My message is short today because I’m going to turn this space over to Alexandra, the woman who teaches the Pilates class I take at the Chapel Hill YMCA. I had asked Alexandra to write an article for my eNewletter, while it is certainly appropriate for men, I asked her to write primarily for women since we are so frequently told we need to look like Barbie dolls, and we aren’t told often enough that we need to have strong, flexible bodies. So, here’s the article that Alexandra wrote for my eNewsletter, including her bio in case you’re in the area and are looking for a good Pilates instructor:
The Pilates Body… Think Strength, Not Perfection!
I have been a runner my entire life. Some years, I’ve run marathons and half marathons; other years, my training keeps me at a moderate 3-8 miles a few times a week. I’ve always liked the pace of running. I like to move and sweat! Because of my desire to feel my fitness, I’ve not been attracted to what felt like “slower-paced” forms of movement… that is, until I discovered Pilates, fell in love with it, and became a certified Pilates instructor.
Pilates is a system of movement that takes ideas from Yoga, Qigong, Boxing, Gymnastics, and other places and co-opts them into a fast-flow of movements that focus, primarily, on core strength. What attracts me to Pilates is that it builds muscle vigor, helps with balance, and encourages better range of motion. Through weekly (or better, daily!) practice of Pilates, practitioners can build strong, long, toned muscles through their arms, legs, back, and torso. Pilates doesn’t give the practitioner a “meaty,” muscle-y look—it lengthens the body and adds a graceful, dancer look. But here’s the thing: when we often talk about movement and fitness, we too often focus the conversation on body image. Women, especially, need to embrace body awareness and fitness and love their bodies without focusing on a “perfect body” or the look of perfection. We need to remember that fitness, strength, body awareness, and pain-free living can be ours…even when we’d like slightly toner arms or a few pounds off our butts. Pilates is a great place to begin!
This is why I like Pilates so much: Pilates makes my body feel better. In many places—on websites, in DVDs, and in books— a discussion of Pilates ends up focusing on the achievement of a certain “look” connected to a “Pilates body.” Yes, working out will improve the way someone looks! But the goal of Pilates should be something more intrinsic than physical appearance. For me, Pilates means that I am very flexible, I have strength in my arms and legs that I did not have before I studied Pilates, I have strength in my inner and outer oblique muscles and in the deep muscle of the transversus abdominis, and I have no back pain at all. For those reasons, I believe that Pilates is a wonderful tool for women.
In addition to running nearly my entire life, I’ve also pretty much always carried a lovely little pooch of fat right below my waist line. It’s a gift from both sides of my family, and when I attend family reunions, I see the body legacy around me: all my relatives are shaped the same. We’re apples, with skinny legs and arms, and any fat we have centered right on our torsos. At my “skinniest” I still have weight on my stomach. Sure, there are more things I could do (aren’t there always!) to remove every bit of fat from my body, but on most days, I am happy with a body that is strong, athletic, and injury-free. Because my attraction to Pilates focused on my fascination to better understand and use my body, that’s the approach I want to take with my clients. I want my clients to know that Pilates is a way to physical health, not necessarily physical “perfection.” When we focus on seeking physical perfection rather than seeking optimal health, not only does the goal get more superficial, it also becomes nearly impossible.
Simply put, we are all built differently and our bodies are products of our genes, our habits, and years of use. Physical fitness means seeking health for our particular, individualized bodies—not seeking a perfect body by some obtuse standard of a fashion-and-beauty industry that is focused on selling products.
We are so often taught (through a variety of social messages) that a strong female body is a “fat-less” or “perfect” body. We all know that too much weight is terrible for the body, but there is a big difference between too much weight and a normal, functioning body. There are a lot of people I know who are slender, but lack strong muscles and good posture. On the opposite end, I know women who have exceptional muscle tone and stamina, despite having a layer of fat on top. I have seen women with lovely “womanly” bodies moving perfectly and fluidly through tough Pilates movements. Because Pilates is an excellent system of movement for most of the general population, I want to see people embrace it as a tool to get stronger, more flexible, more pain-free, and maybe, just maybe, to also sculpt their bodies. That last part should be just that: last.
What matters most to me as a Pilates instructor, is that through Pilates, people get to know their bodies more. We walk around so often forgetting how crucial our core muscles are–having a strong powerhouse (the Pilates term for the many muscles that make up the torso area) makes life less painful and easier. Strength in the core helps with posture, movement, and breathing. My Pilates Mantra is: You don’t have to have a perfect body to have a strong body! Find your strength!
Alexandra DeSiato received her Pilates mat certification from NC Pilates in Durham, NC in the spring of 2010 and is excited about sharing her love for this important exercise form with clients! Her mentor is Leigh Brown-Johnson, whose studio, Metaform Movement started Alexandra on her path to health and body awareness. Alexandra teaches at the Carrboro Yoga Company, the Arts Center in Carrboro, the Chapel Hill YMCA and Alamance Community College. You can find an updated schedule of the Pilates classes she is currently teaching at her Facebook group page, aptly named “Pilates with Alexandra.”