Pilates Class 2007, Langcliffe Village Hall

Group exercise has an enduring power.

In so many ways, for both body and mind, getting together and moving has a magic about it.

And it’s so simple, you just need to find your thing. Dance, circuits, walking, biking, aerobics, boxercise, pilates, the ‘thing’ is irrelevant (I can make a good case for pilates though 😉), the key is the group.

There is strength, support, comfort, motivation and, quite simply, a friendliness to exercising together. Seeing the same bunch of people each week is reassuring and life-affirming. What I find so satisfying, week in, week out, is not just seeing the physical improvements to fitness but being part of everything else that comes with a gathering of people – their interactions with one another, the snippets of their lives, their highs and lows, their holidays, hobbies and anecdotes about their kids.

Seeing people in real life and talking, as ordinary as that might sound, does wonders for our mental wellbeing. An exercise group gives us all another little support network.

Classes begin and everyone is 100% present and focussed from the moment the lessons start. Being in a group means you have to listen and concentrate. It gives you discipline that’s tricky to achieve at home and alone. It works simply because we do it regularly and consistently. Everyone turns up (partly because they’ve already paid!) but also because they feel a commitment to the group and the teacher. Involve other people and it’s so much harder to skip your much-needed hour of exercise.

If you’re reading this and thinking about joining a group exercise class, be brave, try something new or revisit something you’ve done in the past. Find your tribe, be welcomed, try your best and just move.

A few weeks ago I went to a dance class for the first time in 27 years. I had no idea if I can could do it or keep up but I absolutely loved it! We all deserve that one hour for our own fitness and like most things in life, it’s more fun to do them together.

At the end of another year, THANK YOU so much to everyone who comes to classes in our studio, we appreciate and value your energy and effort in every single class and we love seeing you each week! 

 

The International Pilates Heritage Congress 2019

Day 1 – arrived in Monchengladbach at the Hotel Leonardo having successfully navigated Dusseldorf’s public transport system, very proud of myself for not ending up in Munich. The vast room all to myself at less than €60/night is a real treat. So far, so good. Head down to hotel restaurant for dinner. Everyone knows each other! Eek, I’m here on my own and I feel like a bit of a spare part as the waitress tells me I can ‘maybe sit at the bar?’ The room, meanwhile, is full of, quite obviously, pilates teachers here for the conference. Retreat or sit alone? Be brave Jess! Headed over to a table with a space and asked to join them, welcomed with open arms by two lovely Swiss teachers from Geneva. Phew. Beer, meal, great company. Feel like I’ve already been out of my comfort zone on more than one occasion and I haven’t done any pilates yet.

 

Soon realised I wouldn’t need this, everyone speaks English better than me.

 

Day 2 – joined my new friends for breakfast and sat beside Aki who has travelled all the way from Osaka! I thought I’d had a long trip from Yorkshire but Japan 😲?! Everywhere, I hear accents and languages from all over the world. The congress is living up to the ‘International’ part of its title. Find the location of Haus Erholung on Google Maps (what did we do before this was invented?) and walk over, joining some of the other 225 delegates on the way. We head up cobbled streets and turn the corner to face an impressive building, our school for the next three days. Slick registration, handy goody bag and on to introductions in the Exhibition Hall. Kathy Corey is the main woman here and she introduces all the presenters, organisers, board members and talks about Joseph Pilates, the whole reason we’ve ended up here, and finally introduces Lolita San Miguel. Wow, I wasn’t expecting that kind of reception! Slightly worried I’ve come to some kind of Lolita worship conference but hey, the woman’s 84 and she was taught by Joseph Pilates so I’ll hold judgement until I’ve at least had the chance to see her in action.

Head to my first lesson with Sherri Betz, oh hang on a minute, she hasn’t made it due to a cancelled flight. What a shame, I was really looking forward to her Older Adult Mat Class for Balance and Fall Prevention to add to my repertoire for my gentle pilates class. Her combined theoretical and applied approach to teaching this population appealed to me in order to give my classes more flow and structure, when the traditional scope of pilates cannot be used. Oh well, another year, another time (another $585). We listened to Reiner Grootenhuis instead who was an absolute joy, sharing his experience of working with older clients (although I wouldn’t put 65 as old, I was thinking more like 85) and by the end of the 2 hours I had reams of notes and a smiley face, thanks Reiner! So not quite what I was expecting but useful nonetheless and reassuring that all the modifications I use and exercises that I (think I) invent are all being used out there in the wider pilates world, yey!

After a welcome, long lunch, I returned to the main hall for Kathy Corey‘s Matwork – Focus on Alignment. Loved it! Imaginative, clever tips to use the mat exercises to address imbalances; those feelings that one side is different to the other – heavier, longer, stronger, weaker and explanations of how to go about making corrections. Fascinating work that I’ll use in both my everyday mat classes and private lessons. A true teacher of teachers. Following the afternoon sessions we all reconvened in the hotel lobby and walked together to visit the plaque of Joseph Pilates which has been placed by the house in which he was born. Fortunately, he was born on what is now a quaint, cobbled street surrounded by ornate buildings so it was both a pleasure and a privilege to be there for a short ceremony with city officials and with Kathy and Lolita sharing their thoughts. More lengthy applause at every opportunity, I think Joseph Pilates would have been a touch bemused. Drinks reception to follow back at Haus Erholung to meet other teachers and socialise, what a lovely idea, wine flowing, friendly faces all round. Headed off for food and my Italian meal for one became a party of eight as I was joined by teachers from Leeds and Washington.

 

Kathy Corey, Lolita San Miguel and me at the plaque for Joseph Pilates.

 

Day 3Fabrice Lamego‘s ‘Following the Footsteps of Eve Gentry’ workshop. Interesting and fun. Some breathing exercises, some pre pilates and then…we danced! That was the coolest part, he had us doing a small part of the choreography of Eve’s dance ‘Tenant of the Street’ and then he talked about her pilates teaching and how it was influenced by her dance background. A pleasure to have a history lesson, to exercise and especially to dance. Straight into the ‘Special Mat Class for All with Lolita San Miguel‘ billed as ‘Loving Our Mat …open for all to share and experience our unity through the power of the matwork’. With over 200 mats and people on them in one room, this class had to be experienced to be believed. In came Lolita surrounded by her ‘disciples’ (I’m not kidding, they actually use that term) and took centre stage on a chair. She doesn’t look a day over 65 and has an energy and vibrancy to match. If that’s what pilates does for you, I’m sticking with it. As soon as she started speaking, the whole room fell into sync and we continued for well over an hour through the entire repertoire. Just brilliant. A truly remarkable woman who genuinely appears to want to continue to spread the pilates love for as long as she possibly can, the class lived up to its billing.

While I have the utmost respect for anyone who’s still working at 84, I can’t say I enjoyed the reformer and tower class (for a start, I’d signed up to a cadillac workshop) that was to follow. It was all a bit frantic, everyone seemed a bit nervous to be in the presence of such a pilates goddess, her disciples were rushing around correcting everyone under the strict orders of Lolita, there were so many ‘don’ts’ that I really didn’t know what to do; it was quite terrifying! I stood on the ‘wrong’ side of the reformer at one point; I thought I was going to be ejected from the room. Maybe it highlighted my lack of practise of advanced reformer and tower work, maybe her style of teaching that day just didn’t suit me, all in all it was an emotional 3 hours!! I think it’s probably the same in all lines of work, but ever get the feeling you are completely out of your depth/having a mid-career crisis/just want to go home? I had a bit of a moment there on Saturday evening and almost missed the dinner, but I pulled myself together, put a fancy frock and silver shoes on and headed over. Also I’d already paid for it.

 

Mass participation pilates and the calm before the reformer class.

 

Day 4 – morning run and then ‘Lolita’s Body Walk’ a slightly weird addition to the schedule but in for a penny, in for a pound and all that (I’m from Yorkshire, I wanted to get my money’s worth). It was led by one of Lolita’s Legacy Students who introduced the walk by saying how bad running was for us ‘because of the fascia and everything’, eh?? Not really the best thing to say to a marathon runner but I was already up and there and it would have been rude to leave and go for coffee. We walked, with purpose and rhythm, with lots of arm exercises thrown in. The rest of the day was going to have to be something to end on a high. It was. Elizabeth Larkham, what a star! One of my new favourite pilates people. Intelligent, quick witted, warm and generous she delivered a 2 hour fascia workshop that left me wanted more, more, more. After the throw away fascia comment of the morning, I was delighted to hear some real science behind this current buzzword. It’s absolutely right that fascia has come to the forefront of movement training but it’s also handy to know where to find the good research, the best books and the most engaging presenters to learn a little bit more, so as not to fall into the bottomless pit of an internet search and end up none the wiser. Lunchtime mat with Kathy Corey, another full to bursting mat lesson and another opportunity to experience Kathy’s remarkable ability to get even the most subtle cues across to 150+ people. Hundred, teasers, boomerang, roll overs swan dives etc etc etc, accompanied by small moves to realign and rebalance, perfect for mind and body.

Getting a bit tired…one lesson to go. Fingers crossed. I had high hopes because I’d been in a lesson next door to Brett Howard the day before and there was a lot of laughing going on, it sounded like my kind of class. ‘Deepen Your Understanding of the Universal Reformer’ with Brett. And it did. I had excellent reformer training during my STOTT courses back in 2009-10 which has given me a full repertoire and a good understanding of the essence of the reformer. Brett took each exercise further and imparted his experience and knowledge in a way that really resonated with me. The work was hard. At the end he asked for a volunteer to do Tendon Stretch and I immediately said yes…within a minute I was dripping in sweat, breathing like a crazy woman and basically working harder on the reformer than I ever had before. He uses strong tactile cues in a way that you can only do with his level of expertise. A terrific end to the conference for me. Closing thank yous, drinks in the beer garden with new friends in pilates and back to the hotel to go through my notes and decompress.

 

I don’t like to use the F word but these two were my favourites.

 

Take away thoughts? Teaching pilates is my job and I’ve made a successful* career out of it for over 13 years. To do this I’ve always kept myself up to date with continuing education, for ten years with my initial training provider and more recently with Lisa Bradshaw and this year with the congress. I want to be a good teacher, I need people to come to my classes (that’s kind of the point, we’re not doing this solely for the love of it) so I have ideas galore to integrate into my teaching. Box ticked. As well as what to teach though I’ve also been able to think about how I teach. In the sessions I enjoyed I the most, I enjoyed the warmth and the humour of the teachers, I enjoyed the whole class experience, not simply the content. I want to give that to everyone in my studio. It’s been a thought provoking weekend, physically and mentally challenging, slightly bonkers at times (had I inadvertently joined a cult?) but overall a weekend to remember and one that will prove very useful for me today as I teach my classes and as I move forward.

*successful for me. I have a happy balance between work and life, running my own studio between the school runs and the school holidays and keeping my own hobbies alive. I think it’s important to find your niche, trust your intuition and follow your own path; otherwise it’s too easy to compare yourself to other teachers and feel a bit crappy.

In so many ways it’s been quite an experience to be part of this year’s National Fitness Awards. The awards, now in their 9th year, are “an opportunity to celebrate all that is amazing about our wonderful industry” and to “pay tribute to the hard work, the dedication and innovation that is taking place up and down the country”. I’m absolutely delighted that our tiny Yorkshire Dales Pilates studio achieved recognition and finished runners up in the Boutique Facility of the Year category!

Why did I enter our studio? I simply thought ‘why not?’ My colleagues, Kirsten and Cate, and I work very hard everyday in our studio to offer a first class schedule of pilates classes. We take a great deal of pride in what we do and I honestly believe that we change lives by teaching pilates. I thought it would be a real boost for our members and ourselves if we were to progress through the stages and reach the awards night. Also, I quite fancied a sparkly trophy in the studio but we didn’t quite get that far! I would wholeheartedly encourage studios and gyms, particularly those that offer pilates and yoga to keep an eye out for 2019 details and enter. I felt that pilates and yoga were under-represented in the nominations and certainly in the winners.

I’m not so naive as to believe that our studio is literally the second best in the UK. Although the number of entries was high there will be many, many studios and gyms who were not even aware of the existence of these awards. Having said that I was impressed by the judging process and I felt that I was involved in a thorough and fair procedure to find a worthy winner in each category. Firstly, we had to send a brief nomination with an outline of everything we have to offer. Further to this we had to send supporting evidence in the form of testimonials. On the strength of this evidence we were shortlisted to the top six. Simone Saunders, the event organiser from Script Media then visited the studio, met some of our members and we completed a lengthy questionnaire which she passed on to a panel of judges. This year they were Katie Bulmer-Cooke, Steve Johnson, Ben Coomber, Dean Hodgkin and Amelia Worrall, all of whom have impressive track records in the fitness industry.

I started my fitness career teaching group exercise at The University of Birmingham. We hosted fitness conventions on campus back in the early 2000s and it was then that I realised what a massive and vibrant industry it was. The ideas, energy and boundless enthusiasm that I experienced at these events were truly memorable. And on 30th November at the awards night I was transported back to that world. It’s been a long break…in 2006 I studied for my first pilates certification and immersed myself so completely in learning the pilates method of movement that I have to admit I turned my back on spinning, aerobics, circuit training, the gym, body conditioning and everything that had been my bread and butter for years. Once I’d completed my first mat course I was completely hooked on pilates and I couldn’t see beyond it as the perfect way for us all to exercise.

Last Saturday I realised that pilates is still so tiny in the bigger picture of the fitness world and of course there are a trillion other ways to keep fit and active and to reach your goals. Out of the 22 categories all with 6-7 shortlisted finalists, only 2 mentioned pilates. We are still niche, it’s time to keep spreading the word!

I was reminded of how much fun and what a privilege it is to work in the fitness sector. Do we, as pilates teachers, sometimes take ourselves and the work of pilates a little too seriously? Of course, it’s vital that we teach with confidence, knowledge and integrity but the fundamental aspect of exercise has to be enjoyment, it’s what keeps people returning for more.

So if you are a studio owner and you think it would be beneficial to your business, to staff morale and for yourself, enter next year’s Fitness Awards! Pilates is special and as enthusiasts and teachers we know that but it would be brilliant to see more pilates studios represented in this bigger fitness industry circle. I have definitely become quite isolated by only teaching pilates and teaching in a rural area. I will continue to dedicate my work and studies to pilates but I’ll be doing it now with a greater appreciation of everybody else out there working towards the same goal…improving the fitness and wellbeing of our nation.

And the best bit? The support of my family…Pete, mum, dad, James and Liz, all of whom joined me to dance the night away!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m in a long-term relationship with pilates. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a part of life forever. Here’s why…

  1. Exercise of any kind makes us feel great. It enhances our mood, energises our bodies and improves our health. There is never a good reason not to exercise. In order to exercise regularly and consistently the key is to find a way of moving that you enjoy. Quite simply, I enjoy doing pilates. I enjoy the challenge of a mat workout, I enjoy the strength gains from the Chair and the articulation of my spine over the Spine Corrector, I enjoy the ebb and flow of the Reformer, and I especially love hanging out on the Cadillac. It all makes me smile (and sweat!).
  2. I never get bored teaching or practising pilates. Adding small props such as the pilates circle, resistance band or light hand weights changes the emphasis of the workout. I could do pilates everyday for evermore and still find something new in an exercise that I haven’t felt before.
  3. There is something very comforting about the order in pilates. If I follow the mat repertoire to the letter, by the end I feel two inches taller, I feel free in my back and lengthened and strengthened through my entire body. The exercises have flowed with familiarity from one to the next. Every joint and body position has been incorporated in the workout. Likewise with the reformer, I feel thoroughly at home coming down to lying on the carriage and moving from the footwork to the hundred to feet in straps and so on.
  4. I’m a mum. I spend a lot of my time feeling, quite frankly, a little worn out. It’s not everyday that I fancy going 100%, all out into a tough, sweaty workout. So on those days I get on the cadillac, start with some roll downs, breathe, coax by body into flexion and extension and before I know it I’ve completed a full body workout. I love the way any workout, either on the mat, the reformer or a combination of apparatus winds itself up into a challenging session. I can start by thinking about nothing more than the way I’m breathing and 40 minutes later I’m up in a teaser, magic!
  5. As a former athlete I know what it means to train hard, to push your body to exhaustion on the track and to lift weights to failure in the gym. I can, amazingly, still get that feeling with pilates. I can work up a sweat within 5 minutes if my goal for the day is to complete an advanced reformer workout. I can work every muscle in my body from the inside, out. For this, I need to draw on the discipline from those track days and I love the way it brings back memories of my 20s when life was all about running and friends and we were still holding off being grown ups!
  6. Teaching pilates continues to give me an immensely satisfying career. Thanks Joseph! If it wasn’t for Joseph Pilates my life would have taken a different course entirely. I have a lot the thank the guy for and it’s shame he’s not still around to witness his life’s work being practised by millions worldwide. Teaching exercise of any kind is a fulfilling line of work. I used to get my fix teaching spin classes, circuit training, body conditioning and aerobics. Then I discovered pilates and I realised I had found longevity in an industry where burn out and injury can halt a fitness career in its tracks.
  7. There is always something you can achieve. Even if it’s just the method of pilates breathing. If you are in chronic pain or returning from injury, simply breathe. First we breathe, then we connect to our ‘core’ muscles, then we move. We are all different and pilates offers something for everyone, from those with long term health conditions to elite athletes, its scope is remarkable.
  8. Pilates is the ultimate in ‘core stability’, a phrase that’s thrown around a great deal in the fitness world. When I started to learn about pilates back in 2006 I realised that holding a plank for 5 minutes and doing sit ups to exhaustion were not the be all and end all of ab work! The central muscles, the core, the muscles that lie closest to our skeleton need attention and patience to find. Connecting my breath to my transversus abdominus and pelvic floor muscles is a skill I now use daily so that I can truly engage my core while exercising.
  9. Pilates helps me to be a faster, stronger runner. I love to run and I want to run forever. Practising pilates in all its forms has made me a better runner. It has injury-proofed my body, enhanced my breathing capacity due to the method of lateral breathing and made my body feel entirely more ‘together’. Even though I now only have time to run 3 times a week at most, I feel confident and capable of running a full marathon.
  10. Pilates does what it says, if you let it. If you give it the time and dedication. Pilates will improve your posture. Pilates will make your whole body stronger. Pilates  will make you more mobile and give you greater range of movement.  Pilates will improve your flexibility by loosening areas of tightness. What else can offer all of that?

You don’t need to leave the country to get some time to yourself, but it helps…

I’m heading home from my first pilates retreat. For the real deal of relaxation, expert pilates tuition and understated luxury I think I’d struggle to find 4 days to match those I’ve just had.

I had very high, yet simple expectations from this retreat and it didn’t disappoint in anyway whatsoever. For all its promises, it delivered.

  • I spend so little time alone these days and my world is a noisy one. I’ve been craving some quiet and solitude for a long time. Tick ✅
  • I think about my family and my work all the time. Each day, my business and my kids get all my attention and everything I do is focused around them. I wanted just a few days of this nurture all for myself. Tick ✅
  • The more I learn, the more there is to learn and it will never end! I want to learn about pilates from the best of the best, from those with vast experience, humour and kindness. Tick ✅
  • Most importantly, I wanted to feel pilates in my own body, in every movement and every breath, evenly and aligned. And to fall in love with pilates all over again. Tick ✅

The setting for the retreat was divine. I was at Sublime Comporta in Portugal where I was looked after from the very moment I arrived. These retreats are the brainchild of Donna Pourteymour from Cobham Pilates who has made it her mission over the last decade to organise the ultimate pilates getaway. With her inspiring team of Lisa Bradshaw, Kate Fry, Mandy Penalver and Karen Mowry she certainly achieved that.

I’m already saving up for next year…

Return to Life Through Contrology (1945) and Your Health: A corrective system of exercising that revolutionises the entire field of physical education (1934), both by Joseph Pilates

This post is simply my thoughts on an extraordinary man. How many of us have ‘Pilates’ in our business name? I think he deserves our attention from time to time!

Imagine living between 1883 and 1967. As we wake up, freely run water, drink our fresh coffee, dress our kids in clothes fresh out of the washing machine, hop in our cars to our fancy studios with all the latest pilates’ apparatus, just imagine a life and world so very far removed, without all the mod cons and easy living we’ve come to expect. The last 125 years have seen the most immense changes on both a day to day and global scale, whilst it seems to me that some things have remained exactly the same.

Our obsession with health, wellbeing and fitness is certainly something that hasn’t wavered over the years. Despite being a sickly child, by the age of 14 Joseph Pilates was posing for anatomy charts, such had been his early commitment to sport, physical training and anatomical study. There will always be people striving for physical improvement and success. Joseph was one of these people and he took it to the extreme with a life dedicated to continuously refining his method of contrology, inventing a plethora of ingenious apparatus and keeping himself and those he taught in remarkably good health.

Throughout his life, it appears to me, he had a single minded determination and absolute self belief which would surpass many of the greatest modern day athletes. Joseph Pilates’ mother was a naturopath and his father, a prize winning gymnast so he came from good pedigree with role models to aspire to. Despite their poor background, the family prioritised exercise with his father, a metal worker by trade, fixing gym equipment in return for working out in the gym. It would seem that nothing, not even 2 world wars, family tragedy or poverty, stood in the way of Joseph’s desire to invent, to exercise and to teach.

What a wonderful legacy. Prioritise your health and it will stand you in good stead to deal with everything life throws at you.

Human resilience knows no bounds. For Joseph Pilates I expect his resilience was tested on numerous occasions but his experiences seemed to lead to greater tenacity and strength of character. He left Germany for the first time in early 1914 and found work as a circus performer in Blackpool, using his physical skill to perform and developing his own exercises to recover. This North West circus life was short-lived as Joseph was arrested at the outbreak of World War One and he would make the arduous journeys from Blackpool to Sandhurst to Jersey to Lancaster (the pic shows Lancaster Castle where Joseph Pilates was held in 1914) and finally to the Isle of Man where he would spend 4 years in a camp for German internees.

This was certainly no holiday camp but with 16,000 internees already at Knockaloe camp when he arrived, a German doctrine was well established with daily sport and exercise already taking place. Far from perfect, with food rations verging on starvation and the world in turmoil, still Joseph Pilates sought to maintain and improve his health and those of the thousands of internees.

He further developed his method of contrology and began to experiment using bed springs as resistance. I have no idea how people survived such conditions, both mentally and physically. The desire to not only stay alive but to improve themselves during captivity is hugely impressive and humbling.

The spirit of adventure lies within us all. Those ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’, once set into action, can lead us to places and people that enrich our lives and change the course of our careers. Joseph Pilates was both a survivor and an adventurer. He returned to Germany after the war (I don’t imagine England remained such a welcoming place) and continued his vocation of developing physical training techniques and inventing equipment.

Not a man to miss an opportunity, Joseph emigrated to New York in 1926 with his ideas, confidence and ever-increasing knowledge in a bid to improve the physical education standards in the US which at the time were far behind those in Germany. I hope that this was a happier time for him. By the age of 43 he had lived through the war, experienced the deaths of a baby sister and his first wife and left behind a daughter and stepson to travel to England.

On the passage to New York he met his third wife (I’m not sure when wife #2 came in!) Clara and it was with her that he established his gymnasium on Eighth Avenue at 56th Street in Manhattan. Many of us have dreamt, planned and put our own studios into reality. Joseph was our pioneer, leading the way in spaces dedicated to the teaching of his exercises.

The work/life balance is a constant factor in our lives. Way back in 1945 in his book Return to Life Through Contrology, Joseph Pilates wrote: ‘Telephones, automobiles and economic pressure all combine to create physical letdown and mental stress so great that today practically no home is entirely free from sufferers of some form of nervous tension’. This was 73 years ago! If only he could see the world now and its ever increasing reliance on and addiction to technology and the resulting impact on our day to day lives and wellbeing.

Joseph’s advice? Spend time outside away from city pollution, exercise, eat well, sleep well and perform contrology (his term for the method we now call pilates). He advocated hobbies, social entertainment, recreational activity and ‘every possible form of pleasurable living’ to ‘find us cheerful, contented and relaxed’. Sounds familiar? You’ll find this advice from every exercise teacher, PT, physiotherapist, movement specialist and GP in the land! What’s not to like? Moving more, spending time with friends and eating well are and always will be vital to our physical and mental health.

Keep doing what you’re doing. To say that Joseph Pilates had a impressive work ethic is an understatement. I’d like to hope that he took a holiday every now and again but from what I’ve read, the guy didn’t stop inventing, teaching, working and developing his methods of exercise until the day he died. Every day in the studio, step by step, muscle by muscle training himself and those he taught. Ultimately, what have I learnt from the man whose name is on the door of my studio and whose picture watches our every move? That I will never know what it’s like to blaze a trail in a post-war era, to live through poverty, wartime or to make my way in another country. I take my hat off to him and hold him in great respect. I have learnt that I am incredibly fortunate and privileged to have freedom, education and a job I love.

Overnight success does not happen overnight, it takes a lifetime. As pilates teachers we make a difference every day. And, little by little, we hope to leave a legacy, like that of Joseph Pilates, of enabling people to move more freely, grow in strength and confidence and feel better every single time they set foot in the studio.

For a detailed history, with particularly attention to Pilates’ life in the UK during World War One, I’ve found this wonderful site.

Pelvic floor exercises: not so glamorous, nobody notices except you when you’ve done them, you can’t just do them once in a while and there’s always something better to do. But WAY, WAY more important than housework!

It’s a long one this week so put the kettle on and give yourself a clear 20 minutes to sit down, relax, read and listen. Which is kind of the essence of this blog…finding and giving yourself time every day to focus on yourself and the super muscles of the pelvic floor.

Here’s what we’re going to cover:

  • Pelvic Floor
    Where are our pelvic floor muscles and what do they do? Why do we need to strengthen them? How can we effectively and consistently strengthen the pelvic floor?
  • Posture
    What 
    is postural alignment? Why is it healthy to achieve good postural alignment? How can we improve our posture?
  • Pilates
    How 
    can the principles of pilates, applied to simple exercises and to daily activities improve the health of our pelvic floor and our posture?

Crikey, so many questions but this is a favourite subject of mine for reasons I’ll explain later so let’s get cracking. I want you to go away with a better understanding of your pelvic floor muscles, how to strengthen them, how our posture plays an important role in our pelvic and overall health and most of all I want you to leave feeling confident that you understand why and how we should strengthen our deep abdominal muscles.

It’s easier to explain the muscles of the core and the pelvic floor in person…

And here I go into the muscles of the pelvic floor in a little more detail…

Here comes the problem…they can be injured through pregnancy, childbirth or surgery and weakened through aging and weight gain. Once weakened, urinary stress incontinence, better known as wetting our pants, may occur whenever pressure increases or impact occurs, for example during coughing, sneezing, lifting, running and jumping.

Pelvic organ prolapse and stress incontinence affects 1 in 3 women but even though it’s common, what’s normal is the two thirds of women not affected. I want to be one of the 2 in 3.

We’re going to look at improving your posture and improving the function of your pelvic floor in a two way plan to minimise wetting our pants when we run/cough/lift etc.

With poor posture there is undue stress and strain on the bones joints, ligaments and muscles. Muscle weakness allows separation of the parts to which the muscle is attached. The position of the pelvis is key to improving posture. Again, easier to explain in person…

So now we know where the pelvic floor muscles are and we know how to position our pelvis in such a way that the muscles surrounding it do the best job they can. Now we’ll add the principles of pilates in order to activate the deep pelvic floor muscles and another amazing muscle, the transversus abdominis.

There is close association between the pelvic floor muscles (PF from now on!) and the transversus abdominis (TA) and there is evidence that contraction of the PF can be used to facilitate contraction of the TA and vice versa.

Although the activation of the PF was not specifically emphasised by the original work of Joseph Pilates, STOTT Pilates have integrated targeting the PF into every single exercise. And I’m going with their approach because my pelvic floor muscles took a right hammering during each of my two ‘straightforward’ vaginal births.

Before I leave you with my 50 a day pelvic floor exercises I’ll explain why I get up on my soapbox every so often about this subject. It’s totally crap to wet your pants as a grown up. It destroys your confidence, affects your personal life, your hobbies, your mind and your body. And if there’s something that can be done about it then I’m going to do it and I’m going to try and reach out to other women (and men) who are in that 1 in 3 group.

After my second baby I took the approach of ‘things will just go back to normal, right?’ Hmm, 4 years on and I was still not running. This is a good time to say that my pelvic floor weakness meant that running caused wet pants so really in the grand scheme of things I was ok, I didn’t feel like it was bad enough to seek medical advice. I SHOULD HAVE SEEN A WOMEN’S HEALTH PHYSIOTHERAPIST. I didn’t even know this role existed!

When I eventually got around to ticking off ‘sort out pelvic floor’ on my to-do list it turns out that I wasn’t paying these muscles, or myself, anywhere near enough attention. So with advice from Baz Moffat, women’s health fitness professional and a women’s health physio I’m now getting stronger each day. I have returned to running and I now have dry pants, most of the time. We need to be in it for the long haul and do our pelvic floor exercises daily, so let’s get lifting!

This blog has been designed to present information about our deep pelvic floor and postural muscles, how we can strengthen these vital muscles and how we deserve to feel confident and 100% in control of this area. It is not intended as a substitute for consultation with your GP or women’s health physio. Thanks for joining me x

Reference List
Pilates Anatomy. Rael Isacowitz and Karen Clippenger. Human Kinetics 2011.
Pilates’ Return to Life Through Pilates. Joseph H. Pilates and William John Miller. Presentation
Dynamics 1992.
Clinically Oriented Anatomy, 3rd Edition. Keith L. Moore. Williams and Wilkins 1992.
STOTT PILATES Mat and Reformer Support Materials.
STOTT PILATES Injury and Special Populations Course Materials.
www.cps.org.uk
www.thepelvicexpert.com
www.squeezyapp.co.uk

During my 12 years of teaching pilates, I have regularly come across courses with titles along the lines of…

Pilates For Skiing! Pilates For Swimmers! Pilates for Runners! Pilates for Golf! Pilates for Cyclists!

And also offerings of tuition in…

Pilates for Breast Cancer Rehabilitation. Pilates for Osteoporosis. Pilates for Neurological Conditions.

You get the idea. There is something for everyone when it comes to pilates. And it’s true, everyone can do pilates but I also believe these course titles can be misleading for both pilates teachers and prospective clients. Pilates is pilates. If you are a runner, pilates can improve your leg strength and your breathing and in turn your running performance. If you play golf, pilates can improve your thoracic rotation and upper body strength and in turn enhance your swing. If you have had breast cancer, pilates can help you to re-build confidence in your movement.

But the content of a regular pilates class is not going to be vastly different to reach these goals for everybody. So in the same class I could have a golfer, a runner, a cyclist and a woman who has had a mastectomy. They will all have the potential to reach their pilates goals with the same exercises. There is a finite number of pilates mat exercises which originate from Joseph Pilates so although there is scope to modify these moves and adjust them to meet individual needs, the essence of each exercise remains constant.

  • Get to know your clients, ask them what their hobbies are, find out what they want to achieve from their class and teach them accordingly. Use your imagination, your intuition and your expertise to make each exercise work for them, whatever their goal. Be they a runner, a gardener or a guitarist teach them pilates to improve their everyday movement. 

I am not a medical professional. I teach people to move more freely, with ease and strength through pilates. What I do is straightforward. I observe movement and I teach people how to use their bodies to their advantage. I find it extremely useful to have an awareness of health conditions that I may come across in the studio such as osteoporosis, scoliosis, pregnancy, back pain or surgery and the implications these conditions pose to exercise.

For example, for osteoporosis we avoid flexion of the spine and flexion with rotation. With pregnant clients we avoid supine exercises and direct work on the rectus abdominus. But I will never be a doctor or a physiotherapist and I know where my strengths and limitations lie.

  • We need to know, as pilates teachers, the boundaries of our expertise. We need to know that our 1 day workshop on Pilates for Back Care does not mean we are in a position to offer advice on back conditions. Awareness, yes! Effective communication and modification of exercises, yes! Pilates will not take away osteoporosis, it may or may not have an impact on the degree of a scoliosis and it may or may not have a positive and long lasting effect on a problematic back. Pilates is unique in its approach but it can’t perform miracles and expectations of clients need to be managed accordingly.

I pride myself on the fact that ANYONE can walk into my studio, I can assess their posture, their movement and offer pilates to help them. What I would teach would be different depending on the individual but I wouldn’t have needed a course to tell me that (I’ve endured several “Pilates For…” workshops and always come away with the realisation that I was simply being told a variation on the same theme).

  • If you are a teacher assess your clients and steer them towards an appropriate class or private tuition. By offering classes at different levels, everyone’s pilates goals can be met. If you are a client, talk to your teacher! If we know your expectations from your class we can make sure that we go as far as possible to meet them. 

Remember, pilates is pilates. Do pilates, because movement heals. But ask questions about your ‘Pilates For____’ (fill in the blank) class. You might find its content is exactly the same as you would find in a class simply entitled ‘Pilates’.

 

 

If you delve into the pilates world you’ll find a multitude of interpretations as to what pilates is and how it is taught. There are now hundreds of training schools worldwide offering pilates education, be that in classical, contemporary or fitness pilates. I believe that there is validity in all approaches, providing the teacher works with integrity, skill and knowledge.

In our pilates outlook we are all different and just like in any line of work, those differences will lead to progress, to debate, occasionally to disagreement but ultimately, in pilates, to spreading the word of this astounding method of movement.

We have our own styles, thoughts and ideas that influence our work and become our codes by which we express what we have learnt. These principles develop over time and are subject to continual change but they shape our day to day teaching and thus are important to our current and potential clients, as well as to ourselves.

I’ve thought long and hard about how to articulate my pilates philosophy in a meaningful way and I’ve settled on these:

My 5 Pilates Guiding Principles

They very much sum up my attitude to pilates and how I teach so they’ll give you an insight in to the content of my videos too.

  1. Never Forget Where Pilates Came From: I’m a little bit in love with Joseph Pilates. I have a deep respect for his lifelong dedication to health and wellbeing. His ingenuity in inventing Contrology, from which our modern-day ‘pilates’ comes from, was remarkable. He was a task master, athlete, teacher, inventor and must have had almighty energy, foresight and self belief in his work. With his ever-presence in my mind I hope that my pilates career can also impact positively on everybody I teach.
  2. Movement Needs to Be Fun and Varied: We can’t take this too seriously, it’s not brain surgery, it’s simply movement. Yes, it’s intelligent movement and it can have profound effects but we are still only teaching people how to move more freely, with ease, strength and balance. People won’t come if it’s boring. Thankfully with pilates, the number of repetitions is low (3-10reps) and the variety is high so I have the chance to move swiftly and with flow through a workout, throw modifications and new exercises in from time to time and use small props to keep it interesting and fun. Each week is different even though there are a finite number of mat exercises to choose from. 
  3. Create Shapes: I have an anatomy background and sometimes I get all caught up in explaining which muscles we’re using and why. If I hear myself using language that makes me sound like I’m in a lecture theatre and not an exercise studio I often check myself and cue the shapes we’re making instead. Make a rainbow in your side bend, a half moon in a roll back, a fountain in the swan dive.
  4. Education, Education, Education: My pilates education is incredibly important to me. I experienced superb training by Jane Parsons, Michael Christensen and Bianca Bollisian at STOTT PILATES and more recently from Lisa Bradshaw at Cobham Pilates. I feel privileged to have learnt from these people who are incredibly knowledgable, experienced and generous. Further education will guide my career and I am continually reading, watching and learning from others. It’s also important to me to review courses and workshops I’ve taken in the past as every time I revisit them there’s something new to be found.
  5. Every Lesson, Every Direction: Each week I tend to have a different theme in the studio, a different focus. Perhaps a different prop or maybe I’m accommodating newcomers, injuries or stress. But whatever the vibe of the class, and whatever bodies walk in, they all walk out having forward flexed, extended, rotated and laterally flexed their spines. Keep it simple.
    With these principles in mind I sincerely hope that my career as a pilates teacher and fitness professional will have purpose, longevity and above all enjoyment and satisfaction, everyday.

Forget January as a time for resolutions, THIS is the time of year for setting a few goals and looking ahead with enthusiasm and motivation. Spring time…a time of growth, regeneration and beauty in the natural world. It never fails to amaze me that this happens every single year. The nights creep gradually lighter as the buds and flowers start to appear and the sun makes an occasional, welcome appearance. January, with its short, damp, grey days (I’m not a fan) is a time for eating cake, keeping warm, being kind to ourselves and continuing with our regular exercise. No big changes, just lots of movies.

Please don’t choose January in the UK to start any training regime that involves the outdoors…the mud, ice, rain and cold are enough to put off even the most hardened of fitness fanatics. You may be 100% disciplined and January may be just like any other month and I applaud you, but I’m not going to add any extra pressure from a New Year’s resolution to my least favourite time of the year.

NOW though, now I can’t stop planning, thinking ahead and setting goals for the year. All of a sudden, they feel more achievable, more realistic and infinitely more appealing now that there is the prospect of some dry land on which to run and cycle. Remember, you can make a resolution at any time of the year. If you missed the boat in January, it doesn’t mean the year has to be free of intention. And those intentions don’t have to be big or sporting or impressive, they simply have to be designed to make us feel better in mind and body.

Here are my tried and tested ways to go about achieving a goal:

  1. Talk to your most positive friends and family members about your ideas. If you only have a seed of a thought of what you want to do, do not mention it to anyone with any negative vibes. At this stage you only need reassurance that your goal can be met. A “fantastic, that’s a brilliant idea!” will boost your confidence and not “really? Are you sure you can do that?” which will only add to any self-doubt.
  2. Put plans in place to make sure that your goals are both achievable and realistic. It’s not possible to set a target and then hope for the best. We need mini-goals along the way. Write down and complete day to day tasks that will take you a little closer to your goals so that you are always moving forward.
  3. Challenging but not impossible. Consider your ideas and thoughts and choose goals which will give you sense of satisfaction and achievement, rather than becoming an additional stress. Your everyday life still has to happen and extra time doesn’t appear from nowhere so to include working towards goal, you’ll have to be prepared to change your timetable.
  4. Give yourself a deadline. It’s all too easy to start tomorrow. Those tomorrows will run out if you have a deadline to meet, so start now. Write things down, look at your diary and set a date for a specific goal. ‘Get fit this year’ doesn’t cut it. More like ‘Complete a 5km Park Run on 22nd April’.
  5. Find support from others. We all have hopes and dreams, big and small so while you’re going about working towards your own resolutions, look out for other people doing the same. Smile at fellow runners, chat to the person next to you in the gym. Better still, find someone who shares your goal and work towards it together.

I used all these in the pursuit of running my 10th marathon after a 9 year break from long distance running and the addition of a young family.

We did it! The Florence Marathon 2017, the day after I turned 40 with my husband Pete.

Goals don’t have to be anywhere near as big as running a marathon but I think it’s important to have them, however small. They give us time to be ourselves, to think about ourselves and to be part of something bigger than the day to day.