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Q&A: With Pilates Expert Aimee Johnson

Aimee_Johnson_Leeds_Pilates_ Blossom_and_Preen_Q&A

Have you wanted to try Pilates but don’t know where to start? We chat with Leeds, UK-based instructor Aimee Johnson, who is also currently studying physiotherapy at university, to explore the world of Pilates and its benefits.

Aimee dives into the question of what Pilates really is and how it differs from other forms of exercise. She also discusses the various types of Pilates workouts available, including Reformer and Barre, and how to find a style that suits your needs. 

What inspired you to become a Pilates trainer, and how did you know it was the right time?

I grew up as a dancer, so controlled, mindful movement has always been a part of my life. When I stopped dancing I wasn’t sure how to fill that hole, but once I found Pilates and Barre it was a no brainer. I trained during lockdown as I had just left a dead-end job and thought there was no better time. It turned out to be the best decision ever.

What exactly is Pilates and how is it different from other types of exercise?

Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates as a way to rehabilitate injured, disabled or sick prisoners of war during World War I. Every exercise will incorporate a stretch element with a strength element. It focuses a lot more on technique and precision of the movement to really get the best out of the exercise for the body.

There are various forms of Pilates, including Reformer and Barre. If you’re new to Pilates and want to try it for the first time, how do you suggest someone starts?

I’d definitely try Pilates first. However, do be aware there are different styles of Pilates: the traditional kind, as taught by Joseph Pilates, or the more contemporary style, where there's a blend of strength training or yoga for example. Not every teacher teaches the same style or in the same way, so if you attend one you don’t particularly enjoy, try another. I would then progress to Barre or Reformer as you can take your technique from mat Pilates and apply them so you get more out of the class. Barre is more to the beat of the music and Reformer adds more resistance by being on the moving carriage attached to different strength springs. All as fun as each other.

What do you like or enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy spending so much time with others who appreciate Pilates, Barre and Reformer as much as I do. I love hearing that people who have never enjoyed the gym and feel lost for not liking exercise then try Pilates and finally find a method of movement they enjoy.

What advice would you give someone wanting to make movement and working out part of their lifestyle?

Find a method you enjoy. You’re more likely to quit something you don’t like and that then has a negative impact on your mind. If you don’t enjoy the gym, try a run club? If you don’t like running, is there a tennis court nearby? There are so many methods to move and when you find one you enjoy it doesn’t feel ‘a chore’. It becomes fun.

How does movement benefit you on a daily basis, how does it help your day-to-day?

Movement gives me time to get out of my mind and focus on my body. You can enter a class with a busy mind, but once that music is on and you start warming up, your attention is drawn to your mat, your breath and your body and it gives you, even just an hour, of ‘you time’. This personally helps with the stress of uni - I can be a ball of stress but as soon as I put that mic on, I’m free to move with others, be inspired by clients and have fun.

How do you take time for yourself and incorporate movement into your own routine?

I do find this hard when I am stressed with life, however I try not to be hard on myself. I will always try and move my body, even if it’s for 20 minutes. Whether it’s a class, going to the gym or just going on a walk. It will always be beneficial and you will always feel better after. I like to mix up my training style and cross train Pilates and Barre with weight training and cardio. I don’t set certain days to certain styles, just however I feel that day so that there is less pressure on myself.

In 2022, you opened up about your battle with endometriosis. Have you found that exercise helps to relieve your symptoms? Which forms of movement have you found the most beneficial?

When I’m having an endometriosis flare, exercise is the last thing on my mind as I just curl up in a bed and try sleep it off. However there have been occasions where I have had to work while having a flare and the movement has 100% helped the pain - not completely taken it away, but definitely helped. I do know a few clients with endometriosis who, unlike me, find movement hugely beneficial during a flare. They have all said Pilates, Barre or Yoga classes help the most as they don't increase cortisol - they connect you to your breath and allow the body to stretch. Sometimes the abdomen/pelvic region becomes tight due to pain and clenching, so stretching these areas can help some individuals.

QUICK-FIRE ROUND:

When I’m lacking motivation to move my body, I… 

Put on my favourite upbeat playlist to get me going (usually Shania Twain).

I feel most empowered when… 

I’m teaching a class full of clients having fun together, sweating together, burning together and getting stronger together - all to a remix of Taylor Swift.

When I need some self-care, I…

Go to my parents' house to hug my dog. Hugging Alfie, our Golden Retriever, is without a doubt the best method of self-care and relaxation for me. He’s like a weighted blanket full of love.

The best lesson I’ve learnt in life is…

What is meant for you will not pass by you. I know it’s cliché but there have been many points in my life when something didn’t go to plan and I was so upset. Yet every single time, something better came along after.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Believe in yourself and stop comparing yourself to others. Their talents make them amazing but your talents make you amazing.

You can find Aimee on Instagram: @aimeevictoriajohnson

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