Thursday, March 10, 2005

Working on My Core

For the past year I have been searching for ways to release my tight hips, quads, hamstrings – all those things that seem to atrophy over time and are not helped by the fact that I sit at a desk all day. Maybe the real solution is to retire and not sit at a desk all day any more, something to which I am giving serious thought.

But meanwhile, I have tried yoga, massage, acupuncture, physical therapy, regular exercise, and probably some other things that I have forgotten to mention. I dropped the acupuncture because it was expensive and my insurance refused to cover any part of it. I am still doing the others, most of which come with a recommendation for daily practice. I think I could spend hours each day just doing these various exercises.

So what did I do today? I added yet one more type of therapy – pilates. A little history:

Born near Dusseldorf, Germany in 1880, Joseph Pilates suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever as a child. His determination and drive to overcome those ailments led to the study of both Eastern and Western forms of exercise: including yoga, zen, ancient Grecian and Roman regimens. He took them one step further by combining skills with his knowledge of exercise and anatomy, to design apparatus geared specifically to his philosophy.

Joseph Pilates - the name is of Greek origin - brought his revolutionary method of physical and mental conditioning to the United States in the early twenties. His studio in New York City caught the attention of the dance community - and Pilates technique became an integral part of dance training. Such legends of dance as Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Martha Graham, George Balanchine, Hanya Holm and Jerome Robbins, have all practiced Pilates and taught it to their students. Pilates felt that his work was probably about fifty years ahead of its time, and although his name is not yet a household word, people from all walks of life are discovering and choosing the Pilates technique as their fitness program. Hospitals and physical therapy centres worldwide are using Pilates to rehabilitate injured athletes and dancers. Many athletes - even football players - now incorporate Pilates into their training. Pilates-based fitness studios are teaching the technique to an increasing number of ordinary people who are tired of the "pumping iron" atmosphere of conventional gyms and aerobic dancing studios.

My friend Mary is married to a mild-mannered Austrian man Chris, who recently became certified as a pilates instructor. He is probably about 65 years old. He swears by pilates because he has recovered his own mobility through these exercises over the past few years. He is currently the picture of health and strength. He has a wonderful room in the lower level of their house which he uses as his pilates studio. It is full of strange looking machines, with names like “The Reformer”.

My first lesson was free – just to see if I would like it. It featured more exercises than I can count. I never broke a sweat and nothing was overwhelmingly difficult today. Chris repeatedly urged me to remember the hypothetical “rock” weighting down my belly – meaning to draw the strength from my abdomen.

After the hour, I could definitely see that this was something that would be good for me for many reasons. And, contrary to my recent tap dancing fiasco, I think there is a good chance that I can be successful with pilates. So I will meet with Chris once a week for an hour of pilates.

At this point, I will need to pick and choose which exercises to do each day because I don’t have 3 hours to work out, not if I am going to do work that pays me a salary.

Just one more stop on the path to healthfulness...

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