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Strengthening mind and body using ‘Pilates Specialist’ in Essex

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Bored with running on the treadmill or lifting weights? Spotlight reporter Emma Boys investigates Pilates and discovers how a gentle form of exercise can still have amazing benefits.

Olivia Gibson participating in a Pilates Specialist class with Heather Oakes.


EXERCISE doesn’t have to leave you breathless, sweaty and gasping for a bottle of water in order for you to benefit from it. In fact gentle forms of exercise, like Pilates, still have the ability to improve your core strength and flexibility.

In fact, whilst sat at my desk writing this, I can feel the effect of the class I attended at Pilates with Milly at the Women’s Institute in Old Harlow earlier this week.

So how and when was Pilates created? After struggling with rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever, physical trainer Joseph Pilates developed the practice, during the 1920s, to improve his physical strength.

Since then, it’s been claimed that doing Pilates regularly can improve your posture, balance and joint mobility whilst relieving stress and tension.

Jo McGregor, 57, started Pilates in 2016 in hopes of managing her back pain.

Jo said: “I went to my physiotherapist and had some treatment there, but he suggested Pilates because it strengthens your inner core muscles”, proving that even medical professionals support the practice.

It’s clear that Pilates has a genuine effect on those who participate in it, as Jo stated: “It has helped it incredibly and if I don’t go, if I’m away on holiday, I really notice it.”

When asked why she enjoys Pilates over other forms of exercise, Jo responded: “It’s a gentle form of exercising and it does concentrate on strengthening your muscles and working your hips, your joints.

“For me, I find it more relaxing than yoga. I don’t think yoga works the same muscles. It’s also a good social thing as well, meeting different people from different walks of life. It takes your mind away from everyday life, it’s a good place to go and switch off and do your own thing.”

“We get all sorts of age groups there [at her class], we get males and females. Young and old. Because of the way the class is run, it’s very structured”, Jo revealed, despite the societal assumption that Pilates is a female-orientated form of exercise.

Alongside that, age is nothing but a number when it comes to Pilates, as instructors can gauge the lesson to the needs of their students. “If there’s certain things you can’t do, she’ll tell you to do that exercise a different way. It doesn’t matter if you’re eight or 80.”


Pilates instructor Milly Lang-Watts.


Pilates instructor Milly Lang-Watts started her journey with the practice after injuring her back in an exercise class.

“I did a class when I was in my early twenties and I didn’t have good technique. We were doing lunges up and down the room and ended up damaging my back, severely.

“The doctors kept trying to give me medication, but I had severe back problems. In the end, I ended up having a surgery on my spine. I now have a prosthesis disc in my back, so I needed to do exercise.

Milly turned to Pilates to improve the strength she’d lost. She said: “I already did the other classes like the spinning, the pump, but I needed something that was going to strengthen up my back.

“So I started going to Pilates. I also dragged my mum because my mum’s back is awful, so we did Pilates and I loved it! I decided from there I wanted to learn it.

Milly studied a Level 3 Anatomy and Physiology class for a year and realised she wanted to pursue Pilates instructing. However, Milly currently balances teaching Pilates, alongside working in finance and teaching other fitness classes. Looking to the future, she’d like to transition into teaching Pilates full-time.

“Pilates is a lot of things. It is about breath. It is about getting the right position for your body, your posture. When you breathe better, your life is better because your lungs and heart are working effectively.

“For meI am passionate about exercise and Pilates just gives you a bit of everything.”

Pilates Specialist instructor Heather Oakes.

However, Pilates Specialist instructor Heather Oakes revealed that the benefits of Pilates go beyond improving your balance and core strength, explaining that she teaches people with breast cancer.

“20 years ago I didn’t teach anyone with breast cancer. 20 years ago the breast cancer statistics were very different. Whereas now, it’s a massive part of what I do.”

The Helen Rollason Cancer Charity fund the classes that Heather runs for people diagnosed with or recovering from breast cancer.

“It’s a chance to get out of the house for something that isn’t a medical appointment.”

As the classes are catered towards those suffering with or recovering from breast cancer, everyone is in the same position. Participants who may feel uncomfortable attending a gym class, knowing that they’re likely to be the only person with a headscarf on, will feel more at ease.

“In our studio, they all understand what it’s like, the challenges faced, the fatigue, the different layers of treatment involved and the different medications that they’re on.”

Heather stated that the exercises are tailored to each client as there are specific movements some people are encouraged to do prior to radiotherapy and other movements they may not be able to do post-surgery.

She said: “It’s really nice to be able to feel like they’re in control of something, because if you receive a cancer diagnosis you’re then on this rollercoaster of dates and times and appointments that you have no control over.”

“It gives them something to think about that isn’t the diagnosis”, Helen added.

Pilates isn’t just a trend, it has real physical, mental and emotional benefits proving that people should take it more seriously, despite it not being overly strenuous on your body.

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