Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pilates is perfect for everyone? Really? Everyone? Come on!

You are reading the words of a skeptic.  I am a skeptic of the “one size fits all” phenomenon that permeates the marketing world.  I am a skeptic of anyone that says “_______ is perfect for everyone.”  And in the midst of such conversations I find myself thinking, “Wanna Bet.”  And then I dutifully try to figure out exactly how whatever it is that is being sold to me is NOT perfect for me.   Friends call me stubborn, and I own it. (kind of)  But now as I write this, I find myself in a dilemma., Because I actually do believe that Pilates is for everyone…Hmmm, considering my own skepticism I feel the need to tell you that I teach Pilates, own a Pilates Studio, and am trying to sell a Pilates session to you.   But for my fellow skeptics my only hope is that the following paragraphs might trigger some curiosity.  I will explore the basis for the assertion “Pilates is for everyone.” Why might the marketing world put this out into the world?

Pilates helps many people balance the core.  I say balance as opposed to strengthen, because Pilates is more than just abdominal work, and the core of the body consists of more than just the abdominals.  And while we’re on the subject the abdominals consist of four or more (depending on who you talk to) different muscles with a multitude of functions.  Then there are all of the myofascial connections between the abdominals and other muscles of the core.  Therefore when a person spends time at the gym doing  “crunches” to “strengthen” the core.  He is only strengthening one motion and one activity to the neglect of other myofascial connections and functions.  Pilates balances the core.  At the Pilates Studio the cyclist that spends hours of his time in spinal flexion will do very different “core” work than the gymnast that spends hours of her time moving in and out of spinal extension.  The tennis player who has a brilliant tennis serve and equally brilliant tennis swing will have very different “core” exercises than the swimmer who wants to improve his butterfly.  The person who spends his day sitting at a desk in front of a computer will do very different  “core” work than the person who stands all day.  Pilates balances the muscles of the core.  Everyone needs more balance right?

My next thought is who are my clientele?  Do I teach everyone?  Well no, but I’ve taught people between the ages of 10 and 86.  Clearly the workout of a 10-year-old boy differs greatly from that of an 86-year-old woman. Yet, each workout was created with Pilates principles.   Maybe the previous assertion is based in the variety of exercises that can be done in a Pilates Studio.  With the ten-year-old boy we made use of the balance balls for coordination and balance, and we spent a lot of time on the mat moving through quadruped practicing getting up and down from the floor.  The 86-year-old woman came to me many years ago to prepare for a knee replacement surgery.  We worked to strengthen her muscles before the surgery and to help her recover after her surgery.  Now we continue to work on strength in her body and balance as she walks.  At the Pilates Studio progress is measured by the goals achieved not by number of exercises.  Everyone has goals right?

Finally, the assertion might find some truth in the Pilates principles for exercise progression.  Often when an exercise becomes “too easy,” the assumption is that adding resistance will make it “harder” and thus increase the progress towards strength and flexibility.  At the Pilates Studio, adding resistance is only one possibility of many to progress an exercise.  When a client says to me, “this exercise is feeling too easy” I get to be creative.  I might decrease the base of support.  If someone is doing an exercise lying on his back, I might have him do the same motion sitting or standing.  I could also destabilize the base of support.  Maybe I’ll put a squishy ball underneath someone’s pelvis and then ask her to continue as if the ball weren’t there.  Maybe I’ll ask someone to repeat an exercise while balancing on the balance board.  The principles of exercise progress in Pilates increase functional strength, which makes the effects of a Pilates workout more apparent in everyday lives.  At the Pilates studio exercise is not happening for exercise sake, but for the sake of life improvement. Everyone wants his life to improve right?

So to my fellow skeptics in the world, the people that have read this entire post dutifully looking for reasons that Pilates is not perfect for them, I salute you because you are my kindred spirits.  Believe me when I say that I am not looking for your blind faith, but give Pilates a chance.  Pilates may not be for everyone, but from the mouth of a skeptic, it certainly comes close. 

Katrina Hawley C.M.A R.S.M.E
Pilates Instructor
Co-Owner of The Pilates Studio

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Strengthening community one core at a time

Pilates! Core! Strength! These words have made it to main stream media. People finally know what it is, or at least they know that it is some form of exercise with lots of abs. It is now a rare occasion that I tell someone that I teach pilates while receiving that blank "Are you from Mars?" kind of look in return. Now I get questions, and people tell me that there are pilates classes at the gym. Or they say, "Wow I've heard that Pilates is really hard." This is so exciting, but there is something in this dialog that is missing, and it is this missing piece that, while it is hard to articulate, makes me love my work.

I love my work, but not because I am making people exercise really hard. I love my work because I get to see people's body's change as they learn how to move. I love my work because as I am teaching, people are telling me about their kids and grand kids and pets. I love my work because people get stronger and thus can do more...people begin to take pride in their knowledge about movement. People begin to theorize with me about their posture. I love my work because I get to see friendships grow. I love my work because people that would never meet each other in their everyday lives, spend an hour together every week. I love my work because people who don't feel comfortable at a gym find a space that makes exercise possible. These are some of the many things that make me love teaching pilates.

It's true if someone learns pilates they will increase strength, improve posture, increase flexibility, increase coordination, improve balance in musculature and proprioception. Pilates can relieve pain, aid in injury prevention and recovery, create functional strength, and improve lives. But beyond all of these things, Pilates is one of the many avenues that can return us to movement, return us to our bodies, and bring us friendship and laughter.

Katrina Hawley, C.M.A, R.S.M.E
Pilates Instructor
the Pilates Center of Western Massachusetts in Hadley

Where the women are strong and the men are brave

Something very unusual happened to me last week. During one of my sessions there were four people working out in the studio and they were all men! Why is it unusual for four men to be doing pilates at the same time? Joseph Pilates the creator of the method was a man. He was a boxer and a gymnast. He originally intended his work to be for men. So once again why was it weird to have four men in the studio working out at the same time? Well it's simple really because right now more women practice Pilates than men.
Pilates is booming. People have heard of it, studios are everywhere, it's even making it into dialog in movies and tv shows. Yet, somehow in the brilliant marketing of recent pilates studios and teachers Pilates has become known as exercise for women...what? First of all, I've always wondered why someone would think that one kind of exercise is for women and another is for men. Whether it's hockey, volleyball, running, swimming, or Pilates. Luckily, we now live in a world where any man or woman can do any activity they want...but still there is this social stigma about men and Pilates. (ok the word stigma seems a little strong, but there I said it.)
In my practice most of the men I see were brought to Pilates by their partners or wives. We even have a running joke that it takes about four years for a client to convince her husband to come to the studio. Why? Well, it is not because Pilates is easy. Pilates is hard work. People who do Pilates correctly are strong and that's that! People who practice Pilates also gain flexibility and increase range of motion. People who practice Pilates are better at the sports they want to play.
As I was thinking about this post, I was surfing the internet and I found this interview of Rael Isacowitz:
He is a world renowned master teacher. He was asked a question about Pilates and men, and his answer was wonderfully eloquent. He spoke about the history. That Joseph Pilates originally intended his work to be exercise for men but then when he moved to New York most of his students were women. He spoke about the different energies that men and women bring to pilates, and how those different energies need to be acknowledged and honored. This made me think back to the session that I taught last week, it certainly had different energy. It was new for me, but so exciting!
I was talking to another friend last night and he told me that Rob Bradford on WEEI was talking about Josh Beckett the Red Sox pitcher, who is starting out what is going to be a phenomenal season. He did Pilates in the off season to rehabilitate injuries that kept him out for nine weeks last season.
I think the tide is turning...Which brings me to the title of this post. To all of the men out there who ignored the media and came to Pilates before Josh Beckett, thank you for changing the face of an evolving system of exercise. And to my four dear clients that inspired this post, thank you for a fun hour, and thank you for informing me about the NFL strike that is looming.
Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E
Pilates Instructor