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CONVERSATIONS AT THE SANCTUARY: Using a Stretch Band to Enhance Your Pilates Practice

By The Yoga School / August 1, 2020

Build strength, flexibility, and stability with a workshop led by Zoya Holland.

Model and Victoria’s Secret Angel Lily Donaldson cites it as her workout of choice. Ballet dancers have worked it into their fitness routine to build strength and grace. Athletes, upon discovering its rehabilitative qualities, lean on it to aid with recovery. We’re talking about Pilates, a bodywork discipline founded and developed by German-born Joseph Pilates way back in World War I. Today, given its functional benefits, the popularity of Pilates has not waned one bit.

Joseph Pilates built the fundamentals of Pilates on many of the principles the ancient Greeks adopted to train their Olympians. An accomplished skier and gymnast himself, Joseph was firm about teaching his students how to work with their bodies to develop both strength and flexibility.

While many might associate Pilates with reformer machines, the discipline itself sees practitioners working with other apparatus, one of which is the stretch band. Below, Zoya Holland, a level three mat-based Pilates instructor, talks us through the advantages of utilising a stretch band in your Pilates practice.

How does the incorporation of a stretch band help to make Pilates exercises more challenging or accessible?

The first and most observable benefit is that it helps you to stretch. The band creates either assistance or resistance. In terms of offering resistance, it is kind of like doing weights. Assistance, on the other hand, helps you to bridge the gap between ‘I cannot do this exercise at all’ and ‘I can do it without the band’. For example, when you’re rolling down towards the mat from a seated position, the movement can be supported by having a band around your feet.

The band also gives you longer arms and legs to help you access certain positions. For instance, if I can’t wrap my fingers around my big toe, I can use my band to do so.

What is your personal experience with the use of stretch bands? How has your body benefited from it?

I’ve been working with stretch bands for over 10 years and they have helped to increase my flexibility, especially in the back of my body.

It has also improved my functional mobility. I do a lot of yoga so it helps to open the shoulders. As I’m a swimmer as well, my shoulders are very open and I need to do some stability work.

The same applies to runners. There will be some exercises in the workshop that will focus on stabilising the hips as runners need their pelvis and hips to be stable while their legs are moving.

What qualities do you look for when selecting a stretch band?

When some people talk about bands, they talk about the loop band. In this instance, we are talking about a band that’s just one strip and about 1.5 metres in length.

Stretch bands come in different strengths. Unless you are recovering from an injury, I would pick a medium-strength band because it will give you enough assistance for the assistance exercises and enough resistance from the resistance exercises.

Can you substitute a stretch band with objects commonly found at home?

Yes, but to a certain degree. Stretch bands are not like yoga straps because they are elastic. However, you can certainly use a belt, bathrobe belt, towel, or a tie for some of the exercises.

How does Pilates mat work complement one’s yoga practice?

Pilates works from the inside out. While yoga moves tend to be bigger, Pilates looks at executing smaller movements with more finesse. Because Pilates works from the inside out, it promotes stability, strength, and functional mobility. All of this will help to support the bigger movements we do in yoga.

How are stretch bands and Pilates reformers different?

One of the reasons I picked the stretch band for this workshop is because it in some ways replicates the reformer. It works to give resistance or assistance. It’s only one band, of course, so from that point of view, reformers will be more versatile as there are more positions you can get into.

The band is also more portable than the reformer. If I wanted to go on holiday, I could take a stretch band with me. I can also bring it to work and do a little bit of stretching there.

A really nice thing about the stretch band is that you can move it around so it makes it possible to do what we call open-chain exercises [where the ends of your arms and legs are free to move, as opposed to closed-chain exercises such as squats where your limbs are grounded]. And if you think about Pilates open-chain activities involving the arms, it’s 95 per cent of what we do.

Who is this workshop suitable for?

It is a mixed-ability class suitable for all levels.

People who do sports are generally quite tight as some of the sports make them unbalanced. For example, they might end up with super-strong legs but weaker arms. Pilates will help to balance that.

It’s also great for those who spend a lot of time sitting down. When we’re seated, the entire front of the body tends to shorten. As all our proprioception is at the front, we tend to be forward-facing creatures. During the workshop, we will do a whole bunch of exercises to open the shoulders and hips in order to benefit this group of people.

If you tell me that you are a yogi, a runner, or someone who spends a lot of time at your desk, I will adjust the exercises to suit your body.

Is this class suitable for pregnant ladies?

Pregnant ladies are very welcome. Again, because of that stability Pilates creates, especially in the hips, we recommend pilates for moms who are expecting as this stops the hips from being too open. The exercises will also give mummies-to-be a little more upper body strength; after all, you have to carry the baby around once it’s born.

Workshop: Stretch and Strengthen with Pilates

Curious about Pilates and its benefits? Join instructor Zoya Holland as she leads you in a full-body workout to improve your core, arm and leg strength, muscle tone, and posture. With the stretch band, you can expect to experience modifications on traditional Pilates mat work. The workshop concludes with a full-body stretching sequence addressing the major muscles around the shoulders, hips, spine, and lower body. All are welcome for this workshop which takes place via Zoom on Saturday, 15 August 2020, from 10am to 12pm. All levels are welcome. Reserve your spot here.

About Zoya Holland

Zoya is a Level 3 mat-based Pilates and a Reformer Pilates Instructor. After completing her 200 hours certified by Yoga Alliance, she has taught Hatha, Hatha Flow, Vinyasa, Chakra, Sivananda, Restorative Yin and Hot yoga. She has also been certified as an Advanced BodyBalance and CxWorx instructor from top training facilities in Les Mills UK.

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