<%-- Page Title--%> Straight Talk <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 140 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

January 30, 2004

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My Kind of Exercise

Nadia Kabir Barb

"I think you should try "Pilates", suggested my physiotherapist in her matter of fact voice. "It should help you with your back problem" My inward groan was probably not as inaudible as I thought. She softened her voice and said, "It should help strengthen the muscles around your back and take some of the pressure off the spine." Aged thirty-something, a chronic back problem was not something I wanted to be lumbered with so if Pilates was her recommendation, then Pilates it was going to be.

At home the first thing I did was get on the internet and find out exactly what "Pilates" was about. I had heard of it (it seemed to be the exercise many celebrities were swearing by) and seen it advertised in our sports club but had never really taken much notice, labelling it as one of the latest fitness fads. Thanks to modern technology I had all I needed to know about Pilates at the end of my fingertips "Pilates, a method of exercise and physical movement designed to stretch, strengthen, and balance the body." My physiotherapist was obviously on the right track when she recommended this to me. "Pilates yields numerous benefits. Increased lung capacity and circulation through deep, healthy breathing is a primary focus. Strength and flexibility, particularly of the abdomen and back muscles, coordination-both muscular and mental, are key components in an effective Pilate's program. Posture, balance, and core strength are all heartily increased." (Pilates Method Alliance). This was sounding more and more like the type of exercise I needed to be doing and not the high impact aerobics that I had an allergy to (that and designer lycra clad women). It seems the name Pilates comes from its founder, Joseph Pilates who was born in Germany a century ago. Having been a sickly child, he went on to develop a fitness regime and effectively used it to overcome his disabilities. He created a series of controlled movements that engage the mind and body in developing strong, flexible muscles, without building bulk. Now that I had the information, it was time to actually book myself in for a few lessons.

One thing that my physiotherapist had mentioned was to find a course where the instructors had had proper training--not someone who had bought a video and decided to open up Pilates classes in their living room. Incorrect exercises can do more harm than good. As luck would have it, they were running a beginners course on the same day and at the same time that my children had their swimming lessons. My husband was more than happy to look after the three while I went and did "my thing". Having exhausted my repertoire of excuses, I had to give in and book myself in for the six week course.

The first day I went, I was a little apprehensive as I did not want to be the only one who kept getting the moves wrong. A few years ago I tried doing Jane Fonda on tape, but didn't have a clue as to what I was supposed to be doing so I had to do it with a friend who used to lead and show me the exercises! As I chatted to some of the other people there, I found out that one of them had suffered a back problem; another one had a knee injury and so on. I was obviously in good company as most of us had Pilates referred to us as the most useful form of exercise given our various ailments.

The lady taking the course introduced herself and explained to us the whole concept of Pilates. I felt very smug as I had done my research rather well and nodded my head trying to show that I was on top of the situation and knew what was going on. But not for long. Soon I had terms such as "navel to spine", "pelvic tilt", "assume the resting position" (for me the resting position was in bed asleep) thrust at me and I felt as if I should have brought my notebook and pen to take notes. Isabel, our instructor, said that we would not be doing any exercises that would make us sweat (sorry men sweat and ladies perspire…) or do repetitive exercise in the same way that you do in aerobics, but concentrate on balance and posture. I kept thinking of my mother telling me to stand up straight and not to slouch why hadn't I listened!

First Isabel showed us the exercise and then we were asked to follow her suit. As she came around the room and moved our limbs into the position that was the correct one, I became more and more surprised. The position she put me in felt like a contortion of my body but in fact was the way our body should be aligned. Due to our day to day activities (and anxieties), our body takes on the posture that is compatible with those activities. In other words, if you sit at a desk or drive for hours, your body would take on the slight curvature as normal position unless you were very particular about sitting upright the whole time which most of us are not. The exercises made me aware of muscles I didn't even know I possessed and made me focus on my breathing as well.

The next day I had the aches and pains that go with making your body do something it is not used to. But within a few weeks, I actually found that I was automatically sitting up straight while at my computer and also during my three hours a day school run. I was also becoming more aware of trying to breathe maximising lung capacity as opposed to taking short sharp breaths. Extremely beneficial to Asthmatics (of which I am one).

They say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating and Pilates is proving to be more than a fad. Whether it will have long term benefits for my back problem I have yet to find out but one thing I am certain of is that this kind of positive body awareness can only be a good thing.






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