastic summer class pass, I decided to bite the bullet and try out Pilates Mat 1. After a couple of classes, I even jumped on the offer to take a fundamentals class.
I've become a Pilates convert. Never again will I think that it's a "silly, pointless" way to exercise, I've been completely humbled by the experience of a great Pilates studio.
Develop postural awareness
Most of us hop in our cars each morning, staring intently at the road. We get to work and sit at our desks each day, staring intently at computer screens. We then hop back into the car and head home, staring intently at the road once more. And the sad thing is, most of us are completely unaware of our posture the entire time. We sit with our chins jutted forward, slouched in our chairs. Our brain realizes that it doesn't need to engage the deep core muscles to stabilize the spine or pelvis, so it doesn't.
Our workplaces may have us take ergonomic surveys but I suspect, that like me, many people don't give it a lot of thought. Posture, similar to basic nutritional concepts, isn't something that's taught or emphasized in school. Our necks hurt, our lower backs are tight and we simply write it off as a nuisance of existing. Which is pretty dumb, if you give it more than a second's worth of thought. Pain is your body telling you something isn't right. Yet, we take Advil and continue on with our days, eclipsing the true problem.
Our posture is terrible.
But if you give Pilates a chance and approach it with an open mind, it'll help you understand what you're doing wrong. It may help you realize that you are pushing your head too far forward, that you aren't using those deep core muscles to stabilize your spine and pelvis. After a few classes, you might find that you're paying attention to your posture, making minute corrections throughout the day. And then, you might find that your lower back or neck pain seems to happen just a little less often.
Increase core strength
This one's pretty obvious. All that focus on your core will help strengthen those muscles so that they can start doing their job without your conscious thought. A strong core is a happy, healthy core. That's pretty much it.
I almost hate to say it, but my injury could have been prevented if I hadn't written off Pilates so many years ago. As a software engineer, I sit on my butt all day with terrible posture. As a person who loves to exercise, I'd then go out for a run wherein my stabilizing muscles wouldn't do their job and other muscles would overcompensate. I'd come home wondering why my calf hurt and my back felt so tight. It all seems so obvious now. Hindsight is 20/20 and all.
Lastly, I'd like to mention that not all Pilates classes are equal and the instructor matters. If your instructor isn't wandering around helping you understand the correct feel of a particular exercise or helping you modifying one, you might want to reconsider. If you're in the Northborough area, looking to take one, I highly recommend The Core Connection.
Have you ever taken a Pilates class? Had a terrible instructor or a really fantastic one? I'd love to hear about everyone else's Pilates experiences!