How Pilates Changed my Life

Pilates Changed my Life‘ — sounds a bit extreme and sensationalist doesn’t it? But it’s never a truer word was written. It really has.

I’ve written about my love for Pilates before.

In all the chaos that life presents; the constant merry-go-round of juggling work with motherhood — being a wife, a homeowner, a responsible adult — an hour a week when I can reset my mind (and my body) is invaluable.

But even more than giving me some much-needed headspace and a clear perspective, Pilates has performed a little miracle over the last seven and a half years that I’ve been practicing.

Once upon a time…

…I suffered really badly with back pain.

Initially lower back; a bulging disc and sacroiliac joint disfunction. But as my poor body tried to compensate for poor posture — brought on by the pain I was in — my upper back also began to suffer the effects; and my thoracic spine became immobile and painful too.

I had countless MRI scans and consultant appointments. I saw different practitioners to try and solve the problem; chiropractors, physiotherapists, Alexander Technique, Mctimoney, Bowen Technique Therapy.

I had injections in my spine and — worst of all — electricity though the joint, to shrink the nerves away: ‘radiofrequency denervation of the lumbar facet joints‘ to give the procedure it’s correct name. Literally the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced — and definitely not something I ever want to repeat.

I was under the imaginatively titled ‘Pain Clinic’, at Stoke Mandeville hospital, where ‘managing your pain’ was the phrase I heard repeatedly.

Now, this isn’t a pity party.

And I didn’t necessarily want to write a post about my musculoskeletal ailments either. But to support the title of this post, I really wanted give a little back history.

If you’ll pardon the pun.

My favourite osteopath Corrine had always spoken about Pilates — or ‘Peelats’ as she referred to it in her lovely French accent:

‘You must go to zee Peelats — it’s really good for your back’

So when we moved up to Northamptonshire in 2010, I (finally) heeded her advice.

I found a reputable Pilates teacher and decided to leave my back pain in the south and try to fix my back problems once and for all.

How Pilates Changed My Life | walking to Pilates in Joules activewear with Laura Ashley gym bag

Happy Ever After?

Pilates certainly didn’t offer a quick fix. I spent quite a lot of time Googling things like ‘pilates how long before I see results’ but I guess I could have asked ‘how long is a piece of string?’

Initially I found it very hard.

My back was pretty rigid — especially in the thoracic spine. Even the simplest movements were tricky and it took me a while to understand that, in order for the movements to make a real difference, posture and alignment were everything.

In the past, when I’d attended exercise classes, there was a culture for everyone in the class to be moving at the same pace — generally swiftly — doing the same movements, in the same way.

Natalie, my Pilates instructor taught her classes in a very different way.

We were given lots of time to perfect the movements — everyone worked slowly. We were told to listen to our bodies.

If it hurt — stop. Flag it up.

Natalie would come over and reposition me (sometimes I’d be out of alignment and that was causing the discomfort) or I’d be given a different version of the movement; one that my body could cope with.

And little by little — week by week — my back began to loosen up and my body began to get stronger and stronger.

How Pilates Changed My Life | Active wear by Joules, Iona gym bag and yoga mat by Laura Ashley

How Pilates Changed My Life | preparing for class

How Pilates Changed My Life | Pilates equipment, lifestyle shot

From 0-100

I carried on with Pilates throughout my entire pregnancy with the twins.

I had my last class at 35 weeks and I had the boys at 36 weeks.

And, even though I was carrying a lot of weight, my back remained strong — with very little pain — and I totally attribute that to Pilates.

As long as you find an instructor who is trained in prenatal pilates, it’s a really safe way to exercise when you’re pregnant.

It’s also a brilliant form of exercise for the elderly.

Although gentle, Pilates works on so many levels and it’s a really powerful way to increase mobility, core strength and bone density.

In our class, over the years, we’ve had teens to octogenarians — beginners to very advanced students — all exercising together in the same room.

Best of all, you don’t need any kit to get started. Just a rolled up towel to pop under your head.

Tools of the trade all by Laura Ashley, including the lovely Hamman towel

The Whole Kit and Caboodle

I was speaking my mum about Pilates kit the other day funnily enough.

She was saying she wouldn’t be able to go to a class as she didn’t own any exercise gear.

But — as I told her — you don’t really need any initially.

You can just go along to a Pilates class wearing comfortable clothing, that doesn’t restrict your movement. Most instructors provide all the equipment you’ll need — including mats.

I wore the same old t-shirt and leggings for years. I was hesitant to buy any new fitness gear in case my new love of Pilates was a flash in the pan and (like the numerous gym memberships I’ve had over the years) I gave up after a couple of months.

But after a few years I realised that Pilates is for life not just for Christmas and I invested in some equipment to use at home.

The first thing I bought was a long foam roller, some resistance bands and a soft ball.

But over time I’ve added to my collection and now have all sorts of things; spiky balls, blocks, a short foam roller and a resistance ring. The lovely pink apparatus in these pictures are all from Laura Ashley.

And eventually my tired old leggings and baggy t-shirt were also replaced with pretty lycra.

The gorgeous printed activewear in these shots are from Joules.

How Pilates Changed My Life | Beginning bow and arrow

How Pilates Changed My Life | Pilates equipment, lifestyle shot, the prettiest yoga mat ever!

Flowers at my feet — is this the prettiest yoga mat ever?

How Pilates Changed My Life

How Pilates Changed My Life | using the resistance ring

How Pilates Changed My Life | abdominal stretches

Roll up, roll up — abdominal roll ups on a short foam roller

How Pilates Changed My Life | lying on a foam roller

How Pilates Changed My Life | laughter in the Pilates class

A little light relief in class

How Pilates Changed My Life | mermaid pose with short foam roller

Mermaid stretch — Ariel has nothing on me

How Pilates Changed My Life | short foam roller

How Pilates Changed My Life | sitting bow and arrow on a block

Sitting on a foam block is a great way to sit up really tall and get your spine in alignment

How Pilates Changed My Life | sitting on a block

How Pilates Changed My Life | child pose

How Pilates Changed My Life

How Pilates Changed My Life | Using a resistance band for side work

Using the resistance ring for side work — tough on the legs!!

How Pilates Changed My Life | band work

How Pilates Changed My Life | shoulder bridge

How Pilates Changed My Life | Laughter in the Pilates class

How Pilates Changed My Life

My body has gone from being weak and painful, to incredibly strong and capable.

I wouldn’t say I’m 100% pain-free; I still get off days, when my hips lock and my spine is stiff.

But if I look back, to a decade ago, I can really see how Pilates changed my life for the better.

As well as improving my body strength and posture, it gives me an hour of ‘me-time’ each week.

It’s introduced me to some lovely members of my local community — who I probably otherwise wouldn’t have met.

But best of all, it has given me a sense of control back.

When my back pain was at it’s worst, I felt so overwhelmed. Rounds of hospital or physio appointments; with the only relief coming from pain-killers or an ultrasound machine.

These days, I genuinely understand what Stoke Mandeville meant by ‘pain management’.

Having the knowledge to move in ways that protect my back — rather than aggravate it — and helping me to achieve good posture and a strong core is the most incredible gift.

Initially Mr D used to call it ‘a little bit of stretching’ but it’s so much more than that.

Pilates has changed my body, my state of mind and my social-life — I totally love it.

Not bad for ‘a little bit of stretching’.

How Pilates Changed My Life | stretch over a short roller

Feeling joyful at being pain free!

How Pilates Changed My Life | in Joules activewear with Laura Ashley gym bag

How Pilates Changed My Life | walking to Pilates in Joules activewear with Laura Ashley gym bag
With thanks to Joules for providing the lovely activewear and Laura Ashley for gifting the Pilates accessories for the purposes of styling this post. All thoughts and words  — as ever — are entirely my own.

Photos by Anne Worle Photography

Caro Davies

Caro Davies art directed fashion and interiors before leaving the world of design to pursue a career in social media. She can now be found chasing the light — and two small twin boys.

Find me on: Twitter | Facebook

12 Comments

  1. 24th March 2018 / 8:35 pm

    I have ongoing back and hip issues that at the moment are causing me so much pain, I think I might give pilates a go and see if it helps!

    Stevie x

    • 25th March 2018 / 11:12 am

      Go for it Stevie!!!!! But you must find a good teacher. I’ve been to a few classes over the years and all teachers are NOT equal, that’s for sure. If some of the classes I’ve been to were my first experience of Pilates, I probably wouldn’t have lasted more than a couple of lessons. I would recommend finding a ‘Body Control’ trained Pilates teacher in your area. They’re so well trained — I’ve learnt so much about the make up of the human body since I’ve been going to my Pilates teacher Natalie. Good luck lovely — let me know how you get on!!

  2. 24th March 2018 / 8:43 pm

    My lower back has been giving my menproblems for years now and I keep putting up with it rather than getting it sorted.
    I did Pilates years ago but didn’t like the slowness of the class, but after reading this I think I’m going to give it a try!
    By the way you are looking fabulous xx

    • 25th March 2018 / 11:08 am

      Oh EMMA!!! You NEED to go and find a class!!! As I said to Kara in the comments, I’ve been to a few classes over the years and all teachers are NOT equal. Some of the classes I’ve been to have been awful — slow, boring and (with the knowledge I have now) detrimental to my back health. Luckily I know well enough that there are certain things I shouldn’t be doing. But if they were my first experience of Pilates, I probably wouldn’t have gone back.

      I would recommend finding a ‘Body Control’ trained Pilates teacher in your area. They’re SO well trained — and they have good biological knowledge too — they give a fab insight of why certain movements help certain areas. I can’t recommend it enough!!

      PS — and thank you xx

  3. 24th March 2018 / 9:35 pm

    This feels some with so much hope.
    I am in so much pain and my GP has suggested it. I just need to find a class that will fit into my life.

    Thank you for the post and I am so pleased for you xxx

    • 25th March 2018 / 10:58 am

      DO IT!!!!! But you need to find a good teacher Kara. I’ve been to a few classes over the years and all teachers are NOT equal, that’s for sure. If some of the classes I’ve been to were my first experience of Pilates, I probably wouldn’t have lasted more than a couple of lessons.

      My teacher is an ex-ballet dancer so she gives our glasses a balletic twist — plus she mixes it up week after week so I never get bored. I would recommend finding a ‘Body Control’ trained Pilates teacher in your area. Good luck!!

  4. 24th March 2018 / 10:34 pm

    Ahhh absolutely love this post and I know EXACTLY what you mean. It’s a game changer isn’t it?? I practised for 2 years until my teacher moved away, in the very beginning I didn’t really get it and then after about the 6th class I made a breakthrough and never looked back. Now I rave about it to anyone who will listen. So glad it’s had such a positive impact for you xxx

    • 25th March 2018 / 10:48 am

      Thanks lovely. It’s a total game changer — it’s given me the skills and knowledge to self-treat, if I’m feeling a bit stiff or in pain. Just by doing a few roll downs or cat stretches after a day sitting at my computer makes me feel much better. I’m so grateful to my Pilates teacher Natalie — she’s worked wonders with me!! Hope you’re having an amazing holiday!!! I’m loving your snaps!!! xx

  5. 25th March 2018 / 12:22 am

    LOVE this post and you! You absolute beaut – what stunning photos (and subjects). I’ll totally second pilates for back issues – I’ve got degenerative disc disease and had bad bad pain issues for YEARS before discovering that regular strength training twinned with pilates was the best defence for sure. I avoided fusion surgery because of my exercise regime! Woop woop!! x

    • 25th March 2018 / 10:43 am

      Aww thanks Lucy — I’m Evangelical about it — it’s helped me SO much. When I listed all the medical procedures and treatments I’d been through for my back, it’s such an eye opener. And all I needed to do was go to Pilates!! Well done you for avoiding surgery!!! Here’s to strong cores!! :) xx

  6. 26th March 2018 / 9:32 pm

    This is so inspirational Caro! I I have suffered from upper back pain as long as I can remember and was unfortunate enough to develop a split disc during my first pregnancy. I felt like my neck/back never quite recovered from it and it does get me down a lot. I have finally joined a gym last week (yay!) and one of the main reasons was because they do pilates and yoga. I’m hoping it will work for me too but it’s good to know it takes time! Thank you for sharing this lovely :)Xx

    • 28th March 2018 / 5:59 pm

      Oh Pia!!! Poor you. I totally and utterly sympathise. Back and neck pain is the pits. See how you get on with the classes at the gym. From experience I’ve found that the Body Control trained instructors are the best. As my teacher said the other day, anyone can get a diploma for teaching Pilates — they’re definitely not all equal, that’s for sure. I’ve been to some classes recently that have been pretty dire — and I’m glad I’ve got good knowledge of Pilates now to disregard some of the things we were being taught. GOOD LUCK!!! I really, really hope it helps you as much as it’s helped me xx

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