Listen to your body
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
SPORTSMEN use it; tennis stars and weekend golfers use it. Actors and
dancers, too. Pilates is a method of controlled exercise that "works from the
inside out". It is not aerobics, done to deafening music; it is a progressive
series of stretches. Think slow movements, think soothing sounds — which you
find in any Pilates studio. I took it up when my husband, after a brief fling
with aerobics, wanted to move on and was keen that I should do something, too.
A teacher of Pilates (pronounced pil-lah-tess, no relation to Pontius)
started classes in my area, and, having heard about improved posture and
overall fitness, we had a preliminary assessment and a "one-to-one", a solo
session with the expert. We are not sporty types — a walk or a swim is about it
— but our one-hour class has become a fixture of every week. Being mature
retirees, we hope through exercise to avoid hip operations and the like.
"Oh, that was good!" resounds at the end of a session after any break
(Christmas holidays, for instance). That hour of deep stretches reminds tight
muscles of their capabilities until the whole body feels that it has been
massaged. It hasn’t: we’ve done the work ourselves, under the careful eye of
She encourages each individual to "listen to your body". In other words,
don’t force the pace or try to stretch your hamstrings as far as you think your
neighbour is stretching hers, or his. The instruction is hands-on, in the sense
that the teacher walks about the class, correcting an arm, leg, shoulder or
head into the right attitude. Shallow breathing is discouraged.
After a few months, Pilates students begin to look as if they have lost
weight when posture improves. Flexibility, balance, and strengthening are
bonuses for seniors, as is the lure of increased bone density.
One Pilates teacher has a client aged 94. "I can’t cure his emphysema," she
said, "but the work enhances his mental well-being, increases his core
strength, and helps to conserve his energy." GPs frequently refer patients for
remedial help with everything from back problems to repetitive strain injury.
German-born Joseph Pilates (1880-1967), having been a sickly child, devoted
himself to improving his overall well-being — he trained detectives at Scotland
Yard from 1912 until the war, then trained fellow inmates at the internment
camp. He believed that achieving fitness involves both body and mind. It’s true
that when you submit to the sequences he laid down you are not thinking about
shopping lists or dental appointments: you give yourself entirely to the
discipline of the moment, be it tilting your pelvis or stretching like a cat.
In our class we do mainly mat work, lying down. We wear T-shirts, jogging
trousers or shorts, either barefoot or in socks. Twelve is the maximum number
(we’re usually eight). Fees are between £5 and £12 a session. Your local
library or newspaper should be able to pinpoint a Pilates class near you. At
every age, it’s a good way of helping yourself.
For further information on national standards for Pilates contact:
Skillsactive, 020 7632 2000,