Gill South: At the core of the matter

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Gill South tries out a new form of exercise in a bid to strengthen her abdomen and increase her flexibility.

The range of motions in Pilates focus on building and strengthening your core (abdomen) muscles. Photo / Thinkstock
The range of motions in Pilates focus on building and strengthening your core (abdomen) muscles. Photo / Thinkstock

Pilates is an exercise system that is focused on building strength without bulk, improving flexibility and agility. I have a confession to make. I thought pilates was somehow related to yoga - people seem to mention them in the same breath, so I'd assumed there was some association. Oh well, yes, go ahead and have a good laugh.

Pilates, for those who are ignorant like me, is an exercise system that is focused on building strength without bulk, improving flexibility and agility.

I've chosen Bodyneed in Ponsonby to try it with. I like the fact that they have lots of physiotherapists teaching their clinical pilates classes. They've been recommended by a good friend of mine who urged me to press the firmness of her "core" (her abdomen in this case) the other day. I was very impressed, it was strong and bounced back at the touch and she's the mother of three boys. I think you'd lose your hand for days if you delved into my so-called core.

I have a one-hour session with physio and pilates teacher Stacey Law where we go through all my various foibles and then do some gentle exercises to see what my flexibility is. She also introduces me to various parts of my body which I'm not terribly familiar with, (think pelvic floors and so on). Women put up with a lot of things post-childbirth and it doesn't need to be that way, says Stacey who is pregnant with her first.

Bodyneed recommends that any beginner needs a couple of one-on-one sessions with a physiotherapist before they throw us into a beginners' pilates class. It's about laying the foundations, says Stacey. When I do get to a pilates classes at Bodyneed, there will have a maximum of eight people so any mistakes I'm making will be obvious.

Stacey, a former dancer, tells me that pilates was invented by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s to help rehabilitate wounded soldiers. It helped bring them back to strength by doing exercises in their hospital beds (hence the use of pulley-type machines in modern pilates studios).

In my mat classes I am going to learn about relaxation (my favourite thing), breathing, alignment, centreing (which is to do with my core stability), maintaining the neutral position of your spine, co-ordination, flowing movements and stamina. "I'm your dream client aren't I?" I ask Stacey. "Yes!" she crows. But despite all the work that needs to be done, the physio tells me I am globally strong - doesn't that sound great? But what she means by this is that despite my various weaknesses, I have just ploughed on through and not had any major health problems. What a trooper I am. Stacey sends me home with some homework: neutral spine pelvic tilts, with diagrams thankfully. It's early days with pilates but I'm determined to give it a go.

However, it is more expensive than yoga, two half-hour one-on-ones and five classes at Bodyneed cost $210. The deal works out at around $20 per class. I'm guessing I'm going to need more one-on-one tuition than is normal.

Is anyone surprised?

Next week:

After a quick dash to Australia I'm feeling a bit out of sorts. I'm heading to the Langham Hotel's Chuan Spa for the Five Elements Rebalance treatment which should get me back to where I should be.

- NZ Herald

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