Pilates Body Conditioning Techniques (cont.)

Siler: Hopefully, nothing is needed but your body, which in Pilates we consider the body the most perfect tool of all, the most perfect machine ever designed. As you learn more about your body and how it moves, you begin to see how incredible we are with nothing. But Pilates was an inventor and designed many different tools to help when he was teaching people with different ailments. He even had something called a "foot corrector," a little spring-based foot platform almost looking like what you'd measure yourself for a shoe and he'd use it to teach people alignment. What we don't realize is that many of our knee and hip injuries or pains come from not knowing how to use our feet correctly. We walk in heels or on uneven pavement or carrying a bag on one side. Pilates believed that it was our bad habits that led to our injuries.

marianna251_msn: How so you know if you are strong enough?

Siler: What I put in the beginning of The Pilates Body, which is available at www.barnesandnoble.com, is a very modified series of seven exercises. You'll find them challenging even in their modified form. I can do the modified version and even find myself sweating and having a good workout. It's even to the point that if you try repeatedly to do the modified movements and cannot get it or find pain involved due to an injury, you may want to seek a teacher's tutelage.

Moderator: Most people who do Pilates seem to have very long, lean muscles. Is that a result of doing this exercise?

Siler: Absolutely. That's not to say that you can't be overweight and do Pilates or that you need to be stick thin or look like a dancer. Pilates lengthens your muscles because you're working from long positions as opposed to contracted positions. So you are stretching your muscles while simultaneously strengthening them. As opposed to when you go to the gym and you're using your weights and bulking and contracting your muscles without proper stretching, your muscles will contract and become shorter. That's why you not only get a bulkier look, but you don't have the same range of motion. So Pilates believed that strength without stretch was useless and vice versa, but the two together is what gave Pilates its edge. When you think about an Arnold Schwarzeneger versus a Bruce Lee, you can notice the difference. Bruce Lee with his long, lean muscles was able to perform more movements with agility than Arnold was able to perform. I think, given the opportunity, most people would want to feel more Bruce Lee than Arnold, although Arnold has a beautiful body. That's an aesthetic preference.

Moderator: Is this good for actually losing fat or should you do it after you've reached your desired weight?

Siler: Certainly, Pilates will never hinder any weight loss program. Therefore, it can be used in conjunction with anything else you're doing. In terms of weight loss and Pilates, what Pilates does primarily is begin to increase your circulatory system. As that increases, you'll find not only does your metabolism begin to function better, which usually tends to aid people in losing weight, but your energy level increases to such an extent that you find yourself being more active. The more active you are, the more weight you lose. So what I tend to find and what has been, as far as I've ever heard anyone say across the board, is that Pilates will reshape your muscles and generally you'll lose sizes before you'll lose actual pounds. And I see loss in size all the time. For six years, I've watched people drop down clothing sizes and not necessarily need to go on restricted diets and that is a big plus.

Moderator: How long does that usually take? How many times per week?

Siler: It really depends on the person. And, I can't say that if you're in shape that it works faster, because that's not true. Some people absolutely get Pilates right away. And it's not a brainless exercise. It's really an intelligent form of movement. So, for those willing to put in the time and effort, and it's not a lot of time and effort, it' s just concentrated time and effort, it's quality -- for those people, they'll need less time. I like to equate it to learning a language. You can go and learn a little bit every day or you can learn a chunk a week. Obviously, somebody studying every day will have more results than someone learning sporadically. I see clients who after two sessions are already standing taller and their energy is increased, while others it takes six months before they fully understand how much of their will and control is needed. When you commit yourself mentally to Pilates, it is the most rewarding system of exercise I've ever encountered. And, I've tried everything. I was very fickle when it came to exercise. I was a personal trainer and had seen it all. When I found Pilates, I've seriously never looked back a day. I've never found anything as efficient as Pilates. And, it hasn't stopped me from doing other things. I'm a horseback rider and it has only increased my awareness of how I ride. And there is nothing more beautiful than someone walking into a room with their head held high and shoulders in form. It's how you carry yourself and that's what Pilates is about.

Moderator: What are some of the most important changes you've seen in yourself from Pilates?

Siler: My energy, I would say, is the number one. And body awareness is the second. I feel like I'm no longer fighting my body. I don't need to worry as much about eating too much one day, or that's not my concern anymore. I feel so in control and in synchronicity with my mind and body that I would say it's a very empowering feeling and that is the biggest life change. I mean, it really changed my whole relationship to exercise.

Moderator: How did you learn about the Pilates method?

Siler: I was a personal trainer in a gym in between jobs. I wanted to be a writer. While I was working at a small gym in the West Village, a woman brought the equipment into the gym and began teaching. I was fascinated and had never seen or heard of it. It looked crazy and interesting and I couldn't afford to do the session so I began to do the mat work. I had never been so humbled in my life and I was a trainer. I mean, I was big and bulky, but comparatively I was in terrible shape, but no one else would have known. I could do hundreds of sit-ups and push-ups and thought I had it all. I was very bulky and felt heavy and cumbersome. When I began the mat classes, I was frustrated. I found the frustration to be a challenge because I knew this wasn't an impossible technique but that I just needed to understand it. So I stuck with it and every chance I got to be in a class, I was there. There was no reading material available then. So I had to just remember things and practice the way I stood and walked. I tried to be conscious of what I'd learned in my class. Slowly but surely, I couldn't even touch my toes when I began. And, that's so key, especially as we get older. Our muscles aren't as kind if we don't pay attention to them. I like to think of the body as a pet, and it's friendly and wants your attention and so when you give it attention, it will obey. It knows nothing in this world other than what you tell it, so if you give it the care and commitment that it wants, it will do wonderful things for you. I can't believe that my body can do the things it can do. At a young age, I became very lethargic. I didn't have a lot of energy and I worked out a lot to the point of exhaustion. The beauty of Pilates is that it increases your energy. You never feel exhausted after a session. You may feel the effort, but are never exhausted. In fact, the energy level is, I think, what keeps you coming back. The people that come back to my studio time and again, and the people I hear who continue with the Pilates method are people who in the past have never, ever committed themselves to anything physical. The proof is in the pudding -- there it is!

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