At this time of year when there’s more to do than time to do it in, the odd takeaway can ease the pressure. My Christmas gift to you is not of the traditional food takeaway variety however, it is a couple of simple Pilates exercises that I hope will easily fit into your everyday life and give you food for thought.
Joseph Pilates and his wife Clara created the now infamous exercise system in the 1920s with the intention of it being a way of life for those who practice it. Even if you have never tried Pilates before/haven’t got time to fit in a class/think you can’t do it because you’re “not flexible enough,” I am sure that you will be familiar with some of its underlying principles from whatever fitness discipline you do have in your life: concentration, centring, breathing, control, precision, alignment, flow, routine.
By using breathing to aid concentration and controlling every move from your core, Pilates can lead to better body awareness which in turn can reduce the likelihood of injury as we become more mindful of how our whole body moves; it can also have an impact on our state of mind.
Creating better posture
Before: Roll the top of your spine over and hunch your shoulders holding your head down, take a couple of deep breaths focussing on where that breath is in your chest and abdomen. Think about how you feel.
(See photo 1 above)
After: Now, roll your shoulders up to your ears and towards the wall behind you sliding your shoulder blades down your back and “tucking them into your back pockets.” Engage your abdominal muscles and lift your chin from your chest to look straight ahead. Take a couple of deep breaths in through your nose for a count of 4 and out through your mouth for a count of 4 focussing on where that breath is in your chest and abdomen. Think about how you feel now.
(See photo 2 above)
We automatically feel more confident with our head held high and shoulders back; this posture opens up the chest providing more space for our breath to flow evenly and deeply making us feel calm, controlled and focussed.
Spinal health – a simple mind-body exercise
To an on-looker it could seem as if nothing is happening during this exercise, it uses concentration to increase your proprioception (your body’s ability to perceive its own position in space i.e. being able to touch your nose with your finger when your eyes are closed.)
Sit on a dining-room/office style chair with both feet placed flat on the floor. Roll your shoulders back and down, gently pull in your abdominal muscles and lift your chin from your chest. Breathe deeply and focus on an invisible thread running from your head to the ceiling; create the feeling of increasing the length of your spine by grounding your sitting bones into the chair and visualising that thread gently pulling you upwards, extending your spine up from your hips so you are sitting taller and stronger. Take some deep breaths as you continue to extend and lengthen.
By increasing our awareness of how we sit and using our abdominal muscles to support our spine we can reduce the pressure on our lower back and begin to move more mindfully giving us the opportunity to protect our spine from injury in our day-to-day lives.
I hope that these simple ideas allow you to take a moment out from your busy lives to focus your awareness on your body. The more you practise them the more they will just become part of what you do in your day-to-day life allowing you to look after yourself even when you’re not at the gym!
Elaine Butler – Level 2 Fitness Instructor