Avoiding a Dowager’s Hump With Yoga and Pilates

I first became involved in martial arts when my children wanted fell in love with Jackie Chan. Taking them along to a local class, I discovered that we could all learn it together. Two years later, they had both moved on to other hobbies whilst I was well and truly hooked, going on to become a teacher and take a black belt grading.

It was great for weight loss, with three full-on, aerobic, sweat sessions each week involving lots of co-ordinated arm, leg and core exercise. My muscles became so much more pumped and defined. I developed a six-pack and my bottom was tight as a drum. My body was changing in a way that it never had as a result of aerobics classes. I looked fabulous, but what I didn’t realise was the problems that I was setting up for the future.

Five years later, I started working part-time as a school crossing patrol guard and, within a few months, I noticed sharp pains in the tops of my arms. After trying to train around the pain, I consulted a professional and was diagnosed with impingements in both shoulders. It would seem that all those sit-ups had distorted my body shape and pulled my trunk forwards, altering the angle of my neck and shoulders and creating the beginnings of a dowager’s hump. Continually hitting things compounded the problem and adding the repetitive nature of swinging a lollipop around was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.

That’s when I discovered yoga and Pilates. At first I wondered how I was going to be satisfied with such apparently gentle exercise, but then I started to understand. Yoga is an on-going study that will last for the rest of my life and Pilates is a skill that needs to be learned if you want to retain optimum movement into old age. Both work the body just as effectively as my previous sweat sessions but in a much more focused way. Slow movements into postures that are held for a period of time require just as much effort from specific muscle groups as their more energetic martial counterparts.

Yin Yoga was a revelation. It took the hold of postures to an extreme I would never have thought of but, providing the less flexible like me make use of all the props – blankets, blocks and bolsters – to support limbs and muscles that are not used to such exercise, it can be an amazing way to release the connective tissue which can become tight through stress.

What I’ve learned from my studies and what I notice in my body is that repeating the yoga postures or Pilates exercises every day has changed my body once again. The definition is still there, but it is softer, less pumped and, therefore, less damaging because each muscle works in conjunction with the rest of the body rather than being exercised individually. There is no knock-on effect from over-stimulating one set of muscle fibres to the detriment of another. And, because the focus is on standing correctly, my revised posture has almost completely corrected the curvature of my spine.

For the first time in years I am standing up straight and, whilst I really miss hitting things, I know that I am exercising as hard as I ever was but in a more refined manner. I think this was brought home to me most forcibly recently when two young men attended the Pilates class. Both in their 20s, they seemed to struggle to do even the most basic level of core strength exercises and were most perturbed to notice that ladies who were old enough to be their grandmother were managing without difficulty. It was most revealing.

Jo Shaer, Lollipop Lady and Local Social Media Manager

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