Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Pilates and daily life

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I haven’t done a Pilates post for a while, and I had a thought this morning as I initiated mat exercises at home. (More on them below.)

I don’t know how people view Pilates. I think some see it as a physical fitness thing, which I guess it is, but it is more physical fitness for daily life, with the exercises translating rather directly into daily activities: Pilates teaches you how to hold yourself (posture), how to stand, squat, sit, twist, etc. Certainly there’s muscle strengthening, but they’re strengthened in the course of natural (though systematized) movements: the kinds of movements you make daily. And the strengthening is focused at much at the small muscles as at the large.

In other words, the exercise programs that include things like jumping jacks, push-ups, burpees, and the like are a different kettle of fish altogether. For some of those, fitness is required already.

I think Pilates is much closer to physical therapy than traditional fitness training. The Wife and I were talking to someone recently about Pilates, and they said, “Oh, I have a bad back, so I probably can’t do it.” It was an interesting remark because The Wife herself has a bad back, and Pilates has helped remarkably. The month she was in Paris she was walking constantly, and for the first time in years her back did not bother her. Vacuumiing is something that really hits her back, and this weekend she vacuumed her entire apartment without a break and with no tinge of back problems.

So it’s therapeutic (with the usual caveats: if properly done with a good instructor, yada yada yada). And, as I mentioned, the controlled finish to each exercise helps in the segue from exercise to daily life. But—interestingly—it goes the other direction as well: daily life activities construed as Pilates-like fitness exercises.

For, as I mentioned earlier, one can move and stand in a Pilates manner, and thus that becomes an exercise—as in “you’re exercising what you’ve learned” but also in the sense that doing them right is a good exercise in improving your form.

And it’s even more than than. Pilates in his introduction to A Pilates Primer: Millennium Edition discusses how one should shower. I sort of rolled my eyes as I read. He talks about exfoliation of the skin, using a natural bristle brush, brushing the skin vigorously—I can’t believe I’m reading it, at that point—and then specifies that the brush have no handle. It must be a brush that you grip in your hand. (My eyes are rolling so much that probably only the whites are visible.) But then he explains, and I stand in awe of the economy of his idea: “…[T]his type of brush [no handle – LG] forces us to twist, squirm, and contort ourselves in every conceivable way in our attempts to reach every portion or our body which is otherwise comparatively easy to reach with a handle brush.”

I suddenly get it: Brushing every part of your skin is (in a way) just a mnemonic, like dropping pebbles from your hand as a way of counting laps: drop one pebble as you complete each lap, and when your hand is empty, you’re done. Much easier than trying to count.

And as you twist, stretch, bend, and stoop, using the brush, your skin serves the role of the pebble: did you miss any skin? Well, then, twist, squirm, and stretch to reach the spot you skipped.

It’s so simple: a daily flexibility exercise, easily incorporated into one’s routine, self-checking (did I miss any skin?), and progressive: I can readily see how spots impossible to reach at the outset become easier and easier over time, until we can knock off a complete body brush in no time at all. Moreover, since one is doing that in the tub or shower, it also calls on balance, and I would expect over time that balance will also improve, being exercised as it is.

Very cool. The scrubbing clean and exfoliation can almost be seen as secondary to the flexibility exercise.

I settled down to do the mat exercises after the shower, and I quickly confused myself. So I’ve decided to do only the first mat exercise (the hundreds) initially, and I’ll ask for my instructor to check my form. Once I get it solid, I’ll add the second exercise, similarly getting coaching. And so on.

You may think I’m rather late starting the at-home exercises, and you’re doubtless correct. But I did want to be sure that I was doing things in good form (I wrecked a shoulder doing a kettlebell with bad form). Now that I am actually starting to feel my posture and skeletal structure in movement—or at least to become aware of those feelings—I think I can start exercising at home and rely somewhat on my awareness to correct mistakes—along with specific coaching from my instructor, exercise by exercise, over the next few weeks.

I’m also using The Complete Book of Pilates for Men, which has the same exercises as the book listed above, but with slightly different explanations, sometimes quite helpful. Moreover, in this book exercises are specified for beginning, intermediate, and advanced exercisers. So right now I’m doing only the beginning, and only the first one of those. So far as I can tell, nothing about the book is specific to men: women could use it equally well. It’s just the Pilates exercises.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 September 2011 at 10:27 am

Posted in Books, Fitness, Pilates

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