‘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.
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.
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.
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
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’.
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