Pilates is a system of specific exercises combined with breathing patterns. At its most basic, Pilates exercises develop a strong core, or center of the body. Its integration of the trunk, pelvis and shoulder girdle, along with an emphasis on proper breathing, correct spinal and pelvic alignment and smooth, flowing movement allow people to access each part of the body individually and become familiar with functional mechanics. Because it is a whole-body exercise, it can help to develop a balanced musculature and enhance functional strength.
Pilates is becoming a popular self-care choice among many mindful-movement practitioners, including massage therapists.
As both a Pilates instructor and a massage therapist, I have found that Pilates mat training can be an extremely useful self-care tool. This is because simple core stability training, flexibility training and self-administered myofascial release work can address and improve joint instability, general weakness, poor posture or excessive tightness.
Pilates can help to extend a massage therapist’s career and decrease the wear and tear on her body. I’ve had massage therapists as clients and have found the combination of Pilates and massage to be extremely helpful. As a therapist, you are constantly using your body in ways that can create muscle imbalances and wear and tear on the joints over time. To keep the body healthy and your career on track, maintaining your own strength, flexibility and balance is extremely important.
Pilates helps to decrease stress on joints by creating strength and support for the physical work of massage. And the even musculature Pilates provides greatly decreases the chances of developing imbalances and misalignments that can lead to pain or a career-stopping injury.
Massage therapist self-care
Here’s a great warm-up exercise massage therapists can do before a session. It also increases abdominal strength and torso and lower-back stability.
1. Begin with your legs in tabletop, knees bent at a 90-degree angle, with lower legs parallel to the floor (Figure 1).
2. Inhale: Prepare for the movement as you reach your arms toward the ceiling.
3. Exhale: Lower your arms and roll your head and upper body off the mat. Roll up only as far as the bottom tip of your shoulder blades.
4. Inhale: Pulse your arms up and down, as if slapping water, for a count of five, keeping your torso from moving and your arms straight (Figure 2).
5. Exhale: Pulse arms for five counts.
6. Continue to inhale and exhale as you pulse your arms for up to 10 sets (100 pulses).
For a more challenging variation, straighten your legs while pulsing your arms.
Also, read “Strong Therapists Build Strong Careers,” by Fitness and Strength Training for Massage Therapists’ Carole Freeman, L.M.T., at www.massagemag.com/strongtherapists.
Note: This article was featured in the June 2011 issue of MASSAGE Magazine.
Nora St. John is education program director for Balanced Body (www.pilates.com), provider of Pilates and mindful-movement equipment and education. She is also a certified massage therapist and co-owner of Turning Point Studios (Pilates) in Walnut Creek, California.