We all love yoga for the lengthening of our muscles, easing our minds, and connecting us to our breath. However, some styles (and teachers) of yoga accentuate stretching, and by design, yoga uses ‘pulling’ muscles quite exclusively. Mat pilates too has this design fault. Welcome reformer pilates - done on this amazingly well-designed contraption, known as a reformer bed. It consists of a moving carriage, foot (or hand) bar, standing platform (non-moving), shoulder rests, and straps on pulleys. What you can’t see, under the carriage, are the springs which make all the magic happen, by adding and reducing resistance on the moving carriage and pulleys. Many studios also use boxes, jump boards, weights and pilates circles to allow a greater range of exercises to be accessed.
The reformer machine was designed by the founder of Pilates itself, Joseph Pilates. Growing up with sickness and injuries, Pilates studied every movement style he could see and combined these practices (namely: gymnastics, body-building and yoga) to develop his signature style of body conditioning. Originally from Germany, Pilates was interned in a British camp during World War I and dedicated his time to teaching others how to strengthen their physical and mental well being during internment. He spent time working as a nurse, and while attempting to rehabilitate bed-bound soldiers, attached springs to their hospital beds to reintroduce muscle tone. In 1923, he moved to New York and opened a ‘Contrology’ studio, focussed on rehabilitation and conditioning, popular among the city’s ballerinas.
Now, reformer pilates can be found in every major city in the world. It is used by yogis, body-builders, runners, dancers, and every other person you could imagine. There are no prerequisites to being a reformer pilates student. It’s used in clinical settings for the rehabilitation of injuries and healthy aging, as well as upbeat hip-hop group fitness classes. This is because it provides a unique combination of flexibility, mobility, strength, toning, and coordination, as well as the ability for cardiovascular conditioning.
In terms of yoga, reformer pilates is the stable and tough best friend that we all need, but might not yet know what we’re missing. Since its inception, the machine has been used extensively by professional ballerinas, to strengthen stabilizing muscles and help counteract hypermobility (which is also common in yogis).
Reformer Pilates and Yoga:
Back-chain activation (hamstrings, glutes, back muscles)
Deep core strengthening (decrease lower back compression pain)
Postural realignment (neutral pelvis and spine)
Eccentric contraction (lengthening muscles against resistance)
Foot-work (support arches, increase mobility, stabilize ankles)
Think of all of the ways, this practice could benefit and balance your yoga practice! Who doesn’t want more strength, balance, mobility, and tone in their life?