This month, many of us will participate in walks, events and charities focusing on Breast Cancer Awareness. But the fight against breast cancer and supporting cancer research doesn’t just stop there. Studios and health-minded publications have started launching dedicated Pilates programs—such as SHAPE’s 7th annual Pilates for Pink event in NYC—to get both supporters and survivors moving. We talked to Lindsay Lopez, owner and instructor at FORM Pilates Union Square, about how practicing Pilates can be a boon to breast cancer survivors’ bodies.
Pilates, as most of us know, is a way to condition the body and help strengthen, stretch and control it better. Besides an active way to support survivors and garner awareness, Pilates is also the perfect way for breast cancer survivors to build up strength and a better body image.
“While Pilates is great for anyone from the strongest athlete to the injured, it is especially gentle for breast cancer survivors,” says Lopez. “Traditional strengthening modalities may intimidate women in their recovery period, but Pilates gives them what they need most—increased energy and relaxation.”
With Pilates, survivors can slowly regain their strength and range of motion, boosting overall body confidence and preventing lymphedema (a block up of fluid in the lymph nodes).
How can breast cancer survivors begin a gentle, but still effective, Pilates routine?
For those just starting out, try the following recommendations, à la Lopez, and be sure to check out her two-part video series of breast cancer survivor workouts for survivors and loved ones to follow at the end of the post!
1. Give the upper body a break when you first start out. “At the start, just lying on the mat, breathing deeply and practicing pulling your abdominals in and up will start to create strength,” Lopez says.
2. If all goes well, move onto more advanced abdominal work. Continue to forgo incorporating the arms. Try an upper body curl, and be sure to modify it by placing your head on the mat if it feels uncomfortable to curl up the chest.
3. Once you’ve built up some core strength, Lopez says to work the lower body, with exercises like footwork on the reformer or leg springs.
4. When you feel ready to integrate the upper body, slowly start moving the arms and chest in a small range of motion. Once the trepidation of moving the affected areas subsides, continue light arm movements without weight or straps to accompany the exercises.
Besides the physical benefits of strengthening the body through Pilates, creating a home practice or heading to a studio allows you to give your body some positive TLC.
“The focused mind and breath is rejuvenating and meditative for women who have a lot on their mind,” confirms Lopez. Plus, who doesn’t want the amazing benefits that come with frequent Pilates practice? For survivors, slow and steady progression wins the race.
On October 20th, FORM Pilates Union Square will hold donation-based Pilates mat classes, in addition to an art show and reception with 25% of profits donated to breast cancer research.