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Unlocking hip and knee health: Integrating Pilates, Nia, and somatic practices

Unlocking Hip

Exercise like Pilates is excellent in strengthening and stabilising your joints. Whether you’ve had hip or knee surgery or not, you are likely to benefit from this form of exercise. Incorporating Pilates into your lifestyle is good for your general wellbeing, will strengthen and support your core and the muscles that surround your joints, and promote range of motion and flexibility.

Once you have completed your physiotherapy (and possibly biokinetics) rehabilitation after a knee or hip replacement, Pilates and similar exercise offers a gentle way to build muscle strength in a controlled and non-pressured environment. 

In the below article, Jeanne van der Merwe, founder of Think Silver studio, shares more about the benefits that Pilates, Nia and somatic practices have for knee and hip health.

When you do any of these exercises, do so in a controlled manner and make sure you don’t feel pain or discomfort. Remember that if you have had a joint replacement your range of motion may be limited. The activities should be adjusted to allow you to enjoy the process.

In the quest for optimal physical health, the hips and knees play pivotal roles as the foundational pillars of movement and stability. However, these joints are often susceptible to injury and discomfort due to factors such as sedentary lifestyles, improper movement patterns, and aging. To address these challenges, an integrated approach that combines the strengths of Pilates, Nia, and Somatic practices offers a holistic pathway to unlocking hip and knee health.

The role of Pilates in hip and knee health
Pilates, a movement system developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century, is renowned for its emphasis on core strength, alignment, and controlled movement. By fostering a strong core, Pilates provides essential support for the hips and knees, reducing undue strain and enhancing stability. Additionally, Pilates exercises are designed to improve joint mobility and muscle balance, which are crucial for maintaining healthy hip and knee function.

Key Pilates exercises for hip and knee health include:
Leg circles: Enhances hip mobility and stability.
Side-lying leg lifts: Strengthens the outer thigh and hip muscles, supporting knee alignment.
Bridge: Strengthens the glutes and hamstrings, providing support for the hips and knees.

Nia: A joyful approach to joint health
Nia, a holistic fitness practice that blends dance, martial arts, and healing arts, offers a dynamic and joyful approach to improving hip and knee health. Through its emphasis on body awareness and natural movement, Nia encourages participants to explore a range of motion in a way that feels nourishing and supportive. The practice’s focus on flexibility, strength, and balance directly benefits the hips and knees, promoting fluidity and resilience.

Nia techniques for hip and knee health include:
Hip swings: Increases hip mobility and releases tension.
Squats and lunges: Builds strength and stability in the legs and hips.
Fluid arm and leg movements: Enhances coordination and balance, reducing the risk of injury.

Somatic practices: Cultivating awareness for joint health
Somatic practices emphasise internal awareness and gentle movement exploration. By tuning into the body’s sensations and patterns, individuals can identify and release habitual tensions that contribute to hip and knee discomfort. Somatic exercises often involve slow, mindful movements that promote relaxation, flexibility, and neuromuscular re-education, leading to improved joint function and pain relief.

With somatic exercises for hip and knee health, all movement is done with subtle sense and awareness of the body. Exercises may include the following:
Pelvic tilts: Increases awareness and mobility in the lower back and hips.
Knee drops: Gently mobilises the hips and encourages relaxation.
Slow leg lifts: Enhances neuromuscular control and stability in the hip and knee joints.

Integrating Pilates, Nia, and somatic practices
To unlock the full potential of hip and knee health, an integrated approach that combines elements of Pilates, Nia, and somatic practices is recommended. A typical routine might begin with somatic awareness and movements focused on releasing tension, followed by Pilates exercises to build strength and stability, and conclude with Nia movements to integrate the body, mind, and spirit in motion.

It’s important to listen to your body and consult with qualified instructors or healthcare professionals to tailor the practices to your individual needs and goals. With regular practice and a holistic approach, integrating Pilates, Nia, and somatic practices can lead to greater mobility, stability, and overall wellbeing for your hips and knees. Beyond that, the benefits include calming your nervous system, improving your ability to heal and allowing the awareness you practice to filter into every aspect of your life.

Written by Jeanne van der Merwe (

Jeanne van der Merwe, founder of Think Silver studio, has dedicated over 25 years to the field of movement, specializing in the integration of somatic practices with Pilates and Nia. Her approach is rooted in the belief that awareness is the vehicle for change, guiding individuals to move with mindfulness and intention. Jeanne’s mission is to inspire transformative experiences, empowering her clients to embody alignment practices with greater ease and grace, leading to a harmonious balance of body, mind, and spirit.

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