Upcoming Events & Updates

San Jose Mercury News: Frill - free yoga

November 30, 2014

— by Richard Scheinin

What yoga can do for men physically and mentally

San Jose Mercury Feb 1999

Jim Scheer used to "hem and haw" at his wife's suggestions that he sit in on her yoga class. "It was kind of like walking into a nail salon or something," he says, recalling how he felt at the time. "There were only a handful of men in that group of 20 or 25 people, so I hesitated. You know: 'Is this a guy thing?' "

That was 12 years ago, and Scheer, 73, now attends yoga classes every week in Capitola and Felton. He takes special pleasure in flying up into headstands and enjoys "the sense of relaxation I feel after the class."

Blake Lueders, 22, describes yoga's benefits in more technical terms: It enhances "functional movement" by building "core strength," says the defensive end for the Stanford Cardinal football squad. "As far as making you a better athlete, and as far as injury prevention goes, you really get the bang for your buck."

Standing at opposite ends of the age spectrum, Scheer and Lueders emblemize the coming of age of the men's yoga movement.

Millions of American men -- about 3.6 million, according to a 2012 Yoga Journal study -- practice yoga. Most have gotten past the attitude that "yoga is a girl thing" to embrace the idea that yoga simply is a good thing: good for destressing, good for establishing balance, strength and flexibility. It can be an antidote to the physical tightness and mental fatigue that plague so many men, often exacerbated by endless hours sitting in front of a computer. And for those who can't yet twist themselves into Cirque du Soleil swami poses -- well, so be it. After all, LeBron James does yoga; he sees value in a good basic stretch, so why not you?

Place to destress

 
 

"The first thing guys are looking for is some stress reduction, a place where they can destress from work," says Tom McCook, a yoga teacher since 1995 and director of the Center of Balance studio in Mountain View. "And luckily the information is out there that it's also a solid workout, rather than just some navel-gazing. So they find out that you can do a full-body workout in half an hour, and then they see that it's in a focused environment -- not in some distracting gym where it's just another way of stressing themselves. So there's physical benefit and there's a mental benefit, as well."

 
 

Especially for men over 45, yoga "is a way to keep your body healthy, by getting to know your body better," says Myles Spar, a UCLA integrative internist and physician at the Southern California Men's Medical Group in West Hollywood. He recommends that men practice yoga to help relieve chronic lower back and shoulder pain; to prevent injuries when preparing for a triathlon or marathon; and for feeling calmer, generally -- a feeling that can flow out into the home and office. "I truly believe in it. It has so many benefits for the men I see."

The irony is that through the centuries in India, yoga was largely "a guy thing," handed down as a practice from father to son. The Indian innovators who brought yoga to the West -- Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and his famous students, including B.K.S. Iyengar -- were men. Yet in the West, women have dominated yoga. According to that same Yoga Journal survey, men -- even as their numbers increase and their attitudes change -- remain an enlightened minority. Of the estimated 20.4 million Americans who practice yoga, only 17.8 percent -- those 3.6 million -- are men.

"It has become a women's world," says David Moreno, a well-known Bay Area instructor who specializes in yoga for men. He finds that women "have a doorway, a portal, that's much more organic to them about opening to silence, to feelings, to the sensation of their bodies. Women are much more likely to come into yoga as a collective, while men are much more likely to come in alone, or to see it as a sport. Men are from Mars, really. We have different needs."

And the fear factor still can kick in when men arrive for class and look out on what appears to be a sea of supple women on their sticky mats: "Men are traditionally not as flexible. So we're all of a sudden in a public situation where we feel that we're underperforming. And that can be intimidating and can bruise the ego."

Paul Gould teaches a yoga class at Namastay Yoga in Felton on Nov. 19, 2014.
Paul Gould teaches a yoga class at Namastay Yoga in Felton on Nov. 19, 2014. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

Just for men

Which is why Moreno is writing a book on the subject, tentatively titled "Men and Yoga: Stories and Status." And it is why he has established an all-male class at Yoga Tree in Berkeley: One Sunday a month, at 7 a.m., 15 to 30 men arrive for the "Men's Kula," a two-hour session of asana (physical poses), pramayana (yogic breathing) and meditation.

Participants range in age from their 30s to their 60s, and include "a lot of dads who have three daughters and a wife at home, and they just want to be with the guys and have that energy around them," Moreno says. "Just to be in a room full of men practicing together, in a circle, facing one another -- it's powerful."

Instructors collectively guide the men toward "the kind of practice that suits men, that challenges men without overwhelming them." Poses are often modified; no need to stress and strain. Keep it safe. Do what feels right, and do it correctly. Sit on a block or a couple of blankets to help those tight hips to open.

"Someone with huge quadriceps and tightness through their hips -- it's going to be harder for them," says Nanci Conniff, a yoga and Pilates specialist for Stanford University's athletic program whose students have included Lueders, the defensive end. "They simply can't get all their flesh out of the way. There's just more of them to move around. So it comes down to meeting people where they're at. You start at Point A and you build it up. You do a lot of preparatory work."

Calm exploration

"Explore your own edge," suggests Paul Gould, who runs NamaStay Yoga in Felton with his wife, Jenni Fox. Teaching triangle pose -- a classic, Iyengar standing pose that involves extensions of the legs, arms and torso -- he often encourages a male yogi to "do a modified version with his body aligned, and then let's keep it aligned and see how deeply we can get into it." His goal: Bring the student to "a place of calm," while exploring.

Gould teaches men-only classes, too: "What happens is, we have a blast. I don't think yoga should be a dour undertaking. I've been to a lot of yoga classes where it's like, 'Whoa! This is not a lot of fun. Can we smile here?' "

Scheer agrees that he feels freer to let loose among men: "The moaning and groaning is kind of at a minimum in a co-ed class," like the one he attends in Capitola with wife Christa. But at his "all-guy class" with Gould in Felton, the atmosphere opens up: "We were all joking one time that we should make a CD, like the whales singing. We'd call it 'Men Doing Yoga.' "

Macho aspects

Spar, the UCLA integrative internist, finds that men can be drawn to yoga -- and go on to see its benefits -- if he uses "guy language" to describe it. For instance, headstands and shoulder stands -- the so-called inversion poses -- can be understood in terms of gym-rat resistance training, because "you're pushing against your body weight." Likewise, a standing warrior pose "works the quads and the glutes." Sometimes he encourages men to attend Bikram "hot yoga" classes for a sweaty workout that becomes a yoga gateway: "Oh, this is kind of a macho thing!"

Allan Nett, a Napa-based instructor who teaches in San Francisco and the East Bay, has created a class titled "Yoga with Your Boots On." No sticky mats. No lotus poses. A former contractor, he often teaches yoga to construction workers -- at the worksite. He instructs them in standing poses, stretching and pushing against walls to improve balance and alignment, thereby helping to reduce spinal constrictions and the attendant pain.

He teaches co-ed classes, too, but finds that with men he "treats it a little more like we're on a team, and pushes it a little differently. —‰'Come on you guys, you can do it. How come your arms aren't straight? I know you're stronger than that. I can see it!' I talk more personally with a man, in a sense, about what his body is like than I would with a woman."

And he tells the men to remember this motto: "You've got to be out of your mind to do yoga. That's not crazy out of your mind. It's thinking less and feeling more."

Contact Richard Scheinin at 408-920-5069, read his stories and reviews at www.mercurynews.com/richard-scheinin and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/richardscheinin.

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED

 
 
Specialists in yoga for men include these:

Idea Fitness Journal: Pilates on the Cutting Edge

March 27, 2014

— by Rosalind Gray Davis

“Pilates has changed,” says Nora St. John, MS, education program director for Balanced Body®. Today, she explains, many Pilates teachers are well educated in biomechanics. “An understanding of both anatomy and the mind-body connection makes you a better teacher and certainly a better problem solver.

“In the best situation, Pilates is taught with the idea of, ‘Who is the client in front of me? What are his or her goals? How can I use this environment to help the client achieve those goals?’ I think this is a good contemporary view of Pilates.”

How are top Pilates educators respecting Pilates principles while allowing the repertoire to evolve in response to scientific findings and new equipment? Learn how present-day Pilates is blending successfully with other modalities, and discover the latest programs that are making that possible.

Support for Change

Sharing St. John’s sentiments about the importance of exercise science and conscious mind-body movement in an evolving Pilates world are Tom McCook, co-owner and director of Center of Balance in Mountain View, California, and a master instructor of Pilates and CoreAlign® for Balanced Body®, and PJ O’Clair, owner of clubXcel and Northeast Pilates, a STOTT PILATES® Licensed Training Center in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts.

“Understanding how the body and the nervous system are designed to move gives us the ability to teach our clients how to move better and with less strain and less wear and tear,” says McCook.

“The body is not designed for performance; it’s designed for survival. The joints need to be mobilized before doing anything muscularly difficult. This allows a person to feel safe before performing a movement. We need to show our clients how to let go of excess tension and how to improve their posture and their body mechanics.”

“STOTT PILATES changed the order [of the Pilates repertoire] quite a few years ago because we felt that it was imbalanced,” says O’Clair, who clearly sees science informing the consciousness of the contemporary Pilates community. “Joseph Pilates was a brilliant man, but [based on] current exercise science, we believe [his original sequence included] too much flexion. People are already spending a great deal of time in flexion in their daily lives,” she says.

McCook agrees, pointing to the many hours clients spend sitting, driving a car or working on computers every day. “This makes you question whether or not it would be a good idea to start your workout with a flexion exercise. You are just doing more of the same thing. [We need] to look at the body and find the most functional movement for the person.”

Innovative Programs and Equipment

Over the years, creative instructors have found novel ways to combine Pilates with other exercise modalities. Pilates and yoga have blended well, for example, and less obvious hybrids—like Pilates and indoor cycling—have also enjoyed success. But new programs and equipment are enabling Pilates educators to refine their approach, expand their reach and fill in arguable gaps in the classical repertoire. Among today’s available resources are CoreAlign, ZEN•GA™ and barre workouts.

CoreAlign

The CoreAlign method, according to McCook, is designed to improve functional movement patterns, posture and balance, and to provide a full-body workout. The equipment consists of two tracks and carts that move independently with smooth resistance (assistance) created by six elastic resistance tube assemblies on each cart. Movement is possible in one or both directions. A ladder (wall-mounted or free-standing) is used in most of the exercises.

For more information, please see “Pilates Blending” in the online IDEA Library or in the print edition of October 2013 IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

 

PilatesStyle Magazine - Natalie Coughlin

July/August 2012

Pilates Style July August 2012 Natalie CoughlinCoughlin is the poster girl for adding Pilates to your training regimen. “I started doing a kind of hybrid of yoga and mat Pilates as part of my team training regimen,” when she was a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley, Coughlin recalls. “I noticed that it helped me a lot in my swim training, so eight years ago, I started seeing a private instructor, Tom McCook [at Center of Balance studio in Mountain View, CA], one to two times a week.”

Every one of her Pilates sessions is different, she says. “Tom does such a great job of showing me how to apply Pilates principles in the water,” says Coughlin. “And I really enjoy it.”

Without her Pilates training, she might not have been so successful at the Beijing games. “The Olympics are such a stressful time,” she explains. “They’re emotionally stressful and they’re physically exhausting. When I first got to Beijing, I was about a week away from my first swim, and I really wasn’t feeling great in the water. So Tom gave me a 20-minute series of breathing and relaxation exercises to get me aligned before bed every night. I really think that was one of the things that got me in the right mental as well as physical state for my Olympics.”

Mountain View Voice: Small businesses want to be part of N. Bayshore plan

mountain view voiceNew Zoning could create a "Castro Street" on Shoreline

 

February 23, 2012
— by Daniel DeBolt

Small businesses near Google headquarters are excited by proposals to create a vibrant and walkable village in North Bayshore, but also worry that they will be squeezed out by plans to accommodate the internet giant. Karen deMoor, co-owner of a Yoga and Pilates studio at 1220 Pear Avenue called Center of Balance, told the City Council on Tuesday that she hoped businesses like hers would have a place in North Bayshore's zoning map in the city's new 2030 General Plan, a draft of which is currently being reviewed and analyzed by local officials, planners and concerned residents.

"The redevelopment of Shoreline is really exciting and we want to be part of it," deMoor said of her North Bayshore business, which serves 350 people a week, including tech executives, Olympic athletes and Pilates instructors who train there. "We want affordable space to be designated for businesses like ours to help us survive this" redevelopment.

The City Council is considering zoning that could allow for something like a second Castro Street on Shoreline Boulevard north of Highway 101. A downtown-like setting with new offices, mass transit, shops and up to 1,500 apartments aimed at employees who work in the neighborhood, an idea advocated by Google and others to reduce car traffic and spur the creation of a pleasing, walk-able neighborhood with outdoor cafes and small parks.

Google bought the building four years ago where deMoor's studio has been housed for 15 years. But there is still "no clear understanding of the larger plan" for the building, deMoor said. The studio has less than two years left on its lease.

The building at 1220 Pear Avenue is also home for the last nine years to the Pear Avenue Theater. A theater representative also expressed concerns about a neighborhood redevelopment mostly driven by larger businesses like Google.

"We cannot guarantee our work will continue if we have to find another space," said the theater's artistic director, Diane Tasca, who requested that there be a place for the theater in the new North Bayshore. The intimate 40-seat theater hosts "remarkable performances at affordable prices. The arts are vital to the life of the community. The Pear has provided a lot of artistic bang for the buck."

The concerns were echoed in a recent workshop which 165 North Bayshore businesses were invited to discuss the future of North Bayshore said Marianna Grossman, director of Sustainable Silicon Valley, which organized the workshop. "The smaller employers are really concerned about affordable rent and having large enough space to meet their needs," Grossman said.

Those small businesses include tech start-ups that have flocked to Castro Street, attracted by Google's local presence. Office developers say downtown is seen as an attractive place to work by tech employees, with its restaurants and shops providing an atmosphere that has at least a chance of comparing to the fun campus environment of a workplace like Google or Facebook. Palo Alto has apparently noticed the demand from small businesses, having recently declared the Meadow Drive area near Mountain View's border as a neighborhood for start-ups.

While North Bayshore could be a second downtown, it will require careful planning in order to keep already substantial traffic on Shoreline Boulevard and Amphitheatre Parkway from getting worse, council members say. Planning Director Randy Tsuda said it might be helpful to begin thinking of a future North Bayshore as a campus where people park their cars and walk, bike or take transit inside, similar to Stanford University where a parking demand management system uses shuttles and pays employees not to drive, keeping traffic below 1989 levels.

Mayor Mike Kasperzak is one of several council members who are interested in a unique personal rapid transit system for the area, with a network of guided pod cars connecting North Bayshore to the city's downtown train station.

"Everybody hates the traffic," Grossman said. Larger employers such as Google, "all would like to expand but in a way that protects the beauty of the area without adding too much traffic."

Mountain View Voice: Yoga Boom Hits Mountain View

January 14, 2005
— by Diana Reynolds Roome

A guide to inner peace... and flexibility, balance, strength, endurance...

Mountain View Voice"I remember way back trying not to use the word yoga -- it was too strange. Now it's everywhere," said Elise Browning Miller, founding director of California Yoga Center at the San Antonio Shopping Center.

Though yoga classes have been available locally for years, centers are now so plentiful that choosing between them and various yoga styles can be almost as hard as practicing the Rajakapotasana, or king pigeon pose. 

Energizing and calming at the same time, yoga is an ancient path to physical and mental health originating in India.

Owen Grady on Mountain View Voice 2005

"Yoga is meditation in motion," said Joseph Hentz, founder of Yoga is Youthfulness on Castro Street. "It's about the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. You learn to be present, and slowly, slowly you ... gain health and energy, and with that, a buoyancy so that you're able to deal with negatives and become more optimistic and daring."

Based on the physical disciplines of postures and breathing, yoga increases endurance, strength and flexibility. It also relieves stiffness, tones the body, reduces mental stress and leads to deep relaxation.

Though traditionally rigorous, modern American yoga can be gentle or energetic, and "can be modified for all levels," explained Ann Merlo, instructor at the California Yoga Center where the Iyengar style is taught. "It works with wherever you are."

Mental and spiritual benefits are emphasized to different degrees according to individual teachers and yoga styles. Though classes vary in style or emphasis, all the centers mentioned in this article accommodate a wide range of participants, from beginner to advanced. And teachers often adapt postures (asanas) at different levels of difficulty.

"Asana means easy, comfortable position, so finding that ease is more of a learning process than an exercise," said Julia Roberts, founder of Yoga Explorations in Sunnyvale. "It's not about getting it right but what's going on inside."

Yoga is done without shoes, and clothes should be loose and comfortable. While yoga enthusiasts take their own mats, many studios have mats to lend. Classes are usually one to one-and-a-half hours. Most teachers, especially in smaller classes, will gently adjust individual students' poses.

The following guide is designed to help in finding the yoga class best suited for your needs and goals. (Note: This guide may not cover all local classes.)

California Yoga Center

570 Showers Drive, Suite 5, Mountain View 947-9642, www.californiayoga.com The lowdown: Founded in 1980 in Palo Alto, CYC is one of the first yoga centers in the area. It has some venerable teachers, including Lolly Font, Ann Merlo, Ben Thomas and Elise Miller, both on faculty at Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco.

All classes are based on the Iyengar method, a classic form developed in India where yoga originated. It emphasizes precise alignment and inner awareness. Postures can be modified for all levels; teachers discuss poses and often work with individuals to find their best way to achieve an asana. Emphasis: How you learn is just as important as what you learn. Extras: Classes for back care and scoliosis, prenatal, and pranayama (rhythmic breathing) Nice touch: Workshops and retreats Fees: 8 classes for $112; $14-$17 for drop-in

Center of Balance

1220 Pear Avenue, Suite 1, Mountain View 967-6414, www.centerofbalance.com The lowdown: This studio was listed in "Yoga Journal's" national round-up of the best yoga studios and in "San Francisco" magazine's 2004 Best of the Bay Area.

There's a strong emphasis on physical fitness. Owner/instructor Tom McCook's customers include Olympic athletes and others who want to strengthen performance in other areas.

Beginners, pregnant women or those with injuries progress at their own pace and can benefit from private sessions. Pilates is also incorporated into most classes. Besides a yoga studio, there is a well-equipped pilates studio. Emphasis: Personal development through private and group instruction Extras: Massage, yoga store Nice touch: Juice and apples available after class Fees: 10 classes for $130, 30-day unlimited pass for $135. Student rates available. Private instruction $90-$110 per session. $18 for drop-in

Dahn Yoga Center/Brain Respiration

1776 Miramonte Ave, Mountain View 960-1717, www.DahnWorld.com The lowdown: One of 150 centers in the U.S., Dahn offers a system of exercise, breathing and meditation based on the ancient Korean healing tradition of Dahnak. It's not yoga in the Hindu tradition though it contains some similar elements.

Classes vary but include certain themes: fast, dynamic floor exercises to get the chi, or energy, flowing, stretching, and chanting. Emphasis: Opening meridian channels to increase chi Extras: Individual assessment, aura photograph, small store Nice touch: Cheerful yellow-and-green decor; circle exercises give a sense of class unity. Fees: 3-month pass for $390, no drop-ins

Yoga is Youthfulness

590 Castro Street, Mountain View 964-5277, www.yogaisyouth.com The lowdown: The core staff of 10 instructors offer classes that cover Ashtanga, Iyengar, Anusara, Vinyasa flow (synchronized breath and movement) and restorative yoga. An early morning self-paced practice known as Mysore is provided with one-on-one teacher guidance. Many teachers trained in India, and classes are taught in context of yoga's philosophical basis. Emphasis: Yoga as meditation in motion; learning to be present and focused. Extras: Yoga for kids (5-12) and post-natal yoga; workshops and retreats; YIY hikes. Nice touch: Sculptures and artwork Fees: 10 classes for $115; 1 month unlimited pass for $130, $14 drop-in or 3 classes for $20

Yoga of Los Altos

343 2nd Street, Suite 3, Los Altos 941-9642, www.yogaoflosaltos.com The lowdown: Fifteen teachers, including Tom Abrehamson, Ben Thomas, Marti Foster and Osha Hanfling, offer a wide range of approaches from introductory classes to workshops focusing on therapy for the neck and shoulders. Their styles are eclectic, but include Iyengar, Anusara and Vinyasa flow. Early-morning classes encourage personal practice in the company of others.

New classes help seniors and those with physical challenges to increase flexibility, walk, stand and sit with ease, enhance breathing and concentration, and sleep better. Emphasis: Yoga for physical and spiritual well-being Extras: Private sessions for individual problems Nice touch: Meditation session at no charge Fees: 10 classes for $120, $14 for drop-in

Yoga Explorations of Sunnyvale

822 W. Iowa Ave, Sunnyvale (408) 746-2752, www.yogaexplorations.com The lowdown: YES takes an exploratory approach to traditional asanas, helping students understand their own bodies better rather than trying to conform to an idea of how a posture should look on the outside.

Small groups, moving slowly to develop the potential of each asana, work well for anyone concerned about limitations or injury. Instruction is mostly based on the Iyengar method. Emphasis: Individual yoga exploration for all, including seniors, prenatal, children and back care. Extras: Meditation, Aikido, Aikido for kids Nice touch: Personal attention; bright upstairs studio. Fees: 10 classes for $120, $15 for drop-in

YMCA Yoga

2400 Grant Road, Mountain View 969-7204, www.ymcamidpen.org The lowdown: Though its focus is on fitness, classes are based on Iyengar and Vinyasa flow and taught with full regard to the spirit of yoga.

Classes often attract a crowd in the big gym where teachers demonstrate postures, adapting them to most levels. Attention to breathing deepens postures and relaxation between poses. Yogilates classes combine yoga and pilates. Emphasis: Well-being and safe pace Extras: Props may increase intensity of workout. Nice touch: Quiet background music Fees: Free to YMCA members

Yoga for Teens

City of Mountain View Recreation, Community Center, Rengstorff Ave., Mountain View 903-6331 Tuesdays Jan. 25 to March 33, 4-5:15 p.m. Fee: 10 classes for $45 (only Mountain View residents)

These membership gyms and studios in Mountain View also offer yoga classes: Fit from the Core, 934-2673, Gold's Gym, 940-1440 The Club of Mountain View, 969-1783

San Jose Mercury News - Strength and Stability

February 10, 1999
— by Phyllis Palone Sturman

Pilates exercise techniques concentrate on quality of movement

San Jose Mercury Feb 1999SANTA CLARA marketing consultant Monique Parker used the Pilates workout to rehabilitate a strained hamstring. John Klimp, a Palo Alto business owner and member of the Stanford Masters Swimmers Program, gave the method a try to improve his swim technique.

Based on the teachings of Joseph Pilates (pronounced pa-LAH-teez), this versatile workout uses the body weight for resistance, along with specific equipment, to simultaneously strengthen and lengthen the muscles. Easy on the joints, yet challenging to the muscles, dancers have used the method for decades to stay in peak condition and to rehabilitate injuries.

But the benefits from Pilates-based exercise are not just for dancers.

"Pilates improves alignment and posture and balances muscle development, which is important in injury prevention and recovery,'' says Karen Matison, owner of the Balanced Body in Menlo Park. "Developing abdominal strength and spinal stability are key elements in the process. Much focus is on using the deep layers of muscles, or core muscles, of the body to work from the inside out.''

Quality of movement (not quantity), breathing and mind/body integration also are essential components of Pilates-based movement. Because Pilates-style exercise takes concentration, you won't hear piped-in music or see exercisers with headsets on for distraction. The studio environment is quiet, the mood calm and meditative. Participants, usually a few people at a time, focus on the flow of movement on the equipment.

Strength and StabilityThe most commonly known apparatus, but not the only piece, is the Universal Reformer. The Reformer resembles a wood-frame single bed with a sliding carriage that uses an adjustable springs-and-pulley system for upper and lower body resistance. The prototype for today's apparatus and the original movements were created by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s.

A sickly child, Pilates became a professional boxer, self-defense expert and all-around fitness buff. When he was interned in England (because of his German heritage) during World War I, he shared his fitness prowess with his fellow internees. To help bedridden and deconditioned soldiers exercise, he devised resistance equipment using springs and cables attached to their beds.

In 1926, Joseph Pilates and his wife, Clara, moved to New York City, where his methods quickly became known in the dance community. Martha Graham, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins were among devotees, who used his techniques to strengthen and rehabilitate their dancers.

Movements familiar

Matison, who discovered Pilates through her interest in dance, says a typical one-hour private session begins on the mat.

"Mat work allows new clients to become familiar with the principles of the method: to develop a controlled, fluid motion, to find the center of the torso and press the sacrum into the floor, and to breathe fully into the chest while pulling the belly into the spine," she says.

During mat work, clients also learn the "vocabulary," or individual movements. Many of the movements, which may look familiar from yoga and traditional exercise routines, transfer to the apparatus. Pilates believed that a person had the technique within, and the apparatus was a way to offer support, Matison says.

After the mat exercises, a client performs leg and footwork and upper body work on the Universal Reformer. One-on-one instruction from an instructor is recommended because the Pilates-based technique is subtle and requires a client to visualize the movement.

"Pilates is conscious movement. When you visualize what muscles will do the work and hold that thought as you move through the exercise, you work efficiently and effectively from the start," she says. Matison cites the example of a person who executes 100 crunches, and often uses momentum to get through the first 80 repetitions. Then for the last 20 repetitions, the muscles are engaged to do the work.

"Performing a few (about 10) really good movements rather than pumping the muscles through numerous repetitions also contributes to the long, lean muscles that dancers need to maintain and that others want," she says.

Because Pilates-based movements are gentle and predominantly done lying down, it is a natural rehabilitation method for injured dancers and non-dancers, male or female. Mercy Sidbury, a former dancer with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, and now a dance medicine specialist in the Dance Medicine Division of the Center for Sports Medicine at Saint Francis Hospital in San Francisco, rehabilitated a dance injury using Pilates-based exercises.

Adaptability

"Dancers with fractures get a full workout with a cast on and stay in condition," Sidbury says. Sidbury, who liked Pilates-style exercise for its rehabilitative properties, has come to appreciate Pilates methods for its broad use and adaptability.

"In addition to non-dancers who suffer groin, hip and knee injuries, we now apply Pilates technique to a more complicated population. We've found that people who can't tolerate other forms of exercise can handle the gentle method applied in Pilates," says Sidbury.

Tom McCook, owner of Center of Balance in Mountain View, says about 25 percent of his Pilates clients are rehab referrals.

"A routine can be created for any level of rehabilitation or (athletic) training. It's a low-risk, high-benefit training regime,'' says McCook.

Matison says that although about 33 percent of her clients come to her for rehabilitation, most continue to incorporate Pilates methods into their regular workout routine because of the added benefits, such as improved posture.

No noisy gym

"Pilates has helped me correct and balance my posture — which is great because I can spend 10 hours a day at the computer plus a couple more hours driving," says Santa Clara high-tech marketing consultant Monique Parker.

An avid exerciser, Parker continued her training after she rehabilitated her hamstring. She practices Pilates twice a week in the studio plus home workouts along with yoga. She gladly forfeited the noisy, gym environment and the pounding workouts that didn't accomplish her goals.

"I've always wanted a balanced, lean look. With Pilates I've gained strength, flexibility and muscular stability in a symmetrical way," says Parker.

Symmetry and balance is an underlying theme in Pilates-style exercise. Muscle imbalance can put a person at greater risk for injury in daily activities such as lifting a child or items from the trunk of a car. Favoring one side of the body out of habit or compensation for a previous injury can hinder athletic performance and improvement.

In 1994, when John Klimp of Palo Alto asked a swim-team teammate about her improved technique and time, she credited the Pilates-based method. That was enough to get Klimp to attend Matison's studio.

"My shoulder movement and kick are more efficient, and I've gained back and hip flexibility. Overall, my posture has improved, too. Pilates teaches you to make specific adjustments and pay attention to the small muscle groups,'' Klimp says.

More than exercise

Pilates-based methods have been around for 70-plus years. Why the popularity with the mainstream exercise population now? One-time body builder McCook, who also teaches yoga at his studio, says people want workouts that benefit mind and body.

"People are bored with the big-muscle approach," says McCook. "People are now thinking more about function than simply aesthetics, and Pilates provides a stress reliever that benefits all areas of health. People learn to use their body to self-regulate stress. Pilates has more depth than just exercise.''


Phyllis Palone Sturman is a Bay Area freelance writer.
PHOTO BY MICHAEL RONDOU, MERCURY NEWS STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Palo Alto Weekly - Stretch & Tone

Wednesday, January 12, 2000
Page 23
— by Sarah Heim

Stretch and Tone: An 80-year-old fitness approach makes a comeback in local gyms

Palo Alto Weekly January 2000Imagine a workout where you leave your sweatbands and headphones at home, and leave your shoes at the door. For the millions of Americans who choose to workout at gyms every day, this probably doesn't sound too familiar.

For the growing number of fitness-minded folks who have discovered the benefits of a more serene workout known as Pilates (pronounced pu-LAH-teez), the days of pumping iron in surround-sound at the gym are only fleeting memories. Now, they leave the gym relaxed, not over-stimulated.

"You should feel light and refreshed after a workout," said Tom McCook, the founder and director of Center of Balance fitness studio in Mountain View. "And you should feel more self-aware."

Exercise enthusiasts around the country are now choosing to pull out a mat rather than getting on a Stairmaster, and train using the Pilates-based exercise. The approach, developed by physical trainer Joseph Pilates in the 1920s, is making a comeback. It is an exercise regime focused on improving strength and flexibility without building bulk.

Pilates created five pieces of equipment with names like "The Reformer" and "The Cadillac," that look more like they belong in a medieval torture dungeon or Houdini's studio rather than a gym.

The Reformer resembles a flat, narrow wooden bed with a series of adjustable springs and pulleys hanging from the "headboard" at one end. Both the hands and feet can grab onto these various hanging devices when doing upper and lower body resistance exercises.

Pilates designed more than 500 exercises that can be done using these pieces of equipment. The individual exercises center of the quality of movement rather than the quantity, and emphasize breathing patterns and mind/body integration.

McCook, who was an avid weightlifter for 15 years before becoming a Pilates convert, hasn't touched a weight for seven years. For him, Pilates offers more depth than straight weight training.

People are tired of the big muscle approach to working out, he said. "[Pilates] is a much more efficient workout."

The mat-based exercises focus on the strengthening and lengthening of the body's core muscles.

"It's a safe [workout] and helps develop more physical balance," McCook said.

Exercises are done lying on the back, on the stomach, on the side, in the sitting position and in just about every position in between.

Repetitions of stretches are done on one muscle group at a time. For example, a series of repetitions may focus solely on elongating your spine and neck, while always keeping track of your breathing pattern.

Many of the stretches and movements resemble those done in yoga. The difference is that in yoga, you tend to hold a position, while in Pilates there is an emphasis on continuous, smooth movement like moving through water.

In fact, many swimmers use the workout to help build endurance and strength. McCook currently works with the Stanford Women's Swim Team three times a week and has trained Olympic swimmers like Jenny Thompson.

Although athletes and stars like Madonna and Vanessa Williams, who both do Pilates-based workouts, have helped increase the popularity of the exercises in recent years, dancers have been doing Pilates workouts for decades. . . .

According to McCook, who took two private sessions each week for five years, one-on-one training is essential. Although Pilates equipment can be purchased for the home, McCook strongly recommends training under the guidance of a professional.

"[Pilates-based exercise] is great preventative health care," McCook added.

At the same time, the exercises are also a natural rehabilitation method.

Carol Scribner began attending workouts at Center of Balance about a year ago to help correct muscle tightness and an aching lower back. She now attends classes once or twice a week. "I feel improvement and I feel stronger physically," she said. . . .

Whether male of female, young or old, athletic or just looking to tone up over the winter months, Pilates offers an alternative way to synchronize your mind and body and leave you feeling healthier and happier.

"[Pilates] is a much more refined form of exercise," McCook said. "It's an art form as well."

My Account

Student Testimonials

When I was a beginner, it was the instructors of Center of Balance who taught me how to correct my poses.

Alice H

Balanced Body Dealer Discount

Center of Balance is an official dealer for Balanced Body®. We can order any of their products at a discounted price.

balancedbody-small

Get a Quote!

Make an Appointment

     (650) 967-6414

      1110 La Avenida St
          Mountain View, CA 94043

Email Us

 

My Account

Login or Register

Connect with CoB