From the Great War to your Lunchbreak: Pilates

You don't need to go to the Pilates studio to receive the benefits of the exercise. Pilates can be practiced right at your desk.

When the work starts piling up and the deadlines loom ever closer, exercise is one of the first things we stop doing. That’s a natural reaction, as getting out of the office and to the gym is a precious luxury when time is limited. Thanks to the simple effectiveness of the Pilates exercise regime, you don’t even need to leave the office. A few simple moves can keep you flexible, strong and alert throughout the day.

You may have taken some Pilates courses before. If you haven’t, then you probably associate this workout of controlled movements with fancy studios dotting the suburban landscape. That’s not completely wrong, as Pilates has exploded in popularity in the past decade. While Pilates may seem like an upscale exercise requiring plenty of room, its humbles origins prove that the exercises can be done anywhere. It was developed, after all, in an internment camp for Germans during World War I.

The Birth of Pilates

Joseph Pilates, a German fitness enthusiast, was in the wrong place at the wrong time when World War I broke out. While touring the U.K. as both a professional boxer and a circus performer (such was his athleticism), he was placed in an internment camp on the Isle of Man. Conditions were rough and the camp soon filled up with injured German soldiers. Space was limited, injuries were abundant and there was no fitness equipment to speak of. Many of the prisoners couldn’t even get out of bed due to their injuries.

It was with those limitations that Pilates developed his method. There was a heavy emphasis on breathing and control. Instead of heavy lifting or quick movements, his method relied on slow, deliberate movements. At the internment camp, he jury-rigged some straps to create resistance-training equipment. Through his workout method, the severity of injuries was lessened, posture improved and fitness levels went up. Considering the location, that’s an impressive achievement.

After the war, he continued developing his method and popularized what we now call Pilates throughout the world. Elite dancers first took up the activity, as Pilates promoted flexibility and suppleness. Later, boxers took an interest. Today, everyone—and especially office workers—can derive some benefits from Pilates.

Pilates for the Office

Even on the worst days, it’s probably unfair to compare your workplace to a World War I internment camp. However, the origins of Pilates prove that there’s no place where this form of exercise can’t be practiced. Exercise has an enormous impact on creativity, making it the perfect remedy to a bout of burnout or exhaustion.

Just a few minutes of exercise can help set your mind back on track to finish the task at hand. You won’t need any equipment or a change of clothes for these exercises, making them ideal for the office.

Active Breathing 

Breathing during Pilates, much like Yoga, is a critical component of the regimen. To start, forget all the fancy moves and challenging stretches. Breathing properly is the core building block that all those advanced moves rely upon.

Joseph Pilates himself wrote, “above all, learn how to breathe correctly.” He had the right idea, as research has since proven that controlled breathing limits stress, improve our immune system and generally improves our quality of life.

Active breathing is the perfect activity to do right at your desk. With proper posture, heavily breath in and out. Feel your stomach pulling in when you draw a breath. When you’ve reached the limit, breath out and feel the action through your core. Doing this for as little as a minute helps.

Neck Stretch

Working inside isn’t a physical job by any means, but sitting in front of a computer all day still takes its toll. That’s especially the case on your neck, as sitting with bad posture can be quite a pain after a full day of work. Throughout the workday, try doing the Pilates neck stretch. You don’t even need to stand up.

While seated, slowly tilt your head towards one shoulder. When your head is as close to the shoulder without hurting, hold it in place for ten seconds. Repeat this a few times on both sides.

Wrist Rolls

The other downside to office work is all the time that workers spend typing. Over time, typing takes it toll through painful carpal tunnel syndrome. Pilates helps keep those wrists limber and free from pain.

While either sitting or standing, slowly roll your wrists in one direction. Switch it up after a few roles in the other direction. After that, bend the wrists forward and backward as far as it remains comfortable. These basic movements, performed throughout the day, can be very beneficial.

Don’t Stop

These simple exercises aren’t meant to be a full replacement for a vigorous workout. However, they’re extremely helpful when both time and available space are limited. Give them a try next time you find yourself unable to find the time for some for the gym.

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