The new year is always a good time to set goals and commit to a healthier lifestyle and greater fitness. But what if that didn’t have to involve dragging yourself to a sweaty gym, or pounding the pavements in the freezing cold?
A decades-old fitness method could be just the answer: Pilates may have its origins 100 years ago, but the technique is still relevant.
Office working, more sedentary lifestyles and sports injuries can all mean our bodies aren’t quite functioning at their best, explains local Pilates instructor and physio Becca Van Klinken, who is based at the West London Osteopaths clinic, in Shepherds Bush.
The idea behind Pilates is to build up the strength and flexibility in the body to improve posture, wellbeing and help make movement a lot easier.
The calming studio in Vespan Road may be packed with unfamiliar kit – the Reformer, Cadillac and Wunda Chair for starters – but Becca explains the different moves.
“Everybody is different,” she says. “Certain exercises will be really helpful for people who do a lot of standing sports, like skiing, while others are useful for those who spend a lot of time sitting. Many women come after they have had babies, and Pilates can even be done during pregnancy.”
The ominously named Reformer – a low table with a moving section – works on identifying those rarely-used core muscles with a series of exercises moving the body forwards and backwards.
Then it’s on to the Cadillac for flowing cat stretches to open up shoulders and sides, and an exercise called the teaser, which works on core strength and improving posture.
“Getting the precise movement right is the most important thing,” explains Becca, a local mother-of-two. “A slight adjustment to your position can make a difference to using the correct muscle.”
It’s easy to see why the method became popular with dancers after it was developed at the end of the First World War by Joseph Pilates. The German-born Pilates was interned in a hospital on the Isle of Man, where he attached springs to the beds and created exercises to help rehabilitate patients who couldn’t walk.
After opening his own studio in New York in the 1920s, the method took off with dancers keen to improve their technique or recover after injury. And Becca points out by using the correct muscles and building their strength, Pilates can help prevent injuries in future too.
In fact, some of the West London Osteopaths’ most committed clients are in their 80s – and credit their fitness and flexibility to regular Pilates sessions.
The clinic will this year celebrate 33 years since opening with a newly revamped studio. And founder David Tatton says the method is an integral part of the practice.
“People might have pain and self-refer to us, or be referred from their GP or another osteopathy practice,” explains David, who is also chair of the London Osteopathic Society.
“Once we have done a thorough examination, we develop a treatment plan. With a back problem, it could be three to five treatments before the symptoms are under control, but we would also develop techniques to prevent the underlying problem coming back.”
“We work with families and their children, young adults and older people – the whole spectrum, whether you are in an office, a taxi or on a building site,” adds David, who retrained in osteopathy after originally studying computer science and working at IBM.
David admits that January can be a time that people make goals to improve their wellbeing, but says that part of his role is to ‘encourage them to take it forward beyond February’. “We all want to have a long, healthy life, and part of that is being able to stay independent,” he adds.
Yoga, massage and nutrition advice are also on offer at the clinic, and David adds that there is a sliding scale of fees for those with a financial need.
Visit the Pilates @ West London Osteopaths website to book a Pilates session.