Saturday, January 24, 2009

The New Class

Let's continue on the topic of socks for a moment.

I haven't thought about toe socks very much since my adolescent years. I remember when they made their fast and furious debut in late elementary. All the cool girls had them, in bright flashy colors and stripes. Along with the other fashion rages of the time like Sticky Fingers jeans, I had to have some. Fast forward to the present, and once again, I have toe socks in my life. And the reason? Pilates.

I mentioned last week that I'd tell you about the new form of exercise that I've taken up during this three month period of not teaching aerobics classes. I decided to enroll in a ten week intensive pilates class at a hip downtown studio. There are two kinds of pilates.. mat, and reformer. I'm doing pilates on the reformer machine. I know, this machine sounds like some kind of torture or S&M device. And really, it kind of looks like it too.

On the first day of class, we were asked to say our name, and what we want to get out of the class. I said something like "I've been teaching aerobics for twelve years. I want to learn some new things about the body and movement and alignment. My classes are all fast moving. I want to slow down and focus more, and be able to use what I learn here in the classes I teach." Hayley, my instructor, nodded and smiled as if she liked my answer. This is definitely one of the main reasons I've decided to take pilates. The other reason, though I didn't say it, is that I'm also in a bit of transition and actually thinking of learning to teach pilates or move my fitness career in a new direction. I'm checking it/them out to see if some kind of training/working relationship might exist for me there in the future.

Hayley pointed out my toe socks to the rest of the class. They're special toe socks with grippy dots all over the bottoms of them, to help provide traction on the bar of the reformer. She was wearing them also, along with a very zen/stylish work out ensemble. She sells the socks at the pilates studio. My mom, who has been taking pilates there for years, bought me this pair when she heard I'd be taking a class. Apparently, these socks are all the rage among the pilates set.

This class has been really interesting so far. There is a lot of focus and practice on breathing, alignment, and our feet. We use the machines to do exercises with weighted resistance, and as you've probably heard, pilates does focus on the "core" muscles. We use our abs and back to stabilize our bodies, but it hasn't been the main focus in my class so far. We do the exercises so that the imbalances in our body can be seen and corrected. And believe me, Hayley is quick to correct our form as she sees fit. She comes right over to me, adjusts my ankle or hip or foot or back. Holds it where she wants it, until I can feel in my body where it needs to be, what it needs to be doing. I don't know how she sees some of the subtle ways that one hip is higher than the other or that I'm rolling too far onto the natural curve of my low back or that my left pinky toe has dipped lower on the bar than my right pinky toe. But it all matters, and adds up to throwing off the whole balance of the body. amazing. I leave class walking taller and thinking about the balls of my feet striking the floor with equal pressure. I'm liking this level of detail. Yes. I think it's going to help me, who needs to focus more on my body mechanics.

There is also quite a bit of toning and stretching that happens. So far, we've been doing relatively easy/small movements. But there is so much that we are trying to focus on within each movement- such as breathing into our backs, not belly breathing, keeping our feet, knees, legs and hips aligned correctly, kneecaps lifted, shoulders down, contracting our transverse abdominus (deep horizontal ab muscles) with each exhale, etc. It's been helpful to think about movement in a new way. I've done mat pilates before, and have even gone through some mat pilates instructor training. But this is different, and I'm liking it.

If you're wanting to give pilates a try, you can look for a mat pilates class or a reformer class. Both are beneficial. They both give you a good amount of toning and stretch, and work all the abdominal and back muscles very thoroughly. I'd just be sure to check into the instructor's credentials. It can be easy for someone to teach pilates without a whole lot of pilates background, and you don't want that.

Taking a fitness class can be a great way to keep motivated. If you have any questions about finding a class that's right for you, whether it's a pilates class or another type, I'd be happy to help.

Have a satisfying Sunday everybody~


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