Karen Hall, June 2020

There’s never been a more important or challenging time to take care of our own and each other’s health as now during the coronavirus crisis. Even as the lockdown gradually eases, social distancing and shielding looks set to remain a feature of our lives for some time to come.Now looking after ourselves is also looking after each other. Our wellbeing is everyone’s wellbeing, staying apart to stay well, a strategy of caring for others. And so, with doctors, nurses and essential workers, their health is our health. This is surely a strong message for our time. How do we then look after ourselves when during a prolonged period of social distancing, personal and professional help of therapists may not be readily at hand? My first port of call, as a  Pilates teacher is my practice mat – a place where I’ve always been able to find a sense of calm and inner resource as well as capacity to be with whatever is felt. As not everyone is able to access online classes here are some tips for self-care using Pilates movement that I hope you too may find useful to calm feelings of anxiety or if, as is common for many people, you have overstrained your back.

Either sitting or lying: 1. Rest one hand on your belly, the other on the centre of your chest, observe your natural breathing for a few moments, then breathing in through your nose and slowly out through your mouth, become aware of the flow of its rise and fall. There’s no need to exaggerate or force your breath and if you start to feel lightheaded, stop and rest. 2.Then place your hands on the sides of your ribs, feel a gentle expansion as you inhale. Exhale slowly through pursed lips or as if blowing gently through a straw. Rest. Repeat this a few more times. How symmetrical is your breathing? Does one side of you breathe more? Press your hand very gently against the side that seems to breathe less, as you breathe in and slowly out for 2 or 3 breaths. Rest your hands down, observe your breath, how is it now?

After gardening, repetitive movement, heavy lifting, or prolonged sitting or standing in a static posture, don’t ignore back twinges that may be a sign of trouble brewing. Here are 3 MOVES TO REBALANCE & TAKE CARE OF YOUR BACK:

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet parallel and hip distance apart on the floor, with arms alongside your body. Start by gently rocking your pelvic backwards to flatten your back against the floor (exhaling) and then forwards to arch away from the floor (inhaling) – repeat  slowly at least 10 x to ease your back into movement. Then on an exhale push down through your heels down and lift your bottom off the floor (try not to arch your back or push your ribs out). Breath in. Exhaling roll down along your spine to return your back to the floor. Repeat 5-10x. Going up into bridge strengthens the glutes. Rolling down lengthens the back muscles, and develops awareness of the relationship between the abdominal muscles to the back. If you get a cramp in the back of one thigh or both thighs you want to engage your buttock muscles more.

Bring your knees and feet together and open your arms wide to your sides on the floor. Take a full breath in and on the exhale turn your waist so your pelvis rotates as the knees trace over to the diagonal, turn your head to the opposite side – only  turn as far as you are able to keep the back of both shoulders on the floor. Inhale, and on the exhale return to centre using the abdominal muscles in your waist. Repeat to the other side, then  alternate sides slowly and with control 10x.

Roll to your side and come up to kneel on all fours with hands directly under shoulders and knees beneath hips, breathe in deeply, on the exhale unfold and extend your R leg back with the L arm forwards. Inhale, return to all fours. Repeat 8-10x alternating sides. If this is too challenging break it down – just extend one leg at a time. Then just the arms. Add challenge by holding the extended position for 2-3 breaths. Points to watch out for – stay in the middle, without swaying the hips to one side. Keep your head and belly lifted so your back stays like a table top and doesn’t arch or round. Breathe throughout each movement. Lots to work on! Tip for painful wrists – place a rolled towel under the heel of each hand or elbows on top of some blocks.

Staying Friends with your Back during Social Distancing