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Perfection through Pilates

By 16th August 2016

An extremely interesting phenomenon has come over me. I took a few days off last week to spend stripping (wallpaper-steady on!), clearing out, packing boxes and generally walking in and out of the rooms in my shiny new house with wonder. As you can imagine all sense of routine went out the window and before I knew it I had a crisp sandwich in one hand and a paint roller in the other by 10am. I loved every minute of it BUT the strangest thing came over me… I missed my exercise!

I think this is akin to living in a foreign country and eventually starting to dream in another language. I have developed a proper enjoyment of exercise.  Anyone following this column will know that this is quite a seismic leap from the “needs must” approach I went into this with.  I simply wanted to get to a place where I didn’t loath it – and here I am missing it!  I’m sitting writing on a Monday afternoon and over the last week I have joined in a 45 minute Body Pump class, 30 minute spin and a 60 minute Pilates class.

Fitness Pilates NickiI was reading a great article on the train down to Dundee last week about Pilates and had been thinking I must get into it again. I used to do a combination of yoga and pilates a few years ago (ok, it was a decade ago!) and I always enjoyed it.  The article basically said that moves like Child’s Pose and Four Limbed Staff can help beat cravings for sweet treats as “certain poses help to strengthen your self-discipline and sharpen your focus.”   It went on to say “It burns calories at a relatively low 340 per hour but don’t be surprised if you ache afterwards.”    I’m not really counting calories; it’s impossible when so much of my job involved food! But I like the overall “strengthening of the core” and helping to build stamina and focus.

So last week I headed down to the Tuesday lunchtime class at Rodney to find Yvonne leading the pilates class.  Slightly quieter, calmer and working at a much slower pace than the cardio madness of some other classes, this is a serene side to one of Rodney’s long standing classes.

A few years ago when writing a different blog for Live Active I chatted to Gayle who ran the Pilates class then. She told me, “It took me quite a while to get used to it to be honest.   I just didn’t get it at first. After I did my instructor’s training I was taking sporadic classes and it wasn’t until I picked up a regular slot that I fully appreciated how it contributes to an overall plan.  It has been amazing for building core muscles and strength which helps everywhere. I think it also gives you time to find a focus that you can then apply to other classes and sports.”  Just like the mag said, thought I. This should be interesting.
I had brought along my friend Kirstin who has always been a pilates nut. She swears that it’s what helped her find her stomach after two C Sections.   Summer holidays have seen her with weeks off though and she’s already commenting on how sore she knows she’ll be tomorrow. Again, just like the mag said…  Pilates has a similar reputation to the one I described in the Power Yoga article

Fitness Pilates Eva black and whiteCardio fitness nuts will poo-poo it as middle aged women bending over for an hour. In actual fact it’s been promoting “body weight techniques” waaaaayyyy before body weight techniques were trendy!
The class is full of mixed abilities and ages. Because it’s a slower pace and because it encourages you to hold the poses and perfect your technique, there is time for Yvonne to walk amongst the class, tweaking hips and gently pressing on protruding bottoms during planks.   I’m feeling quite confident about how I’m doing; I’m on all fours, one leg raised, knee bent, foot flexed.  I am breathing in as I lower it to hip height and out as I push it up.  Then Yvonne gently placed her hands on my hips and moved them about half an inch. “There you go”.  Suddenly, my gluteus maximus is feeling the move as she had described during the example.  I had convinced myself I’d been working out so much I was now a new and improved version. Nicki point 2 as it were.

The poses that will really throw you into an inner conundrum of “why can’t I do this?!” are the standing and balancing poses. Read those two words again.  Standing.  And Balancing.  I’m assured by my mum that I have been doing this since I was one year old. That’s 40 years of practice. Why then is lifting one leg and moving a wee, teeny, tiny bit so difficult?  We’re in superman pose - “Make sure your postural alignment is correct” says Yvonne – this is what throws it out for me.   I straighten my torso in line with my hips and it becomes clear that someone has slipped my super hero a mickey finn, because my leg is shaking and I’m wobbling like a gin soaked navvy.   “Look at the wall in front of you, not the floor. Lower your leg slightly if you’re wobbling.”  And I’m there, I’m Super Man. I’m sober Super Man with a straight leg and arm.  The Lactic Acid in my calf however, is building to a burn, and I begin to understand why I will be sore tomorrow.

She refers often to the “Glutes Fire” which involves tightening your butt, pulling up your pelvic corset and pulling back your belly button all at the same time.  I did a little online research (mainly because I couldn’t remember the exact phrase she used – I spent ten minutes googling “flaming girdle” before I gave up and called Kirtsin!). Mastering this move is apparently a “light bulb” moment in Pilates and will make everything slip neatly into place.

Fitness Pilates leg raisesI’ve mentioned before that I felt the shorter classes were appealing to my inner sloth and that I liked the 30 minutes and 45 minutes options that were available throughout Live Active venues and class choices.  This Pilates class was 60 minutes and I have to say it was hard work in a very different way to some of the cardio classes I’ve been attending.  That said, the time flew by and it left me with a very different sort of satisfaction.  Like an upgraded, enhanced version of that luscious feeling you get when you do a really great morning stretch! I fully appreciate why this would help you in your other disciplines and I will definitely be back to do more.  To be honest, my exercise curiosity is piqued by the light bulb moment awaiting me when I prefect my “flaming girdle”!

Pilates classes are currently available at Live Active Rodney and Strathearn Community Campus. For more information and to book visit the Live Active website>

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