Firing up the cylinders

Anya Hayes doing yoga in Sri Lanka

The idea of going to a Pilates class when you’re feeling low on energy reserves is always an unappealing one. I have been there many times, at the end of a long day feeling like getting out of the house to get to class is a huge feat when you’re tired and warm and cosy at home, or you’re at work and the sofa and a glass of wine is calling. But, the act of moving and doing (or in my case teaching) Pilates never fails to revitalise and you always, always feel better for it. Stretched, lengthened, unfurled, oxygenated. The same is true of any movement. It seems counterintuitive, but, if you’re feeling tired, allowing your body the freedom of movement to massage the internal organs, get the blood flowing and stretch the limbs will always give you a boost. NB – if you are actually feeling under the weather, listen to your body and give yourself some rest and TLC, but if it’s simply tiredness and weariness that you’re suffering from, the body and mind will respond better to movement than sloth, plus you get to congratulate yourself for getting up and doing something, which is a great feeling in itself.

We humans were built for movement, just like any other species in the animal kingdom. It seems like such a waste to neglect the handiwork that went into creating our muscular-skeletal system, with its intricate designs for natural flowing movement. Muscles are designed to be toned and strong and working in perfect harmony, not atrophied and tensed by hunching over desks or sitting in cars. But as an adult the idea of “exercise” becomes infused with ideas of work, chore, slog, something that you “should” do rather than seamlessly love doing without thinking, as part of your daily routine. This is another reason why I genuinely think adult soft play areas/playgrounds should be incorporated into all council town planning!

I found a great titbit in a book that I worked on with my editorial hat on a few years ago called The Source, published by Rodale. Apparently research showed that if you put a running wheel in a mouse’s cage the little fella would run 4 to 5 km a night, and will eventually become a better problem solver than its neighbour with no wheel. I love this image for many reasons, not least wondering what mouse problems there might be that needed to be solved (Perhaps mouse crime solvers…Rastamouse comes to mind, for any of you whose life might be charmed by being able to watch it on CBeebies). But also the notion that movement creates and maintains vitality and gives you not only a physical boost but also a mental one. Movement is a necessity to keep our bodies healthy, it shouldn’t be a difficult thing to try and incorporate into your life.

Leafing again through Joe Pilates’s book Return To Life, he notes “All in all, we do not give our bodies the care that our wellbeing deserves”. Given that this was written in 1945, it shows that us humans haven’t really got any better at this, generations on. He points out this notion by saying that if you just do 5 minutes of movement if you’re feeling tired, you may well feel that at the end of the 5 minutes you crave carrying on, and thereby retraining yourself on a molecular level to become a vital being again. You begin, Pilates says, to reawaken muscles by encouraging more oxygen and blood flow, and therefore also reawaken brain cells, and your whole being is benefitted.

To quote him directly (I love his style, but there aren’t many commas, so take a deep breath…): “Make up your mind that you will perform your [Pilates] exercise for ten minutes every day without fail. Amazingly enough, once you travel on your Pilates ‘Road to Health’ you will subconsciously lengthen your trips on it from ten to twenty or more minutes without even realising it. Why? The answer is simple: the exercises have stirred your sluggish circulation into action and to performing its duty more effectively in the matter of discharging through the bloodstream the accumulation of fatigue-products created by muscles and mental activities. Your brain clears and your will power functions”. So, in a nutshell, movement begets more movement, and a positive glow.

So, if you’re sitting down now, stand up and walk around for a bit, allow your thigh muscles to lengthen, stretch the arms back behind you to open the chest. Roll down through the spine to bring your head below your heart and allow your blood to rejuvenate and give you a healthy rosy flush. Release the shoulders into your back and realign the neck with the spine, eye focus forward. Breathe, deeply and evenly. Really breathe and return to life.

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