I miss you.
Download the app
Fitness memberships, workout classes, wellness services, beauty appointments and more.
If you’re like just about everyone I know right now, all this time at home has you wondering how you’ll keep up with your workout while your favorite gyms, yoga studios, and other exercise emporiums are temporarily closed. And if you take a step back, turn inwards, you might just realize that this might be the perfect time to consider a new type of workout—an exercise that you were always too intimidated to try. Maybe one that tests your abs, puts your core to work, gets your body into a posture you've never even considered, and teaches you how to inhale and exhale through anything...
For me, Pilates is that workout. At a skinny 6’4”, I’d given up hope that I’ll ever touch my toes, “muscle” isn’t really a word people use when describing me, and double-leg stretches sound more like something I'd do before getting out of bed instead of part of a home workout—so learning about Pilates exercises gives me a newfound sense that those goals are actually achievable.
Beginners like me often pronounce it wrong (typically, a variation of “pirates”), and at first glance, the exercise equipment looks like medieval torture devices more apt to draw and quarter me than whip me into shape. (Editor's note: I will confirm this as that is how it appears to me as well.)
The Pilates method doesn’t date back to the Middle Ages, but it is an older methodology, practiced for more than 100 years since its founding by Joseph (you guessed it) Pilates. He called it “Contrology” to denote controlled movements that, when performed properly, can do wonders for your flexibility, tone and build muscle, strengthen inhale and exhale practices, improve core strength, balance, and endurance, and assist with proper posture. It’s now taught and practiced across the globe, with instructors devoting over 500 hours to their certification.
The family of Pilates styles features two main methodologies:
Classical preserves the original method invented by Joseph Pilates—the traditional repertoire, sequencing, and equipment progression. For the purists out there, this is THE way that Pilates was meant to be taught.
Contemporary blends Classical with other disciplines like yoga and fitness training, incorporating modern Pilates equipment as well as props such as foam rollers and balls. This system operates from a thorough understanding of the traditional repertoire of the classical system, supplemented with a modern-day understanding of kinesiology and often more creative, less regimented, forms of movement. As a veteran instructor I know put it, “Think jazz improv rooted in classical music understanding.”
Both Classical and Contemporary Pilates incorporate specialized equipment such as the Reformer, Tower, Cadillac, Arc Barrel, and Wunda Chair. But don’t call them machines! Seasoned Pilates aficionados refer to them as “apparatus,” the term Pilates himself used to describe the unique equipment Pilates requires.
Which style you choose is up to you, but the overall goal is the same: core and abs strength, spinal flexibility, balance, and generally improved health for your entire body and mind.
You don’t need a Pilates Reformer to build abdominal muscles and improve your breathing techniques from your living room, but if you’re new to the discipline, having some expert instruction can go a long way toward making sure you’re doing it right and avoiding injury while getting the core-strengthening exercise you want. Creative businesses are providing a slew of ways for their clients to keep up their fitness routines at home, and many offer video-on-demand and live-streaming classes. You can find them through the Mindbody app or on Mindbody.io—search for terms like “virtual,” “on-demand,” and “live stream.”
Seek out a studio and instructors that are BASI, STOTT, PMA, or otherwise certified, with a comprehensive 500 hour+ certification. They can introduce you to the repertoire in an informed and educated way, one where you can keep your body safe and supported as you come to learn the expansive nature of the system—some call it the “Pilates secret.” There are also lots of Pilates fusion classes out there, which may be a great place to start if you have a yoga background—these classes focus on simpler movements. For those, you'd look for instructors with an AFAA or NASM certification and a Pilates specialization.
You’ll probably need a few key props to start practicing these core exercises at home, such as a mat (usually thicker and larger than a yoga mat), a few light weights, and some resistance bands. As you grow into your practice, you may graduate to more specialized pieces like the magic circle (an exercise ring made of flexible metal or rubber). Also important for Pilates exercises is an open mind, a deep inhale, a fluid exhale, and of course, your glutes.
Grab your props and pull up a video from one of the Pilates studios on the app, or sign up for a live streaming class—and before you can say “dorsiflexion” you’ll be performing single leg stretches, teasers, and pelvic curls in the comfort of your own home. With well-educated instructors that are skilled in teaching mat work (the most advanced form of Pilates), you can start to break down the basic principles of the Pilates system.
Before you can say “dorsiflexion” you’ll be performing single leg stretches, teasers, and pelvic curls in the comfort of your own home.
Trying a new workout at home can be ideal because it builds your confidence and gives you a chance to get the hang of it before showing up to an in-person class. Because, let’s face it—not all of us want to be the fresh face in class, mistaking a Reformer for a rowing machine.
Have you been feeling it? The big emotion floating around the last few weeks is the Big Anxiety. Coupled with the stress of what the COVID-19 pandemic has bought for millions of people, disturbed wellness routines, and worry, we have a recipe to create massive damage to ourselves.
Adjusting to the new normal, with social distancing practices in place and adapting to precautions and routines, may be the root of even more anxiousness for many as we’re navigating uncharted territories.
During times of high stress, our bodies experience a physiological strain, where essentially everything from our heart, muscles, blood, and energy have to work harder than needed in order to keep functioning at a minimum. Our body’s natural processes, like breathing, can get compromised, lessening the healing functions of the nervous system, and overworking our adrenal system. Stress management is almost non-existent. This overtaxing of the body disrupts the natural flow of energy and resources, and puts us in something known as the “fight or flight” mode. In this mode, we are constantly deciding if there is some kind of real danger and how to survive it. We feel these signals when our heart rate and blood pressure rise, our stress responses like sweating and either constricted or super fast breathing occur, and our feel-good hormones become compromised.
As we process anxiety, not only do we mentally and emotionally feel the repercussions, we also physically confuse our systems that are doing their best to naturally heal us. Staying in a state of continued anxiety with an overactive sympathetic nervous system can be incredibly damaging to your health, even if it is a small amount of stress that collects over time. Stress suppresses our immunity, digestion, deep breathing, disrupts sleep, and eating patterns, impacts mood, energy levels, and much more.
Studies show that over 50% of adults are essentially holding their breaths. They do a shallow type of breathing known as thoracic breathing, where you breathe lightly into your chest instead of into your diaphragm. For example, notice how you’re breathing right now. You’re likely holding your breath to some extent and you’re probably not breathing much at all. If you’re asked to partake in a deep breathing exercise now, you’ll puff up your chest and shoulders, and empty out your stomach. Guilty?
If you’ve ever seen a baby breathe or the breathing technique of someone in deep sleep, you’ll notice that their bellies rise and fall; the oxygen goes directly into a natural deep belly breath. Adults, however, have become acclimated to holding our breaths without meaning to. When we can slow down and practice deep breathing, we send physical and neurological signals through our entire body that asks us to rest.
The great news is that there are easy breathing exercises we can do at home that do not take a lot of time or effort. An incredible tool that anyone can use in times of high stress is remembering to inhale and exhale. Yes, breathing. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended breathwork not simply as an immunity building tool, but as a way to balance emotional and mental wellbeing. Deep breathing and other breathwork improves the body’s overall functions; improves the respiratory system, builds protective mucus in the nose, oxygenates and blood and brain, improves digestion, alkalizes the full body, and much more. Each style of breathwork sends special physiological signals—some ask us our bodies to slow down and chill, to get out of fight mode, and bring us back to equilibrium where our body’s natural healing systems can be activated; some styles of breathwork ask to pump up and energize.
It’s common to find yourself rushing through breathing practices or feel like you need to set aside special time for it. But that’s the point. We get to slow down, and we get to implement these practices even if there are distractions, business, and no perfect zen meditation corners in our homes. We can do these anytime, anywhere.
If you’ve been feeling any small symptoms of anxiousness or stress, now is the perfect time to incorporate some incredibly easy and effective breathwork techniques into your day-to-day.
This breathing technique can be done at any time of the day, for as long as you want. It’s recommended to practice this for at least 30 seconds to start and several times throughout the day. It’s a breath technique to practice before going to sleep as well. As you’re doing this breath, imagine your stomach like a big pump. As you breathe in, you’re expanding; as you breathe out, you’re emptying out.
1. Put your hands on your belly/abdomen area.
2. Take a big breath through the nose and PUSH your hands away from the belly as you breathe in. Expand your stomach as much as possible and try not to puff up your chest.
3. Slowly exhale through the mouth and constrict your belly inwards. Feel free to make a sound with the mouth when you do this.
4. Repeat for a minimum of 30 seconds.
The 6-7-8 breath can be done at any time of the day to calm anxiousness and stress, especially before doing to sleep. It’s a self-soothing technique that helps relax and calm the nervous system. You can do this practice sitting up or laying down.
1. Close down your eyes.
2. Relax your mouth.
3. Take a deep breath in through your nose for 6 full seconds. Count in your head and maintain an even pace.
4. Hold this breath for 7 seconds.
5. Pucker your mouth and exhale out through the mouth with a “whoooooossh” sound for 8 seconds.
6. Repeat this 6-7-8 breath for at least 5 rounds, or as long as you wish.
You can adjust the 6-7-8 counts to accommodate your pace. You can try a 4-5-6 sequence, or an 8-9-10 sequence. Play around with the length of time that feels good for your body. Some people love to sit by an analog clock for the ticking sound to help keep pace; some love to incorporate music.
This is another easy technique that can be done at any time of the day.
1. Breathe in for 4 seconds through the nose.
2. Hold for 4 seconds.
3. Exhale for 4 seconds through the nose.
4. Hold for 4 seconds.
5. Repeat at least 5 times.
You can play around with the timing for 6 seconds, 8 seconds, and so on to see what works best for your body.
These are the top three breathwork techniques to manage anxiety and stress. Plenty of other techniques work on sleep, inner healing, subconscious programming, altered states of consciousness, and more. Play with the three techniques above and see what feels great for you. It’s common to find a sense of calm almost immediately, some gentle tingling, and relaxation! As we’re adjusting to the new normal, let’s all contribute to creating peace both inside and out.