Pilates has been around for nearly 100 years, but it seems to have picked up popularity recently, showing up online and on Instagram constantly. Pilates is a form of exercise done on a mat or a special machine called a reformer that uses low-impact movements to increase flexibility, tone muscles, and build strength. It was originally developed by Joseph Pilates as a form of recovery exercise for dancers. Even if you’re not a professional dancer, pilates can be beneficial to any person. It essentially aligns your body in postures that help counteract all of the repetitive movements we find ourselves in every day through walking, sitting, and hunching over our phones. 

Different types of pilates

Pilates is so effective mostly because it is a low-impact exercise, meaning a class can be tailored to be accessible for a lot of different ages and fitness levels. If you are practicing mat-based pilates, the movements are a little harder because you are using the weight of only your body and a few props like exercise bands or hand weights. If you are practicing on a reformer, which is essentially a small machine with springs that help align your movements, you can practice at an even lower impact with the support of the machine. With the guidance of a trained instructor, you are led through movements on the mat or machine that target different muscle groups at a time, toning the muscle while focusing on breathing. 

Pilates also largely targets the core and the low back. The core is attached to all of our other muscle groups, and our low back can’t be strong if our core isn’t strong, and vice versa. Pilates also helps to relax the muscles as they are being strengthened, which can help improve overall mobility and posture. A win-win!

Doing pilates with an instructor

If you are interested in mat-based pilates, you can practice at home with videos online, however, I would recommend starting with an instructor in a studio so they can make sure you don’t hurt or overexert yourself. Once you get the hang of the alignment of the movements, then practicing with a virtual instructor could work well. If you are practicing reformer pilates, you certainly would have to visit a studio, as the machines would be there. Your instructor will guide you through your workout, using the reformer machine in different ways to create a low-impact workout. Because reformer pilates specifically is so low impact, a lot of people can do this exercise and feel the benefits. You don’t need to be super strong or physically fit to start. The reformer machine helps guide your movements. 

If you’re interested, look up your local pilates studio and give them a call. Some yoga studios also offer pilates as well, which would be a great complimentary exercise. Pilates helps counteract all of the hunching and crunching we do in our day-to-day lives. It helps elongate the body, and improve your posture, all while helping build strength through low-impact movements. It really is as good for you as everyone says. Check it out!

Discomfort and pain from your monthly menstrual cycle can range from mild to can’t-get-out-of-bed intense. Perhaps your period is super painful every month, or maybe every once in a while. No matter the intensity of our cramps or the amount we bleed, periods are uncomfortable every time. Exercise can sometimes help relieve pain, and yoga is a fabulous way to do so. Yoga is a great exercise because it combines movement, breath, and stretching. It can also easily be amped up or toned down to give you and your menstruating body the relief it needs. Here are a few yoga poses that will help relieve some of your menstrual pain. These can be done in a sequence as written, or in any order you’d like. 

1. Classic Cat/Cow Yoga Pose

Begin in tabletop position or on all fours. Shoulders should be in line with the wrists and hips in line with the knees. Find a neutral spine by extending the crown of your head forward, feeling a long line of energy from your tail bone to the top of the head. Inhale, lift your chest and tailbone to the sky, letting the belly melt (cow pose). Exhale, round out the spine, tuck the navel in, push the earth away (cat pose). Move through some cows and cats, moving with your inhales and exhales. Add in any other little movements that might feel good, such as some circles of the spine or moving the hips from side to side. 

2. Child’s Pose

Is it ironic that one of the poses to relieve period pain is child’s pose? Perhaps, but it works! You can transition from tabletop into this position, simply sink your hips back so they rest on your heels, reach the arms forward towards the top of the mat, melting the belly towards the earth so it rests gently on your thighs. Feet together, knees together, or feet together with knees apart. Stretch the arms forward, gently move them to the right to feel a stretch in your left side body, and gently move them to the left to feel a stretch on your other side. Arms can also rest gently by your side. Stay here and breathe into your back and hips as long as you’d like. 

3. Forward Fold 

Standing at the top of your mat, inhale the arms up overhead, reaching towards the ceiling. Exhale, hinge at the hips and fold forward over the legs. You can bend your knees here to help maintain length in the low back. Hang out here as long as you’d like, shifting the weight forward and back or side to side. Maybe grab opposite elbows and gently sway from side to side, releasing some tension in the upper back. Nod your head yes and shake your head no. When you’re finished with this pose, release the arms and slowly roll up vertebrae by vertebrae. Repeat as many times as you’d like. 

4. Camel for Intense Yoga Stretching

This can be a more intense stretch, so only do this if it’s not too painful, and make sure to come into the pose slowly and gently. Begin upright on your knees with your chest forward and a soft gaze straight ahead. Inhale the arms up overhead, exhale reach back with the right arm and touch the right ankle for half camel. Inhale arms up overhead, exhale reach back and touch the left arm to the left ankle. Do this as many times as feels good. Maybe this is all you do. When you’re ready for full camel, slowly reach back the right arm to grab the right ankle, then grab the left arm to the left ankle. Feel can be flat on the mat or rest on the toes. Hands can also grab blocks on the outside of each ankle as well. Shine the chest up and forward, creating a mini backbend and big stretch in the low back and hip flexors. Maybe release the head back. Hold here and breathe for as long as it feels good. When you’re ready, gently take your right hand to your low back, then your left, and slowly roll back up to where you began. 

5. Supine Twists

Begin on your back with your legs extended long on the mat. Inhale, draw both knees into the chest and gently squeeze the knees in. Rock gently side to side, giving your low back a massage. Maybe roll slightly forward and back. With the knees still bent, let the knees drop to the right side, extending the arms out to a T, and looking over the left shoulder. Hold here and breathe as long as feels good. When you’re ready, bring the knees back into the center and give yourself a squeeze. Let the knees fall to the left, arms at a T, and looking over your right shoulder. Hold as long as you’d like. Inhale bring the knees back to center and give yourself a final squeeze.