pilates articles

We hope that the following articles will be of interest.

Pilates for healthy bones

By Ruth Smith BSc(Hons) MCSP APPI. Physiotherapist and BoCo Pilates instructor

For years, my Tuesday evenings have been regularly spent at BoCo teaching a pregnancy class and a general class. But in October, rather than my usual attire of vest and leggings I was dressed up in my poshest frock to attend the Laing Buisson Independent Healthcare awards at the Lancaster London Hotel (very posh it was too with lovely food and lots of champagne!)

In my more 'regular' job I work at Parkside Hospital as an outpatient Physiotherapist. One of my areas of specialist interest is in Bone health, Osteoporosis and Osteopenia. For the past year I have been working with one of the consultant rheumatologists and a specialist nurse practitioner on building up a bone health service. This includes consultation with the rheumatologist, DEXA bone scanning and nutritional and lifestyle advice from the nurse. My part in the team is to see people to give individual exercise advice, postural assessment and I have also started running a Bone Health Pilates class. We were nominated for best medical practice for setting up this service and reached the final three.

So why do I find this area so interesting? Mainly because it is an area where exercise, and Pilates specifically can really help, and it affects so many people. Did you know that 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to poor bone health? It is estimated that almost 3 million people in the UK have osteoporosis. It is a silent disease as you do not know anything about it until you break a bone, the effect of that broken bone on your quality of life can be devastating, and the likelihood of going on to break another bone in the following year is very high.

Exercise can minimise bone loss and, importantly, reduce the risk of breaking a bone. It improves your quality of life, reduces pain and reduces your risk of falling. It improves your sense of wellbeing, improves your brain function and reduces the risk of many other medical conditions.

So why Pilates specifically?
Pilates will:

- Improve your posture by working on the supportive muscles close to your spine. This maintains the correct curves of the spine and reduces the risk of fractures in the vertebral bodies of the spine. It has been shown in research that patients over the age of 50 with good posture have a better quality of life.

- Improve your balance - anyone who has been to my classes will know that we do a lot of work in standing and challenging your balance. We also work all the 'anti-gravity' muscle groups down the back of your body which help you to maintain your balance. If your balance is good you are less likely to fall and less likely to break a bone.

- Give you good general muscle strength. A recent review of the research on exercise and osteoporosis showed that muscle strength and balance were the two most important areas to work on and maintain into later life to reduce the risk of fractures.

- Help maintain / improve bone density. Pilates exercises are done in a variety of positions including standing and 4-point kneeling which loads the bones in the areas most likely to fracture if you have poor bone health - the spine, hips and wrists. This loading encourages your bones to maintain their density and make new bone in those areas.

So if you have been to my classes recently and wondered why we do so much in standing and not just lying down you can be happy in the knowledge that you will have been keeping your bones healthy!

Make sure you spread the word on exercise and bone health; the most important time of life for building up bone density is age 10-15. So make sure you encourage children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews to get out and exercise every day! The bone we build up when we are young has a huge effect on our maximal bone density which is reached by the time we reach age 30. (If you are under 30 - lucky you!) NOW is the time to get as much varied weight bearing exercise in as possible to boost your bone density and reduce the risk of breaking a one later in life.

If you have any questions, have been diagnosed with Osteoporosis or Osteopenia or have had a broken bone recently please feel free to contact me. I am happy to see people for 1:1 sessions for advice on exercise and Pilates as a one off or as an ongoing exercise plan. I also have advice on where to find out more on nutrition and medications and what things you should be avoiding if you have reduced bone density.

I look forward to seeing you at the studio soon!

Ruth Smith BSc(Hons) MCSP APPI
Physiotherapist and Pilates instructor

'pilates is an art'

Ron Fletcher was one of Joseph Pilates' original students, and is largely responsible for popularising what Pilates called 'body contrology'. He tells Alice Wignall why he is exasperated that people still mistake the system for an exercise routine

Alice Wignall The Guardian, 10 June 2008

An estimated 12 million people around the world practise Pilates. Conceived and developed in the early part of the last century by Joseph Pilates, a German immigrant who settled in New York, and his wife Clara, it is a series of movements designed to build strength and balance in the body. Devotees include ballet dancers, injured sports people and wiry celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna and Jennifer Aniston.

If only they could meet Ron Fletcher. Whether they know it or not, they are probably only practising Pilates because of him. And a session under his guidance could turn the beliefs of even the most dedicated students of the method on their heads. In Ron Fletcher's world, there is no such thing as "doing Pilates". "Well, it's like Kleenex," he says, referring to the appropriation of Joseph Pilates' name as a brand that describes his system of what he called "body contrology". "'I'm doing Pilates' doesn't mean anything." Nor, apparently, does the celebrated "Pilates breathing". "I read something the other day, some annoying person: 'We use the Pilates breathing.' I don't know what it is! I was never taught any Pilates breathing. All I was taught was you needed to breathe." And what about Pilates' focus on strengthening the core muscles? "It's all 'the core' and 'the pelvic floor'. What are they talking about? We never heard anything about that at the studio," insists Fletcher. "What we got was, 'Butt, stomach, shoulders'."

The studio Fletcher is referring to is that of Joseph and Clara Pilates. He trained there, first of all while working with the Martha Graham Dance Company, to avoid having to have career-ending surgery on an injured knee, and later, while in recovery from an addiction to alcohol which culminated in him missing the Madison Square Garden opening night of a show that he had choreographed. He represents the first link in a chain that connects the Pilates with the movement based on their work and, as he travels the world, allows students and teachers a once-removed communion with the source itself, not to mention a sharp corrective to some common mistakes about the method.

For example: "The trouble with this work, in general, is that people mistake it for an exercise regimen, and it's not. It's an art and it's a science and it's a study of movement. Many of the people who are so-called 'doing Pilates' 10 years from now will still be doing the same thing they're doing now. They'll never get up to that point of saying, "Whee! Wow!" where you want to shout with joy at what you can do."

That progression to the next level, he says, with a knowing tap to the temple, is all in the mind. "You think about what you're doing. It was Martha [Graham] who said, 'I could put my hand out and I could do this'" - he limply waves his hand about - "'And then I don't have to think about anything. It doesn't matter.' But, she said, 'If I do that'" - he raises his hand like an emperor, one noble line from finger tip to shoulder - "'it's the most important thing in the world that's happening at that moment.' It doesn't matter that people are dying, and that everything is running rampant and that Bush is still alive ... it's that. Well, that's what it takes."

At 87, Fletcher is still handsome, physically powerful and commanding, with a nimble mind and an elegant turn of phrase. He carries the tang of bright lights and Broadway, not the musty air of exercise studios. It is easy to see why generations of students have fallen under his spell. "It's a performance," he says. "Every time you teach, it's a performance. And it has got to hold your students. Having been a dancer, I know how important that is. If I walk into a room with a group of people I've got to get that audience."

After the death of Joseph Pilates, in 1967 (the same year as Fletcher's first AA meeting), Fletcher was encouraged by Clara to teach the method. Wanting a change of scene, he moved to Los Angeles and set up shop above the beauty parlour belonging to Aida Grey - "the beauty maven of Beverly Hills" - in a prime spot on the corner of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard.

It was an almost instant success. "The first people who came were the Betsy Bloomingdales and Nancy Reagans," he recalls. "All those ladies who went to lunch at the bistro and then went shopping. They all came in their Chanel suits and bags to Aida downstairs for the comb-out and then upstairs to work with me. It was the thing to do. But I really had a hard time because they were hard to teach. They were not serious about it. They really didn't quite understand what I was talking about. It didn't mean a whole lot and it was boring me to death. My business manager, who knew me as a dancer, said, 'I just thought one day he's going to march out of there screaming, "Fuck you!"' He was amazed. I was kind of amazed too."

But as news of Ron Fletcher spread - aided by TV slots, magazine columns and the author Judith Krantz, who used the line: "If you're not in Ron Fletcher's Rolodex, you may as well leave town" in one of her novels - so the clientele changed. Fletcher happily name-drops Ali MacGraw, Candice Bergen, Dyan Cannon and Barbra Streisand: "And these were intelligent people and they were performers. All of that group were wonderful students. Wonderful students."

More importantly, as Pilates was withering away in New York, the success of Fletcher in Los Angeles meant that the work underwent a renaissance with his own high profile, and that of his students introducing the method to new audiences. In June 1983, Fletcher participated in a prestigious Los Angeles dance clinic. A key speaker at the clinic was Dr James Garrick, an eminent surgeon and head of the Sports Medicine Department and Dance Rehabilitation Division at St Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco, who, impressed by Fletcher's work, went on to open a Pilates facility at the hospital. Fletcher also devised a development crucial to the spread of Pilates: floor work.

Originally, rack-like machines with ominous names like "the Reformer" were instrumental to the practice. But increasingly invited by out-of-town dance companies, and enthusiasts wanting to arrange workshops near their homes, Fletcher had to devise a way of teaching without the machines. "It was very easy to adapt so much of the Reformer work to the floor. It was all there." At his first workshop, the clients were wowed. "They just thought that was wonderful. By the time I left there I think I had five offers: 'Can you come to Lake Placid, can you come to Cape Cod?' So that's the way my roadwork started, and it spread. And everywhere we'd go there'd be more people."

He does agree that it's better if you have the machines. "It takes some talent to do it on the floor," he says, acknowledging that for the complete beginner, familiarising yourself with the subtle tugs and pulls that make for effective practice can take a lot of concentration, especially with no apparatus to help you feel your way. But then if Fletcher hadn't come up with a way for people to practise the method without needing the equipment, you probably wouldn't have heard of Pilates at all.

And that is why Fletcher is still in demand all over the world - a strange development for someone who never thought he knew enough to teach. But, he says, he remembers the rule that Martha Graham taught him about teaching. "You tell them what you're going to tell them, then you tell it to them, then you tell them what you told them. Then you start over".



Why people find it hard to give up pilates

The recession means that people cut back on lattes - but we find it a lot harder to give up pilates.

By Maria Fitzpatrick, Telegraph, 26 Oct 2011

The nation may have cut back on its latte habit since the big squeeze began, but one addiction – Pilates – is proving harder to give up.

“It’s a very strange thing; we were genuinely expecting classes to dip, but we’re busier than ever,” says Lynne Robinson, founder of the Body Control Pilates empire and one of the UK’s foremost experts. “People are telling us that they’re going without treats like a pedicure or blow-dry, but keeping their Pilates class because it makes them feel so good it’s difficult to live without.”

For those who haven’t had their heads turned by it yet, Pilates is a gentle form of exercise that focuses on controlling the deep muscles that form the body’s “core”. The principle is that everything, from stability to muscle tone, strength to posture, is governed by a cylindrical “centre”, that runs from the navel to the pubic bone, comprising the diaphragm, spine, back muscles, abdominals and pelvic floor muscles.

“It’s a very thoughtful, precise process where you don’t make any careless movements,” Lynne explains, “so you tend to need fewer 'repetitions’ to get results.”

Lynne, who teaches clients ranging from the fabulous (model-turned-foodie Sophie Dahl) to football teams (Chelsea), believes it’s a much-needed psychological (as well as physical) support right now.

“There’s this sense that you may not be able to control your bank balance, but your body is one aspect you can control. We’re all realising we’re going to have to work harder for longer – forget early retirement – so to survive in this climate, we need to be as fit and healthy as possible. It’s a sensible investment, like health insurance, but one that is in itself a powerful way to de-stress.”

One of Pilates’ main aims is to “lengthen you out” – a major factor when so many of us are working long hours, hunched over computers or smart phones in what Lynne calls “a collapsed 'C’ shape”, which compresses the discs and joints.

It’s also a good exercise option for all ages because it’s gentle, supportive and all the movements are done in a controlled way, so it doesn’t stress the joints.

“I hope I’ll be doing it into my nineties,” Lynne says. “I think it should be taught in schools; we’d have far fewer people in hospitals if everyone learnt the basics.

“It can be a bit tricky to get your head around the concept, so some people are suspicious of it, but with a good teacher, many are hooked from their first try.”

“Realistically, not many people have the time or money for three classes a week. You only need about five classes to understand the elements, but then I’d advise people to have a top-up class as often as they can afford, to make sure they’re getting the techniques right, and then practise as much as possible at home using books or DVDs. After all, Pilates is ultimately about empowering people to move correctly on their own.”

balancing the body: how pilates heals

Acrobat Suzy Barton nearly died when she fell 20ft during a show. But Pilates got her back on her feet – and now she's helping others to do the same.

By Sophie Morris, The Independent, 28 October 2008

One moment Suzy Barton was sailing through the air in the Millennium Dome, suspended from a giant helium balloon to perform a tricky aerial stunt for the delight of the crowds below. The next she was plummeting towards the Dome's concrete floor. "As a gymnast you think you can somersault your way out of anything," she says. Instead she hit the ground within seconds, shattering her left foot and much of her right, smashing her pelvis, breaking her back in several places and narrowly escaping death.

"With the helium balloon, you have this feeling of weightlessness," she says, eight years after the accident in 2000. "But when the pins came away I went down like a ton of bricks. I hit the floor almost instantly. I landed on the balls of my feet, folded over the harness and slapped the floor. I actually heard my pelvis smash."

Despite the extent of her injuries, Barton knew at the time that it could have been much worse. The act involved flying between a number of high walkways and towers, and the accident occurred at the beginning of her performance. They were running late because the harness had been changed for a new one between shows, and it was a rush to get Barton ready to go. So they decided to skip the first high bridge she was to dive from, and to start from a more modest height instead. Her first, gentle flight passed without a hitch, but a sudden pull upwards from the balloon proved too much for the faulty harness. The pins holding her in place were tugged out of their sockets and she was no longer supported by the balloon. "Luckily I was upright," she says. "If I had been somersaulting I could have come down on my head." The other stroke of luck, if it can be considered luck, was that Barton fell six metres. The immense canvas of what is now the O2 Arena reaches up to a height of 35 metres.

Barton was trapped inside the tight corset of the harness, and after her feet crumbled, her body snapped shut like a clam shell. "Your subconscious behaves weirdly in these situations," she says. "I kind of knew I was screaming, and then my head thought, 'OK, this isn't helping. Shut up.'" She propped herself on to her side, still spliced almost in two by the restrictive corset.

Anyone listening in to Barton's remarkable story, here in the bar of a west London health club, would have difficulty believing it. Her tiny frame looks in peak physical condition, as you would expect from someone whose body is their work. Barton used Pilates to aid her recovery from the horrific injuries and is now a teacher, drawing on her own trauma to help rehabilitate other people who have sustained major injuries. Amazingly, she'd only had one other accident in a 16-year career, when she broke her ankle at the end of a two-year run travelling around the US with the Barnum and Bailey circus.

After the accident at the Dome, she was rushed to the nearest accident and emergency. She was given x-rays and MRI scans and learnt she faced at least two months in hospital. Soon she was transferred to St Thomas's in central London, where the foot specialist Mark Davies set about piecing her fractured feet back together. Of 26 bones in each foot, Barton had about 19 breaks in her left foot and another handful in her right. "I did think, 'Why aren't I wearing trainers?'" she recalls. She was in constant pain for three years following the accident; high-impact activities are still out of the question. "The ends of every bone were smashed apart. I have no covering of cartilage on any of them. If I jump, I land straight on to the bone."

It's a miracle she can walk at all. After two months in hospital she went home, but was practically housebound, still unable to bear her weight on her feet. A supportive boyfriend and friends and family got her through those first months. "It was a slow process. Even going out to the pub was a no-no. It changed my life a lot because I used to have an active social life and be really sporty. I was very frustrated. I got tired really easily and felt shattered all the time."

She was also at the top of her career game, had six months of future work planned and had started getting into choreography. "Because I've worked all my life since I was 16, I even felt guilty for lying around and doing nothing. I had six months of not being able to do very much and it was quite tough. But it was best to stay in. If I went out and fell over, I would land on my bottom. My pelvis was so sore, and I couldn't jerk my back to stand myself up." Despite the constant pain, which she describes as "nagging background pain, like a toothache", Barton's body rejected strong painkillers like morphine and codeine, so she made do with paracetamol.

The breakthrough came after regular physiotherapy and 10 sessions of hydrotherapy, which finally got her left foot moving and able to bear weight. "After that, I got my confidence back," she says. She joined the Pilates studio at her friend's physiotherapy practice, started swimming and joined a gym – anything to get strong again.

Barton is strikingly positive, and says she has never been depressed, but she did have some counselling to exorcise her anger. Had the harness been properly welded, she might still be performing today, instead of relying on the £510,000 compensation payout – the biggest to a UK performer in history – to pay her ongoing medical bills. She has never been back to the O2, but has flashbacks to the accident. Two years ago she stayed in a hotel with a glass lift that made her incredibly anxious. "I felt panicked all holiday, but it was just part of dealing with the trauma."

Ultimately Barton's accident led to the end of her relationship. She and her former boyfriend remain close friends, but her injuries meant they developed in different directions: he stayed social and active, while she had to build a new life.

In 2002, she signed up to a Pilates teacher-training course. Her own experiences of chronic pain help her to empathise with clients; but her amazing success in rebuilding her body masks the long-term consequences of the accident. She has frequent joint problems and is worried about arthritis, her long-term medical prognosis. "There are always going to be issues," she says. "I am never going to be the person I was 10 years ago. I loved performing, and hearing the audiences gasp when you first appeared was a real high, but I feel that Pilates has helped me grow in a really positive way. I get something back from the people I help."

a guide to pilates

* Pilates is a method of maintaining physical fitness through performing a series of postures that focus on the body's "powerhouse" – the abdomen, lower back, hips and bum. It addresses posture and postural balance, and works at muscle tone.

* It was developed by Joseph Pilates during the First World War, to rehabilitate returning veterans and work on their mental as well as physical health. He ran a studio in New York during the 1960s frequented by dancers and actors who were devotees of his techniques.

* The "Pilates Principles" condition the entire body through proper alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing and flowing movement. The ultimate aim is for the mind to correct physical imbalances as the body moves unconsciously, by training the mind to work with the body and to carry it correctly.

* Celebrities who use Pilates include Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and Madonna, and even Martin Amis, John Cleese and Ian McKellen. Belinda Carlisle believes that she has grown over two and a half inches in height thanks to eight years of Pilates.

* One million Brits swear by Pilates, but trouble is brewing between the couple who brought it to the UK, Lynne Robinson and Gordon Thompson, of Body Control Pilates. The pair have sold 4 million books and DVDs, but Robinson now wants to oust Thompson, who wants to promote the use of Pilates machines; Body Control advocates matwork.

celebrity devotees: testimonials from some famous devotees...

The list of celebrities who do Pilates is almost endless, from Liz Hurley, Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna to Martin Amis, John Cleese and Ian McKellen. It would almost be quicker to compile a list of celebrities who don’t do Pilates.

Here is what some of them of them say about it:

'I have been going for 13 years... How do I measure the success of Pilates? Certainly, I emerge with a tremendous sense of wellbeing, and even if I do call at the coffee shop for a croissant afterwards, I still feel my health has been served. I remain active and relatively agile.
Joan Bakewell, writer and broadcaster, on the secret of her health and agility at the age of 70 - from a recent article in The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1343883,00.html

'These [Pilates] exercises are really very necessary when you do a lot of sitting… They keep you flexible enough to pull on your socks as you get older… When I get out of the car now, I don't go arrggghhh…'
Martin Amis, novelist and twice-a-week Pilates devotee

'I do Pilates four or five times a week. The benefits are subtle, but it increases your flexibility and really tones you up. It also straightens your spine and improves your posture. In the past eight years, I've grown more than two and a half inches (6cm). I am 5ft 7ins (1.70m) and I am very pleased with that.'
Belinda Carlisle, singer and pop icon

''Now I have muscles of steel and could easily deal with giving birth.'
Hugh Grant, actor and film star

'I have done every diet in the book over the years. What made the big difference was the exercise. Now I do a lot of walking, Pilates and some running and swimming.'
Lorraine Kelly, breakfast TV presenter

'I'm a Pilates person. It's great. I had a hip problem. I had a chronic back, a pinched nerve and a hip problem and it's completely solved all of it. I love it. It makes me feel like I'm taller.'
Jennifer Anniston, TV and movie star

'I've been using Pilates for many years. It's the best system I've found for isolating and strengthening individual muscles without stress to the joints.'
Patrick Swayze, movie star

'Pilates is the only exercise programme that has changed my body and made me feel great.'
Jamie Lee Curtis, movie star

'What do I like most about Pilates? 'The fact that I can really feel my body working. I might do 250 crunches but my body is so used to them that I don't really feel them. With Pilates, I can really feel [my abdominals] even if I only do six or 12 repetitions.'
Joan Collins, actress and writer, who first started doing Pilates over 20 years ago

'You have turned me into a Ferrari; my husband thanks you.'
Ruby Wax, actress, writer and TV personality, to her Pilates teacher

'It helps with a lot of injury prevention. I'd recommend it to anyone.'
Elena Baltacha, British tennis player

'Athers suggested I try daily Pilates exercises. He swore by them.'
Andrew Flintoff, England fast bowler, on the advice he got from Mike Atherton, former England cricket captain, on how to tackle his back problems. Flintoff took the advice and was soon back to fitness and form.

'Lying down doing breathing exercises for one and a half hours a day is not easy. But I believe it is making a difference.'
Seve Ballesteros, the Spanish golfer with a chronic back problem

'I don't like to waste time. I want to spend it doing the best possible thing for me. Pilates has given me the greatest returns. It sucks your butt up, tones the legs and shoulders. Nothing else gives you definition like it.'
Lucy Lawless, best-known for portraying Xena, Warrior Princess fame

'Pilates is not just for the fit. It is wonderful for injuries. My damaged shoulder was taken in hand, special exercises prescribed, attentive care always available. A younger member of our group recently had a hip operation and Pilates helped her recovery; another broke a leg and arrived for classes encased in plaster. Already she's back on her feet. I stop short of making medical claims. I merely report what I have seen.'
Joan Bakewell, writer and broadcaster, on the secret of her health and agility at the age of 70 - from a recent article in The Guardian.

try pilates for yourself: pilates classes in Surbiton, Surrey

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