Try Pilates: you might like it

This article was recently published on Aging Bodies. I decided to post it here, after reading the benefits of Pilates to people of all ages in the Los Angeles Times this morning.

I’ve been practicing Pilates for at least ten years. I started with mat Pilates, by doing exercises on a mat on the floor. Next I took classes in Pilates on a large exercise ball, and for the last seven or eight years I’ve either taken group classes or private instruction on the Pilates reformer. This machine is a long wooden and leather bench-like affair that has a series of pulleys and springs that when used with my own body weight, creates resistance not very different from exercising with hand-held weights or weight machines.

However, as I’ve aged I find using the resistance created by the reformer is a lot more forgiving on my body. Plus, the exercises I perform are all geared to keeping me flexible, well-balanced, toned, and strong. Another plus is that my posture has improved immensely. I don’t have to remind myself to stand up straight anymore.

Pilates Reformer

Pilates Reformer

For the last year I’ve been meeting for a private session about once a week. And as soon as we begin my young-man instructor tells me we are going to work on my total body. He always says that as I work through my hour program I’m going to feel myself getting taller – not an easy task for someone my age who’s already shrunk two inches, but I play along with him.

My husband and I took a little trip last weekend and stayed at a bed and breakfast that required our lugging our suitcases up a lot of steps. Since I feared for my husband’s weakening body, I did most of the schlepping. That was a huge mistake. As soon as I performed the first Pilates exercise today I felt the residuals of all that stair climbing and carrying. Even though the suitcases were fairly light, I was stiff. I couldn’t go into the movements as deeply as usual, and every movement, at least at the start, hurt.

However, as I got into the exercises (just to describe a few):

  • moving the reformer up and back with my feet in several different positions
  • standing on the reformer with one foot on the stationary end and using the other foot to move the reformer bed back and forth
  • doing a series of curls with my legs and feet in a table top position and my hands in the pulleys, performing a series of crunches over an arched chair-like piece of equipment that sat on the floor
  • performing a series of spine stretches with pulley straps raising my feet over my head

I slowly began to feel more stretched out and pain free. And that’s the point. Pilates is an effective and gentle way to move into the full potential of your body. I came away from the session energized and raring for more. It’s always that way.

You might wonder why I haven’t encouraged my husband to also practice Pilates. Well, I have, and for a while he was going to the same instructor regularly, mostly working on his failing balance. However, he didn’t go back after our vacation in August and September. No matter how much I nag at him, he still hasn’t returned.

That said, it’s important to note, that Pilates may not be for him. It’s definitely not for everyone. We have to listen to our own bodies and do what’s best for us. I used to be tennis player, then a runner, then I practiced Yoga, and most of that has gone by the wayside. Now Pilates is my favorite exercise along with doing my cardio on elliptical trainer and walking on the beach.

However, yesterday as I was ending my session four women walked into the Pilates studio to take a class. Three of them had to be in their seventies like me. Even the class instructor is at least sixty. If you’re inclined, take a Pilates class. You may find out how good it is for your aging body.

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