‘Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness. Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily, and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.’
‘Contrology develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit.’
You’ve probably heard about Pilates – it’s an exercise system that’s kind to your body. It sounds unlikely and amazing – but can this be true?? I first came across it when I was training to be a classical dancer over 30 years ago and at that time it was a well-kept secret of dancers and elite athletes who benefited from its strengthening and rehabilitative techniques. More recently, it has come in to the public domain as more and more people are realising the benefits of this methodology.
And anyone can do it because it can be tailored to your level of fitness and ability
Moving mindfully will improve your posture, flexibility, strength, stamina and bien-etre!
The exercises I offer you, work on the finer muscles and fibres that support your skeleton, particularly around your back, abdomen and hips to build strength without building bulk
Find out how to streamline your body and refresh your mind through thoughtful exercise and breathing techniques…
Pilates : Friday at 10.30am – some experience desirable – please contact me for more information
Fundamentals of Pilates, Friday at 11.45am – for beginners and those with back/joint issues etc – please enquire
[email protected] studio, Audley End Village, near Audley End House –buy 10 classes and pay as you go
So what is Pilates?
Pilates is a mind-body exercise that mobilises and strengthens the muscles around your joints, improving your posture and thereby easing your aches and pains. It is also very useful if you are recovering from injury or illness because it doesn’t stress your body. It focuses on using the breathing in conjunction with the movements and requires you to concentrate and work slowly, taking care to move smoothly and precisely. For some unknown reason, it is sometimes seen as being mainly suitable for women of a certain age or for those with back-ache, but this is a misconception as it can be very demanding and can be practised at a highly athletic level – if that’s where you want it to take you.
Where did it come from?
Joseph H. Pilates, born in Germany in 1880, had been a sickly child who suffered with rickets and asthma but he trained himself to be a very fit and athletic man, going on to become a gymnast, circus performer and teacher.
He was training the Police forces in England in self-defence when the First World War broke out, and was sent to an internment camp where he worked in the hospital, helping the patients in their recovery by teaching them the exercises that he had developed.
He used the hospital bed frames for leverage, adding springs and other contraptions for resistance training and this was very successful in rehabilitating various individuals.
After the war, he went to the USA, meeting his future wife, Clara, on the journey. Together, they set up a studio in the same building as the New York City Ballet and worked with a steady stream of dancers and athletes for many years, further developing and honing the Pilates method which they called ‘Contrology’, whilst also teaching others to teach it.
In the 1960s, an English contemporary dancer and teacher called Alan Herdman was invited to New York to train with Carola Trier and Bob Fitzgerald, two instructors who had been trained by Pilates himself. Alan is credited with having brought Pilates to British shores, setting up a studio in London with modern versions of the hospital beds called ‘Reformers’ and ‘Cadillacs’ and he is still teaching and training teachers – in fact this is where I go for my own self-review.
Of course like many things that start with one person’s ideas, there are now many versions of the Pilates method and whilst they are all based on the original exercise principles that Joseph Pilates taught, they each have their own characteristics and styles. For example, Body Control Pilates, started up by Lynne Robinson has some really good watered down versions of nearly every exercise and is a brilliant place to start effective and enjoyable training, with plenty of scope for more challenging work.
STOTT Pilates (with which I am certified) originates in Canada from an ex-dancer called Moira Merrithew who trained with one of Pilates’s proteges. STOTT Pilates tends to be a more athletic approach in general and is a very balletic technique in its execution. The original Pilates exercises are much too difficult for most people (who aren’t dancers or athletes) and it is the clever adaptations that these various ‘descendants’ have made by developing the matwork repertoire that has really made Pilates so accessible to us all.
So what do you do?
We usually (but not always) lie on the mat on our backs with knees bent. We learn to relax and then to breathe deeply and efficiently. If you are in a comfortable position try this now: Close your eyes and think about drawing the breath in deeply through the nose, expanding the ribs all around like a concertina, and then exhale through a pursed lip as if you’re blowing down a straw to slow it down a little as the ribs close down and the shoulders relax away from the ears. The breathing helps you to start to focus inwards and to notice your own body. Then we start with some simple leg and arm movements, drawing the navel to the spine to fire up the abdominals, and gradually start to move different muscle groups in sequence. Unlike your workout at the gym, Pilates is not an aerobic exercise – despite all this breathing! – so it’s a good idea to continue to take that brisk walk or to go to the gym if that’s what you enjoy. However, where the gym helps you to move very ‘energetically’ and to build muscle bulk, Pilates works on all the ‘quieter’ muscles and fibres that support your frame and joints, strengthening your buttocks, abdomen and back, whilst releasing and mobilising the upper body, and easing muscle tightness so that your balance and posture improve. This is your ‘core’ strength – you work from the inside out to feel lengthened, mobilised and strong. If you’re lucky enough to have a go on a Reformer, you may find that the hip and leg strengthening routines leave you feeling even more toned and strong, and the upper body feels open at your collar bones and broad across your back – so lovely after being hunched up over a computer or steering wheel! The Reformer is a bit like a large rowing machine on which you lie, sit or stand and you push away with your arms or legs against spring resistance. You build up the strength and stamina without putting undue stress on your body.
Can anyone do it?
Well, yes, they can. I teach all ages from 16 up to 80+, both men and women and often couples or friends together. Private lessons are a good way to address specific issues such as a bad back, sore shoulder or neck problems as these can be targeted with appropriate movements at the pace that’s right for you. If you’re new to exercise, recovering from illness or injury, or simply want to feel better, you can take things slowly and carefully and work with your own body, never needing to go to, or beyond, the pain threshold. Exercises can be adapted for ante and post natal changes and are a really kind and gentle way to maintain health and fitness during pregnancy and early motherhood.
Pilates demands your attention and concentration and you will feel mentally refreshed and invigorated without even breaking into a sweat. However, Pilates disciples will tell you that an apparently simple exercise can often prove to be extremely taxing when doing it correctly and you might find that if it’s easy, you’re probably not doing it quite right so a good teacher is essential.
In Saffron Walden and surrounding villages there are a few Pilates teachers, including osteopaths and physiotherapists, with various backgrounds and training so ask around and go by recommendation. If you want more than just matwork, you might have to go to Cambridge or Bishop’s Stortford although I am planning to have my own Reformer machine by the end of March 2010, so watch this space! Choose a teacher who has good credentials such as Body Control, STOTT, Pilates Foundation, or Polestar and look for a Level 3 REPS, or better still, Level 3 CYQ, as this means that the Instructor is bound by the Code of Conduct for the Register of Exercise Professionals and you can be sure they have undergone rigorous training and testing, will be up to date with their Continuing Professional Development, and will be fully insured. Make sure that you feel physically comfortable with your teacher and that you like them as Pilates can be a very tactile experience when you are learning the technique.
I definitely recommend that you give it a try – it’s not for everyone but if you do like it, you’ll never look back!
Find out more about Joseph Pilates here: