Jennifer Whittemore of InnerPillar, a Pilates, Yoga, and Reiki practitioner who teaches in NY at my favorite studio, Lesley Powell's Movements Afoot, came to Pilates by way of rehabilitative exercise for a herniated lumbar disc.
She has an absolutely inspiring article on Lesley's blog, "Backing Into Pilates".
"During my investigation, I came across Joseph Pilates’ original mat series. Pilates was very much a part of the modern dance community, but was not widely known in other circles. After my first attempt at the exercises, I suffered a serious setback. Even though I had always been an active person, I wasn’t very core-connected. I didn’t understand how to use the triumvirate of musculature—the deep abdominal muscles, pelvic floor, and paraspinal muscles—required to stabilize my spine. My low back took over and I strained it as soon as I attempt to perform the hundreds.
I was lucky that I had friends in the dance community who directed me to an instructor with expertise and compassion. I first studied with a dancer and teacher who had extensive experience in Pilates and Body-Mind Centering. Her approach was rehabilitative and focused on helping me stabilize my spine. Cathie Caraker was a caring instructor who encouraged me to keep moving and exploring my relationship to my body. She offered far more than Pilates—she offered movement education, which helped forge a connection with my body that would serve me through many physical passions. Within three months, I was pain free.
It was years later that I decided to become a Pilates and Yoga instructor. The “cure” that I found as a young person morphed into a deep-rooted curiosity about the process of physical transformation. During my back pain episode, friends and family were crucial support systems, but the healing journey was ultimately my own. Pain, in the broadest sense, was an indicator that something needed to shift in my body, mind, and spirit to make way for a deeper understanding and appreciation of life. I had to face my fears and take on new ways of treating my body so that it could repair itself and stay well.
With back-pain clients, I am acutely aware of the distress that comes from living life in constant suffering. I see my role in the process as part inspiration, part expert, and part witness. My work focuses on identifying clients’ pain patterns, strengthening the core and deep spinal stabilizers, and improving whole-body functional movement. My mantra is awareness—when we perceive what is going on in the body, we can relax into our strength. We not only get longer, leaner, and more supple, we begin to move with intelligence. I have seen many clients shift from disability to athletic ability in a few short months."
Pilates is an amazing tool for body awareness and recovery, but as happened to Jennifer if you jump right in without the proper guidance you can strain the exact muscles you are trying to strengthen. So if you tried a class, a dvd, or with a friend and Pilates strained your back or made things worse, I highly recommend that you try it again with a certified teacher who is aware of your issues. It can make all the difference.