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End Morning Stiffness & Pain in Less Than 5 Minutes!


July 18, 2015 by Bob Hannum

Incredible Pain Relief With These Quick Exercises!


Learn What the Pros Do for Their Pain

I’ve always been intrigued by how effective Pilates is for back and joint pain, partly because nearly every physical therapist prescribes Pilates for back injury, but mostly because my passion for Pilates began when it saved me from back surgery!

Decades ago I seriously injured my back at work. I was facing surgery and who-knows how much pain medication. Even worse, I was facing the possibility of an abrupt end to a new and exciting dream-come-true - I'd just begun performing in a modern dance company!

A chance encounter with a strange lady changed everything! The ‘Pilates Elder’ Mary Bowen whom I’d never met, stopped me on the street and asked me to follow her to her studio for just a couple minutes! There she showed me strange exercises I’d never heard of called Pilates. And they were a miracle! I felt near-immediate back pain relief! Best of all I avoided surgery and soon returned to dancing with more strength, energy and confidence than ever before! So began a passion for Pilates and a teaching career that’s now celebrating 40 years!

BUT…anyone with a back problem knows it never goes away completely. I start each day with mild stiffness and pain from this injury, and now that I’m 62 I also have a lot of baggage from an active body that’s getting older such as mild aches and pains from who knows where!  

So I start my day with a couple easy Pilates mat exercises that take less than five minutes and deliver tremendous relief! I feel young again and the rest of my day is pain-free!

They’re super easy and quick because I don’t like doing very much of anything in the morning especially exercise! And they truly are miraculous because these brief and easy exercises are all I need to relieve mild joint and back stiffness and pain. NO KIDDING! And I notice that when my day starts with less pain, the rest of my day goes so much better! So here’s my secret! Try it! Share it! And let me know how you like it – my day goes even better with a little positive feedback!

Exercise #1 - 'The 100'

Pilates 100

I start off with one of the original mat exercises first created by Joe Pilates nearly 100 years ago! Most Pilates teachers start every class and every student with this it – ‘The 100.’ Joe suggested that we always use it to start a Pilates workout, because it warms up the body like nothing else.

My easy morning version is legs a bit bent instead of straight, and high off the ground instead of only inches. Pump your arms 100 times – don't let 100 get you down! it goes quickly!

While I pump my arms I’m breathing deeply to get all that shallow sleep breathing out of my system and charge every cell of my body. I inhale for 4 pumps and exhale for 6 to reflect the natural pattern of breathing in which our exhale is slightly longer than our inhale. Check it out for yourself! But don't bother with this pattern if it's the slightest bit overwhelming. The important thing is just to breathe. Deep breaths cleanse the lungs and energize the body! Great way to start any day!

Fascinating thing about pumping the arms: research shows that it stimulates the lymph system like nothing else! Lymph is key to recovery from illness and injury, and preventing disease. An insurance company once did a study to find out which profession has the greatest longevity. They discovered that music conductors live the longest. Maybe it’s all that arm movement? Joe didn’t know about any of these studies since they occurred after his death, but he intuited the importance of it – just one example of why he’s the ‘Einstein of Fitness.’

Exercie #2 - 'Leg Circles'

Pilates leg Circles

Next come ‘Leg Circles,’ but once again I do an easy version. As I circle each leg, both are comfortably bent instead of straight. 5 circles in one direction and 5 in the other. Slow and controlled.

What a marvelous Pilates principle - slow and controlled. It means I’m engaging my mind while I’m moving and not causing any wear and tear on my joints. Safe. Healthy. Body and mind. Brilliant!

This is just one of a number of fabulous Pilates principles, but hey it’s morning and I don't want to think too much so let’s leave all the other principles for another time!

Exercise #3 - 'Single Leg Stretch'

Pilates Single Leg Stretch

Next I do just 5 ‘Single Leg Stretches.’ This is another classic exercise from Joe’s original 34. Now this picture shows me touching my nose to my kneecap, but that's not necessary. Just feel a bit of a stretch as you bring one leg close to your face and then the other leg.

I try to straighten my other leg. It keeps my attention on what I’m doing (waking up my mind), and I the tightness in my hips, hamstrings, ankles and calves begins to ease with this simple reaching of my straight leg.

Ah reaching! Another one of my favorite Pilates principles. Reaching creates a lot of stretching throughout the body. It’s marvelous!

We’re half done so stick with me!

Exercise #4 - 'Double Leg Stretch'

Now I go right into the ‘Double Leg Stretch’ which is hard to see in any photo so here’s a brief video. I’m reaching my arms and legs…and getting all the morning bugs out!

Don’t forget to breathe! Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. No special pattern. Just breathe as big as you can. There are marvelous patterns of breathing in every Pilates exercise. Just marvelous, because when you coordinate movement with breathing it feels great! But it’s morning and nothing feels great so just breath!

Exercise #5 - 'Criscross'

Pilates Criscross

Next it’s the ‘Criscross,’ another Pilates classic. It’s simply elbow to opposite knee 5 times each side.

I try to touch my other elbow to the floor as seen here in the photo. Not too bad for 62!

OK almost done and you’ll be amazed at how free of stiffness and pain you’re about to feel!

Exercise #6 - 'Single Straight Leg Stretch'

Pilates Single Straight Leg Stretch

Now by this time I’m a little less stiff so I’m ready for a bit more stretch. So…I try to straighten my leg on this ‘Single Straight Leg Stretch.’

In the morning it doesn’t get anywhere near what you see in this photo, but here’s the secret. The straighter I get both legs the more pain relief for the rest of the day! So I push myself a bit here by straightening both legs a bit beyond my comfort level, but not too much as to hurt myself. 5 of these with each leg.

Just 2 more quick ones to go!

Exercise #7 - 'Double Straight Leg Stretch'

Pilates Double Straight Leg Stretch

I don’t lower the legs very far. Just enough to feel it in my gut. with my hands behind my head, head and shoulders up off the floor and keeping my legs straight, I lift and lower them 5 times.

Last one coming up!

Exercise #8 - 'Rolling Back'

Pilates Rolling Back

I end with my favorite, ‘Rolling Back.’ I’m in a tight ball hugging my knees with my back as rounded as I can get it. First thing in the morning NO WAY it looks this nice and tight!

The secret here is simply to roll up and down your spine. Doesn’t have to look good! Use the weight of your legs to roll back up. It’s such a great stretch for all your back muscles and connective tissue. The weight of your body rolling over your back relieves tightness and stress like a deep tissue massage!

So there you have it! Now I move without pain and stiffness! Try it for yourself!

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