Starting a new exercise program is a whole different ballgame when you’re struggling with chronic pain, chronic illness, and/or an autoimmune disease, even if it’s something gentle like yoga or pilates.
I know, because I’ve started many exercise programs over the years – both before and after being diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases: Lupus and Sjogren’s Syndrome.
Ah, I can still remember the good ol’ days of weight lifting and working out hard with trainers when I wanted quick, noticeable results. Or, the joy of running for miles and still being able to walk the next day.
Then, after having my son, my pain got so bad, I could barely carry a basket of laundry upstairs. I would have to stop several times and rest.
That’s when I knew, I had to see a doctor and I had to start making some changes.
The Benefits of Pilates:
Although trying to work on your fitness is a struggle, the good news is that you can and you should make time to move – even when you have an autoimmune disease.
So, today I am going to just zero in on the pilates benefits and how to start a pilates practice in your life.
1. Background of Pilates:
Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates to train both the body and the mind. The concept was born from his efforts to rig hospital bed springs in order to build strength in bedridden patients. This led to the eventual design of what is now called the reformer machine.
His concept gained notoriety when professional ballet dancers would use his method to strengthen their bodies and improve their skills.
Pilates continued to gain popularity and more and more studios were opened. Now, even though the reformer machines look like strange torture devices at first glance, the benefits of a pilates practice are being recommended to everyone – for everything from a way to recover from injury to reducing chronic pain.
2. Benefits of Pilates and Yoga:
If you’re able to go to a pilates studio, you perform most of the exercises lying down on a reformer machine.
This allows you to fully isolate the muscle being worked, without the added pressure of gravity bearing down on you.
For those of us with chronic pain, this is a game-changer. We can work out longer, harder, and therefore see more results.
In a yoga studio, you’re given the tools you need to be successful, such as yoga balls, mats, and straps. This allows you to start wherever your body is able and progress at your own pace.
How Pilates Has Changed My Health:
For me, regularly practicing pilates and yoga has improved my daily pain level and significantly reduced chronic pain, increased balance, focus, mental acuity, improved my stamina and overall quality of life.
Here’s just one example: prior to starting pilates, I had to put heat pads on my right shoulder every night and lived with a pain in my shoulder that was so distracting, I asked my doctor to get x-rays.
But, sure enough, it was just another symptom of the dreaded companion of autoimmune diseases – inflammation.
In less than three months of starting pilates and yoga a few times a week, my shoulder pain was almost gone.
This is just one example of the many ways that starting pilates and yoga has improved my quality of my life.
It’s also improved other things like vertigo. My balance and my center of gravity is much more centered, so I get far less dizzy spells and feelings of vertigo.
Oh, and I toned up and lost 10 pounds, without changing my diet.
Starting pilates and yoga is really my #1 piece of advice for others who are struggling with chronic pain and autoimmune disease, but want to gain strength, increase balance and mental acuity, and manage their pain.
3. Before You Get Started:
As with any change in your diet or fitness program, particularly when you are already struggling with preexisting health conditions – always check with your medical team first and get their stamp of approval.
While I am a research junkie, I am not a medical professional. I am sharing my experiences in the hopes that they may lead readers to find answers that work for them, but I am not responsible if any of my advice should adversely affect your life or health.
After you’ve ensured that beginning pilates and yoga practice is safe for you – the next step is preparing yourself mentally for this new journey.
It’s time to take a moment to say goodbye to how your body used to respond to exercise pre-chronic pain, and accept that this is a new journey that will probably have a difference cadence.
- You will need to listen to your body and follow its lead.
- When something hurts, stop.
- If you are too tired or struggling with more pain than usual, skip class that night.
- Don’t get angry with yourself if you cannot use the same weights you used to or cannot complete every rep of every exercise.
- You WILL get stronger over time – but only if you keep doing it. And, if you torture yourself and make it too painful – physically and mentally – that is probably not going to happen.
This is a new day. Accept that this is your current condition. You’ll only see results if you keep trying.
4. Getting Started:
Decide what works best for your budget and lifestyle – either working out at home using a DVD or going to a studio. For me, the only time I get for myself is the time I go to a class. There have been seasons where I did not have access or the time/income to go to a studio, so I used videos.
A. Finding a Studio:
Personally, I go to a Club Pilates studio. There are many franchises similar and even one-location studios that may even offer better prices.
For example, I went with CP because they have classes late into the evening, which is the only time I can go.
B. Working Out At Home:
There have been many years when working out at home was my only option. Here are some DVDs that I have, enjoy and have high reviews. These are affiliate links and there are more as you scroll. Affiliate links mean I will receive a small comish at no cost to you if you purchase through these links. I only recommend products I have, use, and love.
5. The Gear To Succeed:
Alright, we are ready to talk about what you need to get started.
A. Pilates Activewear:
If you’d like to pick up some clothing that is designed for this type of exercise, I particularly like workout clothes from Amazon, Gaiam and Zella brands. Target also has some of the best types of sports bras and tops with their Champion line.
I recently bought these workout pants from Amazon, for just $20, and they are seriously my new favorites. I like them better than all of my other activewear.
So, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get really great yoga and pilates activewear.
I also find great deals on Gaiam pants, which are my next favorite, on their website or online at Kohl’s.
Since you are laying on the reformer carriage quite a bit – you’ll want a shirt that covers more of your back. Personally, I don’t like the feeling of the cold carriage.
The Target activewear tops are nice and long and have really good coverage on the backs. For the price, they’re a steal.
B. Grip Socks:
You’ll need some pilates socks. These have a super grip on the bottom that allow you to hold on to the bar at the end of the reformer machine when doing bridges and other exercises. Or, maintain those awkward positions in yoga without losing balance.
While there are a lot of great options, my two favorite brands for grip socks that will really help you hold position and will also last a really long time is ToeSox and
Toesox are really cute, usually go between your toes, and are pricier:
Ozaiic is my new favorite. They are so soft, a bit thicker, so they feel more supportive on the ball of my foot, and they are much more affordable.
I will say that Ozaiic is great for your feet if they are a bit wider and get swollen or inflamed. If you have very narrow feet, you may find them too roomy in the ball of the foot.
C. WAGS Gloves:
If you have joint pain – you may very well be feeling it in your hands and wrists. I know I do. This can feel so frustrating and limiting – because these small muscles will fatigue so much faster than the larger ones, making it difficult to get a good workout in.
Luckily, someone designed a solution – and the WAGS gloves are pretty much the industry standard for how to handle this.
They have a gel pad around the areas where you will be putting weight, alleviating any direct contact with your hand.
If your hand is supported, you won’t put as much pressure on your wrist, and this will buy you time before it fatigues.
I would really recommend investing in some kind of glove for yoga and pilates – particularly WAGS – if you want to give yourself the best chance of success.
The others in my pilates classes are always asking me about them, trying them on, and then – they show up wearing them.
6. Pilates Equipment:
Now that you look ready – it’s time to go to class. Luckily, a pilates or yoga studio is going to have all of the equipment you need for the class.
If you’re working out at home, check the supplies that your DVD requires and pick those up, too.
Here are some of the pieces of equipment your class may incorporate to make the workout more challenging.
7. Stay Hydrated:
Please remember to drink water. Exercising helps to flush toxins from our bodies – and if you have an autoimmune disease, your body is especially struggling to do that.
Drink water before, during, and after your workout to help your body detoxify.
I love this one that shows you how much you have drank for the day. I even mention it in my post on how to help dry eyes from Sjogren’s.
And, this one comes with a brush to clean it! Hurrah!
That’s all, folks! I hope this encourages you to try pilates and see what it can do for you.
Also, feel free to check out my post on the best 10 health supplements for inflammation!
I wish you all the best on your path to wellness. Hopefully you found something here that will help you.
If you have more to add, please leave me a comment below.
To our health,
Thanks for pointing out that it takes patience to build up one’s strength in pilates classes. I’m currently looking for small group pilates classes because two of my friend and I are determined to get more fit soon. Maybe we can even try to join a marathon and see what our new bodies could do after the pandemic.
Yes, it really does! I have even been in classes with people who look like they work out all the time and they struggle more than those of us that only do pilates (but appear far less fit). It does work the body in a completely different way – but the strength it builds will translate to being stronger and more balanced at everything else. Good luck with the marathon! That’s a lofty goal!