Traverse City Record-Eagle

Well-Being

December 2, 2010

Senior Focus: Rebalance, refocus

It wasn't long ago that I wrote about the benefits of exercising. Most people acknowledge that exercise is good for them, but do they know just how good?

According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise reduces stress, improves self-esteem, wards off depression and anxiety, combats chronic disease, manages weight, boosts energy levels, promotes better sleep and can even be fun.

If you want to feel better and perhaps even live longer, join the new Pilates class coming to the Traverse City Senior Center in January.

Pilates is a physical fitness system, created in the early 1900s in Germany by Joseph Pilates. Sickly as a child, he grew up obsessed with the perfect body. He sought a discipline combining the physique of the ancient Greeks with the meditative strength of the East.

The result was an exercise discipline he called Controlology — only later did it become known by his own surname — a new approach to exercise and body conditioning, requiring intense concentration and centered on a strong abdomen, deep stretching and focused breathing.

The original form of Pilates still survives, but there are also a variety of contemporary schools, such as STOTT Pilates, the adapted discipline that will be taught at the Senior Center.

STOTT exercises are designed to restore the natural curves of the spine and rebalance the muscles around the joints, placing more emphasis on core strength and improving balance, coordination and circulation. As in the original Pilates, proper breathing control is stressed.

Bridgit Frank will be teaching the Pilates class at the Senior Center. After suffering from Guillain-Barre syndrome her senior year of high school, which lead to temporary paralysis, Frank explored various fitness programs to improve her physical health. She had little success, until she discovered Pilates.

Frank was STOTT trained at the Equilibrium Studio in Bloomfield Hills. When she finished her training, she did her apprenticeship there, the whole process taking about a year and a half to complete. Frank and her partner, Nicola Conraths, opened the Village Pilates studio in Traverse City last January.

"As you get older, which is not always fun, a lot of the fluid in your discs is starting to dry up," Frank said. "So, with Pilates we're talking about increased strength, flexibility, spinal mobility and, again, just that whole mindful awareness of thinking about what we are doing with our posture."

Besides a decrease in flexibility, as people get older they have less strength, and weakness shows up in their joints. Many of the Pilates exercises are focused on not only increasing flexibility, but also strength and engaging the pelvic floor and deep core muscles.

Once you stabilize the core of a body, it is easier to work out to the extremities.

The core includes the pelvic floor, the transversus abdominis muscle — kind of like a corset that wraps around the middle of your body and attaches to your hips and ribs — little tiny muscles along your spine, your back muscles and lungs.

STOTT Pilates can be done on the floor, using a mat, or on specialized equipment in a studio. At the Senior Center, participants will use a mat and exercise for a half-hour session.

Frank is asking the participants to bring a towel to help position their head and neck, which helps to keep the body aligned. She will be working on breathing, exercises for spinal mobility, some stretches, hip rolls — movements that can articulate through the spine — and some balancing exercises. As people progress, she can increase the challenge.

As another option, if there are people who feel they cannot get on the floor, there are variations they can do on a chair.

"With an instructor, the participant will have the advantage of doing the exercises and breathing correctly," Frank said. "That's one of the things about Pilates; we don't do a ton of repetitions of an exercise, it's more about aligning your body and making sure you are in the right position, focusing on your breathing and doing a few repetitions, accurately and precisely."

If you are interested in participating in a Pilates class at 10 a.m. Wednesdays starting in January, or have questions, call the Senior Center at 922-4911 to make a reservation (there will be a $3 charge per class) or e-mail pthompson@tcseniorcenter.com.

Kathleen Bellaw Gest is a local freelance writer. For more about the Traverse City Senior Center, go to www.tcseniorcenter.com.

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