“Civilization impairs physical fitness” wrote Joe Pilates in Return To Life Through Contrology… that was back in 1945, but never has it been so true as today!
It’s our sedentary modern life and its added comforts of cars, couches and computers, along with ever increasing working hours, that are keeping us in a state of prolonged spinal flexion, and inactivity.
Our amazing bodies are designed to move, not sit at a desk or behind the wheel of a car. The result is muscle tension, pain and stress. We’ve all felt it. I’m experiencing it right now, whilst writing this blog.
Now I could write pages on the physiological reasons why this happens and the ways these prolonged periods of sitting or inactivity are having a detrimental effect on our bodies, our breathing, our stress levels and our overall wellbeing, but, perhaps we’ll leave that for another time.
Right now, what we need is a solution. We need action!
Pain can stop us in our tracks, but mean modern life doesn’t care. It doesn’t let us simply stop and recover and repair our bodies, so instead it’s a couple of pain killers and straight back to work.
This of course does nothing to help the issue and we end up back in those old habits and poor postures, making the situation worse.
In both my private Pilates classes and Pilates retreats I always guide people rehabilitating injuries to ‘be realistic’. Whilst making a grand gesture such as going on a Pilates holiday is a great way to get yourself motivated and on the right track, it’s crucial you integrate the advice and good habits into your daily life.
Here are a few simple tips to help you do just that – to get you moving in your everyday life, regardless of how busy it is, making space for yourself and keeping your amazing and beautiful body happy and healthy.
1. Take time out in your day to move or stretch
This could be as simple as a few basic twists or stretches whilst sitting in your office chair. Perhaps every 30 minutes of intensive sedentary work you can stand up, give the head a gentle pull from side to side, to stretch out the neck. Twist at the waist from side to side. Reach high above your head with your arms and rotate the hands around the wrists.
For those wanting something a little more structured, I’ve included two video clips at the end of this post. They are both only 10 minutes in length, which with a little time management, should be perfect to fit into your morning or afterwork routine.
2. Make yourself the team tea/coffee-maker
While tip number 1 may attract a few strange looks from your colleagues, this one will elevate you to workplace hero. It’s a genuine excuse to get up out of your chair and walk to the kitchen area or even out to the coffee shop – a great way to secure your job and your health simultaneously! Just be sure to swap yours for the occasional herbal tea.
3. Walk the stairs, jump the stairs
Swap the easy elevator for a mini workout by climbing the stairs instead. Start with one or two floors, and progress as you feel stronger. Pretty soon you’ll be leaping sections at a time, feeling full of energy and shaping up your leg muscles in the process.
4. Stretch out the pauses
It may look a tad bizarre, but a few calf raises or twists as you wait in line, or for the kettle to boil, can be a great way to ease tight muscles and relieve tension, without having to head to a local hatha yoga class.
Stand with your back against the wall and place your head against the wall. Take two fingers and push your chin towards your chest as you lengthen the back of your neck up the wall. Hold for a mere 10 seconds and reap the benefits of a tension free neck.
5. Don’t forget your feet
Even whilst sitting remember that you have feet! Make sure your chair allows you to place your feet securely on the floor, hip width apart. If they don’t quite reach then place a box or stool beneath them to connect with.
There are so many things that you can do to make your workstation back friendly. Start with finding a chair that supports your bottom and your spine, or even spend an hour each day sitting on a Swiss ball. Look for a ball that allows you to keep the feet hip width apart and 90 degrees behind the knees. This will keep your core engaged as you work.
6. Breathe on the tube, or in the car
Commuting and travelling are great opportunities for a little pranayama (yogic breathing) practice. Even some simple deep breathing or counting of breaths in and out can help reduce anxiety and flush the body with oxygen, which is great for reducing muscle tension and also for keeping the body and mind stimulated and energised.
The best thing is that this can be done at any time and no one will know that’s what you are focusing on. Try a few focused breaths during your next boring meeting – unless of course you are the one speaking.
7. Bare feet are best
Now walking around the city streets shoeless is not advisable, unless hepatitis and tetanus are your thing, but try and spend some time in the house shoe free. Let the feet work as they’re designed to do. The rest of the time be as practical with your footwear choice as style allows. You’ll be surprised at how much knee, back and hip pain is directly linked to the function of your feet. That goes for you lucky hot-climate folks too – sandals all day, everyday is a recipe for creaky hips and knee pain.
This one is simple, yet so often overlooked. Your muscle tissue is made up of around 75% water, so it’s no wonder that dehydration will bring cramps, aches and pains directly into the legs, and larger muscle groups of the body, leaving you feeling tired and slow. So take a bottle to work with you. Not only will refilling your bottle help to save the environment, but it will allow you to monitor your fluid intake through the day. Aim for 1–1.5 litres per day. Watch out for sugary juices and drinks containing caffeine. Good old-fashioned water is best, and can always be livened up with a little sliced cucumber or ginger.
These two videos were both shot on location at our Pilates Retreats.
The first is a series of gentle movements designed to mobilize and lubricate the joints as well as switch on the deep stabilizing muscles of the spine and pelvis:
For those looking for something more physical – to maintain a strong and flexible body – give this video a try. This is the perfect workout for those days when your schedule just doesn’t allow time to make it to class or hit the gym:
I hope these tips help. Feel free to pass them along to others in need. I’d love to hear how they’re working out for you, so please leave a comment below or on our Facebook page. Let me know what you think of the video clips too. My goal here is to empower as many of you as possible to be able to look after your bodies, so any questions or requests for other clips that may help are welcomed.
About the instructor: Jamie Isaac
|Jamie enjoys many aspects of the fitness and exercise profession, but his passion is Pilates (closely followed by surfing!) Jamie is currently teaching workshops all over the world, including weeks in Bali, the USA, England and Fuerteventura. A former international trampolinist and a graduate in Physical Education and Sports Sciences, Jamie practices and teaches Pilates as more than just a set of physical exercises. By incorporating body and mind he finds the classic Pilates method benefits all aspects of life. Jamie enjoys passing on his knowledge of Pilates, helping others to relax and progress, and teaching in specialist areas such as injury rehabilitation, specialist referral and coaching other sports professionals and enthusiasts. Jamie is the founder of Azul Yoga & Pilates Retreat and Fluid Art Pilates.