Pilates to boost the immune system

What a very unfortunate state the world is in right now and so it is of the utmost importance we look after our health & well-being. Pilates is a great way to keep you moving in the safety of your own home.  Most of us are aware of the positive effect the Pilates Method has on the musculoskeletal system, as well as our mental well-being, but have you ever thought about its ability to support the immune system? This was exactly what Joseph Pilates intended when he designed Contrology or the Pilates Method, as we know if today.

When Pilates is performed correctly – rhythmically with deep full breaths and a co-ordinated body & mind, you are likely to feel a flush through your body or what Joseph Pilates termed an ‘internal shower’. His idea was that every last atom of old air should be squeezed from the lungs so that fresh invigorating oxygen could flood the body by way of the circulatory system. Exercise helps pump oxygenated blood all the way through the body to the furthest capillaries, nourishing them & carrying away old debris.

This, in part, formed the basis of everyone’s favourite exercise – the hundreds, as well as many of his rolling exercises – rolling like a ball, roll ups & rollover.

Rolling the body in & out, as well as the dynamic pumping of breath & limbs, is also the perfect way to stimulate & maintain the health of the lymphatic system with exercise like Single Leg Stretch.

Often regarded as the lesser sister of the circulatory system, the lymphatic system actually plays a crucial role in your body’s ability to protect against disease and heal from injury. Like the circulatory system, the lymphatic system is a series of vessels throughout the body. The difference is that it acts as a purification system, draining dirty fluid from the tissues & returning it once cleansed. Strung along the lymphatic vessels, like pearls knotted on a string, are lymph nodes that serve as a series of cleaning filters. Lymph tissue also generates & stores white blood cells, which are the blood cells that fight infection. Bacteria, toxins and other microbes are picked up in the lymphatic fluid, trapped in the lymph nodes where they are attacked and destroyed by the white blood cells, supporting the immune system. Purified lymph (clean fluid) is then returned via the vessels to just above your heart where it re-enters the blood stream.

Unfortunately, the lymphatic system doesn’t have its own pump like the circulatory system. It is powered by breath & the movement of your muscles, making the Pilates method the ideal driving force. Pilates repertoire not only focuses on breath, but continuously mobilises the hip & shoulder joint where lymph nodes are located, creating a pumping action for the lymphatic system. Just a few examples include leg & footwork, single leg stretch, double leg stretch & once again the hundreds. Much of the repertoire is also conducted in a supine or lying position reducing gravity’s impact on the flow of this system. Inverted exercises such as long spinal, handstand & candle, also assist in the same manner. Finally, Pilates focuses on ‘core’ movement which helps stimulate the flow of lymph in the cysterna chyli, an important collection point for lymph, which is positioned in the abdominal cavity.

By keeping your lymphatic system flowing, you support every other system in your body, especially the immune & digestive system. Many believe that poor lymph health underlies a host of conditions from cancer to cellulite, as well as your ability to ward off the common cold or flu, and hopefully the Corona Virus. So, let’s keep breathing, rolling, pumping and inverting just like Joe intended and look forward to the day normality returns once again to our world.

Sending our best wishes to you all, stay safe & well,


“I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They’d be happier.”- Joseph Hubertus Pilates, in 1965, age 86