Move Slowly and More Mindfully: Pilates Helps People of All Ages



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Pilates instructor Perrey Sobba figures at least half the members of her Kalispell-based Space Pilates are over 50, including Mike Fanning, who at age 82 does an impressive “plank.”

Looking like the upward part of a pushup, the plank position is one of many exercises utilized in Pilates and other low-impact exercise programs gaining favor with audiences of all ages, especially seniors.

“One of the reasons I love the practice so much is that it is wonderful for everyone,” said Sobba, “from young athletes to pregnant women and those recovering from injury.” Pilates can help on many levels, she adds, ranging from an improved golf game to reduced pain to recovery from injury.

“For the older generation, it helps with maintaining deep core strength (especially pelvic floor), building muscle tone through resistance training without the full body impact on the joints, creating length and flexibility in the spine and body, and keeping bone density (especially important for women and those dealing with osteoporosis),” said Sobba, a lifelong athlete originally from Whitefish, Mont., who discovered Pilates as an international figure skater.

Special considerations for seniors include orthopedic problems — hip or knee replacements, spinal and shoulder issues — as well as loss of balance, flexibility, and strength, said Susan Chapman Caswell, who runs Sandpoint, Idaho-based Xhale Pilates Studio with business partner, Corrina Barrett.

Pilates, according to the Mayo Clinic, was invented in the 1920s consisting of “low-impact flexibility and muscular strength and endurance movements. Pilates emphasizes proper postural alignment, core strength, and muscle balance.”

Similar to yoga, Pilates movements have names — Leg Circle, RollUp, CrissCross — most of which are self-explanatory, yet just moving your body parts isn’t enough and might even be harmful, especially to people with injuries or who are advanced in age.

Instead, people need to practice mindful movement, said Melissa “Missy” Dodge-Hutchins, a Master Pilates and 500-level yoga teacher based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where she owns Metta Movement.

“Mindful movement is being aware of where you are in space, where you initiate your movement from, how that initiation causes patterns in your musculoskeletal system to manifest, and how to decrease pain and increase performance,” said Dodge, whose background includes teaching Pilates at the University of Utah, as well as neuromuscular re-education for a Salt Lake City physical therapist.

People with wrist issues, for example, such as those caused by carpal tunnel or arthritis, would need to modify the plank to limit bearing weight on affected areas, said Dodge. Modifications for knee replacements might include using a stretchy band to limit range-of-motion.

“In the Pilates world it’s called movement disassociation and is a skill one must work on,” said Dodge. “It does not necessarily come naturally.”

Another significant benefit of Pilates (or any form of exercise that increases awareness of the body), said Caswell, is that it allows seniors to participate more fully in their favorite activities, eventually becoming ingrained into everyday movement.

And, she added, Pilates classes get you connecting with like-minded individuals, not just of your age, but all ages.

Group classes can be a wonderful way for people to get exercise, yet the sheer volume of people in a class might mean seniors don’t get the individual attention they need, cautioned Dodge-Hutchins.

Do your homework, advised the instructors we profiled, and be sure to inform him or her of specific injuries, limitations, concerns, etc., especially in a small-class setting or — better yet — one-on-one.

“It’s a good idea to find a trained professional who can assist in moving in an intelligent and mindful way in order to stay healthy, rehab from an injury, and/or increase performance,” said Dodge. MSN

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