Yoga and Pilates are low-impact forms of exercise, so injuries are uncommon. However, it's important to find a qualified teacher and a class suited to your level of fitness and ability. Instructors are not medically qualified, so you should check with your GP or relevant health professional that it’s suitable for you if you’re recovering from injury.
If you’re fit and healthy, and want to start doing yoga or Pilates, there are just a few things to remember in order to practise safely:
- Yoga and Pilates are not competitive sports, and pushing yourself too hard can lead to injury. Listen to your body, and learn to adjust if you need to. If your breaths aren’t even, scale back your physical practise a little. You’re not racing towards a finish line, and there’s no prize for whoever has the most body aches afterward.
- Having layering items on hand will protect your warm muscles from the outdoor air, which, especially after hot yoga, can feel cold compared to the hot and muggy studio. That dramatic shift in temperature can be uncomfortable, or even cause injury, if you are not prepared.
- Any equipment you use in a Pilates class is a tool, and it won’t do the work for you. Your progress will ultimately depend on how much work you put into each class, whether you’re using a complicated machine like the Reformer, or simple equipment like a Swiss ball.
- If you move too quickly through the exercises, you defeat the basic principles of yoga and Pilates, including strengthening and lengthening specific muscle groups by activating them slowly. Transitioning from one exercise to another too soon won’t give you the best results. And when you rush through the routine, you also run a higher risk of getting injured.
- If you find that you’re comparing yourself to others around you during your yoga or Pilates class, you should bring your attention back to your own body and mind, since one of the benefits is the inward focus and sense of peace it brings.
If you follow this basic advice to stay safe and injury-free, there are lots of health benefits to practicing yoga and Pilates, whatever your fitness level.
What are the benefits of yoga for beginners?
The practise of yoga asanas (positions) develops strength and flexibility, while soothing your nerves and calming your mind. The asanas affect the muscles, joints and skin, as well as glands, nerves, internal organs, bones, respiration and the brain. The physical building blocks of yoga are the posture and the breath. Some of the health benefits of yoga include:
- Cardiovascular system: Yoga poses rely on holding muscle tension for a short period of time. This improves your cardio fitness and circulation, and studies show that regular practise may help to normalise blood pressure.
- Digestive system: Yoga can aid digestion, elimination (constipation) and bloating by increasing the circulation and energy to these areas. Yoga works on a physical level by stimulating the internal organs via various asanas (positions).
- Musculoskeletal system: Joints are moved through their full range of motion, which encourages mobility and eases pressure. The gentle stretching releases muscle and joint tension, and stiffness, and also increases flexibility. And maintaining many of the asanas encourages strength and endurance. Long-term benefits include reduced back pain and improved posture.
- Nervous system: Improved blood circulation, easing of muscle tension, and the act of focusing the mind on the breath all combine to help the nervous system. Long-term benefits include reduced stress, anxiety and fatigue, better concentration and energy levels, and increased feelings of calm and well-being.
What are the benefits of Pilates for beginners?
In the 1920s, physical trainer Joseph Pilates introduced Pilates into America as a way to help injured athletes and dancers safely return to exercise and maintain their fitness. Some of the first people treated by Pilates were soldiers returning from war. Since then, it has been adapted to suit the general community. It requires concentration and focus, because you move your body through precise ranges of motion. Pilates lengthens and stretches all the major muscle groups in your body in a balanced fashion, but it has plenty of other benefits too:
- Improves bone density: While strength training is a known bone-density builder, Pilates also offers surprising bone-building benefits. Bone, like muscle, responds to resistance and weight-bearing exercises. Resistance exercise involves muscles pulling on bone to create tension, which fortifies the bone.
- Burn calories: Although Pilates is low-intensity exercise, you can still burn four calories per minute in a beginner's class. Of course, your exact calorie burn rate depends on your weight, fitness level and intensity, but Pilates, paired with a healthy diet can be effective for those wanting to lose weight.
- Reduced back pain: There’s some evidence to show that Pilates can provide pain relief. The use of apparatus enables someone with back pain to perform exercises with support. Although, for the exercises to be effective, they need to be tailored to the individual and vetted by an appropriately qualified health professional.
- Strengthened core: Core work is a central part of any Pilates class. Pilates is a full-body workout, but it strengthens your abdominal muscles, including the obliques, much more effectively than traditional crunches. It also creates better muscle symmetry and balance to help improve posture.
- Injury prevention: Pilates improves flexibility, increases strength, and improves balance, which can all help to reduce your risk of injury. It’s also an excellent cross-training exercise for runners in particular, as it works the core, and hip joints. Pilates is a low-intensity workout that’s great for switching up your workout to avoid overuse injuries.
- Reduces stress: A good Pilates workout should also include calming, mindful work that focuses on releasing tension. By focusing on connecting your breath to your movement, you allow your central nervous system to drop for a calming effect. These stress-relieving benefits can also translate to better sleep.
Although yoga and Pilates are low-impact forms of exercise, certain people should seek medical advice before embarking on a new program, including those who have recently had surgery, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with a pre-existing medical condition or musculoskeletal injuries. Anyone who has not exercised for a long time or people who are very overweight or obese should also seek advice.