5 Classical Pilates moves to boost your mood

Feeling down and dreary? Pep yourself up with these core five Classical Pilates moves that will boost the mood and mind…

Any exercise is a great tonic for the mind, but did you know that Pilates has been scientifically proven to calm the emotions? A form of mind-body movement, Pilates is an exercise system that was founded by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s to create strength and flexibility throughout the body.

Related: What is Pilates? Benefits and basics for beginners

‘In addition to the physical aspects, Pilates is a great mindful technique, as you must be present for it to work,’ explains Gaby Noble, founder of Exhale Pilates London. ‘Combined with the endorphins released, the transitional moves help calm the mind and boost mood.’

These days, there are many iterations of the activity, from mat-based methods to reformer classes, all of which have a little grounding in traditional Pilates. But the most authentic form of Pilates – Classical Pilates, also known as Contrology – often goes under the radar.

Related: 25-Minute Pilates HIIT Workout

That’s where Exhale Pilates London founder Gaby Noble comes in. With a celeb-studded client list, including Sadie Frost, Jools Oliver and Kelly Brook, Noble is on a mission to revive the original works of Joseph Pilates. ‘The Classical method reflects the core principles created by Joseph Pilates,’ says Noble. ‘He believed you must be proactive rather than reactive to prevent injury and negative energy before they manifest in the body.’

Packed with the latest state-of-the-art Classical Pilates apparatus to target different muscle groups and accelerate results (including Classical equipment such as Wunda chairs, barrels, Cadillac and more), Exhale London Pilates studios also pioneer Tower Pilates, a class and format not regularly seen in the UK. But for those of us at home who want a taster of the true Classical methodology in its most authentic form, Noble recommends trying these top five classical mood-boosting Pilates moves from Exhale’s Master Mat Course.

Related: Pilates breathing technique: how to do lateral breathing

5 classical Pilates moves to boost your mood

single leg stretch 2

Single-leg stretch

Do this move to warm the body and wake up your core

Benefits: The single leg stretch is the first of the abs series known as the ‘series of 5’, which is part of the Classical Pilates sequence. The primary intent of the single leg stretch is to develop strength and learn to move from your centre. It’s also an exercise to stabilise the torso against flowing controlled movements of the lower and upper body, whilst targeting your lower abs. This is a great exercise to warm the abdominals up.

How to do the single-leg stretch:

  • Start lying down on your back with your knees bent. Carefully lift your head and shoulders whilst keeping the base of your shoulder blades on the mat.
  • Pull the right leg towards your chest and extend the other leg out at 45 degrees (A), or higher if your back is lifting (B). Keep your lower back anchored to the mat.
  • Inhale and, as you exhale, switch legs, bringing the alternative leg back towards your chest.
  • As you switch legs, try to feel the sensation of pulling your abdominals away from your thigh to enhance the feeling of a scoop. This will not only work your deep abdominals but protect your back.
  • Do 5-10 sets.

criss cross 1 criss cross 2

Criss cross

Do this move to whittle the waist and increase your stamina

Benefits: Criss cross is the last of the abs series, and will target your entire torso as well as challenge your stamina. Because you don’t have your hands to support your legs, the exercise really tests all aspects of what Pilates is about, which is strength, stamina and control. It especially works the obliques and lower abdominal muscles. In this exercise, the powerhouse should be your core, not your spine. Criss cross works more on flexion and rotation of the spine, which moves your spine in different directions and will keep it healthy. Working the obliques in this move will also nip in the waist.

How to do the criss cross:

  • Lie on your back with hips and knees bent to 90 degrees. Place your hands behind your head, elbows wide and out to the sides. Lift the head and shoulders (A).
  • Extend your left leg out, maintaining a flat back as you simultaneously twist your upper body, reaching your left elbow to your right knee (B). Look back at your right elbow to increase stretch.
  • Return to the centre and repeat on the other side. Keep elbows wide and twist from your waist not your neck. Repeat, and hold each move for 3-5 secs. Keep hips anchored and aligned.
  • Do 5-10 sets.

swan prep 1 5 Classical Pilates moves to boost your mood

Swan prep

Do this move to ease the feelings of anxiety and improve posture

Benefits: Swan prep is a great exercise to open the front-body, expand the chest and stretch the abdominals. This is particularly effective after working the core, and will release any tightness in the hip flexors and quadriceps. When Swan prep is done properly, with the right muscles engaged, it will work and strengthen your shoulders, back, inner thighs, pelvic floor, gluteus and hamstrings. This is a great move to help improve your posture and can release tightness in the chest, which is also good for people who suffer with anxiety.

How to do the swan prep:

  • Lie on your front with your hands placed on the floor under your shoulders and elbows close to your body (A). Ideally, keep feet together to connect to your powerhouse and glutes. If you feel any tightness in your back, even with your abs and glutes engaged, keep your legs hip-width apart.
  • Inhale as your draw your navel to your spine, lifting your head and chest off the floor. Exhale as you continue to stretch your back and chest to straighten your arms (B). Make sure you are keeping your neck long and don’t crunch your neck back. Lift with your heart, not with your head.
  • Inhale, and exhale deeply as you slowly lower your body back to the floor, lengthening your chest and legs away from one another to accentuate and continue a two-way stretch. Do 3-5 reps.

mermaid pilates 1 mermaid pilates 2


Do this move to counteract the negative effects of sitting down

Benefits: Mermaid is a great move to increase strength and flexibility in the arms, shoulders and torso. The Pilates mermaid side stretch lengthens and opens the side of the body, which is especially good to do after sitting at a desk all day, cycling or holding a heavy bag. This is also great for mums who tend to hold their babies on one side.

How to do the mermaid:

  • Sit on your left hip with the knees bent. The top leg should be directly on top of the lower leg. If this is uncomfortable, remain on your hip and open your knees so they are in line with your shoulders.
  • Hold your ankles with your right hand. Inhale and reach your left arm overhead, with the upper arm as close to the ear as possible (A).
  • Exhale and bend your body directly to the right side (B). The top of your head should reach towards the ankles and your left hip should stay anchored. The left side of the ribcage reaches to the ceiling. Inhale and rise back up tall.
  • Repeat 3 times and then switch sides.

pilates teaser 1 pilates teaser 2

The Pilates Teaser

Do this move to mobilise the spine and develop core and back strength.

Benefits: The Pilates teaser is notoriously one of the hardest of the Classical Pilates sequence. Frequent Pilates practice enables your body and mind to balance with strength and control in this ‘V’ position. The teaser helps build mobility and flexibility in your spine. It’s a traditional Pilates exercise that also strengthens your hip flexors and abdominal muscles, whilst increasing flexibility and balance. You seriously work the abs, back muscles and gluteus in this fab exercise.

How to do the teaser:

  • Lie on your back and raise both legs to a 45-degree angle, with arms extended behind the head.
  • Keeping the legs stable, inhale as you peel off the floor into a ‘V’ position at your hips (A).
  • Leave the legs lifted as you roll the body down slowly so you can really open and stretch the spine.
  • An advanced version of the pose is to keep your legs straight along the mat then raise them simultaneously with your upper body (B). Make sure the movement is slow and controlled.
  • Do 2-3 reps.

Group classes at Exhale Pilates London start from £35, private sessions are £85 and monthly memberships from £210. Visit exhalepilateslondon.com or follow @exhalepilateslondon

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