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Wellbeing: Pilates - A Journey

(Editor's Note): Karen Banting's major focus is health and wellness and as a Pilates Instructor, she channels her passion to help her clients live happier and healthier lives. (below: Karen Banting in San Francisco).

In this article, Karen discusses her own journey discovering her passion for Pilates. An avid traveler, Karen recently spent a year trekking and surfing her way through South America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. She loves discovering the unique fashions and flavors of different places, is always up for an adventure, and loves to blog about her adventures and share her stories. While originally from Canada, Karen is now our new San Francisco correspondent and will be sharing her health, lifestyle and travel tips, as well as her love of street-style fashion.

Pilates: A Journey by Karen Banting. In my experience, people come to Pilates for one of two reasons. Either they’ve heard that celebrities such as super-fit Jennifer Aniston credit their physiques to Pilates and they want in, or they have an injury or postural problem and have been referred by their doctor or physiotherapist. In both cases, once people really commit to Pilates, it seems that they never turn back. Some of my clients have been doing Pilates for over 20 years, not planning to ever give up on something that makes them feel so strong and healthy. My journey with Pilates began for reason number one, I wanted the ‘Pilates body’. A good friend of mine had been doing Pilates for years and was always incredibly fit, so once she started working out at the STOTT PILATES Studio in Toronto, she convinced me to finally join her for a Reformer class. I remember being totally intimidated by the machines and the whole experience, and also how much I watched the clock during those first few classes, not feeling like I could handle one more second of ab-work. It was hard, but it also felt really nice and it was refreshingly different than anything I had done before. I loved that as soon as I arrived at the studio, I got to leave my life and my thoughts at the door. Pilates asks you to be deeply focused on your movement and your breath, and as a result it has an almost meditative quality to it. I always left the studio feeling strong, relaxed and a little bit taller. After a few months of doing a weekly Pilates class, another friend commented to me that my legs looked “leaner”which was a huge compliment to me personally because that has always been an area of dissatisfaction. I also felt stronger, and loved having more open shoulders and feeling strength develop in my core and my arms. Soon I was taking two classes a week, and after another year or so, I decided I wanted to become certified to teach Pilates. (below: Karen states that "the work we do inside the studio gets coded into muscle memory, so that we move more effectively in every activity of our daily lives." Once Karen got her Pilates teaching certificate and started holding classes, her timetable was quickly filled with students eager to learn how to master each precision move from her knowledge-base & experience).

I didn’t think of it as a ‘real’ career option at that point, but I knew that I had found something I loved and I wanted to learn more. Fast forward a few years and I had quit my job and begun teaching full time. It definitely took a while to get a client base, but I was surprised by how quickly my schedule filled up.

Pilates once had a reputation as being only for dancers and celebrities, but now people come to it at all ages and from all walks of life. As Pilates becomes more mainstream and gathers more clients, the demand for Instructors continues to grow. In the last year I’ve become an Instructor Trainer, meaning that I now teach education courses to future Instructors, which has taken me to a whole new level of understanding and appreciation for this amazing discipline. While teaching clients can sometimes be draining, I always find myself inspired when I’m teaching students. I want to give them as much as I can, remembering how daunting it was to be in their position, and knowing how eager I was to absorb as much knowledge as I could. (below: The focus and breath technique of Pilates moves make the workout not only effective but meditative).

For those who aren’t familiar with Pilates, there are a number of different methods, some ‘Contemporary’ and some ‘Classical’, and what they all have in common is a major emphasis on postural alignment and core strength. I teach for STOTT PILATES, which is a contemporary method, meaning that we also place a big focus on proper joint function and muscle recruitment patterns and also break the movements down so that people of any age or fitness level are able to participate.

This focus on proper mechanics and precise movement is especially important now that many people are coming to Pilates as a form of post-rehab conditioning, or to deal with age-related physical complications.

What I love most about Pilates is that it is empowering to those who practice it. It teaches us how to properly contract our muscles, how our joints should function, and how the way we stand and sit all day drastically impacts our health. It changes our body mechanics and the postures that we carry out into the world, allowing us to move in a way that is more balanced and less stressful on our joints. This is the true value of Pilates, that the work we do inside the studio gets coded into muscle memory, so that we move more effectively in every activity of our daily lives. (below: Stott Pilates is a type of Pilates that can be be approached from any level of fitness & at any age).

As an Instructor, it is so satisfying to see my clients have these breakthrough moments when they start using their bodies differently, when their body awareness develops and they begin to correct themselves before I can even say anything. This is where the lasting change begins.

When I’m doing Pilates regularly, I feel lifted and graceful, my back doesn’t hurt and my legs and hips feel strong when I run. I become conscious of my posture and I’m less likely to sit slumped to one side, or to rest all of my weight into one hip when I’m standing, or even carry my purse on the same poor shoulder all day every day. I am much more conscious of what being balanced and centered feels like and my body reminds me when I am not there. Having this internal awareness of optimal alignment allows me to correct my posture with ease any time.

Pilates has given me an understanding of and an appreciation for my body, inspiring me to take good care of myself. It’s a lot more motivating to exercise from a place of gratitude than from a place of guilt or dissatisfaction, which was definitely my former mode. These days my greatest inspirations are those clients who have been doing Pilates forever, women in their 60s with the bodies of 25 year-olds. I guess after all this time I’m still hung up on having that ‘Pilates body’, but now that’s because I know how good it feels.


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