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Q: Restorative Yoga vs. Restorative Pilates: How does Pilates fit into the growing trend of “restorative exercise”? Is it a relaxation class, like certain types of yoga classes?
A: In general, Pilates is known as a more gentle type of exercise that can bring a sense of calm to the mind and the body. Focusing on the mind-body qualities can help to de-stress, bringing clearer focus and a feeling of control.
When we consider Pilates as a restorative practice, the goal is not just greater mental tranquility, but a body that is able to deal with both the physical and mental stresses of everyday life. Our bodies are meant to be supple, flexible and resilient, as well as strong and stable, but most of the time, effort, stress and pressures cause us to be tight, inflexible and rigid. With Pilates, we can help bring the suppleness back to our limbs and core.
When considering the restorative benefits of Pilates, you can think about the goal of re-establishing proper muscle length, restoring the joint function and range of motion in all directions or planes, based on the structure of the joint and what it is designed to do. By using targeted small movements, we can maintain the resiliency of the soft tissues (muscle, and connective tissues like fascia) throughout the entire motion, and this focus on dynamic stabilization and mobilization will make everyday movements less taxing on the system.
A restorative Pilates class could use exercises that are based on the foundational repertoire, but with modifications including the use of props like Mini Stability Balls™, or Flex-Bands®, which are important for proprioceptive input. Breath work will be part of the session, but it will not necessarily take the form of repose and relaxation. Rather, the focus will be on utilizing breath to improve the quality of movement and find the connection between the health of the tissue and the movements produced.
In this type of workout, the idiom quality vs. quantity is key. A proper movement pattern will produce proper muscle activation, which utilizes the whole system in a coordinated, fluid manner. When there is joint rigidity, there will be a loss of joint function, and when there is loss of joint function, there will be disturbed health. Improved flexibility and mobility means improved circulation, which will result in optimal function. That sounds pretty restorative to me!