WE’VE all be trying to connect with nature since the lockdown, but Karen Stalley-Turner, well she really connects with it.

As more of us are exercising outdoors due to gym closures, Karen knows all about the flexible fusion of physical exertion in the open air.

She runs Pilates sessions across Essex - but with a difference. Her classes are set in the woods - some of the county’s most beautiful nature spots to be exact.

Karen, 39, who lives in Leigh with her husband, their son and their family dog got into Pilates more than 15 years ago while she was working in London.

Being cooped up in an office made her realise she needed to move her body more. She also missed looking at the beautiful Essex countryside all day.

“I loved the way Pilates helped ease stress and aches and pains,” she said.

Basildon Standard:

Classes - Karen Stalley-Turner

“The more you practice the stronger you get and the more you benefit from it. It’s great that you can go to a class and take it easy and do lots of simple stretching or you can choose the intermediate or advanced levels and leave the class knowing you’ve worked really hard.”

Karen fell in love with Pilates so much she decided to learn how to teach it. She began studying for a Pilates teaching qualification in 2018 at Body Bliss Yoga in Leigh.

Once qualified Karen realised she could take her classes to the next level- under the swaying trees of Belfairs Woods in Leigh and Hanningfield Nature Reservoir near Billericay.

“These are really popular wellness events are held in partnership with the Essex Wildlife Trust,” added Karen.

“To me teaching Pilates us immensely rewarding, especially when clients tell me how the classes are improving their lives.

“Whether it has improved their mobility, increased range of motion given them, a stronger core or no more back pain, it’s wonderful to hear what clients say. They often say things like ‘I loved looking up at the trees’ or ‘I felt so relaxed breathing in the fresh air’.”

Some fitness experts believe the demise of indoor gyms could be on the way as more people opt to exercise outside- where you have more personal space and it’s free.

“Exercising outdoors has been proven to have a host of benefits and it’s great if these sessions can encourage people to get out into these beautiful spaces,” said Karen.

“You get the ‘feel good’ endorphins from being outside in natural daylight and surrounded by nature and also get the endorphins from the exercise.

“It feels amazing! The light breeze and rustling of the trees really helps you let go of any tension and feel ‘in the moment’.”

Classes go ahead even if it’s chilly or raining - but you can wrap up warm in a hoodie.

To be fair, Karen admits she actually prefers it when Mother Nature shows her presence and it rains: “We are under the cover of the trees which protect us from getting too wet but I love being outside in the rain. It makes me feel alive.”

Of course the woodland Pilates classes are temporarily on hold due to the Covid restrictions but Karen is planning to re-start classes as soon as possible in the new year.

Meanwhile, she says by doing Pilates at home or in your garden, you can enjoy a swathe of health benefits.

Karen added: “The benefits of doing Pilates especially at the moment with everything that is happening are- deep breathing calms the mind and body, it improves your posture, mental health and sleep, reduces anxiety and boosts your mood.”

Like many fitness leaders Karen has had to adapt to life in a coronavirus -plagued world. She has recently achieved a prenatal and pregnancy Pilates qualification so she can hold one-to-one sessions with mothers-to-be.

She has also moved a lot of her pilates classes to Zoom. Once this lockdown is over she will continue with hr evening class at the Therapy Life Centre in Prittlewell Chase. Contact Karen on social media under ‘Karen Stalley-Turner Pilates’.