About 25 years ago I tried a new-fangled exercise class called Pilates. Little did I know that 10 years later I would love it so much that I would be taking the leap into training as a Pilates instructor and creating my own business.
Of course, it wasn’t a new thing at all. Created by Joseph Pilates in the early part of the twentieth century, it took time to travel over from America and become more mainstream in the UK. I instantly loved the mix of slow, considered moves, marrying elements of Joseph’s study of animal movement, martial arts and yoga, combined with a deep understanding of anatomy and physiology. It was an exercise method which led me to feeling strong, supple and with a much better understanding of my body and how it worked.
So, what can Pilates do for the midlife woman?
The 7 principles the method is based on – Breath, Concentration, Centering, Control, Precision and Flow – provide the perfect building blocks for a healthy body and mind.
1Building strength, muscle and flexibility. We begin to lose skeletal muscle from the age of 30 (sarcopenia), between 5-8 % per decade, and this only increases as we age. Pilates uses bodyweight resistance and simple equipment to safely build muscle and strengthen joints which are often weakened during menopause. Being able to move freely and toning our bodies can often improve self-image at a time when many women struggle with the changes to their bodies during menopause.
2Mindfulness– it may not be the first thing you think of with Pilates, especially if your image is of very young women doing very advanced moves. However, the concept of performing moves with precision is, to me, the very essence of the true meaning of mindfulness. Focusing your complete attention on how you are moving your body, why you are doing it that way, making tiny adjustments to fully gain benefit from the move. To my mind, it’s as relaxing and mindful as yoga.
3Breathing – learning to breath correctly is harder than you think! And anything which encourages you to use the full extent of your lungs (rather than just the top third as most of us do) can only be a good thing. It was Joseph’s first principle and one which underpins all his work. Correct breathing nourishes your body and mind, relaxing you and reducing stress. Essential for many processes in the body and particularly reducing the production of cortisol, and excess of which often leads to the dreaded menopausal tummy weight gain.
How to start your Pilates journey
Ideally, invest in at least one 1-2-1 session before joining a group class. Many Pilates teachers will insist on this anyway. This is so that you can be coached in the basic principles which will need some practice and your teacher can understand your specific needs and adapt moves accordingly. Ultimately, you will get the best out of your sessions.
Finally, give it a good go. There are lots of things to think about at first and it can all be a little overwhelming. I attended 2 classes a week for 3 months before I “got” it. I truly believe Pilates is of huge benefit to everyone, especially mid-life women, so get started now – you won’t regret it.