A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Pilates Power
By Nana Nkweti

Spring is here and the winter thaw has officially begun. Each day the sun comes out more layers of clothing come off. Many of us have been hiding under overcoats, sweaters and turtlenecks but all too soon our holiday flab-that last chocolate Easter egg that did us in- will see the light of day. What to do for a trimmer you? Get moving. Not sure what to do? Armed with hope, and a kicky new work out ensemble, this intrepid AFRican writer explores the weight loss benefits of the Pilates fitness craze just for you.

Trying to lose ten pounds is hard for a woman- so it was with a sense of grim determination that I made my way to the Pilates studio. Determined to reestablish my naturally muscled physique, Pilates seemed a good bet- much touted for its creation of fit, lean figures. Having studied Tai Chi and yoga in the past, I was also attracted to the mind/body/spirit aspect of its practice. The measured breathing exercises that would promote well being and reduce stress.

On the first floor reception was the reformer (pictured)- which looks like some medieval torture device, but is really just a system of springs and pulleys to assist with exercise. I was going to the less forbidding Level I mat class downstairs anyway. The studio floor was dotted with blue yoga mats, marbled green-white rollers and long swaths of candy colored plastic called resistance bands. One of the ballyhooed benefits of Pilates is its easy adaptability to practitioners of different skill levels. I, along with the two other first-timers who attended, would see if we could hold our own in the class of twelve.

We started with some stretches standing upright then rolling our upper bodies forward and letting our hands dangle to the floor. As our sprightly instructor counted down "and one, two, three, four" I thought "hey- this is not so bad." But then we headed to the mats and I spent a few dicey moments learning to balance my upper body-head to sacrum along the spinal column- on the roller -all the while trying to maintain the tricky inhale/exhale cadence. It was quite a feat to keep from rolling off to the side but some how I found my center just as we began to do the infamous ab work that Pilates is known for.

We spent several minutes learning to control our "core muscles" like the transverse abdominus. Our focus was scooping in our belly button and pulling in abs while breathing deeply. Once we had mastered that hat trick we moved on to different exercises- some easy: pelvic curls, leg & spine stretches- some diabolically hard: "The Hundred" and the "roll back." In the latter we rolled from a sitting position with knees bended, feet on floor in front of us, moving backwards in slow increments, pausing, breathing. When my back was at about a forty degree angle with the floor I started to feel the strain of trying to hold the position in my neck and shoulder muscles. I wasn't alone and our instructor revealed to the class that we'd only been doing a trial run to check the strength of our abs. He modified this roll back exercise and we repeated the routine with our hands clasping our calves under our bended knees. Things went much smoother.

Before I knew it the hour was up and I hadn't worked up much of a sweat yet I had felt my muscles working each and every step of the way. The next day I was pleasantly sore all over. I had already started walking in a nearby park two times a week - the full tour around takes about an hour and gives me an aerobic component to my regimen. Walking in the park post-Pilates, I felt myself intuitively utilizing the breathing and muscle tightening techniques I'd learned in class. I will definitely be going back and can safely recommend it for getting your work out on. Though it may seem slow paced you will feel the burn later. See you on the beach this summer!