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writer Frances Frangenheim
ancers swear by it, celebrities swoon over it, and physiotherapists endorse it – Pilates is a non-impact method of exercise practised by more than ten million devotees around the world. A new study by the American College of Sports Medicine predicts Pilates will be the world’s ninth most popular fitness activity in 2010, above yoga at the number 14 slot. In Asia, Pilates is steadily finding its feet as more and more studios are established across the region however it is still often viewed as a trend or an underground movement. Why is this so and will Pilates ever reach the dizzying heights of popularity that yoga enjoys in Asia?
Woman performing pilates exercises ©inmagine.com
Pilates devotees will tell you once you understand the fundamentals of stabilising the body’s core muscles, the practise evolves from a workout to a lifestyle
this page: (left) Pilates exercise ©istockphoto.com/Kris Hanke and (right) Pilates ©Matthieu Paley/www.paleyphoto.com opposite page: Pilates exercise ©istockphoto.com/Anna Bryukhanova
Let’s be honest; we’re all looking for the next best exercise trend to help us achieve finely tuned bodies, preferably without having to crack much of a sweat. Yoga is a case in point: its origins can be traced to 3000 BC in ancient India however from the ‘80s it became the hippest global fitness trend as celebrities, athletes and health fanatics discovered its dazzling body toning and stress relieving benefits. Pilates is also often regarded as a trend despite it being an enduring 100-year practice created in Germany by Joseph H. Pilates (1880-1967), a boxer, gymnast and circus performer. Pilates was determined to train his body and mind to fight his asthma and rheumatism. He developed a system of exercise and physical movement that engages and develops the core abdomen muscles (called the powerhouse) to stabilise the body and achieve efficient and graceful movement, improve alignment and breathing, develop strength and tone, and increase body awareness. Pilates developed his techniques further when he witnessed bedridden World War I
patients dying simply because their bodies were idle. He designed curious contraptions that involved rigging springs to hospital beds to enable patients to exercise their muscles against resistance without impact. This led to his later equipment, such as the Reformer and the Cadillac, still used today akin to weight training. Pilates garnered a strong following in Europe, the UK and US from the 1940s onwards, especially with ballet dancers, athletes, movie stars and doctors (Pilates is a powerful injury rehabilitator), and today has more than 10 million followers. Its take-up in Asia has been steady and widespread since the late 90s however it hasn’t enjoyed the meteoric rise experienced by yoga. As German-born, Hong Kong-based, New Yorkcertified classical Pilates instructor Mareile Paley points out, “The US and Europe are riding different waves. They are a bit ‘over yoga’ and therefore Pilates has gained popularity. It’s a bit of a ping-pong game. Pilates has actually been around for close to 100 years but whenever it bobs to the surface people think it’s a new trend.”
Mareile, who teaches at Bodywise Pilates (www.bodywisepilateshk.com) and Cornerstone Pilates (www.cpilates. org) believes yoga’s popularity in Asia is so dominant that dedicated yogis aren’t actively looking to immerse themselves in a new or different practice.
Practised correctly and regularly, Pilates can transform the body by building strength without adding bulk. Followers enjoy the way it: • tones and lengthens muscles • improves posture, flexibility, stability and agility • increases bone density and joint mobility • is impact-free and perfect for injury rehabilitation • c o n n e c t s m i n d a n d b o dy by promoting proper breathing and spinal alignment • helps build abdomens of steel by developing the body’s core muscles, the deep abdominal muscles close to the spine • and much more.
One of the companies responsible for bringing Pilates to Asia is Iso Fit (www. isofit.com.hk) – Hong Kong’s largest Pilates and Gyrotonic centre and one of the few master trainer centres worldwide. Iso Fit’s Operation Director, David Wayburne, has observed Pilates’ steady growth in Asia and notes that some countries, such as Singapore and Hong Kong have developed a keener interest in Pilates than countries like Japan and Taiwan. “Pilates participation is growing quickly across Asia as more people become aware of the benefits of exercise in general and Pilates in particular.” Wayburne says Iso Fit’s client numbers in Hong Kong have steadily increased by 15 to 20 percent per year over the past 10 years and instructor numbers are also growing at 10 percent per year. To date, close to 600 instructors have been certified through the Polestar Pilates method that Iso Fit teaches. “Over the past 10 years, Iso Fit’s client numbers have steadily increased by about 15 to 20 percent per year,” Waybune says. “We can safely say the number of Pilates practitioners in Hong Kong has grown many times over during this period.” “We have been training Pilates instructors in Hong Kong and throughout Asia through the Polestar Pilates education programme and our course participation numbers have increased by about 10 percent per year.” Wayburne says this is due to the growing
demand for Pilates instructors in Hong Kong and Asia. To date, Polestar has certified close to 600 instructors. A possible reason Pilates is still an enigma in the East is simple geography; the practice originated in Germany, literally oceans away from Asia, and has no historic or cultural ties to the region. On the other hand, yoga is a holistic spiritual discipline with its roots in Eastern forms of meditation. Taking a spiritual approach to exercise, its practice has been embraced as an intricate thread in the region’s cultural fabric. Yes it tones, strengthens and lengthens the body, but its primary focus is to harmonise body and mind through stretching and meditation. On the flipside, Pilates is more focused on physical transformation, taking a nononsense mind-body approach to exercise (unlike yoga’s mind, body, spirit methodology). There are no holistic undertones – no twisted poses, meditation or chanting. While Pilates lacks the bells and whistles of its Eastern counterpart, devotees will tell you once you understand the fundamentals of stabilising the body’s core muscles, the practice evolves from a workout to a lifestyle. “You can spend every minute of your life – in the office, in the street, in front of your TV – practising Pilates,” says Paley. This brings us to a new form of exercise, ‘yogalates’, which, as it reads, fuses aspects of yoga and Pilates. To many it sounds like a great solution (let’s join the two and get
double the results!) but dedicated instructors suggest sticking to pure forms of each for the best benefits. “Although yoga and Pilates have a lot in common I believe ‘yogalates’ is a trend invented by the fitness industry to cater to people’s constant craving for something ‘new’. I don’t think there is a need to mix the two practices and invent some kind of muddled hybrid,” muses Paley. Instead, she suggests mixing up your fitness routine to incorporate the two, “Pilates and yoga are great complimentary practices and there is no reason you can’t do both.”
what equipment do I need to practise pilates?
If you prefer, Pilates can simply involve mat work on the floor at your local studio or at home. You can also incorporate portable equipment such as fitness balls, fitness bands and magic circles. You may be keen to challenge your mind and body further by graduating to the larger pieces of apparatus that include equipment such as the Universal Reformer, Wunda Chair, Spine Corrector and Cadillac. Your practitioners will assist you to use the equipment in the safest and most beneficial way.
pilates retreat in bali!
For more information on Mareile Paley’s upcoming Pilates retreat in Bali, visit www.pilatesretreatasia.com
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