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Combat stress and improve digestion with this simple stretch

Practicing slow, controlled breathing during this move helps reduce stress and anxiety.
Memaid Workout
The mermaid pose stretches the obliques, inner thighs and shoulders.TODAY Illustration

In this series, we’re helping you master basic exercises — as if you had a personal trainer by your side! Our goal is to equip you with the knowledge to perform these moves properly in order to get better results and prevent injury.

It’s the holiday season, which means lots of tasty treats and less movement. For many of us (myself included!) this can lead to digestive issues like bloating or upset stomach. That’s why I like to practice moves that aid in digestion — and one of my favorites is the mermaid pose.

This Pilates exercise stretches the waist and expands your chest for easier breathing. Practicing slow, controlled breathing during the move also helps reduce stress and anxiety and calm the mind.

What does the Pilates mermaid do for the body?

The mermaid pose stretches the obliques, inner thighs and shoulders. If you’re looking to improve your flexibility in any of these regions, the mermaid is a great move to incorporate into your routine. It's also a good way to prepare your body for more challenging moves that require twisting or bending.

Besides improving flexibility, the Pilates mermaid can help with your breathing. When we’re stressed out and constantly running around, our breaths gets shorter and faster. The mermaid offers us a reprieve from life’s stressors and helps open the chest, which can slow your breathing and calm your body.

The common mistakes people make when doing the Pilates mermaid

If you’ve never taken Pilates before, you may be nervous about proper technique when trying moves at home. While that’s a valid concern, there are ways to avoid making the common mistakes beginners often fall victim to.

Most of my clients struggle with posture while performing the Pilates mermaid pose. While performing the move, it’s important to avoid arching your back or tilting your neck too far in any direction.

In order to avoid common mistakes, keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep your back straight. Avoid arching your low back, instead keep your spine in a neutral position.
  • Don’t strain your neck too far or lean your head in any direction. Your neck should extend from your spine naturally.
  • Avoid stretching too far to the point where the position becomes uncomfortable. The Pilates mermaid should be a comfortable and relaxing stretch.

How to do a modified Pilates mermaid

If you aren’t very flexible, Pilates or yoga stretches may make you nervous. A lot of my clients are under the impression that if you can’t perform a move to its maximum difficulty, you can’t perform the move at all. However, there are plenty of ways to modify moves to fit your flexibility level and still reap benefits.

To perform a modified Pilates mermaid, follow the same step-by-step instructions, but, only lean halfway (or as far as you are comfortable) into the stretch. You can also try keeping your planted arm closer to your body when leaning toward the side for added support.

How to perform the Pilates mermaid correctly

If you’re ready to perform the full movement, follow these simple steps:

  1. Sit on your butt with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Fold both legs to the left. Place your right hand on the floor for support and sit upright with your back straight.
  2. Raise your left arm straight in the air above your head. Be sure you are maintaining good posture by straightening your spine,pulling your shoulders away from your ears and reaching your head toward the ceiling.
  3. Begin leaning toward the right, stretching the left side of your waist. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
  4. Bring your left hip back toward the mat and use your core to return to an upright position.
  5. Bring your left arm down and repeat on the opposite side by folding the legs to the right, reaching the right arm toward the ceiling and bending toward the left.

4 exercises that will help you perform the Pilates mermaid better

If you want to work on your flexibility before jumping in to this move, these four exercises can help.

Standing side stretch

Standing with your feet together, lift your right arm straight up into the air. Keep your left arm at your side or on your hip. Bend at the waist toward your left so that you feel a stretch in the right side of your waist. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Cat and cow

On all fours, place your hands underneath your shoulders and your hips over your knees. Inhale as you arch your back, look up and bring your shoulders back to stretch the chest. Then, exhale as you pull your abs in and round your back, dropping your head toward the floor. Repeat this 10 times.

Ear-to-shoulder neck stretch

Sitting or standing with your back straight, gaze forward. Slowly bring your head down toward your right shoulder. Think about reaching the right ear toward the right shoulder. Feel the stretch in the left side of your neck. Return to the starting position and repeat toward the left side.

Butterfly pose

Sit on your butt with your back upright and your shoulders pulled back. Bend your knees out to the side and bring the bottoms of your feet together. Hold your feet with your hands and stay upright or slowly bend forward for a more intense stretch.

More ways to master the move: