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Pilates for parents – tips and advice

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Parenting is a journey unique to every family, but one thing parents all have in common is that it changes their lives entirely!  One of the many ways it does so is in the physical demands that are placed on Mum and Dad’s bodies, and with it being half term for many children this week, now is a good time to think about this subject!

Posture is the most important area to pay continual attention to.  Lifting children, a buggy and shopping – a child and a buggy for that matter! – seriously take their toll on our posture.  My checkpoints are ensuring that at all times, as much as possible, you have:

·       Feet parallel and sitting under the hips

·       Knees slightly soft, ie slightly bent and not locked straight

·       The tail bone (coccyx) draws downwards and isn’t tilted forwards or backwards

·       The abdominals zipped up, just like when putting on a tight pair of jeans or closing a full suitcase

·       Your head resting back on imaginary headrest. This should bring the shoulders back and the neck straight, so the chin doesn’t poke out or down.

Picking up small children is a daily necessity, even if they are independently-minded.  The times when you’re in a hurry are when the most damage is likely to occur.  Bend your knees, tilt your pelvis back and engage the core.  It’s also really important to check that you lift and twist children into car seats with attention to these areas of the body.  Make sure that you breathe properly on the exertion too – and having control of your breath an excellent habit to teach your children when they get to infant school age.

Mornings are the most important time of the day for many families but mornings can start the night before.  Try to make sure that everyone has their clothes and kit ready, so you can get out of bed five minutes earlier to mobilise the spine and rest of the body.  You may feel stiff first thing, so sit on the edge of bed with a straight back, and vertebrae by vertebrae rolldown from sitting position, remembering to engage the abdominals and pelvic floor throughout the exercise.  There’s less strain on the back than with a rolldown from standing and this move provides a bit of spinal articulation to set you up for the day.  Alternatively, lie on the floor with a pillow under your back  head and do a few pelvic tilts and lifts to again open up the spine.  Move as far up as your middle back, keeping your shoulders and neck on the floor.  Whichever exercise you pick, breathe slowly, breathing out on the movement.

Bath time means it’s nearly the end of the child’s day and leaning over the bath to wash babies up to pre-schoolers can be another danger time for your back.  If you have a shower over the bath or a shower attachment, this will be a much kinder option for your own spine. If they’re sitting in the bath then you must kneel on something soft, rather than bend from standing position and again really make sure the core is fully engaged to support the forward flexion in the spine.  Carefully watch and protect your posture when you lift them into and out of the bath.

Having even two minutes to spare at the end of your day will be useful.  Kneel on the floor on all fours for a cat stretch (where your back is curved up) or lie on your front for a very shallow Cobra move, which will open the chest and shoulders out.  This counteracts the fact that all much of our days are spent with our chest and shoulders folded in slightly – whether that’s driving the car, lifting the shopping, eating or lifting children.  For both of these exercises, keep the abdominals engaged, make it a small movement and in the Cobra, keep looking down at the floor, not up to something in front of you.

Finish by lying in bed with some deep breathing in and out, ready to start again tomorrow!