Healthy Mamas: Postnatal Pilates (Part 6)

Mindfulness is Enlightenment itself. You only need a few seconds to get enlightened. To be aware that you are alive, with a body that is strong enough and healthy enough – that is Enlightenment. Our body is a wonder.

Thich Nhat Hanh


Yesterday was a day full of love…not only was it Valentine’s Day (I actually baked a cake with Z…but that’s another story!), my littlest turned ONE month old, and I returned to the studio (my second home!) for my FIRST postnatal Pilates workout. It was a pretty great day!

I had been patiently waiting to get back in the studio, but was respecting my body and the healing that needed to happen after giving birth.  I am so grateful that I was able to have a peaceful, natural birth, with no complications and am very thankful that I only had a minor split in my abdominals (diastasis recti- a very common issue that happens in pregnant women).  Despite the labor and birth going as smoothly I possible, my body still took time to recover.  Those first couple of weeks were rough! I spent a lot of time resting after giving birth (well, as much as I could with a toddler and newborn!) and began doing abdominal strengthening after two weeks (the Pilates “scoop”, breath work, and small upper ab curls with a very intentional scoop first).

I felt the toll that this second pregnancy took on my body, even more so than the first, and I have been really gentle with myself as I begin the journey to find my new strength.  I will never have the body I had before kids- that would be impossible.  That doesn’t mean I won’t be the same weight or fit into my same clothes, it just means my body is different!  Major changes have happened, but I can still find strength, stability, power, grace, and freedom of movement, just in a new way!  Women’s bodies are AMAZING!  I am in awe of what mine did for me over the past year and I am excited to “Return to Life” as Joseph Pilates would say, through the Pilates system!


It felt amazing to walk into the quiet studio and lie down on the reformer.  I have missed the sound of the springs, the feel of the foot bar on my feet and the straps in my hands, and the immediate connection to my body and breath that I get from Pilates.   I started on the reformer- it felt great to just be able to lie on my back without getting winded or dizzy!  I found myself getting excited for each exercise…

  • stomach massage- yay!  my belly doesn’t get in the way AS much now!
  • pull straps and T- YES! I can lie on my stomach!
  • elephant- I can feel my deep abs in a safe and strengthening way
  • side splits, Russian splits, front splits kneeling?!- my hips have missed the stretching and strengthening

Like so many things, we gain even more appreciation for something when you step away from it for a while.

I went through a modified Level 3 reformer workout avoiding the more challenging exercises for my outer abdominals such as 100s, teaser, long stretch and short spine. Being completely in tune with myself and my body was like a breath of fresh air- it has been a while since I had the space and time to do that!

Pilates is the perfect system to help heal and retrain the postnatal body.  When the movements are done with integrity and intention, the principles of Pilates promote uniform development of the mind, body, and spirit.


photo credit: Heba Salama Photography

Healthy Mamas: Prenatal Pilates at 37 Weeks (Part 5)

arabesque pic

We made it!  Full term is considered 37 weeks, and here I am!  I have mixed feelings about being done with this pregnancy: I am ready to feel like myself again, but nostalgic about this likely being my last pregnancy…I can’t wait to meet our baby girl, but would also like to get her birthday a little farther from the holidays!

To be perfectly honest, it has also been a challenging few weeks.  We have been battling one sickness after another in our house which has made everything more difficult, including exercise!  My weekly Pilates lessons have dropped off and I can feel that in my body.  But, I have still been able to do some stretching and movement at the studio and when I can do it, that has felt amazing!

So here it is, Pilates is possible even when VERY pregnant!

Hip strengthening and opening are both a priority as I prep for the labor and delivery process.  The hip muscles also take quite a beating as the pelvic ligaments stretch and feel more lax.  The hip muscles have to do more work to hold everything together!  Therefore, several of my exercises this week revolve around the hips…

As the abdomen gets more and more compressed (baby is now taking up A LOT of space in there!), it becomes even more challenging to get spinal movement.  Kneeling Mermaid on the Low Chair is a wonderful assisted side bend stretch that allows opening of the sides while also working the hips, core and upper body.

The Spine Corrector supports the spine in extension- a position that is tricky to find at this stage of pregnancy!  It is a great place to just breathe, opening the chest and creating more space for the lungs and other organs.  It is also a great place to add some light hand weights for arm circles and other arm motions.

Finally, the Magic Circle Arm Work is a series that can be done throughout pregnancy to help tone the upper body in a standing position.  I had a helper for this one….enjoy some toddler cuteness!


OTH pic

Please feel free to contact me with questions about how to continue your Pilates practice throughout your pregnancy.  Healthy movement IS possible and can help ease some of the discomforts of a rapidly changing body!




Healthy Mamas: Prenatal Pilates at 32 Weeks (Part 4)

Hellooooo THIRD trimester….and all of the aches and pains that can accompany it!  I am 32 weeks pregnant and am definitely feeling the weight gain and changes going on in my body, but again, Pilates has saved me.  It allows me to continue to move, stretch, work and breathe which are all so important for the mind, body and soul anytime, but especially right now!

32 weeks Quad Stretch

Here are a few changes that one might experience in the third trimester:

  • increased ligament laxity as the body prepares for birth
  • pain accompanying increased laxity!
  • heaviness in the front of the body causing strain and tightness in the upper and lower back
  • difficulty finding a comfortable position
  • fatigue due to changes in sleep as well as increased strain on the body
  • swelling
  • pelvic floor weakening
  • digestive issues and shortness of breath due to increase pressure and decreased space for organs such as the diaphragm, stomach and intestines, due to the ever growing uterus!

Again, the Pilates system is amazing for this stage of pregnancy.  The equipment and springs support the body and provide opportunities for movements that aren’t possible in many other forms of exercise or everyday life!

Click on the red links to view the videos and use the “back” button on your browser to return to the post.  Z only made a couple appearances this time.  Enjoy the soothing sounds of the springs in a quiet studio!

Spinal movement is important for a healthy spine and it just feels SO GOOD!  Cat with the Push Thru Bar is a supportive way to get flexion and extension of the spine while also opening the shoulders and upper back.  I modified it slightly to add more lumbar spine flexion by allowing the hips to sit back toward the heals.  Kneeling Mermaid with the Push Thru Bar is a great side body opener.  It creates more space for the ribs and lungs to allow for improved breathing!  Knee Stretches on the reformer incorporates this increased spinal mobility into a more dynamic exercise, using and supporting the openness in the lungs.  The breath supports the movement and the movement supports the breath!

Tricep Press on the low chair promotes decompression of the spine as well as shoulder and chest opening.  Side Arm Series on the reformer is a challenging set of four exercises (I just showed one of each) that I love doing to improve my upper body strength. It also requires hip opening and core control to be able to stay stable on the moving carriage.

The Ped-o-pull, an often forgotten about piece of equipment, was originally developed by Mr. Pilates for a client who was an Opera singer.  The exercises promote chest opening and increased lung capacity.  It is great for pregnant mamas because the exercises are done in standing and as in most Pilates movement, they promote flexibility AND strength! Another exercise that also shows a powerful combination of flexibility and strength is the Plie Press on Paddle Back on the low chair.  This one makes me feel strong and confident in my changing body!

Two other pieces of often underutilized Pilates equipment are the Foot Corrector and the Ladder Barrel.  The feet are so important in balance and support of the whole body and they certainly take a beating during pregnancy!  The foot corrector is a great way to build strength and support from the bottom UP!  Ballet Stretches on the ladder barrel are a stable supported place to get an amazing stretch through all parts of the legs and hips. The hip muscles have to work extra hard to support the increased weight of the upper body while keeping everything together as the ligaments get more relaxed.  It is important to have strong, open hips toward the end of pregnancy to prepare for the birth process.

See you in a couple of weeks!


Healthy Mamas: Prenatal Pilates at 25 Weeks (Part 3)

I am BACK and a little bigger than I was in the last set of videos!  I am now 25 weeks pregnant with Baby Girl Decker and am feeling good (for the most part!).   I am still loving my time in the studio- both teaching AND doing Pilates.  I have been taking private lessons (with some awesome IOBT teachers!), which has been amazing.  It is so great to see all of the things I still CAN do with my growing and changing body!

Hanging Down 25wks

During the second trimester:

  • lying prone (on the belly) is difficult/impossible
  • lying supine (on the back) becomes limited (some doctors will say to avoid it completely- I tend to listen to my body and just change positions when I feel uncomfortable)
  • the joints get more lax (thanks to the hormone, relaxin) making the body less stable
  • the center of gravity is changing every week making balance more challenging
  • weight gain, mainly on the front of the body, puts extra stress on all of the muscles and joints, specifically in the pelvis and back
  • certain movements become more difficult to perform due to all of these limitations

This is QUITE the list of changes and challenges that happen during pregnancy…and it is definitely NOT a complete list!  But the Pilates system and especially the equipment can often provide answers on how to manage many of these changes during exercise.  The versatility of the Pilates system (you can sit, stand, kneel, lie or hang) and the support of the springs allow for complete and varied workouts to be possible!

Click on the red links to view the videos and use the “back” button on your browser to return to the post. Oh… and enjoy the cameos and commentary by my 2 year old.  This wasn’t exactly a “professional” video shoot!

As I mentioned in my last post, strong hips are so important for the pregnant mama.  Since mat and classical reformer footwork are quickly eliminated, Side Lying Footwork on the reformer is an excellent option.  Thanks Samantha Chase for teaching this to me in my last lesson! And as long as your balance is feeling on par, Side Splits are another great option for strengthening the hips.

Opening the chest and strengthening the upper body (in preparation for lots of baby carrying!) are also priorities. Seated Chest Expansion on the reformer, Russian Squats on the Cadillac, and Standing Arm Springs on the Cadillac are great options for attaining both of these goals.

Spinal extension is such a luxury at this point because it is so challenging to find it in everyday life! Swan 1 on Barrel feels amazing and is one of the few places to do swan at this point in the pregnancy. Hanging Down on the Cadillac is one of my favorite exercises, although it does get a bit more challenging each week!

Side bending is another motion that just feels great.  Opening up the sides and the ribs allows for more space for the lungs and organs…all of which get more compressed as the baby grows! I love all of the “Mermaids” on the Low Chair and Cadillac.  Here is Seated Mermaid on the Low Chair.

The Core Align® is a newer piece of equipment designed by a Pilates instructor and Physical Therapist.  It is great during pregnancy because many of the exercises are done in standing. Statue on Wheels is a deceptively challenging exercise that works all of the stabilizing muscles of the spine and core.

And just for fun, Z wanted to do some Pilates with me at the end of our session, so here is Seated Pumping on the Low Chair…with a toddler!



Contact the studio if you are interested in setting up a Pilates session  919-361-0104

Healthy Mamas: Pre-Natal Pilates at 17 Weeks (Part 2)

Megan’s blog post about her experience with Pilates before, during and after both of her pregnancies was so inspiring!  I had a similar experience with my first pregnancy in 2013.  Pilates helped me get through an amazing time of change in my body and I was able to continue practicing Pilates until a few weeks before having my son.

I am now halfway into my second pregnancy and am so happy to be able to continue my Pilates practice.

Here are a few reasons why I LOVE Pilates during pregnancy:

  • there are so many ways to SAFELY work and feel my abdominal muscles
  • being able to use the equipment to do things I might not be able to do otherwise
  • feeling strong and capable in my body during a time when I often feel out of control of the changes in my body
  • the variety of exercises and modifications that can be done

Although there are many things I am not able to do anymore (and that number will continue to grow as the months progress!), there are still so many things I CAN do.  I thought I would share a few of them with you!

This is not a “how to” video series, but more of a glimpse into what one could do during pregnancy.  Always listen to your body when doing any exercise program, especially during pregnancy!  If you have any questions about whether Pilates is right for you, please consult your trusted healthcare practitioner.

This first series of videos was taken when I was 17 weeks pregnant.  At this point I was starting to “show”, had gained a bit of “preparing for baby” weight, but was able to still do much of my regular activity.

Click on the red links to view the videos and use the “back” button on your browser to return to the post.

The first exercise is a modification on The Hundreds. There are several ways to do this classical Pilates exercise on the mat and equipment.

The Single Leg Circle- Mat and Single Leg Circle- Leg Springs are variations on the classical mat exercise. The support from the springs is really helpful in releasing the hip flexors and allowing for more freedom of movement in the hips and spine.

Since I have stopped doing the upper ab curl, I now do the Ab Series on the Barrel. By having my hips on the small barrel I am able to work my deeper core muscles without straining the more superficial rectus abdominus (RA).  The RA is the muscle that is prone to separation during pregnancy (called diastasis recti), therefore I am careful to avoid any exercises that might contribute to strain on this muscle and its fascia.

Spine Stretch and Saw are both exercises that feel GREAT anytime, but especially during pregnancy. I modified Spine Stretch to add some extension for the spine.  I also modified Saw by limiting the amount of lower trunk rotation.

Hip strength is SO important anytime, but especially during pregnancy. The Side Kicks- Mat and Side Leg Springs are a great way to maintain and build hip strength.

An obvious limitation that can begin anytime in the second trimester is the inability to lie on your stomach!  The timing of when this position starts to feel uncomfortable varies from person to person.  Listen to your body and do what feels right for you!  I was feeling fine being on my belly at 17 weeks, so I continued to do Swan- Mat and Push Thru Bar.

The final series is not from the classical Pilates method, but is often included and feels GREAT! Cat/Cow and Planks stretch the spine and build core strength.

See you again in a few weeks!


Contact the studio if you are interested in setting up a Pilates session  919-361-0104

Healthy Mamas: Pre- and Post-natal Pilates (Part 1)

Guest post by Pilates-based Physical Therapist, Megan McCoy.


It was during college and graduate school that I started to fall in love with running.  Not only was it a great way to get in my cardio workout, but it was also a great outlet for stress. During all the years and miles that I’ve been running, I have not had the overuse training syndromes that plague many runners. No ITB pain.  No hamstring tightness.  No plantar fasciitis.  Call me lucky? Perhaps. But I must thank Pilates for keeping me out on the road running.

Pilates has kept my muscles lengthened and core activated. My pelvic stability has been strong enough to train for long distance runs and adapt to all sorts of terrain.  Pilates also has encouraged proper movement patterns and helped prevent against future injuries. Not only has Pilates helped my running, it was conditioning my body before I even became pregnant.

When I first learned I was pregnant, I was overcome with excitement! That excitement was soon met with a wave of nausea that soon made it hard to do anything but the necessities of life.  Green from nausea and a fatigue that I had never experienced before, my favorite form of exercise – running – was quickly out of the picture. I realized I was able to continue with my Pilates practice and was so very thankful to be able to keep moving!


During the Prenatal Period I quickly realized just how important Pilates is for a pregnant body.

  • Abdominals: Having a strong abdominal wall helps the body accommodate to one’s ever growing belly. The more engaged the core, the less likely one is to suffer from aches and pains. I truly did not have much low back pain during either pregnancy!
  • Back Muscles: Keeping these muscles strong can help reduce the stress on your body as one gets used to her new center of gravity. It becomes difficult to maintain good posture, but it is crucial to help reduce aches and pains from the increased lumbar lordosis (curvature of the low back).
  • Pelvic Muscles: Pilates exercises can help strengthen the pelvic floor, which in turn will help support the bladder, bowels, and uterus during pregnancy. Keeping these muscles strong will also aid during the labor and delivery phase.
  • Breath Control: The breath is very important in Pilates and during pregnancy! It’s a great way for pre-labor practice to help breathe through contractions and make the pushes more effective. It’s also a great tool to use when one can’t perform an upper abdominal curl but still engage the abdominals.

Now after having two sweet baby girls, just 15 months apart, I have Pilates to thank for much more! I truly believe I was able to maintain the stamina for 5+ hours of pushing due to breath control and strong abdominal and pelvic floor muscles.

Many new moms experience diastasis recti – which is essentially a split in the abdominal wall muscles. For some it is easily noticeable and others it is not. The good news is that if you are reading this and you think you may have it, the PTs at IOBT would be happy to help you properly find your abdominals again! With both pregnancies, I have not experienced any split in my abdominals due to all the Pilates strengthening. Also many new moms say, “Oops I pee accidentally when I sneeze/cough/etc…” This is NOT normal. Again we would love to help you strengthen your pelvic floor if this sounds like you. I have not had any issues with these pelvic floor problems, even with both babies being at normal and above average birth weights! I truly believe I can thank Pilates for not having a lot of these common issues post delivery.

During the Postnatal Period, Pilates has helped me realize just how strong our bodies are. It has been a great complement to starting to tone and strengthen my postnatal body. While we are all eager to get back to our pre-baby bodies, take time to heal and listen to your body. My daughters are just about 22 months and 6 months old, and I am still re-learning my body. In the first 2 to 6 months postpartum, the body is at the highest risk for injury. Enjoy your favorite form of exercise and all the benefits it gives you and your body. Instead of getting hung up on trying to run your pre-baby mile time or getting back into your skinny jeans, enjoy the ride. Also, remember to cut yourself some slack – you just gave birth to one of life’s greatest miracles.


Check out Megan’s full bio on our staff page and call the studio to set up a Pilates-based Physical Therapy evaluation (919-361-0104).