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We're all confined to our own spaces right now — and staying safe and healthy is priority number one. But senior physical therapist assistant and Pilates instructor Mary Jean McKinnon argues that blowing off steam should be a priority, too. 

"Often we think we must exercise as hard as possible to blow off steam, but actually, if we center our brains on the movement using our breath, then when we finish exercising we find a sense of calm. We are able to relax and absorb the good in the world," McKinnon says.

She explained that one of the pillars of the Pilates practice is breathing. "Pilates centers around the breath attaching the mind to movement," she said. "When we breathe we breathe in oxygen and exhale toxins."

Be mindful of your breath as you try the following Pilates exercises from home:

The Pilates Hundred

This classic Pilates exercise is designed to strengthen the abdominals and improve circulation. 

"Using the abdominals, flatten the stomach, thinking about a long stable torso," McKinnon instructed. "Pulse the arms two inches up and down, keeping the neck long and the head in a nod position. Breathe in for five pulses of the hands, and breathe out for five pulses of the hands."

  • Beginner: Knees bent, feet resting on the floor. 
  • Intermediate:  Legs in table top position (hips at a 90-degree angle, and knees at a 90-degree angle).
  • Intermediate- Advanced: Straight legs, with toes toward the ceiling.
  • Advanced: Straight legs at a 45 degree angle.



Clam Shells

Named because the motion resembles the opening of a shellfish, the Pilates clam shell exercise strengthens the back of the hip, which stabilizes the pelvis for walking and running.

  • Beginner: 
    • Knee Lift - Lie on your side, bring the waistline off the mat. Bend the knees, keeping the feet in line with the hips. Keep the feet together and lift the knee. Inhale for one repetition, and exhale for the next.
  • Intermediate
    • Foot Lift - In the same starting position described above, keep the knees together and lift the foot. Inhale for one repetition and exhale for the next.
  • Advanced
    • Knee and Foot Lift - In the same starting position described above, lift the foot, then lift the leg five inches. Inhale for one repetition and exhale for the next.



"On all fous, draw the waistline towards the spine, without rocking the hips," McKinnon said. "Try to make the body long, and imagine the crown of the head going away from the body."

  • Beginner:
    • Arm reaching - Exhale as the arm reaches out, and inhale as you bring the arm back to the start position. Keep the neck long.
    • Glute Activation - Activate glutes and use glute to bring the leg up (knee bent at 45 degrees).  Exhale as the heel goes up, inhale as the leg goes down.
  • Intermediate:
    • Arm/Legs Reach - Using the opposite arm and leg (for instance, if you're using your right leg, you'll use your left arm). Exhale as the arm and leg go away from the body and inhale as the arm and leg come back toward one another, knee to elbow. Keep the neck long and the torso stable.
  • Advanced:
    • Resistance Band - Lace the resistance band around your hands and feet, pushing away from the body as explained in the Intermediate description above.

Cool-Down: Knee Sways & Deep Breaths

As you cool down, finish up with some knee sways to promote spinal mobility. 

Draw in the waistline, making the body long, and rock the knees side to side. Inhale as the legs go to each side, then exhale as the legs return to center.

You can also try this with your legs in a "chair" position. With knees bent, lift your legs in the air (hips and knees both at 90-degree angles) and rotate side to side. Inhale as the legs go to each side, then exhale as the legs come to center.

Learn More About Making Healthy Choices From the Experts at OrthoCarolina

Whether you've recently experienced an injury, need help with recovery after tough workouts, or are simply experiencing chronic pain and need help managing it, OrthoCarolina can help. Make an appointment at a location near you to start getting the treatment you need.


Photos by Verywell Fit