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More than just a stretch: How Pilates is easily misunderstood

By Sheree Hoddinett

I’m the first to admit that a few years ago I had no idea about Pilates, what it was and what it involved. I knew absolutely nothing about it and couldn’t even really tell you anything about core strength or even actually locating my core (you think you know, but you don’t!). Fast forward to June 2021 and I find myself signing up for a Reformer Pilates class and wondering what I was about to get myself into. Why I was there boils down to hip/back and knee pain brought on by previous injury, years of boot camp and having kids. After checking in with my doctor, it was suggested I give Pilates a shot.

While the everyday person likely thinks Pilates is just a stretch and a giggle, let me tell you how oh so wrong you are! There is definitely stretching, most certainly laughter and a full body workout. It’s not the type of exercise that sets your heartrate through the roof, but it does work your muscles, in ways you never imagined. One year on from starting my Pilates journey, I have noticed big changes. I found my core and know how to use it (most of the time) and I actually enjoy going to the class. A big shout out has to go to my fellow 6 am class members - the best group of ladies who know how to laugh, share and provide a great start to the day when everyone else is still in bed.

Tula Pilates founder and instructor Whitney Hedges is a big advocate for Pilates. Not just because she runs a studio, but due to her own experiences and wanting to share something she loves with others.

“I was recommended Pilates by my doctor because I have scoliosis,” she says. “The more I practiced Pilates, the more I felt my body changing. The pain from the scoliosis subsided, my posture was no longer slouching, and my body ached less. I felt stronger than I had ever before, even after years of HIIT style workouts. I started to appreciate and love how Pilates changed my body and mind, I felt more connected to myself - reducing my anxiety and depression.”

Opening the studio was a long-held dream and a chance for Whitney to preach what she loves most, as well as showing her two young daughters that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Whitney admits watching everyone accomplish their goals and gain strength, both physically and mentally, has made her appreciate her role even more.

“Being a small studio, we all get to know each other and celebrate together,” she says. “Watching friendships forming and the community we have created is amazing! But when someone asks for a challenge, I always do my happy dance and acknowledge their achievements in class.”

So, what is it about Pilates that sets it apart from other exercise? What is it good for and what are the benefits? If you ask Whitney, “in one word – everything.” She highly recommends Pilates to anybody and everybody because it can be easily modified to suit the individual and is great for:

  • boosting energy levels

  • improving balance

  • amazing for spine health (ask the local chiropractors)

  • improving sports performance

  • reducing injuries

  • aligning the body – improving postural muscles – which will eliminate tension, headaches, backaches, neck aches and other aches and pains.

  • increasing mind-body connections – reduces anxiety and depression, helps with lymphatic drainage, deeper muscle activation – you will find muscles you have never used before. 

“Pilates is not just a fitness fad or exercise, it's a way of living,” Whitney says. “Performed correctly and with proper guidance and assistance, you will feel and see the difference of your body changing. Joseph Pilates himself quotes ‘in 10 sessions you'll feel the difference, in 20 sessions you'll see the difference and in 30 sessions you'll have a whole new body’. We have a lot of members who don't like the gym environment or boot camp style workouts. Pilates is more gentle on your body but can be challenging at the same time.”

I’ll be open and honest here and admit that I thought Pilates would be easier than what it is. I have days where I struggle, and I think that has a lot to do with the mind as well as the body. When you first take a look at the reformer itself, it’s hard not to view it as a device of torture. But with everything related to physical movement, you just have to take it at your own pace.

I think a lot of people compare Pilates with Yoga and assume it's slow stretching on a machine,” Whitney says about the general consensus of it being ‘easy’ to do. “There is an aspect of stretching on the machine, however Pilates is extremely challenging. I would say it's harder than a heavy weighted style workout because sometimes, the lighter springs, make the exercise harder. There’s also the element of mindful movement - you have to stay present, stabilising, activating, breathing etc. Pilates will change your life.”

As a Pilates convert myself, I think I agree on this one. Maybe I’ll see you in the studio, sometimes we have a free space in the 6am class if you’re lucky!


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