Pilates for stress relief

Pilates has many physical benefits that are widely reported and scientifically proven. Professionals such as Doctors, physiotherapists and osteopaths, all support and recommend Pilates to their patients and clients; for a whole plethora of physical issues.
A lesser talked about benefit of Pilates is the mental side of it, and in this day and age it can’t be promoted enough, to develop ways of protecting or mental health and finding ways to relieve stress.

Often we associate finding stress relief with other wellbeing services such as massage, or more spiritually based practices such as yoga and meditation; but Pilates offers stress relief in much the same way that crafting or playing an instrument might have.The mind is taken away for the time of your practice and in as little time as an hour, respite from your daily demands and a sense of calm can be achieved.

Traditional Pilates does not involve meditation, chanting or specific relaxation techniques, (however some hybrid classes may incorporate these practices), Pilates is very much about a focus on the body, the breath and the technique of the movements and by engaging the mind in this way your brain is relieved from thinking about other stresses for a time and this has been proven to aid mental wellbeing.

The other aspect that helps create stress relief or a sense of calmness, is through the breath. The breathing technique in Pilates is known as ‘Lateral breathing’ or ‘Thoracic breathing’. It is a lengthened, full breath, that fills the lungs to their maximum capacity and since many of us deplete our system by ‘shallow breathing’, this is super beneficial to our bodies.
These deep, full breaths fill our lungs with extra oxygen and the cells then distribute it throughout the body, making every muscle and organ more functional, which is hugely rejuvenating.

So in times like these, it may well be worth adding Pilates to assist your mental wellbeing not just your physical.

This article has been published in the April edition of Life Magazines –

What’s cramping your style?

Cramp – argh!
If you are someone who is afflicted by the sudden, involuntary rudeness of cramp, you’ll know it can come at the most inopportune moments, and for some the sharp muscular contractions can awaken them in the middle of the night.
When cramp occurs, the muscle goes into spasm squeezing the blood out, like ringing out a wet sponge, all the nutrients in the blood can’t then supply the muscle fibres. In very severe cases of cramp, the force of the muscle contraction can tear the muscle fibres, causing a strain injury that will then need treatment.

The reasons why these unwanted spasms happen are not always clear but here I’ve listed a few possibilities, how you can help prevent them and how best to treat them should they arise…
Dehydration; when the body is dehydrated blood volume decreases affecting muscle function. To avoid this always stay well hydrated, sipping water regularly, especially in hot conditions or when working out.
Low potassium or sodium levels (salt); most of us will get sufficient sodium levels from our diets but when we sweat we loose those salts, drinks containing electrolytes will replenish the salts quickly when sweating and help stave off episodes of cramping. Glucose levels; when blood sugar drops our energy decreases and this can affect the muscles, simple carbohydrates will give quick energy replenishment but for longer lasting sustained energy load up on complex carbs a few hours before a workout.
Tight muscles; This is definitely the culprit for my own bouts of cramp and regular stretching routines help to prevent this, in the moment though, it is hard to stretch out a muscle that is spasming, so light massaging & gentle movement of the area can assist in getting the muscle to relax.

If you have sustained a muscle tear from severe cramping, RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression & Elevation) is needed. However wait 48hrs before applying deep tissue massage as this can increase bleeding but will be highly beneficial for the healing process.

This article has been published in the March edition of Life Magazines –

Green Fitness

2020 is going to be a Leap year focused on environmental change. Organisations such as The National Trust launch their ‘Great Green Leap Year’ campaign on February 29th, where tree planting missions will be taking place.
We’ve all been made aware of the damage to our oceans and the urgent need to rethink how we use and manufacture plastics, so I’m sure most of us have been considering ways in which we can reduce waste and be more environmentally friendly.

There are many areas of our lives that will need to be addressed, and eco-friendly fitness gear is no exception. Here’s a few ideas of ways you can make better choices for both yourself and the environment…

Hydration: Use a reusable water bottle. Choose BPA & Phthalates-free stainless steel bottles with thermal technology. The double or triple wall vacuum technology keeps your water cool for up to 24hrs, reducing usage of plastic bottles and protecting you from chemicals leaching into your water.

Mats: Yoga and Pilates mats are typically made from plastic known as PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) a petroleum based synthetic rubber. During manufacture nasty Phthalates are added to make the rubber pliable, which are toxic and non biodegradable.
To make a more conscientious purchase, look for mats made from non Amazon sustainably sourced tree rubber, a non toxic manufacturing processs and fully biodegradable.
Some companies will even take your old mat, (no matter what brand or material), to make sure it gets recycled.

Clothing: Fitness clothing is often made from synthetic fibres such Polyester, with anti-bacterial manufacturing treatments added to the fabric, a process that can be harmful to our health and the environment. Polyamide is an alternate choice of fabric, that doesn’t need antibacterial agents adding but still has sweat wicking ability. For Pilates & yoga, instead of cotton, try sustainably sourced bamboo, a great natural fabric that helps regulate temperature during practice.

There are many more products, from trainers to kitbags offering eco-friendly alternatives, so we can all do our bit!

This article has been published in the February edition of Life Magazines –

Don’t give up just because you gave in!

I know it’s only the beginning of January and you may not have got going yet with your new fitness programme, eating plan or other health inspired regimen, but allow me to pre-empt some possible scenarios and offer you a management strategy should they occur.

It is with every good intention to stick with these wellbeing projects and achieve our goals – but what happens if you don’t, what happens when you fall off the wagon big time and eat the whole pack of biscuits, skip your morning run or don’t train for a week because you have a cold virus?
Do you jack it all in and think ‘forget it!’? Do you consider it a ‘FAIL’ if you have a glass of wine on an evening out after you’d signed up for ‘Dry january’?
Or, worse still, do you not even attempt to start a fitness routine because you know you’ll fall off at some point?

Well ‘so what’ if all that happens and then some – just start again!

If you view your fitness, diet, or lifestyle habits as a short term programme that must be followed to the letter or it’s ruined, you could be setting yourself up for an epic feeling of failure and so maybe a re-think is in order…

Exercise and wellbeing choices should be seen as something you do to enhance your life – for Life! – not just a few weeks to achieve some physical aesthetic. The majority of us therefore, will benefit most by approaching our wellbeing routines as part of the general structure of our lives, knowing there will be times when things won’t be as consistent or perfect as others and be ok with that, not get disheartened or demotivated, because thats how life goes sometimes!

Knowing within yourself that you’ll get back to your ‘normal’ routine once the current situation passes, will release the pressure and help you maintain your long term health.

– This article has been published in the January edition of Life Magazines –

Don’t let December be a Downer!

The weather is doing its worst, the nights have drawn in and the shortest day of the year looms on December 22nd’s winter solstice. Many of us are busy Christmas shopping and frantically preparing the house for guests and feasting and nothing is more appealing right now than to hibernate under a warm blanket with the heating on full blast…but, may I encourage you NOT to give up on your fitness routines!

We need to stay fit and healthy physically, and counter those extra calories consumed in colder weather, from heavy winter food and extra indulgences during the festive season.
It’s also important for our minds as well as our body’s to have that crucial time out, too mentally recalibrate away from all the fuss. Plus January may feel that much more gloomy if all your hard work over the last few months unravels, just from having a December hiatus. You may find yourself right back at ground zero, starting from near scratch again – and it’s easily done! So if you often find yourself in this ‘stop / start’ cycle around the end of the year, why not try a different approach and continue to commit to your ongoing schedule.

If you’re not already on a regular fitness and wellbeing routine and you have the very noble plan to get it going in January 2020, perhaps as one of your ‘New Year Resolutions’, may I submit for your consideration the questions – why wait?? Why not start now – while the intention iron is hot?!
You’ll be so glad you did, as you go into the new year and new decade having already smashed the initial pain barrier and who know’s, maybe a more unconventional approach will take away some of the (self imposed) pressure and you might just find you stick to it this time.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and happy fitness!

– This article has been published in the December edition of Life Magazines –

There’s no such thing as bad weather…

..only unsuitable clothing! (Alfred Wainwright 1907-1991)

The above statement is so true when it comes to Autumn and winter fitness activities.
Personally, I’m definitely guilty of not wanting to go outside at times just because the weather is unappealing but with so many technical advances in sports wear textiles, there’s no real excuse not to brave the elements, as long as you’re suited up!

As we transitioned from a wonderfully prolonged Indian summer this year, into the epically wet end to September and most of October, I began to consider my own lack of appropriate outdoor fitness clothing; Determined not to go into total hibernation this winter and to prevent myself from crying off my morning runs when it’s either cold, windy or wet, it was time to get tech savvy.

Technical differences in active wear aren’t all sales gimmicks, though it can be overwhelming when considering between water resistant, water repellant or waterproof attire, but some features really do make a difference to both how you feel during your activity, as in regulating your temperature, drawing away sweat and keeping you dry from rain, to performance during and how you feel at the end of it, not many of us enjoy being sopping wet and cold!

Whether it’s an outdoor sport, run or just a walk – layers are a must, thin lightweight with plenty of movability are best. For many years now synthetic fabrics have been used for active wear, but a resurgence of natural luxury fibres such as merino wool, cashmere and silk for under layers are becoming increasingly popular for warmth and natural breathability.
Hats, headbands and gloves are essential for protecting the extremities. Even when your torso is hot and sweaty, foreheads and fingers can still feel brutally cold. Consider too reflective fabrics & trims even in daylight hours, as foggy winter mornings can still be treacherous.

Overall if it helps keep you fit and healthy, surely it’s worth the investment?!

– This article has been published in the November edition of Life Magazines –

Pilates: Tones the parts other exercise cannot reach!

I know the title of this article sounds a bit like a 1980’s beer slogan but it nicely simplifies one of the main aspects that differentiates the Pilates system from other forms of exercise.

In the body we have two types of skeletal muscle – movers and stabilisers.
‘Movers’ make things happen, often working as pairs agonistically & antagonistically. These muscle types tend to get all the glory, because we can visually see the tone and shape of them and their strength can easily be showcased, so typically when we train our bodies in the gym, we’ll focus on the ‘movers’ and often only the ‘prime movers’ will get our attention. An example of this is the classic bicep curl – when the bicep muscle is contracted, it causes the elbow joint to bend, making an obvious flex – as well as the popular adage #sunsoutgunsout !

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be toned and strong but if the stabiliser muscles aren’t equally attended to, injury, imbalance and impaired function can arise.

The stabilisers are the lesser known muscles that support the ‘movers’, they are much smaller is size and not necessarily visible. When they are exercised regularly and become well toned, they help pre-vent injury and make the body as a whole, far more functional, strong and agile. Sadly though, if left alone, they will wither and won’t fire up effectively when really needed, putting extra strain on joints and tendons, leading to a range of problems.

Pilates practice bridges this muscular gap. Slow, controlled movements, synced with the breath, re-connect the stabiliser muscles, building strength and developing the synergy between all the different muscle groups. This is relevant for everyone, from the body builder to the inactive office worker.
I’m sure we’d all agree that prevention is better than cure, so don’t wait until you have an injury and your physio suggests you join a Pilates class.
Get yourself booked in now!

– This article has been published in the October edition of Life Magazines –

It always sucks at the start…

…of an exercise plan!

The pain, the poor fitness level, the self consciousness!
Whether you’ve been in the midst of a prolonged hiatus or never exercised at all, the truth is beginning a new exercise routine can be uncomfortable.

First of all your body is going to be ‘shocked’ by the new demands being put on it and the initial ‘DOMS’ [delayed onset of muscle soreness] particularly after a resistance based workout, can sometimes be so sore it’s almost debilitating. It’s fair to expect some element of muscle soreness when you exercise, especially at the beginning, but if you worked out too hard too soon, this soreness can be very off-putting – so build things up gradually in terms of weight, repetitions and frequency and always stretch out afterwards.

Having poor cardiovascular fitness is an important reason to start exercising, so never give yourself the excuse that you need to “get fitter” before joining a class or sports club, or guaranteed it will never happen. Join the class or the sports club anyway regardless of your fitness level, if it’s a decent outfit there will be different options you can do ‘to’ develop your fitness from where you’re at and as time goes by, with continuous commitment and participation, your body ‘will’ adapt and you’ll reap the rewards of improved health and wellbeing.

As for feeling self conscious – maybe your gym kit is much tighter than when you last put it on, or you can’t do what the instructor seems to do with ease; and that 30 minute ‘run’ you spent all day psyching yourself up for actually only lasted 5 minutes – so yeah, it does kinda suck to start with – but it won’t stay there. Just prepare yourself for the awkward beginning and know that things will change, because our body is an amazing creation designed to adapt & change to whatever is being required of it and that part is awesome!

– This article has been published in the September edition of Life Magazines –

Love Exercise!

This title may be far from your truth but it’s meant as a motivational statement more than a literal one – a notion to aspire to ‘love the exercise you personally do!’

As human beings we are all designed to move. We are not mean’t to be sedentary but alas we are becoming more and more inert, in a time where computers, cars and labour saving inventions take away the need to use our bodies, we perform fewer and fewer tasks manually and many occupations require us to do little more than look at an LCD screen.
As amazing as technology is, nothing has changed our innate biology and the need to move physically, so while we may not be getting much exercise from our jobs, it’s important to find activities to maintain our health and wellbeing in our time of recreation.

Good news for people who find it easy and enjoyable to be active, who are naturally motivated to exercise and feel out of sorts if they don’t. Not so good news for the many others who lack the desire to go and be active after a days work. The idea that the only choices of exercise is the gym or running, is enough to discourage most people. This is where a bit of lateral thinking is needed to come up with an activity that is of genuine interest or excitement, as this is the surest way to stay committed and to reap the rewards of being physically fit and healthy.

You’ve gotta Love your exercise activity to ensure you stick at it and it becomes part of your lifestyle, so spending time trying different things until you find the ‘one’ is a must. It may take several months, even years, but like finding any true love, it’s worth the effort and who know’s – something like Belly dancing might ignite a passion for movement you never knew you had and a dimension to your life you couldn’t live without.

– This article has been published in the August edition of Life Magazines –

Is it a Hamstring thing?

Having tight or weak hamstrings can be the sneaky culprit for a number of issues that may be causing your body some grief or limiting your abilities. It is therefore hugely beneficial to learn how to develop the flexibility and strength of this particular group of muscles and by including consistent toning and stretch work into your weekly fitness schedule, you could be a whole lot healthier in a number of areas for it.

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles that run down the back of your thighs, called the Semitendinosus, the Semimembranosus and the Biceps femoris. Tightness and shortening of the hamstring group can reduce the mobility of the pelvis, causing lower back pain and if you are one of the many sufferers of lower back pain, particularly non-specific (where no obvious reason can be found as a cause), it could potentially be relieved by giving your hamstrings some focused stretch work.
On the contrary, pelvic instability can be due to weak hamstrings. In this case toning and strength work is needed to develop control and stabilise the pelvic joints. A programme of resistance exercise, using either your own bodyweight or weighted machines & equipment in the gym will provide this.

The other big issue healthy hamstrings is crucial for, is protection against injury. If you are already a regular exerciser or sports person, it is imperative to maintain a balance between strength and flexibility work, as this will stave off the potential of future injury, and if you are already nursing one (or two as if often the case!) factoring in a good routine, on a regular basis that focuses on this equilibrium is a must.
Classes such as Pilates and stretch specific sessions are excellent for working on flexibility; and strengthening can be achieved in classes that focus on toning the body such as kettlebells or Pump. Remember a successful fitness regime will always incorporate a balance of both types of exercise disciplines.

– This article has been published in the July edition of Life Magazines –