Yogi Gemma Bellhouse heads to the Body Control Pilates Centre for the Back4Good Pilates class
As an avid practitioner of yoga, Pilates has never really seemed my jive. It’s just slow aerobics, right? Or for people who need physical rehabilitation and aren’t so interested in flexibility?
However, trying all the crazy back-bendy moves for yoga challenges on Instagram has put a lot of pressure on my lower back in the last year. Because, let’s face it, every yogi ultimately wants to be able to bring their toes down to their head in a handstand – with a gorgeous sunset right behind – am I right?
No, this isn’t me
So when I was invited to the special launch of a unique Pilates class: Back4Good, hosted by none other than the Queen of Pilates herself, Lynne Robinson, my thoughts flickered to my aching lower back, and I hustled to the Body Control Pilates Centre in Holborn.
During the meet and greet beforehand, while sipping a blueberry coconut smoothie by @thejuicery, I got to chat with Lynne, the High Priestess of Pilates.
‘I do yoga…I’ve never actually tried a real Pilates class,’ I admit to her, my shame sinking in. But she grinned at me, ‘The difference between Yoga and Pilates, because we get asked this all the time, is the focus.’
She continued speaking about this in her opening address for the event. She quoted the ‘ABC’s of Pilates’: Alignment, Breathing, and Core. This still sounded suspiciously like yoga to me.
We were then treated to a short intro-to-back-pain-and-why-we-care-so-much by renowned UK neurosurgeon Bhupal Chitnavis. ‘What can I tell you about avoiding back pain?’ His tone was friendly but he was oh-so-serious. ‘First, this generation is sedentary – you need to exercise. Staying still is bad for your back.’
He grabbed my wrist. ‘Can I use you as a volunteer?’ I suddenly questioned my decision to sit in the front row but nodded. My eyes widened – he was pinching my nerve. ‘Even just a little pressure, after a long time, can make all the difference. This is what happens when you sit all day – you’re putting extra pressure on your back.’
By this point I was very conscious that I had been sitting all day at my desk. I was ready to try Pilates.
Why Pilates will save your back
We soon found a room with a smiling instructor (mine was a physio named Philippa), and I got comfy on my mat.
After Philippa explained to us that we needed to relax – as anxiety (as well as sitting still) is a catalyst for back pain – we laid down with knees propped up and heads on pillows. Once comfortable, we proceeded to go through a few moves that I thought I was familiar with: Table Top, Cat, Cobra…but slooooooowly.
I kept getting reminded not to arch my back (that puts extra tension), don’t look up at the ceiling (that pulls on the neck), don’t push my knees all the way down to the floor (that pulls the back rather than using the hips). And relax… Breathe. Relax even more…and breathe. I was unknowingly being lulled by therapeutic, controlled movements rather than the dynamic, rushed, yoga sequence I get lost in at least twice a week. I think I was corrected in that Pilates session more than most of the others in the room, due to my extreme yoga habits. But, these movements actually felt…nice.
Floating out of the class, I was handed my goody bag with a fab purple @bodycontrolpilates stretch band (watch my insta to see if I can figure it out) and Lynne’s shiny new Pilates bible. Lynne asked me what I thought.
‘You know, I really liked it’, I admitted. ‘It was super informational and made me slow down. I had to think about moves that I usually rush – and maybe I’ve actually been doing them wrong.’ ‘That’s it’ she said triumphantly. ‘The difference is in the precision.’
A couple hours later and I’ve already sent my sister the info from Lynne’s bible on Pilates postnatal exercises and been playing with my new stretchband – this yogi may have just been converted.
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