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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pilates: Why I do it

Getting in a daily Pilates workout at home isn't always possible with this guy hanging around! 

   I discovered Pilates young, at a summer ballet intensive where it was a required daily class along with ballet technique, pointe and modern. I took to it more enthusiastically than a typical pre-teen old, mostly because I saw it as a way of "getting ahead" in dance. I knew (or thought I knew) that I needed a slim stomach and lean legs to excel in ballet and I saw Pilates as another way of achieving that aesthetic. I practiced it on and off throughout my teen years but never very mindfully. Injuring my back at age 15 made me more aware of my body's fragility and a slightly more aware and intentional Pilates practice helped me repair and restrengthen my body. 
      Fast forward to freshman year of college. Over the course of my first rough year in NYC I sprained my ankle twice and had to take three months off of dancing. The injury forced me to leave the pre-professional program I was enrolled in and focus on academic studies. This break from dance gave me a whole new appreciation for my body. I started to understand the important of a proper warm-up in more than abstract terms. I saw and felt how a weak, unbalanced body spelled disaster. I slowly reentered Pilates by signing up for a weekly class geared toward dancers.
       "You're always smiling through class!" my teacher told me after my third or fourth session. "You love Pilates!" I did and still do. 
     After having a baby, Pilates (along with yoga and ballet) was instrumental in helping me regain strength in my core and engage with my new body after months of weird growth and the stress of childbirth. It appeals to my methodical, perfectionist ballerina mindset. There's a right way (or ways) and a wrong way in Pilates. There is technique and form and discipline required. When I teach I love knowing that I am passing down a proven system practiced by generations of people before me. Pilates is definitely personal and "customizable" but there's nothing experimental or extraneous involved. Every movement serves a specific purpose.     
     These days, I feel simultaneously overwhelmed and thankful by how much I still have to learn about this exercise method. I teach one mat class per week, but also try to do at least 20 or 30 minutes of practice on my own most days. Every session, I discover something new about the way my body works. I might be executing an exercise I've done a thousand times before but suddenly, by using deeper concentration or activating a different muscle group, it feels different. It's remarkable. 
  For me, Pilates is a way of stewarding the body I've been given. It's a means for gaining mental clarity, along with physical strength, and a way of celebrating all the amazing, wonderful things the human body can do. 
   Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing a few basic Pilates exercises anyone can do. To reap the full benefits of Pilates study, sign up for a class with a certified instructor in your area.

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