Home  >  Magazine  >  Issue 28 : May/June 2009  > Columns  >  Spring Forward


By Kazuko Ikeda

Spring Forward


Health and beauty have been topics of conversation since people were wandering through the proverbial Garden of Eden. Women’s magazines and spas in Japan have been recently preaching Ayurveda, the 5,000 year-old traditional medicine from India, and yoga, the other popular Indian export. Both have evolved over the centuries.

Today, people in search of wisdom or training can easily travel the world to study and experience things for themselves, and the Internet has brought vast amounts of knowledge to our fingertips.

Pilates started attracting some attention in Japan about 10 years ago and over the past decade has become viewed as an effective exercise, although some have a difficult time defining it. “Pilates. Yes, that’s a form of yoga,” or “Pilates is a great core strengthening exercise,” some might say.

Both statements aren’t all together untrue. The founder of Pilates, Joseph Pilates from Germany, studied yoga and incorporated some yoga-like poses into his exercise routine. Having dealt with sickness during his younger years, Pilates created his own method based on his knowledge of how to remain healthy.

For me, the greatest part of this method is the interesting equipment he devised. Rather than applying weight, he used strong springs. His “Cadillac” machine was based on the equipment used in hospitals to assist bed-ridden patients’ exercising and aid their rehabilitation. The “Reformer” is another device used to correct alignment.

A routine using the equipment allows pushing your body toward its correct movement. Why are the springs effective? Pilates is really a workout for your spine. The resistance provided by the springs forces muscles to expand and stretch more freely.

It allows the spine to have greater freedom from the tailbone to the neck, so your movements become stronger and smoother. The spine also houses the nerves running to your brain, so Pilates training positively affects the nervous system.

Pilates training, developed by a man born in the 1800s with his knowledge of healthy living, is now oftentimes relegated to group lessons at the local sports club. The classes often have students exercising on a yoga mat which is actually the more difficult portion of Pilates.

For those who want the “real deal,” I recommend taking a private lesson with someone who knows the machines. It will no doubt put a “spring” in your step.