I’m a Pilates Instructor. I have a body.
But I do not have what would be considered a “Pilates Body”. I don’t really have to explain what a “Pilates Body” looks like, just type the words “Pilates Body” into Google images and see what the internet spits back at you.
I do not look like ANY of those images. Actually, sorry I take that back – there’s a few ‘before and after’ shots on the page, and my body probably does resemble some of those before shots.
In case we haven’t met before, here’s a picture of my Pilates Body (minus my head, which is what happens when a three year old gets hold of the camera!) I know it’s not really important that you know what I look like, but maybe it helps, so here you go:
Check that lack of six pack, that lack of thigh gap, the squooshy boobs in an ill-fitting sports bra (it must have been laundry day!). I’d also really like to thank Miss Three for the shocking angle of this image. You’d never see a Pilates marketing photo from this angle!
In fact, when it comes to Pilates Body internet imagery you don’t even need to type the word “body”, just type “Pilates” into an image search and this is the body you’ll find. Young, blonde, female, long and lean. You’d be forgiven for thinking the only people who can or do practice Pilates are Australia’s Next Top Model contestants.
Why, when we type Pilates, don’t we see more women with bodies like mine? Or images of the 14 year old girl in her school sports uniform doing Pilates to address her scoliosis, or the 50 year old truck driver doing Pilates to recover from his back injury, or the 70 year old woman doing Pilates to keep strong after her osteoporosis diagnosis? And I know we see lots of pregnant bellies in crop tops and “Mummy and Me” Pilates – but those Mums are, by and large, quite “yummy” – there’s rarely any new Mums pictured in beige maternity bras with baby spew down their shirt and dark circles under their eyes due to lack of sleep. It’s all matching crop tops and leggings with bouncy pony tails and no hint of a “mum-tum” at all.
Pilates has an image problem. And the problem is the general public is only being presented with one image of Pilates.
Part of this is due to the fact that Pilates instructors are, overwhelmingly “Pilates Bodies” types – but that is slowly changing – here’s just a selection of a few instructors doing great things to promote body positive Pilates over on Instagram.So hopefully the stereotype of Pilates just being for the beautiful bodies is slowly changing.
But we still have a long way to go – and a lot of that rests on us as instructors to lead the charge. Just as @sixthstreetpilates, @grace.movement.pilates, @pilates.fbg and @sheofdc are doing.
At a women’s health conference I attended recently I was seated next to a lovely Pilates studio owner who did indeed have a ‘Pilates Body’, she was stunning – the workshop we were in was about marketing and naturally we got chatting about marketing our respective studios through social media, branding and imagery. This lovely lady had two studios, and while she said one just ticked along nicely through word of mouth, the second, inner city studio, was all about “the body beautiful”. That was the marketing strategy that drove attendance at that studio.
“It’s all about the body beautiful”, she said, “That’s what the clients want.”
I had to politely disagree. The “body beautiful” is what people who value the body beautiful want. But there are also people who value the “body functional”, the “body pain free”, the “body recovering from pregnancy”, to “body challenged to see what it can perform”, the “body that feels so much more relaxed after this one hour per week to myself”, the “body that just wants to stretch and move”, the “body who likes to hang out with friends in a space that’s not a pub”, or the “body who appreciates mindful movement”.
There are a hundred reasons why someone might start, and continue, a Pilates practice, the least important of which is rock hard abs.
Joseph Pilates, the creator of the Pilates method, wrote a book about his work. He named it “Return to Life Through Contrology*”, not “Return to Booty Through Contrology”. (*Contrology was what Joseph originally called his method, I guess he just wasn’t Kanye enough to personally name it after himself, his protégé’s named the method Pilates after his death.)
Pilates is about moving your body, and restoring it to functional movement patterns so that it can carry you through life. In the words of my lovely friend Taryn Brumfitt, of the Body Image Movement, “My body is not an ornament, it is the vehicle to my dreams”.
So if you have dreams, and you want your body to be strong, flexible and functional, in order to help you achieve them, maybe give Pilates a go. Even if you don’t have (or don’t want) a Pilates Body – you’ll fit in at my studio just fine!
Until next time – Sarah xx
ps. If you are keen to give pilates a go, and you’re close to me in western Adelaide – make sure you check out my “Buy five, get 10” discount – 10 classes for the price of five ($90). To book or check the schedule, click here.
Women ask me the BEST questions!
Since I moved into this field of pregnancy and postnatal wellbeing, the funniest thing has been happening – I now get asked all manner of questions I never thought I’d be asked when I started my OT career.
In one-to-one appointments, group Pilates classes, Facebook forums and even at fancy-pants awards dinners, women start asking me the most awesome questions whenever I tell them what it is that I do.
Here’s a few of the questions I’ve had in just the past week – and my answers.
Q: “I just realised that since I started Pilates, I haven’t needed to wear a Tena-lady anymore when I go running – could that be due to the Pilates?”
A: Yes!! Pilates is awesome! (ps, this lady was talking about Pilates with another instructor – who is clearly awesome – so I’m not blowing my own trumpet here!)
No Tena Lady required!
Q: “If I had a pelvic organ prolapse, would I know about it?”
A: Not necessarily, there are different stages of prolapse, and in the early stages the prolapse is still contained within your body – it’s not until the late stages that “things pop out” of your body – so if something doesn’t seem quite right with your lady parts – get it checked out by your gynaecologist or women’s health physio.
Keep those pelvic organs right where they should be!
Q: I had a C-section, do I still need to worry about pelvic floor rehab?
A: Yes, definitely. It’s not just birth that puts strain on the pelvic floor. Nine months of your little baby bouncing up and down on that collection of muscles will definitely stretch and strain the pelvic floor. Rehab is always recommended after pregnancy – no matter what type of delivery, it may just be a different level of rehab.
Pelvic floor rehab is for all women, no matter what type of birth you had.
Q: What’s the minimum amount of time to wait between pregnancies, from a physical recovery perspective?
This is a tricky one, and we really need to look at it from a functional perspective, rather than on a timeline. It would definitely be advised to wait until any diastasis recti (abdominal separation) is healed and core strength is restored, ditto for pelvic floor difficulties. So you need to be physically “put back together” in order to give your body the best chance of staying strong during your next pregnancy and recovering again post-pregnancy. But women also need to consider how well their hormonal levels have rebalanced, and how well their nutritional stores have recovered. If women are still nutritionally and hormonally depleted when they conceive again, then this will put an added strain on their body during that subsequent pregnancy. This would differ for every woman. I dare say many women don’t get back to being fully functional and balanced before getting pregnant again, even if a year or two has passed since they gave birth, and this can lead to increased risk of further and more pronounced dysfunction through the second pregnancy.
Ready for baby number two?
So there you have it – just a few of the conversations I have with women every day! I truly have an awesome job.
Now over to you. Do you have a burning question? Feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to respond anonymously on my Facebook page in a Q&A post.
Alternatively, you could always join my Body Mind Baby program, which begins in Adelaide on Thursday, March 17. Find out more about it here, or call me on 0432 420 846 if you want to chat about it in person.
Until next time,
Be well and live your best life.
Cheers, Sarah xx
My no alcohol or chocolate for a whole month challenge is done!
And I survived, funnily enough. I know I chose the shortest month of the year, which is kind of cheating, but it’s now officially March and I still haven’t indulged. Talk about going above and beyond. I wonder how long I can go….
In case you were wondering about why I’ve done this challenge, check out this post.
So what have I learned from this challenge?
1. I definitely am an emotional eater at times. The days when I found myself scrounging for chocolate were the days I was tired, worn out and emotional. Usually sometime after 5pm – or “cactus hour” as we call it at home. The start of 2 hours of dinner, bath, bed routine, complete with whinging toddlers and crying babies. Who can blame me for wanting chocolate after all of that??
2. I still have a sugar addiction. I’ve done soooooo much work over the past year or two to eliminate sugar from my diet. I was inspired a fair bit by the work of David Gillespie, of Sweet Poison, and Sarah Wilson, of I Quit Sugar. I know for certain I feel, function and look much better when I’m not mainlining the sweet stuff and I have seriously reduced my overall intake to somewhere between hard core sugar avoider, to using only natural sugars, to the occasional sweet treat here and there. I’m still finding my happy place in this respect. But what I learned from this challenge was that if I was having one of those point 1 days as described above, I would seriously go looking for sugar. As in apple crumble or a bag of mixed lollies, neither of which I’ve had for ages. There was something about removing my sugar vice of choice (chocolate) which made me realise I really was relying on that as a crux in a lot of situations. It wasn’t just a treat, it was usually a mood lifter.
So where to now. Well I’m not about to go and bury my head in a vat of cocoa, but I’m going to be watching with interest as to when the urge next strikes me for a chocolate fix! I’m going to keep my intake strictly to good quality dark chocolate, and I’m going to have a bit more of a play around with making my own.
As for the alcohol, I can seriously take it or leave it, so I’m going to mostly avoid it, but give myself permission to have a glass or two on special occasions.
Now as for March? I’ve been so busy this past week I haven’t really had time to think about what my challenge is for the coming month. But considering I started my pilates rehab instructor training course today, I think a good challenge will be to really delve into that. I’m studying through Polestar Pilates and it’s a seriously intensive course over several months. But for this month, my challenge is going to be this: an hour of pilates practice every day, six days a week, for the whole month. My course requires a LOT of practice hours for certification, so I figure by getting into the habit of regular practice this month, I’ll be setting myself up for a good habit for the coming year. No leaving it all to the last minute and cramming in 50 hours of logbook work in the final month!
Cheeerio February – Helloooo March!!
Did you know that up to 65 percent of post-natal women will experience lower back pain in the 18 months after giving birth?
Or that 45 percent of all post-natal women will experience incontinence within seven years of pregnancy?
What about the fact that 10 percent of women who experience pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy will continue to have persistent pain for two years or more following delivery?
What do these stats tell us? That post-natal injury is normal, right?
No – it just tells us that it’s common. But common does not necessarily mean normal.
What I’m talking about here is not just an issue of semantics. It’s more an issue of acceptance, attitudes and belief.
The post-natal period is an extremely vulnerable one for many women – both emotionally and physically. During this time our bodies are recovering from the enormous strain which has been placed on them over the past 40 weeks or so. I’m not just referring to the struggle to get our flat tummy back (mine was never flat to start with!). What I’m talking about is restoring our posture and alignment after several months of having a changed centre of gravity. Allowing our joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments to return to their pre-natal state after being stretched, pulled and pressurised in so many different ways to accommodate our growing baby and our changing body structure. Allowing our hormonal balance to be restored.
This all takes time (did you know it can take up to 500 days for some tissues to fully heal?), and often the body can’t do it on its own. This is when we have the potential to develop what appears to be a chronic injury.
Because it happens so often, society just accepts it as “normal”.
“Oh you’ve got back pain – yeah, that’s just normal after having a baby.”
I say don’t use the word “normal”.
My mission through my private practice and this blog is to encourage women to challenge this notion that postnatal injuries are “normal”. By giving them this label, we are subconsciously telling women that they should just expect these injuries to occur – “It happens to everyone, just get used to it and get on with life.”
Back pain is common – but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it as normal!
Last year during my post-graduate studies I completed a literature review on the incidence of soft tissue injuries among post-natal women. One of the more concerning themes that emerged in my research was the often dismissive nature regarding these injuries – both from the women themselves and also from their treating health professionals. Issues such as back pain, pelvic pain and diastasis recti (abdominal separation) were often considered to be “normal” post-pregnancy states which would eventually improve spontaneously given time – therefore they sometimes weren’t given proper consideration or treatment early in the pre-natal period. This belief is a concern to me. It tells me that health professionals need to be proactive in the physical rehabilitation of post-natal women. Not only to provide early-intervention treatment or referral to other practitioners, but also to educate women on the difference between “common” and “normal” post-natal injury and recovery.
For the vast majority of situations, these injuries can be addressed, overcome and even prevented – with the right support, treatment and advice.
So please, if you are struggling with one of these conditions and have been told – “don’t worry, it’s just normal, it’ll go away eventually”. Don’t accept that. Demand a treatment option. Seek a different practitioner. Find a qualified Women’s Health Occupational Therapist, Women’s Health Physiotherapist, or Women’s Health trained Pilates Instructor.
If you want to work with me here in Adelaide, you can undertake my one to one OT Core Restore program,
Or if you’re from anywhere else around the globe, you can join my five week online Core Floor Restore postnatal wellbeing program.
Addressing injuries early and appropriately will speed up your healing and recovery time. And that will mean you can get back to “normal” much sooner.
Until next time,
ps. Just in case you want the references:
Gustafsson, J. & Nilsson-Wikmar, L. (2007). Influence of specific muscle training on pain, activity limitation and kinesiophobia in women with back pain post-partum – A ‘Single subject research design’. Physiotherapy Research International, 13(1), 18-30. doi: 10.1002/pri.379
Lee, D.G., Lee, L.J. & McLaughlin, L. (2008). Stability, continence and breathing: the role of fascia following pregnancy and delivery. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies, 12(4), 333-348.
Vermani, E., Mittal, R. & Weeks, A. (2009). Pelvic Girdle Pain and Low Back Pain in Pregnancy: A Review. Pain Practice, 10(1), 60-71.