Fitness · Health

The Joys of Pilates

PilatesLynne Halliday in her Pilates practice with Peter Roël. (Photo courtesy of Lynne Halliday)

In 1999 I had my first bone density scan. It wasn’t good. The doctor who read the results suggested I start taking calcium (I was), doing weight-bearing exercise (I thought I was with ballet class 3 or 4 times a week) and eating broccoli (it was coming out of my ears). Then a dancer friend recommended that I start Pilates and with the only person she trusted—Peter Roël.  I started taking classes with him at Equinox on 91st Street in New York City, then followed him to two iterations of the studio started by him and his wife, Max—Pilates Shop/Yoga Garage—and have never looked back. The intimate studio on 108th has given me better bones, a sense of home and a wonderful community of vibrant and intelligent women. I can’t help but notice that many of them fall squarely into the demographic of Women’s Voices for Change, scanning the age range of late 20s to late 80s.

I asked Peter what makes Pilates, and his approach to it, so perfect for the maintenance of women’s bodies as they age through the decades. Here are his answers.

Pilates, which was developed by Joseph Pilates, a German asthmatic, in the late 1800s, is a series of exercises stressing functionality of the human body.  It always works the entire body, so you are not building isolated strength.  The movements are coordinated and dynamic, promoting range of motion in all the joints.  The goal is to be able to function optimally in the rest of your life. This involves building muscular support and alignment.

Where does the weight-bearing aspect come in?  Well, weight-bearing means that you put a weight on a muscle that pulls on the tendon that pulls on the bone. This creates bone mass. The weight-bearing aspect comes in with the use of the Pilates machines that mimic gravity, or standing, with the use of calibrated springs, which can vary in resistance. While lying on the reformer, a signature Pilates apparatus, gravity will pull the prone body in and the resistance of the springs mimics standing up straight. 

The other aspect of bone-building is impact. Pilates is very low impact. So over time, impact can be built up as muscular support  is built up. Also, the rails of the machine create linearity. So even if you are out of alignment, the machine will bring you into better alignment.

Pilates is therapeutic on an emotional and chemical level.  Exercise elevates levels of seratonin. A feeling of focus is nurtured.  And the sense of community with others in the room is overwhelming.

Dynamic strength, range of motion in all joints, alignment, weight-bearing, bone-building exercise, a community of women and ongoing physical health—what’s not to like?

I asked Peter why he thought women over 40 were especially drawn to Pilates. 90% of his clients are women.  The reasons are varied.  But in many cases, he observes, the empty nester sees her whole life ahead and thinks, “Am I going to fall apart?  Or take action? I want to feel better. I want to function better.” Pilates does just that. With the coordination and strength that come with the training, range of motion is increased. It is a whole-body experience.

A lot of Peter’s clientele are looking for a change.  They want to learn in a small, supportive environment.  And for Peter and the talented teachers on 108th street, it’s not just about Pilates. It’s about building and constantly changing the approach.  The intent of a certain movement can change functionality and actually improve the quality of life. A stretch is more than a stretch if it aids in putting on a sweater, reaching a higher shelf, and so on. It is seeing the huge changes in his clients that keep him doing this.  It’s certainly why I am there several days a week. 

I think of Pilates as my personal-health piggy bank. Every time I take a class, I add a penny to the total.  Although I strive to remain as strong as I can be, inevitably, something will befall me—illness, injury, who knows? In that moment, I will be grateful to have my bank of Pilates pennies to draw upon, and to have had the help and teaching of the people at PilatesStudio/YogaGarage.


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  • Susanna Gaertner July 13, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    Happy to hear how much you enjoy the discipline, Lynne, I have enjoyed my 15 years of teaching here in CA and can only echo the benefits that you describe. Benefits that bring delight to any teacher fortunate enough to elicit positive responses from their students!