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Fitness

By Kazuko Ikeda

A Pilates Journey

2008
ISSUE
24

Watching a performance by a world-class athlete, is your reaction, “Oh, I’d love to be able to do that,” or perhaps a “Yeah, maybe I could pull that off?”

I doubt I’m the only one who admires these athletes’ efficient use of power, perfect balance and total command of their body’s muscles.

The smooth swing of Tiger Woods during his dramatic run at the U.S. Open in June.

The dynamic, but light, gait of Asafa Powell setting the world record in the 100-meter dash.

The balance of Laird Hamilton as he paddles into 30-meter waves. Their movements are elegant and beautiful.

When I was actively competing in ski racing, I was always taken with Italy’s Deborah Compagnoni who won gold in three consecutive Olympics. Most alpine skiers have thick, muscular legs, but Deborah maintained a slim, symmetrical figure which never fought the slopes during her amazing glides down the mountain. In comparison, my burly legs and arms from years of weight training seemed somewhat unbalanced to the naked eye.

How in the world will I ever be able to come close to Deborah’s style of skiing? I constantly wondered and worried.

One answer I found through Pilates. A top-class athlete maintains exceptional posture – legs stretched out straight and true, tight glutes, widespread backs and pulled-back shoulders. This perfect posture is what Pilates lessons help you strive for over time.

During piano or ballet lessons, students hear the “importance of fundamentals” enough to make their ears hurt. Yet, posture is one of the fundamentals to good performance.

First-class athletes maintain excellent posture. There is often something slightly wrong in second-tier performers. And the poor posture of third-class athletes is easy to spot.

A good exercise is to look at yourself in the mirror and do a thorough self-assessment. When viewed from the front, do your shoulders maintain good symmetry? Do your toes and knees line up in the front?

When turned to the side, can you see how all that work on the computer has your neck bent forward like a turtle? Is your back curved in the correct manner? Perhaps an honest evaluation will inspire you to begin moving toward “perfect posture.”

For me, Pilates has been a journey toward “perfect posture,” a journey with a real thrill that comes from not knowing what you may find. Learning Pilates gives you the opportunity to discover a new “you,” and it often feels like you’re traveling to a place you’ve never been.

It’s been three years now since I first began regular Pilates training, and already my bowlegged stance has becoming straighter. The cowered and pinched stature of my upper body is beginning to open.

There is great comfort knowing my body is coming into harmony and, as the years begin to pile up, I look forward to my improved posture making me a better skier, tennis player and windsurfer. Just thinking about it puts a spring in my step.