Health

How Pilates Changed Me

November 26, 2015

Last January, what started as a singular vanity goal – to tighten my abs for a vacation – has evolved into a weekly workout for my mind, body, and spirit. Signing up for private Pilates lessons have been the best investment I’ve made in 2015. It even trumps the Chanel purse I splurged on in the summer.

Not only has the physical state of my stomach improved, but so has my overall core strength, posture, and even sleep. I owe it all to my amazing instructor Laureen DuBeau of Uxbridge Pilates, who has been teaching for almost 20 years. A former ballet dancer, Laureen is a svelte, matter-of-fact Master Instructor Trainer for STOTT Pilates, as well as, an NSCA certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, which means she’s trained to help athletes improve their performance. She also teaches prenatal Pilates.

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My instructor, Laureen DuBeau.

But it’s not like I need her athletic conditioning, though. She trains me for life as a regular career girl in her thirties who’s way too desk-bound, arguably skinny fat, and has trouble getting a full night’s rest. I used to love lifting weights in my twenties, but I haven’t been as regular with pumping iron since getting married. Yes, love chub has hit me hard!

When I moved to the country from the city, I signed up for weekly beginner-style Yoga classes with my husband and while I did enjoy our time together to forcibly relax, my muscles never felt worked enough. My desire for something more intense than Yoga (and I could do without the flowery language) but not as tough as a gym workout or a boot camp class brought me to seek Pilates, in a private setting for more one-on-one attention.

My hubby and I signed up for a private trial class with Laureen at her beautiful home studio; I liked her teaching style, it was like nothing else I had experienced in group exercise classes. The main benefit of private versus public classes is that you cannot just go with the flow and do your own thing. You will be called out and corrected, as Pilates demands a lot of attention! You have to breathe correctly and activate your core with every rep – basically no movement is wasted. I recall a few times during class when my brain was so fried from work that I would try to cheat my way through a movement. Laureen would make me redo a hip raise if she saw that I wasn’t using my butt to lift when I should’ve been using my abs. She has eagle eyes.

Laureen's reformers in her studio.

Laureen’s reformers in her studio.

As I look back at almost a year of classes, I realize that I no longer suffer from some of the pesky problems I had before I started my Pilates practice. Here’s is a list of them:

  1. No More Tight Neck

Thanks to hours slumped over a desk, steering wheel, and looking over a cellphone, my neck was perpetually tight. All Pilates movements are focused on realigning the body into a perfect posture, with the spine in optimum alignment. The neck – the top of the spine – is an important part of this process. When we are flexing the upper body off the floor, it’s tempting to lift with the shoulders and head, jamming the chin into the chest, or worse, hanging the head backwards like a hinged teapot lid. Laureen taught me to lengthen the neck before flexing the upper body by rocking the chin slightly towards the chest, without lifting the head – as if someone has taken my head in both hands and gently stretched it away from my shoulders. It is such a subtle tweak that has made me more aware of aligning my neck in everyday situations. Focusing my gaze on the horizon, as opposed to downward, has also helped my head and neck align better with my spine.

  1. No More Poor Posture

I used to cheat perfect posture! I think I’m like most people when asked to “stand tall” my first instant is to suck in my tummy, straighten my spine and head, and bring shoulders into line with the ears. When it’s time to relax, I let my stomach go and everything else goes downhill too. And suddenly I’m slouching and shorter. After doing so many Pilates exercises like ‘the Neutral to Imprinted Spine’ position the C-curve, which all strengthen the abdomen, holding in my stomach has ceased to be an effort and even when I’m completely chilled out reading a book on the couch, I’ve retain good posture. Good posture should remain even when you are completely relaxed.

  1. No More Anxiety

Controlled breathing is vital to Pilates, and while it is something we do naturally and instinctively, it was one of the hardest things to learn. I basically had to relearn how to breathe. Most of us breathe ineffectively. That is, our breathing is shallow and we fail to take in sufficient air to oxygenate the blood properly. The Pilates breath is wide and full into you’re your back and sides, filling the lungs, expanding the diaphragm and pushing out your ribcage to the sides. It’s hard! But once I mastered it, I started using it before stressful situations (like prior to a board meeting where I’m presenting a new concept) and it almost immediately calms me down.

  1. No More Insomnia

Getting more quality sleeps was something I noticed after about three months of doing Pilates on a weekly basis. I grew up in a very nocturnal household – my dad worked the night shifts and would come home at 4 A.M. and my three siblings would often stay up past midnight even on school nights – so I was used to getting poor sleep during the week. It was just a normal part of my life. I never thought it would be possible to go a full week without at least one night of gazing at the ceiling. When I did Pilates after work, later in the evening, I would fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. I’d wake up well-rested and raring to go, like a puppy.

Pilates standing

Leg stretch on the barrel, one of my favourite ways to end a class.

Want to learn more about the history and science of Pilates? Check out my 2011 magazine article “Lithe and Limber” here. Or visit Laureen’s website here.

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