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A woman spotting another woman in a balancing move.
Massage Therapy and Pilates, A Healthy Partnership
By Ken Endelman

Many spas offer classes in Pilates - and since massage therapy is the number-one service provided at spas, it's only natural that these two practices are crossing paths. Today, many clients are experiencing the benefits that come from combining massage with Pilates training. A number of massage therapists are training in Pilates - and some have even become certified Pilates instructors, allowing them to integrate the two techniques for their clients.

According to Linda Burquez, a massage therapist and certified Pilates trainer for Synergy Pilates and Massage Center in the Nevada City, California, "Integrating Pilates and massage can have a profound effect in helping clients achieve a stronger, relaxed and balanced body."

Many studios, like Synergy, offer massage therapy to complement their Pilates training programs, and others regularly refer clients to massage therapists. At the same time, massage therapists have realized the benefits of Pilates training both for their clients and for maintaining balance within their own bodies.

The Mind-Body Experience
Pilates, a complete mind-body method of physical conditioning developed by and named for Joseph Pilates, helps build strength and flexibility, reduce stress, improve posture and relieve chronic pain. Pilates focuses on the core, or "powerhouse," of the body - the abdominal muscles, lower back, hips and buttocks - and incorporates deep-breathing techniques that help improve concentration and control while reducing stress and anxiety.

A man assisting a woman to balance and deepen her side stretch.Pilates not only contributes to oneís physical well-being; it also helps to connect the mind to the body. Through proper breathing and concentrating on the movements, the practitioner becomes more aware of how his body feels, where it is in space, and how to control his movements. With Pilates, practitioners gain strength in the body, as well as in the mind.

Pilates exercises can be performed in two ways: on specially designed Pilates equipment, or on a mat. Students can take private instruction, or attend group sessions in a Pilates studio.

Integrating Massage Therapy and Pilates
Pilates and massage offer similar benefits to clients. Both promote better circulation; feeding muscles, bones and internal organs with the oxygen and nutrients they need to function properly. Like massage, Pilates promotes greater flexibility and range of motion, and reduces muscle tension and stiffness. Having stronger, more flexible muscles also improves balance and helps put the body in its proper alignment.

Integrating Pilates training with massage therapy can help eliminate chronic pain or tension points. Angela Crowley, a massage therapist and certified Pilates instructor who owns the Phoenix Center in Denver, Colorado, found that her massage clients would return week after week with tension in the same areas she had released in previous sessions. She said she realized if her clients didnít learn to change how they were using their bodies, they would continue to hold tension in the same muscles. She began teaching Pilates to augment her massage practice. Today her clients often have back-to-back Pilates and massage sessions.

"The massage and Pilates systems really work well hand-in-hand to strengthen muscles and release tension," Crowley said. "For example, a lot of people have very tight neck and shoulder muscles. Those people typically have weak upper back muscles that support the shoulder blades. Pilates training strengthens the upper back muscles, creating a counter balance that allows the neck and shoulder muscles to relax."

Burquez agrees that mixing Pilates and massage techniques creates balance in opposing muscle groups. "When assessing a client, I pay close attention to the opposing muscle groups. One may be tight, while the other is weak. Pilates strengthens the weak muscles, and massage releases tension in the areas that are tight, " she said.

On the other hand, massage can make Pilates work more effective. Tom Bowthorpe, a certified massage therapist and certified Pilates trainer, directs the Pilates practice for Body Concepts, Inc., in El Dorado Hills, California. He uses massage to increase his clientsí range of motion. If a clientís shoulder is stiff, for example, Bowthorpe might begin the session with massage to loosen the muscles and then use Pilates exercises to further improve the range of motion.

Bowthorpe often splits client sessions by incorporating 30 to 45 minutes of Pilates training, followed by massage to end the session. "My clients love the combination," Bowthorpe said. "They really like the aspects of getting a full workout session and then ending it with a massage to relax the muscles they just worked. They leave feeling really good. "

Pilates Training
One woman aiding another woman to get a deeper stretch.The crossover of the Pilates and massage disciplines also benefits practitioners. Getting to know Pilates trainers and working closely with them creates a new source for referrals. Burquez regularly refers her Pilates clients to massage therapists to conduct more passive forms of muscle release. Whenever possible, she works closely with the massage therapist and suggests muscles she sees that need the most work. "Partnering with my clientís massage therapist helps the client attain a strong and balanced body, " Burquez said.

In addition to the business aspects, massage therapists who practice Pilates themselves realize a number of benefits. Many massage therapists overuse the muscles in their shoulders when giving a massage, creating the kind of tension and stress they try to work out of their clients.

Pilates teaches therapists to use the core muscle groups, making their movements more efficient. Burquez, a former full-time massage therapist, said learning Pilates changed the way she practiced massage therapy. "I found that implementing Pilates techniques made giving a massage more effortless, and I didnít feel as tense at the end of the day, " she said.

Massage Therapists As Pilates Instructors
Itís not uncommon to find Pilates instructors with a background in massage therapy. Massage therapists already understand the value of enhancing the mind-body connection and increasing body awareness. Their knowledge of anatomy and kinesiology also enhances a clientís Pilates workout. A Pilates instructor with massage experience is trained to spot muscle imbalances and can use that knowledge to tailor a workout to better meet the clientís needs. In addition, the instructor can integrate massage techniques, such as muscle-energy release, into the training session to relieve muscle spasms or tight areas.

Whether they implement Pilates training in their massage practices or form an alliance with a Pilates trainer, massage therapists who integrate these two important healing approaches provide powerful benefits for themselves and their clients.

Ken Endelman has been involved with the Pilates industry for more than two decades. His company, Balanced Body, is the largest manufacturer of Pilates and Gyrotonicģ equipment.

 
 

 

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