Time to take it slow

Time to take it slow

Looks can be deceptive, especially when it comes to a Pilates class. Unlike at the gym, you won’t see folks huffing and puffing their way to muscular bodies and eight-pack abs. In fact, the moves seem so simple that you may wonder what makes it so popular among celebrities from across the globe.

From movie stars like Kate Hudson, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Deepika Padukone, Kareena Kapoor and Varun Dhawan to sports personalities like Maria Sharapova, David Beckham and Shane Watson, fitness enthusiasts seem to be bitten by the Pilates bug. And with good reason!

From the beginning

Founded by Joseph Pilates, a German-born boxer and gymnast, the fitness method traces its history to the years after World War I. In order to help bedridden patients regain their lost strength, Joseph is said
to have taken the springs from the beds and rigged them up to the bed posts as
exercise apparatus! He named this minimal-equipment system of exercises contrology.

However, it was only in the late 1980s, after he moved to the US — where professional dancers as well as Hollywood actors discovered what came to known as Pilates — that the fitness boom really started. Pilates can not only be performed on the mat, but also with apparatus like the reformer, cadillac, wunda chair and ladder barrel, to name a few. No matter what the style, the emphasis is always on technique. “Slow and with control”, that’s the Pilates’ mantra.

A unique practice

Given its strong emphasis on the mind-body connection, parallels are, often, drawn with yoga. However, the techniques are quite different. For instance, unlike in yoga ujjayi practices, where you breathe in and out through your nose, in Pilates, you breathe in through your nose, but breathe out through your mouth. Lateral breathing is fundamental to all Pilates exercises.

Another principle that’s integral to the Pilates routine is what Joseph called “zip and hollow”. Basically, the navel is hallowed back towards the spine, while the pelvic muscles are clenched (as if to suppress the urge to pee). The idea is to engage the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, thereby protecting the back, strengthening the core and improving posture.

Count the ways

Speaking of fitness benefits of Pilates, here are the five main advantages of embracing this fitness regime:

Strength: “You won’t build bulky muscles the way you do at the gym,” warns Sahiba Singh, a Bengaluru-based contemporary dancer and Pilates trainer. “However, you’ll get strong, toned muscles,” she adds.

While the focus is on improving core strength, Pilates is also known to build up the muscles in your arms and legs. Many rehabilitation clinics also consider it an effective way of dealing with chronic back pain, arthritis, knee injuries and the like.

Flexibility: You are only as young as your spine is flexible, believed Joseph, who at the age of 83 (in 1967 when he passed away) could give young students a complex with his supple moves. A regular practice of Pilates is known to boost flexibility and improve joint mobility.

“The constant effort is to lengthen the body and align the spine,” avers Rakesh Gupta, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur, who noticed remarkable reduction in the rigidity of his body after joining a Pilates class last year. “The best part is that most of these exercises can be easily performed at home, or even when you are travelling,” he
says.

Posture: “Most people slouch. The tendency comes from our evolutionary background as four-legged creatures,” observes Sahiba. Unlike dancers who are taught to hold the right posture, other mortals seem unaware of the problem.

“Pilates makes you aware of your body — not just the big muscles, but also the oft-ignored smaller muscles. It helps you find your neutral spine and correct your posture,” she explains.

Breath control: If you are new to Pilates, then the most baffling advice that you will get is to “continue breathing”. As much as lateral breathing may be a challenge, especially while holding the “zip and hollow” position, once you master the art, everything else falls into place.

“You may not sweat buckets, but the amount of concentration you need to breathe right is unbelievable! At the end of the class, you know that your body and mind have worked hard,” maintains Rakesh.

Weight loss: You can burn up to 350 calories in a one-hour Pilates class. However, if you are looking for a workout that can help you shed extra kilos, you need to club Pilates with some aerobic activity such as walking, swimming, or cycling, at least three times a week. Because although Pilates is an intense workout, it is not an aerobic or cardio workout.

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