October is full of awareness days and four of them have a particular significance to us in yoga and Pilates.

  1. Back Care Awareness Week 3 – 7 October
  2. World Mental Health Day 10 October
  3. Bone and Joint Week 12 -20 October
  4. World Menopause Awareness Day 18 October

Bone, joint and back care

Pilates is the class to do if you suffer with or want to prevent stiffness in the joints, particularly in the lower back which many of us suffer from sitting down a lot! The 34 mat Pilates moves that I teach are all designed to protect the back through strengthening exercises for the core (that’s ALL around the middle, not just the abs), and glutes. They also aid joint lubrication and tendon flexibility through lovely and not at all nauseating stretches…

The spine is made of 33 intricate bones – only 24 of which are moveable and supported mainly by a complicated muscular structure. Since it is such a delicate column with a massive responsibility we rely on these muscles to do the ‘heavy lifting’, and THAT’S why we get back pain – weakened muscles and tight tendons…

Pilates moves to help back pain:

The pelvic tilt

We can do this standing, seated or on all fours when we do cat-to-cow.

Chest lift, or half roll up

Much like a slow, low sit up this is designed to strengthen your abs to stabilise the pelvis and prevent lower back curvature through a forward tilting pelvis.

Roll ups

Continuing the half roll up, vertebrae by vertebrae brings the spine into a nice rounded shape, easing out the stiffness, whilst still using the abs.

Roll downs

No surprises here, roll back down to mobilise the spine.

Supine hamstring stretch

You all know this one – using a towel or band to pull the toes towards the head as you lie on your back stretches the hamstrings which can actually pull on your ‘sit bones’, and if tight can be the cause of tilting your pelvis forward again.

Hip flexor stretches

The hip flexor tendons attach at the inside of the back of the pelvis and lower spine, travelling through the body from the front of your quads. If these are tight, guess what, your pelvis is pulled forward at the top, increasing the curvature of your lower back.

Lower back pain is very often the result of weak abs and glutes, tight hamstrings and tight hip flexors – that’s why Pilates focuses on strengthening the core through 100s, leg circles, planks and so on, strengthening the glutes with squats, clam, donkey kicks and more, and loosening the tendons with lunges, knee drops, pulls and trigger point balls.

Mental health and the menopause

While taking any regular exercise, particularly in the fresh air, aids mental health and can reduce stress and some menopausal symptoms, I find yoga especially helpful.

Working to slow the breathing rate, lower the heart rate and actively clear the mind, yoga focuses our thoughts on movement and nothing else.

The low impact of yoga lowers stress hormones in our bodies and increases the ‘feel good’ hormones such as endorphins and GABA. The yoga poses can also aid sleep, as you don’t leave a class feeling wired, but perhaps a little bit blissful and tired.

During menopause (and manopause), we can dehydrate and lose muscle tissue. Taking a yoga class can be a great way of combating these symptoms. As we know, movement and holding poses builds muscle and keeps the joints lubricated. But please do remember to drink plenty of water too…

The emotional response to hormonal changes are often similar to anxiety and depression, so taking time for your self-care to keep yourself physically, mentally and emotionally well is essential.

Personally, even when teaching yoga and Pilates, my mood always lightens – I enjoy exercising with others, having a bit of a laugh at the same time and taking my headspace somewhere more serene.

I teach Vinyasa yoga on Mondays at 7:10pm, Pilates for All on Tuesdays at 10:30am and Pilates Flex on Wednesdays at 7pm. Please book a free trial if you haven’t tried it before, and ask me any questions – I’m happy to have a chat about any of the classes and any of the topics covered today.