Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published November 17th 2013
Don't Drop Your Energy Ball
After several months of maybes, perhapses, and we'll sees South Mitcham Community Centre has set up a pilates class. Taking place 9.45am-10.45am on Saturdays, it is a handy time. Not only is the morning the best time to exercise, but it also means that you can still make plans for the rest of the day.
The class is taught by Alpa, who also runs my yoga class on Wednesday, and a Get Up and Go session for over fifty-fives on Mondays. At only £3 a week, it is an inexpensive way to keep fit and socialise with the local community.
I did not expect many people to show up for the first class, because not many people know about it yet. As I expected, only three of us were there to begin with, but I was pleasantly surprised when a few late comers turned up to fill the hall.
Before we started, Alpa asked if we had any medical conditions she should know about, so that she could tailor to our individual needs. For example, a few members have arthritis, and one woman had fractured her foot. Despite being on crutches, and being bound up in plaster, she was still able to take part, which just goes to show, no matter what your level of ability, anyone can do pilates.
I have been doing yoga for about four months now, and since pilates has many similarities, I didn't think it would be too much of a challenge. Oh the naivety. While controlled breathing and strengthening your core are important in both disciplines, you do not go through the same meditative breathing exercises in pilates, as you do yoga. Pilates' focus on the core also has a much stronger emphasis, and it works on various additional muscles such as the calves, ankles, and arms.
Talking about arms. Ouch. The first exercise we had to do, was sit up straight with legs out in front, and arms raised to the sides. Immediately, I felt my tummy muscles being tucked in. Alpa then instructed us to gently rotate our arms counter/clockwise. Sounds simple, huh? Try doing it for minutes at a stretch. There is no need to bother with weight lifting when your arms feel as heavy as lead.
When it came to an exercise that some people were unable to perform due to joint or mobility issues, Alpa would demonstrate an alternative position. For example, some people could not kneel, so she provided another option that works on the same muscles without putting pressure on the knees.
As we did our exercises, Alpa walked around and went to each of us individually to correct our alignment if need be. After a series of sitting positions, we moved on to some standing exercises, which included balancing on tip toes and stretching to one side so our hands reached our ankles. 'It may not happen today,' she said, 'but that's what you're aiming for.' It did not happen today.
Halfway through the lesson, Alpa brought out some rubber bands to work on resistance exercises. This was my favourite part of the class. You can choose between long or short bands depending on what resistance level you want.
Although there are differences between yoga and pilates, they share a number of the same poses, such as the spinal twist and cobra. Alpa also teaches using many of the same techniques; for example, when you have your arms outstretched, it is really helpful to imagine that you are carrying a big energy ball. 'Don't drop it,' she says. In those moments, I think I know how Atlas must have felt when he was put in charge of carrying the Earth.
During the last few minutes of the session, I was grateful that Alpa brought in the savasana, a yoga pose which basically means lying on your back and doing absolutely nothing. It is a way of relaxing the muscles after a workout; something, I think we were all looking forward to.