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Pilates: Fine-Tuning your Mind and Body
as published in ACTIVE LIVING MAGAZINE, 1999

Think of your body as a high rise building: if everything is in the right place and is strong, you don't have a problem. But when where is an imbalance in the body – if a muscle isn't functioning properly, for example – you become overloaded and off balance. The architecture will start changing, fall out of place and bit by bit start to crumble.

Pilates is a way of making your structure stronger, through a series of mind and body exercises. Named after its creator, Joseph H. Pilates, it has been described as a stretch and strengthen workout that targets the abdominals as well as the muscles that surround the spine. Originally designed to allow dancers to exercise without aggravating an injury, Pilates' techniques are now used for rehabilitation and overall fitness as well.

Certified pilates instructor Anna Marie Leonard of STOTT PILATES Studio in Toronto says the exercises work on the body's support structure – posture and abdominals. For some, exercises are aimed at gaining more stamina and releasing tension. Pilates works to strengthen muscles not so much with the traditional weight-lifting approach, but by stretching them.

"It's almost like cross-training your body within your body," says Leonard. "Instead of a lot of repetitions, the focus is on variety to add strength to the body."

Exercises involve basic mat work and also call upon specialized chairs and barrels as well as unique exercise pieces known as the reformer and the cadillac, Generally, sessions begin with gentle exercises and relaxation. For example, the individual begins on the floor in a neutral spine position, focusing on breathing and locating tension. Then coordinated and controlled movements are introduced in stages.

Pilates was born in Germany in 1880 and was a sickly child determined to overcome his various afflictions. He studied yoga, zen meditation and rigorous exercise regimens of ancient Greeks and Romans. In New York City during the 1920s, Pilates devised a series of controlled movements that engage the mind and body in developing strong, flexible muscles, without building bulk. Early followers included such dance greats as Martha Graham and George Ballanchine.

Physiotherapist and dancer Joanna Speller of PROACTIVE PHYSIOTHERAPY says that most of her patients' orthopaedic problems have neurological components. Pilates addresses this aspect of physiotherapy by working to reconnect the communication between mind and body that gets damaged when an injury occurs. A typical example of this is a patient who has been in a car accident and is finding in painful to sit for any length of time.

To correct this problem the patient is initially treated with "hands-on" or manual therapy to release tension in the traumatized area, says Speller. Work is then done to regain stability in the neck while the patient is in a lying-down position. Then work is then done to gain stability in the neck while the patient is in sitting and standing positions. Then, with basic postural corrections, Speller starts her patients into a series of arm exercises.

One of Speller's patients, Patricia MacInnis, born with spina bifida, was in a car collision two years ago. A muscle in her hip had been shredded as a result of the accident. After experimental surgery to repair it she was limited to bed rest for six months while the muscle healed. Pilates exercises have helped her regain strength and control of her muscles.

"I'm much stronger, have more stamina and flexibility," she extolls. I also feel a sense of accomplishment because it's an activity I can do. I've been to gyms and felt intimidated, but with pilates I can do it all and I can do it well."

For more information contact:
STOTT PILATES at 416-482-4050 or PROACTIVE PHYSIOTHERAPY at 905-577-0098.