Could these Pilates moves stop you catching a cold?

Experts believe Pilates can boost immunity. Here are the top cold-busting moves you should know about

Behold, cold and flu season is almost upon us. There are 200 different types of the dreaded cold virus knocking around, and given that you can catch it from being in close proximity to a sneezer with the virus, or even sharing a handrail, not many of us will escape it this winter.

But now experts believe Pilates classes can help boost your immunity and protect against colds and flu. Famous for improving posture, joint mobility and core stability, Pilates exercises also help to make your lymphatic and respiratory systems more efficient and these are crucial to your immune system.

‘Our lymphatic system is basically our body’s waste disposal system,’ explains Lynne Robinson, Founder of Body Control Pilates and author of Pilates For Life, ‘During normal metabolic processes, cells produce waste products, which need to be removed so that the cells can stay healthy and nutrients can reach the cells. Lymph is the fluid that contains the toxins, so lymph has to be removed and cleaned. Toxins are filtered out by lymph nodes situated all around the body (mostly by our joints). The lymph is then carried by vessels back to the thoracic ducts (just by the collarbones), where the cleaned lymph is returned to the bloodstream.’

Although it has millions of vessels just like the blood system, the lymphatic system has no strong pump to keep lymph moving. Instead, lymph is moved by breathing, walking, intestinal activity, and muscle action. So, adds Robinson: ‘The rhythmic movements of a Pilates session stimulate blood flow and lymph flow. Throughout your Pilates class, as your muscles contract and release, lymph vessels are squeezed and lymph is pushed along and filtered through lymph nodes on its way back to the veins and the heart.’

Pilates breathing is another key factor in good health. One of the first things you learn in a Pilates class is how to breathe better, as most of us breathe far too shallowly. ‘You must create space for the ribs to expand, by standing or sitting tall, then breathe wide and deep into your back and sides, thus maximising lung capacity, says Robinson.                                     
Here she shares her top Pilates techniques for building a better immune system (bonus: you can do them all in your living room):
 
1. Scarf Breathing and The Hundred Breathing
The scarf gives you sensory feedback to help you feel your ribcage expanding and closing with your breath.

Equipment: A scarf, stretch band or large towel

Sit or stand tall and wrap a scarf or stretch band around the lower part of your ribs, crossing it over at the front. Hold the opposite ends of the scarf and gently pull it tight.

 
The Inhalation: As you breathe in, focus on the back and the sides of the ribcage where your lungs are located. Like balloons swelling gradually with air, your lungs will expand and widen the walls of your ribcage. Do not be tempted to force this inhalation as you will only create tension. You should feel the scarf tightening as your ribs expand.
It is not only the filling up of the lungs that expands your ribcage, but also the descent of the diaphragm, lowering into your abdominal area. Therefore your abdominal area will extend outwards.
Try to breathe in through your nose and keep your shoulders relaxed.
 
The Exhalation:
As you breathe out, feel the air gently being pushed out fully as if from the very bottom of your lungs and eventually exit your body via your mouth with a deep sigh. You may also breathe out through your nose if it feels more natural.
Your diaphragm will begin to rise and you should feel your ribcage reactively beginning to close as your lungs empty.
Do not puff your cheeks or purse your lips, as this will tense the neck, jaw and face and waste energy.
Breathe in for up to a count of 5 and out fully for up to a count of 5.
 
2. The Relaxation Position
Use this wonderful exercise to remind yourself of the Fundamentals of Pilates Alignment, Breathing and Centering and also to help you release unwanted tension. It is also the starting position for many of our exercises.

Equipment: A folded towel

Starting position: Lie on a mat on your back with your knees bent, feet hip-width apart and parallel. Have a folded towel under your head to keep your head and neck in line with your spine. Check that your pelvis is level (neutral) and your spine retains its natural curves. Arms are lengthened by your sides or resting on your abdomen. Breathe… wide and full into the back and sides of your ribcage, noticing how your ribs expand with the in breath and close with the out breath.

Action
1. Breathe wide into the ribcage.
2. Breathe out, and gently engage your pelvic floor muscles drawing from back to front and up inside like an internal zip until you feel your lower abdomen hollow slightly (this connects your core muscles)
3. Breathe in and release your ‘core zip.’
 
Repeat but this time; try adding a few breaths as you hold the internal zip before releasing.

3. Chin Tucks and Neck Rolls
There are a lot of lymph nodes around the neck and collarbones so we want to gently mobilise the area.

Equipment: a folded towel (optional)

Starting position: The Relaxation Position, lengthening your arms by the side of your body on the mat.

Action
1. Breathe in, preparing your body to move.
2. Breathe out as you lengthen the back of the neck and nod your head forwards, drawing the chin down. Keep your head in contact with the mat.
3. Breathe in as you tip your head back gently, passing through the mid-position without stopping, to slightly extend your neck. Once again keep the back of the head in contact with the mat as the chin glides upwards; this is a small and subtle movement.

Repeat the above five times and then find the mid-position where your head is neither tipped back or forwards and your neck is neither flexed nor extended. This is neutral, with your face and your focus both directed towards the ceiling.

1. Breathe out as you keep your neck released and roll your head to one side. Again, make sure that you keep your head in contact with the mat.
 
1. Breathe in as you roll your head back to the centre.
    Repeat to the other side and repeat the Neck Roll up to five times before returning your head back to the centre with even length on both sides of your neck.
 
Watchpoints:
– Maintain length in your neck, especially as you tip your head backwards.
– As you draw the chin down, ensure that the back of the head slides along the mat as opposed to simply pressing the back of the neck into the mat.
– Alternate which side you roll to each time you include the exercise in a workout.

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