Integrating pilates into my yoga practice over the last month at EpicSelf has been the most effective method of pain relief I’ve ever experienced. In this post I talk about how pilates has enhanced my yoga practice and completely eliminated pain. After I got into a couple bicycle crashes in San Francisco about four years ago while training for Ironman triathlons, I was in excruciating pain and seeked out help from every kind of health care provider imaginable. It felt like there was a knife constantly stabbing into my upper back between my shoulder blades and I had systemic inflammation which caused terrible joint and muscle pain.
I started with traditional Western medicine (MRIs, x-rays, blood tests, an array of pain meds…), and when that failed repeatedly I sought answers with physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, deep tissue massage, ART (Active Release Techniques), and naturopathic doctors….but nothing worked until I finally restarted my yoga practice (which my chiropractor had told me to stop after the crashes).
At first I wasn’t really able to get into flow or feel balanced in my body, and it was really hard, but slowly I felt the fluidity and ease coming back into my body as I moved through the yoga poses. Yoga is amazing for creating alignment, detoxing the body, reducing inflammation, clearing out energy pathways, and developing a sense of calm mindfulness. It’s like I was coming out of a fog of pain, inflammation, and toxic buildup, and I was able to stop taking the pain meds. Although I felt infinitely better, I still felt a strange tilt in my sacrum which was extremely aggravated by sitting and caused pain along the entire right side of my body, starting at the sacrum and going up to my neck. Yoga would alleviate it temporarily, especially with certain poses like Warrior I which forced my sacrum back into alignment, but after about a day of sitting it would become twisted and painful again.
Eventually after a year of this strange pain and also experiencing another life trauma, I had just accepted my twisted sacrum, back pain, and inability to sit for any length of time as part of life. I came to EpicSelf with an open mind, but no expectation of being pain-free - which seemed like an impossibility. During the first few days here I was surprised by how difficult the little pilates adjustment were, and I noticed all of the little connective tissues and stabilizer muscles getting stronger. My normal yoga flow had become fairly easy for me, but the integration of pilates changed everything - it was core-focused, used a special, forceful breath to force our stale air and make sure all movements started in the core, and focused on slow movements with proper alignment and technique rather than simply flowing.
We used tools like foam rollers and balls to align the spine and sacrum, and this was the first time in 2 years that I felt my spine returning to a place of alignment - it was incredible!! After about a week of integrating pilates into my practice, I was completely pain-free! My favorite tool is the magic ring (a.k.a. “ring of fire”), which you place between your thighs and squeeze to work your inner thighs...and it burns like fire!! I realized that my inner thighs are connected to my sacrum and lower back, and they need to be activated in order to maintain proper alignment. You can also squeeze the ring of fire between your hands with arms outreached, and this action made my triceps and biceps burn like crazy. So much impact from such a little, unassuming tool. It uses subtle resistance and slow pressure-and-release movements to build strength in the intricate connecting muscles which keep the body balanced.
I can’t believe that all of the health care practitioners and healers in San Francisco weren’t able to recommend the healing power of pilates to me, but I’m so grateful I found it with Amber here at EpicSelf. The biggest lessons on technique I’ve learned from integrating pilates into my yoga practice are to move slowly with intention, keep proper alignment in the hips, keep my shoulders down and shoulder blades pulled together and wrapped towards my heart (this eliminates shoulder and neck pain), activate my inner arc (inner thighs), use my hamstrings instead of my thighs and glutes (especially during bridge pose), move from the core, and always breathe!! I would highly recommend pilates for anyone experiencing pain, especially back pain...you could save a lot of money, time, and disappointment by trying it before all of the other health care practitioners - and you would learn the techniques to be pain-free for life.
Pura Vida and Namaste <3