Have you noticed lately that it's getting a little bit tougher to turn your head, especially while driving and looking out for that infamous blind spot? Or, perhaps, your arms aren't quite as long as they used to be while lacing your boots? Flexibility is the name of the game.
Janet Plock, a lithe 63-year old was diagnosed 10 years ago with high cholesterol, "a brush with cancer" and an osteoporosis condition that had her doctor warning her that her hips and spine could collapse at any time.
Ten weeks ago, she came to the STOTT PILATES Studio in Toronto and started twice weekly sessions. Her first comment? "A tight pair of slacks fits now", followed by, "I think my posture is better and my muscle toning is better too."
Plock has joined the ever expanding legions of pilates devotees, followers of regimen founder Joseph Pilates. The low impact discipline is hot in Hollywood, and it is claimed that the number of North Americans participating has doubled in the past year, with celebrities such as Karen Kain helping to raise its profile.
These days the Toronto studio that is home to the STOTT PILATES method, developed by former dancer Moira Merrithew, is in high gear, training instructors who are sent to sing its praises in exercise centers across the country and sell the specialized exercise equipment.
Over the past decade, Plock had tried various forms of exercise, but found them repetitive and boring. Because basic pilates positions vary and attention is required to form, it's not mindless stretching at all, she says, adding she's never bored.
"There is no jarring movement. Everything is flowing and graceful. It makes you think you are a more graceful person. With your mind and body acting together you are aware of your skeleton and its possibilities and your muscles and their possibilities. "
Moira Merrithew of the Ballet Rambert in London, England, was led to the pilates method as many dancers were, through an unlucky break. The break was a fracture in her foot and after working with the pilates method in New York, she went to Bermuda to recuperate more fully. There she met the director of Toronto City Ballet who persuaded her to join him. It was to be a brief sojourn, before getting back on her feet and into the swing of things in London.
However, she began to revise and develop the positions of the late Joseph Pilates, the German guru who had melded eastern and western schools of mind and body therapy. Dancers came to her, and friends of dancers, and now surgeons and physiotherapists send their patients to her studio as well as those who simply want to look and feel better.
The whole objective of the STOTT PILATES method is to create a "girdle", a strong muscular pelvic support to the spine. The cervical and the thoracic areas of the body are worked on together to enable the spine to absorb shock. It is the quality of the movements rather than the quantity, Stott advocates.
The exercises work to keep the joints flexible without strain and to develop upper-back flexibility. This is especially kind to hip-replacement clients, as it is important to keep pressure off weight-bearing joints. These exercises are also said to help increase bone density, as Plock is beginning to find.
It takes up to 500 hours of instruction to earn a STOTT PILATES certificate, and Moira Merrithew is churning out instructors with regularity. There are now hundreds of graduates of her studio worldwide in addition to grads teaching in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia and even one in Brazil.