I have had so many messages via Instagram lately asking me for advice on using our classes to support their recovery from illness, especially post Covid. Maybe you want to move but you don't have much energy yet, so what do you do?
I think the thing to remember if that movement is always going to help you to feel better, so long as you do something which works with, and not against, your body. So please listen, and tune in and don't push through how you're feeling right now. If you fall asleep mid-class then that is totally ok!
So here are my suggestions of a couple of shorter classes from our sister site MoveBetter.TV that I think will support you with feeling more in touch with your body again so that it begins to heal from the inside out and your nervous system can feel restored and your immune system boosted once again.
YOU CAN TRY THEM FREE FOR 14-DAYS by signing up at www.movebetter.tv/joinus
35mins Grounding Class with a Focus on Breath
This class will really help you feel restored and relaxed.
30mins Lengthening Class
This short class feels so delicious on your body.
I had a breast reduction at 19. My boobs were massive by the time I was 13 / 14. I gave up sprinting and long-jumping along with any hope of wearing pretty tops and pretty bras. My shoulders hurt and my back constantly ached from standing. So by the time I was 19 I decided I had had enough. The boobs were going and my life would begin again. Running and strapless tops here I come.
Then I was in a car accident. I got whiplash. The proper type. Not the claim blame type which just goes away. I had severe shoulder pain. I spent a year in physio working on my shoulder. I ran out of credits with my insurance company who insisted I see a specialist. I turned up only to find I was seeing a neurologist. I was so embarrassed. “I think there’s been a mix up, I’ve hurt my shoulder and just need you to sign off some more physio sessions I said”. He spent some time looking at me and then told me “there’s nothing wrong with your shoulder, it’s your neck. You’ve damaged a facet joint but it’s so minimal you won’t see anything on a scan which is why it wasn’t picked up but it’s impinging a nerve as this is giving you the pain in your shoulder and the tingling in your hand.”
This was the first time I started to appreciate that where you feel the pain isn’t always what is causing the pain.
I started seeing a Pain Specialist, had some injections into my neck which helped a little and then told they could “burn” the nerve to stop it firing which didn’t sound so helpful to me. “It wasn’t that bad” I told myself. I can live with this.
A few years later I fell running for a train. I wasn’t drunk I promise. I hurt my ankle and was then told I needed surgery to repair it. I had the surgery and whilst it was technically repaired I had exactly the same pain post surgery as pre. I did my physio, did a lot of Pilates (this was all before I trained as a teacher) and told myself that “well this is as good as it gets” and got on with it.
I then decided to train as an instructor with Polestar Pilates who are the most wonderful training body. The level of detail they go into really is astounding. It’s very rehab based but you realise very quickly that really everyone has some sort of rehab need. And that rehab is really just about making your body work better, be more efficient so it’s pain free.
This is when everything changed. I learned myself that we are not meant to be in pain. That it’s not something you’re supposed to just put up with. That you can change it. You can feel better.
Now let me make this clear. Pain is a very big topic and I’m not pretending to cover everything off here. But here are the things I find myself saying time and time again to my clients.
The LANGUAGE you use to describe your body affects how it feels
The language you use about yourself really matters when it comes to pain. Your “bad leg” will always be “bad” if you label it as that. Your “painful shoulder” will be in pain and your “weak ankle” will always stay weak. And of course we have the “bad back”…well…
Change the way you talk about your body and it will change the way it behaves.
Chronic pain is often linked to your emotions
This is not to say it’s not real. It’s very real. Your body is a system of communication and it’s always communicating with you about how it feels both on a physical level but also about your relationships, careers, lifestyle etc. The you don’t listen it shouts. And shouting is pain.
I have worked extensively in rehabilitating people with long term pain and I would say nearly every time we get to a point where someone realises that instead of “I just put the bins out and my back went” actually “my mum died suddenly around the same time” and the penny drops.
We store our emotions in our body. And when you get an area moving which hasn’t moved in a while, because it’s been holding on or keeping everything inside, then you might feel emotional and notice a memory that you had blocked out.
So understand that pain isn’t always a pathology. It can often begin with a life event and later become a pathology such as a bulging disc.
A PAIN-FREE MOVEMENT experience is literally the best medicine
This is well documented. If you can move in a way which is pain free then your nervous system starts to recalibrate. Because often long term pain can be more about the pain receptors being heightened than anything physical. A pain-free movement experience starts to retrain the body as to what is possible.
Surgery often doesn’t always FIX the pain
I have worked with so many people over the years who’ve had surgery and, like me, afterwards said, “I don’t really feel pain free and I expected to”. This is because you had a movement pattern that caused the issue. Maybe the way you walk led to compression in your spine which cause you to prolapse a disc. You had surgery to remove the disc and fuse the spine. The problem was removed right? Wrong! You still move the exactly same way only now you’re putting pressure on the disc above or below the one you had removed. So now another area is inflamed.
As well as any surgery you must learn to move with ease, un-learning any bad habits and re-learning efficient ones.
In fact the best results I’ve ever seen from surgery are when a client has come in before surgery to work on improving their movement patterns so they can much more quickly feel the befit of their surgery.
Your body can literally do ANYTHING
Our posture isn’t fixed. We’re not born with it. It changes throughout our life and can continue to change. Our brains are equally plastic and continue to be shaped through out life depending on our experiences.
We have the power to shift everything.
Master the EASE
In terms of movement, learning to move with ease, mastering the basic strategies with utter efficiency is the key to being able to get stronger and fitter without injury and pain. When you meet restrictions in your movement this is exactly where you need to be. If you get stuck on your roll up, spend time on the "stuck" section rather than just giving up because you can't do it. Unless you have been told you shouldn’t do something by a medical professional often it’s the lack of movement in an area where you’re going to get the most benefit when you learn to move it.
I spent 3 years trying to extend backwards over the ladder barrel in the studio. Spine extension was so painful for me with my injury but I kept working on the strategies I needed and one day I realised I was ready to attempt it again and it felt easy. It still feels easy 8 years later.
I promise you that this approach will last you a lifetime. But that also means it's not a quick fix. It takes time but it's well worth it.
LOWER BACK PAIN is often caused by the wrong muscles working too hard
Let go of the “I must do more to sort out my back” approach. The truth is lower back pain is often caused by your global muscles doing too much and your local muscles not doing enough. Pilates is all about getting the local muscles to do their thing, not just in class but in life. Any active engaging will only ever work the global muscles. You want the subtly in movement.
This is going to be your life long friend.
I started Pilates in my 20s following a car accident which left me with severe chronic neck pain which lasted years. After seeing several specialists and pain management consultants and a lot of lying inside MRI machines, I found Pilates and instantly fell in love with how it made me feel. In fact it was the only thing which removed my pain completely and also toned me up (I dropped 2 dress sizes) and gave me mental clarity like no other workout. I decided to train as an instructor and now 15 years later I own two Pilates studios in Bristol, England and our wonderful online community MoveBetterTV where we bring movement into your homes in our unique way.
What I love most about being an instructor is that you never know everything about the body. There is always more being discovered and therefore more to learn. I find it fascinating and have spent thousands training with some of the best movement and anatomy experts in the land to really understand how our bodies work and how to get the most of them while keeping them pain free. A lot of what I learned really went against everything that was being said to me in most movement classes, everything I read online and really goes against the grain of the fitness industry in general.
I don’t ‘engage' my core (or my glutes)
This is a HUGE one for me. Let me explain: Our body is the most amazingly complex system that does all this ‘stuff’ without you ever consciously thinking about it. In fact this subconscious thinking is the key here. When you walk, you don’t tell each and every muscle to engage and release. You just walk. So why then do we think that the only way to get our abdominals muscles working is to engage them? Our brains literally don't have this conscious connection in this way. We don’t know exactly which part of your core to engage, or by how much. So when you “engage your core” (this goes for ANY muscle in the body) you literally stiffen it, shorten it and actually start training hypertension into your core. When in fact what you want are muscles which know exactly when to engage, when to release, when to be short, when do be long. And to do this you have to ALLOW your muscles to do their job by putting yourself into the correct position. When you’re in the correct position your core will do its thing, your glutes will fire. I hear so many people telling me that they’ve been told they’ve got weak glutes and do lots of glute exercises only to find they still don’t fire when they run. Because the issue is not that they don’t engage or are weak and need strengthening. The AREN’T engaging because your movement pattern is out.
So let me sum this up: Put your bones in the right place and your muscles will do their thing, in exactly the way they were designed. You just need to allow them to.
Actively engaging leads to stiffness, shortness and this puts a huge amount of pressure on the lower back. Pulling in your core when walking around does not reduce your back pain. It is probably causing it.
Seriously don’t do it. But yes do get a strong core! Just in a functional way.
I don’t push myself to breaking point
I was recently chatting to our wonderful manager Dani (she’s also a totally awesome PT) about a client of hers who had talked about how her pain was holding her back in her trianing and made her feel like a failure and it brought me right back to a time when I had felt exactly the and I literally nearly cried thinking about it.
Before I was an instructor I used to do a lot of boot camp type classes. You know the type you’re supposed to be when you want to tone up, loose weight and get fit. The type which push you to your limits so you can see what you’re capable of. But the thing is I had severe nerve pain originating from my neck which ran all the way through my left shoulder and down onto my arm.
I would keep pushing in class, my arm would be screaming at me to stop and I would literally hear “push through the pain” shouted at me. I would end up in tears feeling like an utter failure at my inability to push through whatever I was supposed to push through.
But I wasn’t a failure. My body was literally shouting at me. It knew, for whatever reason, that what I was doing was not right for me in that moment.
It’s important to recognise if you’re just being lazy and need a bit of a (gentle) push OR if your body is telling you it’s unhappy. And there could be a lot of reasons why it’s unhappy but that’s a topic for another day. I'm currently doing Our 10-Day Challenge and woah it's pushing me for sure: cardiovascularly, muscularly YES. But pain? Absolutely not - well apart from the sore muscles the next day which ease off with a bit of stretching.
I stopped thinking it needed to be hard to be any good
Carrying on from number 2, through Pilates I learned to train ease into my body. To find efficiency in my body.
The Pilates classes I attended felt more like massages then workouts but somehow I noticed that I got stronger and leaner than I had ever done from working out 4 times a week AND my pain literally disappeared. I mean it actually went. I cannot stress how many specialists I had seen and was left believing that this was my lot.
What I learned is that pain is never something you should just live with but that you need to really create efficiency in your body before you can push it to its limits. So that pushing becomes a challenge not just something which is “hard”. Because if it’s “hard” it’s probably because you can’t do it. And if you can’t do it, what are you training into your body?
Think of your body like a car. We service a car so it runs smoothly and can therefore manage journeys with ease. If the suspension was a bit out your car would wear out quicker. Your body is exactly the same. You need to service it with efficient movement training so it learns to run smoothly then when you had extra load, speed your movement up, challenge with a lack of support, you’re doing it on a machine which is running smoothly. Which won’t wear out. Which won’t scream at you.
When I opened my physical Soul Pilates studios, and now our online offering MoveBetter.TV, I wanted to teach everyone who came through our physical or metaphorical doors what I had been taught over the previous 5 years. Because this literally changed my life and I wanted to share this with everyone so they could feel as good as I did.
I often say “my Pilates training changed my life” and people assume it’s because I left the corporate rat race of marketing to become a Pilates teacher and studio owner. But this is not what I mean.
Literally my Pilates training change my life. It changed the way I viewed my body, my chronic pain, my work-life, my home-life, my relationships. It brought me to a place I never even knew existed. And this is what I wanted to do for other people: to teach and guide like I was taught and guided.
Because through my practice I realised that pretty much everything I had been brought up to believe was actually not true.
In a nutshell, DO LESS TO ACHIEVE MORE. Especially in movement and absolutely in life.
This is the ethos that seeps into everything we offer on this platform. We want every experience with us to leave you feeling amazing with more knowledge of your body from every class and a calmer mind which is ready to deal with anything life throws at it.
So here are my top tips to feeling great every day.
1 - Let the easy things be EASY.
This is the one which can trigger the most people because it goes against the grain of a way many of us live our lives. We are literally conditioned to believe that nothing comes without an enormous effort. 'No pain no gain' whether that’s in studying or exercise or life.
Through movement I really learned how I could feel so much better in my life. Instead of looking to find the burn in a class and thinking that that was the goal, I thought about “how can I make this feel as easy as possible”. If it feels easy does that mean the muscles aren’t working as hard? NO! In fact they are working just as they should, just as they were designed. And you still have something left in the tank to give. You’re not always using up every ounce of effort when exercising. If my movement is constantly taking me to my edges then is it any wonder that my nervous system feels burned out, anxious and stressed?
The truth is (and this is science, not just my opinion) that your body needs to find ease so that it doesn’t burn itself out doing the simple tasks in life. When you train ease into your body and your nervous system, you learn that the simple things are simple. Then you have more left in the tank to give, so you're working with your energy and not forcing it when it’s not there.
2 - DON’T engage your core.
Please don’t. There is this huge narrative out there that you should walk around actively engaging your core and your glutes to have a good posture. And in a class you should actively engage your core, or any muscle really if you want to ‘work’ it.
Well let me make this clear. This is simply not true.
Our body is the most wonderfully complex system. It knows when to engage and when to relax when you allow it to. We don’t control every muscle in our body so why should we think we need to do this with our tummy? And if you constantly engage it, you’re actually creating more stiffness (hello lower back pain) and less function.
Plus you’re telling your nervous system you want to override the system (you know the one it’s so awesome at no computer has ever been able to replicate) and constantly hold on. Using muscles when they’re not needed. Constantly having a system turned on is like leaving the lights on when you’ve gone to bed. It’s not needed and uses up energy unnecessarily.
How many muscles are you holding onto unnecessarily?
A big “ah ha” moment in class are when a client sees a holding pattern they’ve never noticed. Something they’ve probably done for years. Because a big part of Pilates is about undoing a lot of old patterns and learning more efficient ways to move.
Because no matter how often you might see a massage therapist, osteopath, chiropractor or physiotherapist, and they put you right, if you keep moving the same way you keep running into the same problems. You have to learn to move differently to make a change that lasts. And this approach literally lasts for a lifetime.
3 - Women aren’t the same every day. Work with your cycle and learn when it wants restorative movement and when it’s ready to pump and glow.
A man’s hormonal cycle is 24-hours long. A man is the same every day. Well hormonally anyway. Whereas a woman’s is 28-days (or whatever your cycle is) long.
A woman is not the same hormonally or energetically every day.
When you tune into your energy depending on where in your cycle you are, you will see that some days (usually around ovulation) you are super energetic and this is a great time to try a Pilates Cardio class or go for a longer run. Whereas other times (usually around your period) you are low on energy and should rest or do something really restorative. When you start to acknowledge this you really start working with and not against your body. Understanding that the ebb and flow of our energy is a natural part of being a woman.
4 - Let go of the word “SHOULD”
Should has to be the dirtiest word in the dictionary. Well maybe just in terms of feeling burned out!
“I should do a workout”, “I should go here”, “I should do this” - the should is your body’s way of saying “I could this, BUT I really don’t feel like it”. Start to recognise when you’re pushing a “should” onto a body which is saying “I could but I’d rather do something else ”. This will stop you feeling burned out and leave you far more able to meet the right challenges for you and your body right now.
5 - If it’s HARD it’s because you can’t do it.
We are conditioned to believe that nothing good comes unless it’s hard, especially when it comes to exercise. I would argue that if something is truly hard it’s because you can’t do it. And if you can’t do it you have to ask what are you training into your body? Instead look to find appropriate challenges.
A strategy you’ve mastered and now feels easy? Then increase the load, or reduce the support so that your body can meet the challenge. This will support your nervous system understanding balance. And it’s a balanced nervous system which allows you to feel… balanced!
6 - Train your body to feel how you WANT TO FEEL.
Think of exercise as a life training. Less of forcing it into a shape and more about using movement and exercise as a way of creating the way you want your body to feel. Strong but comfortable. Energetic but at ease. Always having something left in the tank so when life throws your a curve ball you’re ready and able. Simply having a different intention in your workouts will have a huge effect on your energetic being.
Because here is an absolute truth. When you focus on this, your body will move in this direction too. Feel good on the side, look good on the outside. Feel strong on the inside, look visibly strong on the outside. Feel calm and centred, live a life which is calm and centred.
7 - READINESS TENSION is something you might not know you’re carrying.
Are you always ready for anything that might happen? I mean it might not happen but you’re ready if it does? Is this you?
Well this readiness tension is something that creeps into your body and into your fascia. It fatigues you before you’ve done anything. And if that “thing” did come along you’d be less able to deal with it.
Spend time finding stillness, be that as true stillness such as meditation, or as stillness in movement (yes that’s really what our Pilates classes are all about) so you training ease and not holding on, into your system