I’ve lived in Victoria BC for nearly eight months and I’ve been focused on work. I recently decided to take up yoga again to make new friends. I signed up for vinyasa because I like the flow of movement and the comfortable heat – it’s not overbearing. Three classes in, my old back pain flared again. I understood then why, pre-Covid, Pilates teachers spent the most time treating yoga injuries, and why my osteopath had once said to me, ‘I did Pilates so that I could do yoga again.’ I adore yoga and there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with the work, but applying the principles of Pilates can help keep you injury free as you flow through your sequences.
Engage and activate your muscles before you stretch or lift your body
Ever notice how, even in Pilates class, pain can shoot straight into your hamstring when you lift your glutes, or into your back when you bring your legs into tabletop? That’s because you haven’t switched on the bigger muscles in your bum and your abs, and your back and hamstrings are compensating. Before you lift your leg to the sky in downward dog, recruit your glutes. Before you lift your chest up in cobra, switch your abs on. These are the muscles you’re meant to use for more challenging exercises, and then smaller muscles, which are meant to stabilize you rather than mobilize you, don’t have to overcompensate for bigger ones.
The other day, my yoga teacher said when we lifted and stretched our legs, ‘You can feel your glutes kicking in.’ The glutes should be what kick in first before the leg is lifted. Always recruit the bigger muscles as you prepare to stretch or move, and keep your muscles engaged as you transition from one exercise to the next.
Keep your abs engaged as you lift your arms and open your chest
I can spot a yoga instructor at fifty paces because many of them have loads of tattoos and their ribcages often pop a little. This can happen when they stretch into poses like warrior without keeping their abs engaged. Keeping your abs on can move your ribcage into a more neutral position, which helps to protect your spine and back.
Prioritize strength, then work on flexibility
We all want to be able to be that person on Instagram or TikTok flipping into ridiculous poses but strength needs to come before flexibility and balance. Slowly and incrementally work on poses that make you stronger, and then progress to working on sequences for flexibility. Flexibility without groundedness can lead to injury. Why do you think so many people who have overly flexible bodies can often injure themselves? They haven’t worked on strength and stability.
Ditch the shame
One of my Pilates teachers told me that he trains yoga teachers who don’t want anyone to know about their back pain or the fact that they use Pilates to feel better. They heal that back pain by learning how to engage their muscles, strengthen their glutes and abs, reposition their rib cages, and protect their spines.
There is no shame in complementing yoga with Pilates. I have no issues telling people that, as a Pilates teacher, I do yoga. Cross-training and working with other modalities doesn’t just keep you healthy, it makes your life more interesting. I started yoga because I wanted more fun in my life, to make new friends, and to have activities and interests outside of working all the time. When I lived in Toronto several years ago and was still working in book publishing, the only way I was able to make friends was to go to yoga every day.
You can do online Pilates classes on the mat or join a group reformer class twice a week. A minimum of two classes a week is best for getting results and maintaining them. You’ll make your body stronger, improve your yoga practice, and you might make some new friends because you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people. Book a free consultation call with me today to receive a customized Pilates class that meets your needs: https://calendly.com/wellnessbynorah/15min