This morning it was such a joy to take my gorgeous Ostara community members through a 30 minute Mindful Morning Pilates session over on Facebook Live.

One thing I’ve been asking our members to do these past few months, is to make sure they are making time for themselves – even if that is just 5 minutes on the floor with a door shut somewhere in their house.

It’s been a tumultuous couple of months and I think we’re all really feeling the effects of living in a very different way.

So a virtual squeeze from me and an opportunity to help them top up their energy bank!

To set them up, these were the 5 tips I shared to help them get the most out of it:

Pilates focused on relaxing and replenishing.

Simple and ready for the weekend.

Happy Friday

Love Julie x

P.S. Am curious, what would you add to the list above?

P.P.S. Check out my blog post on breathing exercises to relax and calm the mind

Abdominal Breathing

Belly Breathing

I often use this in teaching right at the start to help everyone to relax down, release tension and focus the mind. You breathe in a pattern of 4-2-6. Give it a go – great to do at the end of a busy, stressful day or whenever you just need a moment to reconnect to life.

Repeat this as many times as you need encouraging your body to relax and your mind to calm. Let the warmth of your hands represent a caring, friendly support. You can repeat “Inhale belly rises, exhale belly falls.”

Pilates Breathing

Fogging the Mirror

You can do this seated, in relaxation position or moving in any form!

The focus in fogging the mirror is on the exhale, which helps minimise tension. The relaxed jaw also helps let go of tension and helps to get the abdominals to engage properly.

Imagery for Breathing

Glass of Water

Imagine your torso was a drinking glass. Start with the glass empty and abdominals relaxed. Inhale slowly through your nose and fill the glass with water from the bottom to the top. Exhale slowly emptying the class from top to the bottom. This imagery focuses on relaxing the abdominals for better diaphragm movement and the initial action of the pelvic floor and focuses the attention on your abdominals rather than breathing using your shoulders and neck, which is what we tend to do when we shallow breathe. If you think you shallow breathe then give belly breathing a go (see above!).

I hope you find these helpful. Will you let me know if you try any of them?


P.S. Have you read my Pilates for Breathing blog post? There are some great breathing tips in there that I wrote with you in mind!

By far and away, one of the most asked questions I get is around pilates breathing, “I can’t quite get my breathing to match my movements,” “am I meant to breathing in or out?,” “I think I just stop breathing altogether!”

Please know that when you first start out on your pilates journey, nobody gets the breathing so you are not alone! The first objective of breath work in pilates is really just to become aware of your breathing and then to try and keep that breathe natural and fluid as you go; having that awareness is the start of building the mind/body connection that pilates is so famous for. Once you start to become aware of it, this will allow you to develop it as you go I promise.

“Breathing is the first and last act of life. Our very life depends on it.”

joseph pilates

So why is the breath so important then?

Breathing is a key pilates principle and is one of the building blocks of the practice along with alignment and centering (using core stability) – your ABCs! My community members will know all about this because I created a handy Guide for them all about it.

Intentional breath, or focused breathing, helps calm the nervous system, oxygenates the blood and gets rid of nasties (carbon dioxide) from the body, provides us with energy, activates our muscles and keeps our immune system ticking over.

Breathing is also directly related to the alignment of your skeleton. Nearly all muscles involved in breathing have a postural function and many of them are also involved in stability and help control good alignment as you move. In a nutshell, breathing directly influences stability and control of movement as well as posture and alignment so we are ticking a lot of boxes just by breathing well!

Your diaphragm is the muscle responsible for breathing in your body; it sits between your upper body and your lower body but all 3 parts are connected through your fascia system (that’s like wallpaper on your insides) so just by breathing slowly you are consciously stretching your whole torso – from your neck to your pelvic floor – very cool! The abdominal muscles (especially your deep core ones) are the ones you use to exhale, so breathing out helps kick start your body’s ability to stabilize.

That’s why you will hear cues like ’on your exhale, draw your belly button to your spine’ or ‘draw your abdominals down towards the spine’ or ‘feel your abdominals wrapping around your spine,” that’s me reminding you to think about actively recruiting yours abs on your exhale so as you can give your body some gentle support before you move. It always sounds so much more complicated than it is!

We use lateral (ribcage) breathing in pilates where we consciously breathe into the sides and backs of the ribcage (as if the ribcage was yawing apart), and then as we exhale the ribs draw back in to meet, allowing you to connect and hollow your deep adnominal muscles as you empty your lungs. You then aim to keep this ‘hollow’ as you take your next inhale; holding yourself stable.

Typically we inhale to prepare and exhale to move. However, this doesn’t always work for everyone – sometimes it can be useful to experiment and find a way that works best for you. I’ll do this in The Hundred sometimes when I find the in / out breath count of 5 is too much. If you’re in class with me, you will have seen me do in for 2 / out for 2. I think this is a good compromise for one of the more challenging pilates exercises and is easier to get handle on if you are new to it all.

Whatever you do, just don’t forget to actually breathe! Holding your breath, which is what most people do when they learn something new and are concentrating, adds to tension in the body and we’re trying to release it.

Just remember, that once you feel co-ordinated enough in your movements, then you can start to work on matching the breathe with what you’re doing. We will all be at different stages in our pilates journey so it’s about working in a way that feels right for you – take your time with it, don’t get impatient with yourself. Remember pilates is non-competitive; it’s a journey not a destination so enjoy the ride!

“Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor.”

joseph pilates

Foundational exercises to support pilates breathing:

Pilates breathing helps stretch the upper mid back, can help to release tightness in the neck, jaw and shoulders, can strengthen and restore good health to the pelvic floor muscles and of course can calm our nervous system. So many benefits!

Here are the key exercises to practice with – get noisy with it and have fun!

Good luck!


P.S. Did you realise there was so much going on with just one breathe? I love to know if these tips might make a difference to your pilates practice so if you try them, be sure to leave me a comment with your thoughts.

P.P.S Have you read my post on breathing exercises that I wrote for you too? They are great to have in your back pocket for when you need to take a moment out for yourself or to practice your pilates breathing. I’ve linked them here for you.

I’d like to thank my wonderful friend, James for writing this fantastic piece about looking after your back! James is a man who knows a thing or two about backs – a graduate of Cambridge University, he’s a Consultant Spinal Surgeon with the NHS and is the man you’ll end up in front of it you don’t look after your back! He’s also recovering from covid-19, which he contracted whilst working during the pandemic. A true hero and legend – if you don’t believe me about looking after your back, then you must believe him!

Back pain is a major cause of health problems world wide with up to 70% of adults experiencing back pain during their life time. Despite the attempts of Marty Mcfly going ‘Back to the Future’ remains rather difficult, meaning we cannot predict who will have problems with back pain.

In the majority of people back pain is a result of wear and tear changes in the lower levels of the spine where it joins the pelvis.

Mr. james tomlinson, nhs spinal consultant, frcs

Spine wear and tear will affect 100% of the population by a ‘certain age’ and is a natural part of the ageing process rather than a sign that something is wrong. Improvements in standards of living and healthcare have led to increased life expectancy, and higher levels of spine wear and tear due to longer lives. The treatment of back pain remains a difficult problem – largely driven by the fact that we still don’t understand the underlying causes, and why some individuals are so badly affected. The levels of spine wear and tear in those with and without low back pain may be very similar, and some of those who have significant pain may have no or little degeneration in their spine.

Back pain is more common in industrialised nations, and it has been suggested this may be due to lower levels of physical activity and physical deconditioning with weakness of the muscles supporting the spine.

Mr James tomlinson, nhs spinal consultant, frcs

Physical activity and movement will keep the spine muscles working and reduce the atrophy or loss of muscle bulk over time in those who have very low levels of physical activity. Any form of exercise that strengthens the low back muscles is useful to try and keep the spine healthy, but it is important to increase activity levels gradually!

Medical treatments for those who develop low back pain are usually pain relief and physiotherapy in the majority of patients with a lack of successful medical treatments for most cases. Physiotherapy often focuses on reconditioning the spine muscles and establishing normal movement patterns in the spine.

There is evidence that Pilates may help with keeping the spine muscles conditioned and can both help prevent back pain developing, and also improve symptoms in those who have low back problems.

Mr james tomlinson, nhs spinal consultant, frcs

In the words of Desiderius Erasmus the Dutch philosopher ‘prevention is better than cure’. It is of vital importance that we maintain our physical condition and health as we live longer and longer.

Given the lack of successful medical treatments for low back pain, maintaining spine movement and conditioning is critical and may play a key role in prevention of low back pain so get moving!

P.S. In case you missed it, here’s my 8 pilates exercises to ease low back pain

This post was originally published on the 13 June 2020 at and has had over 132 views.

Did you know I ended up in pilates because I suffered chronic low back pain for over 2 years when I was in my mid twenties? It’s true. I was 25 and couldn’t even bend over to tie my shoes.

I had over 30 physio sessions, took prescribed sleeping tablets, had 2 MRI scans and a set of injections in my lumbar facet joints and not one single thing made a difference to the pain I felt day in and day out. It was truly debilitating in every way. I spent hours in the dead of night reciting Philip Larkin poems, willing the day to come. When it did, I spent hours lying on the floor stretching. I had to trade my beloved heels for not so beloved flat shoes and had to alternate between standing and sitting everywhere I went, and yet no position felt comfortable. I had to have a zillion adjustments made at work and used a wedge cushion for driving.

And then along came a newly graduated, fresh faced physio from Down Under who took one look at me and said, “you need to do pilates.” At that point in time, the only person I’d heard of who did pilates was Madonna and the only place to do it was in LA! However, if he had said get yourself and on a plane to Arizona and jump off the Grand Canyon to sort it, I would have done it! As luck would have it, I didn’t have to do that, nor did I have to go to LA to hang out with Madonna. Instead the gym at RBS Gogarburn, where I was working like a dog, was about to launch a run of pilates classes so I immediately signed up.

I remember every single thing about that lesson. There was a total of 5 exercises with the rest of the class being structured around learning completely alien things to me like spinal alignment, finding a neutral pelvis and how to make best friends with your ‘corset’ of support to support your back (corset = your deep abdominal muscles). I remember having to do a curl up and was shocked to find that I could barely lift my head off the mat, let alone my back! But in that 60 minutes something magical happened; for the first time in 2 years, I left that room with zero pain. How could that be? After everything I’d done to try and manage my back pain in 2 years, including a medical intervention, how could 60 minutes of 5 exercises melt it away? It left me feeling light and happy and I was hooked. The pain came back but the more I went to pilates the less and less it came back until eventually it didn’t come back at all!

That was way back in 2005. It’s a true story and, fifteen years on, is the reason I still do pilates everyday – be in 10 minutes or 60. I never want to feel that pain again – anyone who has suffered chronic low back pain will get my drift here. It is the pitts and effects everything in your life.

I felt stronger, calmer and more able to enjoy life with each and every class. I started to live my life in a different way and as time went on, I also started to notice things that were out of kilter with my new found way of living, particularly the fact that I had been spending faaaarrrr too long chained to a desk all day, working in a high performing team for a high performing company and busting a gut to keep up. It was stressful, fast paced and – dare I say it – cut throat at times. Recognise it? Yip, all of that contributed to my back issues too. In fact, within a year of conquering my back pain through pilates, I quit my high performing job and went to work for a smaller business that still had high expectations of delivery but without the competitive, internal politics of the big global corporation I was slogging away for. It was also handily located within the city centre which meant I could ditch the 1 hour commute to work each way and actually walk to work (and also meant I could fit in 2 pilates classes a week instead of 1).

Pilates really has been the only thing that has helped my back – it has been worth every penny of investment I have made on it. It is so easy to slip it in to your day – spending just 10 minutes on 4 or 5 exercises every day, or every other day, will leave you feeling stronger, calmer and better about everything; do if for long enough and you’ll start to see those little magical shifts in how you go about your every life stuff. I promise.

It is incredibly difficult to truly ‘damage’ your back but like any living thing (yes your spine is a living, breathing thing!), if you don’t look after it, it will stop working. There is lots of medical research to support the fact that you no longer have to hold an anatomical position and work the back mechanically; movement in all directions is best. Here are my 8 go to pilates exercises to help loosen off a stiff or sore low back – do all 8 or pick and choose a few. Aim for around 8 -10 reps of each 2 or 3 times a day if you can; they are truly magical for your back:

Sore back? Feeling stressed? Looking for a way to exercise that fits neatly into your every day life in a way that will build strength, reduce stress and will 100% leave you feeling better than before you rolled your mat out? Then join the other 100+ people signed up to my newsletter for hints, tips and guides on how the magic of pilates can help you every day too.

After a hard day’s work, sometimes heading to the gym for a big sweaty workout session can seem like the last thing you feel like doing. Thank goodness for pilates then. You can roll out your mat at home and in as little as 20 minutes feel stronger, rejuvenated and more relaxed. You don’t need any expensive equipment and you don’t need to be a celebrity to do it either!

1. It’s a simple way to send stress packing

I recently surveyed my long standing clients who shared that just one hour of pilates a week left them feeling less stressed and more energised afterwards. Pilates has a magical quality to it; it will bring your body and your mind together from the minute you step onto your mat and leave them talking long after a session. Breathing, relaxing and flowing movements all help to calm the nervous system, lower your stress levels and focus your mind.

Not only that, my pilates community are incredibly fun to be around so spending any amount of time with them is guaranteed to lift your spirits.

2. It future proofs your body

Start it before you have any aches and pains like in your low back, and you stand to reap the benefits of the practice long term; core strength, flexibility, balance and better posture are just a few of the pay outs of a consistent practice. A low impact form of exercise, it targets your bones and joints moving them in a healthy way that keeps them mobile, well oiled and helps maintain bone strength which can help protect proactively against things like osteoporosis.

3. Anyone can do it

One of my most favourite things about pilates is that it is a non competitive form of exercise that any body can do AND reap the benefits. It is gentle and kind on the body but still has the ability to leave you feeling like you have worked out. I teach a whole variety of classes and people, shapes and sizes. From foundational beginner sessions (i have one kicking off on Monday 11 May – just FYI), that focus on teaching you the all important basics of the method, to more conditioning based dynamic reformer sessions, to junior pilates, pre and post natal and silver swans; there is something for every body at every stage of their life so don’t be fooled into thinking pilates is only for the instagram generation – it’s a lot more than fancy inversions and the ability to bend over and touch your toes!

4. No poor posture here folks

Pilates is used by everyone from athletes, to celebrities, to those chained to their desk 24/7 because of its ability to develop strengthen and correct posture in the key areas of the hips/lower back, upper back and neck. Basically counteracting the effects of slouching.

Typically in a class I’ll look to focus on areas effected by sitting all day in C position (aka the rather unattractive ‘hunched back’). A session will see me targeting and releasing overactive areas of the chest, shoulders, upper back and hip flexor muscles as well as activating and strengthening your bum, abs and shoulder stabilisers.

Muscles are worked in isolation and then more dynamically in a functional way (how they were designed to be used in daily life). This all helps with training dynamic stability, which is the body’s ability to hold itself in good alignment and an upright posture for longer periods of time. This is important because it means your body can respond to the demands placed on it in faster and in safer ways (that means your less likely to incur wear and tear injuries by the way – see point 2 above).

5. It’s a no fuss way to exercise

Like i said at the start, you can roll out your mat at home and you don’t need any expensive equipment. Technically you don’t even need a mat as long as you have something soft to lie on to protect your back!

Comfortable joggie bottoms or leggings and some water to sip on and your good to pilates!

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