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    You are here : Home » Get Involved » MSRC Interactive » Help, Advice and Inspiration from people with MS » What Has Helped You » Treatments / Techniques » Pilates


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    Pilates works for me - Judy Graham


    It all started at the hairdresser's. Every time I went, Stacey would drop broad hints that I should take up Pilates. "Look what it's done for my slouch!" he announced, showing off his straight back and upright neck. "I don't stoop any longer."

    It was true. Pilates had transformed the stooped Stacey into an upright figure, and he looked great. Perhaps it could work wonders for me too.

    After a year or so of Stacey's gentle persuasion, I decided to give it a go. He put me on to his Pilates teacher, Fran Michelman, whose praises he rang to high heaven.

    The first thing that strikes you on entering a Pilates studio is all the equipment: exercise contraptions rigged up with springs, pulleys, bars and goodness knows what else. It's nothing like you've ever seen in a gym.

    Judy doing Pilate leg exercises

    Each piece of equipment is cleverly designed to work a particular set of muscles. After a warm-up on the exercise bike, Fran starts with my legs. You lie back on an exercise bed and put your feet up on a bar. Then you slide the contraption backwards and forwards, breathing in and out to her commands.

    It's not quite as simple as it sounds. Fran makes sure your whole body is properly aligned. The movement can't be right if you're misaligned, as I was.

    Using slightly different equipment, an exercise bed is used to work on your hamstrings, calf muscles, and abdominals. With Pilates, you isolate each muscle group and become aware of them working. The other key things about Pilates are stability, muscle control and being grounded.

    Did you know you had muscles up each side of your torso? No, nor did I. But it turns out that these muscles, which in my case had forgotten they existed, are essential for 'core stability' - a term you hear often in Pilates. Fran has all sorts of manoeuvres for me to wake up these slumbering muscles. Some of them are just beginning to work.

    Judy doing Pilate arm exercises

    Pilates has exercises for upper arms, lower arms, shoulders, upper back, lower back, inner thighs, outer thighs, everywhere. There are other ones for stretching every last part of you. As well as increasing muscle tone and flexibility, you can also feel them helping balance, coordination, posture and alignment.

    If a hip, shoulder or neck is even a smidgen out of alignment, Fran will notice and help get it where it should be. If you lose concentration for a moment, your body is soon skew-whiff again.

    "Engage pelvic floor and breathe in!" commands Fran, several times each session. In the hopeful pursuit of my growing tall and straight, she also keeps telling me to imagine a line going up from my pelvic floor, through the centre of my body, up through my neck, out the top of my head and up to the ceiling. I try, but haven't quite found it yet.

    A one-hour session always ends with the Swiss Ball. The first time she asked me to sit on it, I wobbled about all over the place and had to grab on to something to stop myself falling over. Now that I am more grounded and better aligned, I can sit and bounce sedately in almost perfect balance.

    For homework, I bounce a bit on the Swiss Ball while watch TV, I've got some stretchy gadgets for exercising the hamstrings, and a tennis ball for my feet.

    Now, after a dozen or so sessions, I have better core stability, much improved balance and co-ordination, stronger muscles everywhere, and I do look a bit more upright than I used to be.

    "Isn't Pilates wonderful!" exclaimed Stacey at my last visit to the hairdresser's. I had to agree with him that indeed it was.

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