Get to know Lily: The path to Pilates as a data scientist and runner

For nearly four years, I have found myself tethered to a desk facing thousands of lines of soft programming codes and processing millions of data points. One may believe that the life of a data scientist is very left-brained, yet the magnitude of these numbers contains incredible potential. The creativity is endless, and I am able to leverage my skills to extract a wealth of information from huge volumes of data. Such infinite opportunity is why I love my job.

Photograph by Amber LXX Projects

Little did I know that my affinity for infinity does have its limits. The hours spent at a desk, on a keyboard, began to fall into working overtime. I ate lunch at my desk and never took moments during the day to move or stretch my body. I did not realize how overwhelming this lifestyle was for my mind and body. Most often I squeezed out 1~2 hours after work for my daily run.

When I was in college, running was always a perfect way for me to deal with stress. However, after entering the working field, I found it harder for me to reap the benefits from running. Often I felt that I was not ready for a run after a work day, both mentally and physically. Running seemed like a burden rather than a remedy. I was ignoring all the negative side effects of being overworked at the desk, such as muscle aches, stiff neck, anxiety and depression.

In 2018, I joined Iron Butterfly Pilates as a client and was impressed by the mind-body focus that the exercises demanded. I never had a workout that required so much attention to detail, especially body alignment and breathing. I realized only when finding the correct body alignment, I was able to make most out of an exercise – and breathing gave good rhythm to each movement. As I practiced more, the aches, stiffness and other desk-ridden ailments began to change.

Photograph by Amber LXX Projects

The first direct improvement was my posture. It usually creates a kyphotic head‐forward posture to spend hours gazing at a computer screen, along with overly tight trapezius muscles and shortened pectoral muscles. The neck muscles grow tense, and tend to trigger stress and headaches. A lot of exercises in Pilates actually focus on neck and spine alignment, back extension and chest opening, such as Pulling Straps, Swan and Chest Expansion. They all help me release those muscle tension, reduce strain on the shoulder joints and find the balance again.

Pilates also guided me towards a stronger sense of body awareness. Previously I would not pay attention to my breathing when I was driving to work or sitting in the office. After practicing Pilates, I learned that breathing is the foundation of our existence and it is essential for our health and well-being. I started practicing diaphragmatic breathing during my working time. Because it requires engaging abdominal muscles, when I was breathing that way, my spine would be pulled back to its natural curve and I was sitting in a better posture. I also found breathing in a right way helps decrease stress and calms my mind and spirit, so I was able to handle those heavy duty projects in a clearer state, and survive hours of high concentration in work.

Pilates prepared my body for long distance running. I have loved running for years, but I don’t think I gave enough credit to my core – especially those deep muscles that support the spine and keep you steady and upright. After months of consistent Pilates training, I found that I was able to save more energy for a same distance run than before, and my breathing was easier. This was largely because I built the strength of my core to keep my upper body in an efficient running form, so I did not have to drain energy reserves to fight an incorrect posture.

Currently, when I am back on the trail, I feel more energy from my body, mind, and spirit. I am able to focus on my day-time job, yet stay active in running. Pilates has contributed significantly to this transformation. Besides, it has provided me a perfect way to stretch out my body after running or work.

A few of my favorite Pilates stretch exercises are lunges at the reformer, mermaid, elephant, footbar stretch and side lying leg stretch on trap table. I used to skip stretching after my workout. But now, it becomes an enjoyable experience utilizing all the apparatus in Pilates.

I strongly believe Pilates is an avenue to find a healthier, happier and balanced version of self, and every body will be able to find their own unique connections to this versatile practice!