PUBLISHED: 1:49 PM on Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Pilates: Anyone can do versatile body-mind exercises

Pilates isn't bending and contorting your body in weird ways like you might think it is. It's a body-mind exercise that teaches stretching, strengthening, flexibility, mobility and stability - and anyone can do it.

"My youngest client is 12, and my oldest is in their 70s," said Pasha Millican, owner of Pilates & Movement Therapy Studio.

She teaches Pilates 10 to 12 hours a day and loves it.

"One of the things that's fun for me about working with Pilates is that it's so versatile, and it could always be made harder," she said. "You never get bored with it. There are so many ways to set up the equipment."

To get started, all you need is some comfortable clothes to move in - the spring-loaded machines do the rest. You don't even need shoes.

She starts by examining her clients' posture, noting most people tend to lean forward and abduct their shoulders throughout the day, causing muscle tightness and tension.

Learning to breathe properly is a significant part of Pilates.

"Every motion we learn has an inhale on one portion and an exhale on the other, to get you to use your abdominal muscles and the muscles of core support no matter what area you're working," Millican said.

By learning Pilates, Millican said people also learn about joint health and proper muscle use.

"We want to use the right muscles to do the right job," she said. "The exercises are designed to teach you to use all muscles in a balanced way."

Millican said that Pilates forms a longer, leaner muscle rather than a bulky muscle that comes from weight lifting.

She teaches her students that the body's core is not just the abs, but the rib area too.

"Most people when they think of abs, they think of a six-pack, but in Pilates we want you to think deeper," she said.

She added that if people develop a habit of using their core muscles in everyday activities, they're less prone to injuries.

"The movements are really designed not only for body conditioning but also to really prevent injury in daily movements," Millican said. "It's designed to change how the mind and body communicate. We want the mind and body to work in a way to support joint health so that whatever your sport of choice is we can keep you pain-free and injury-free."

She said Pilates isn't an exercise that works the heart muscle much and recommends people do some sort of conditioning besides Pilates, such as walking.

Millican recommends the sport to anyone looking for a new way to stay fit.

"It's fun," she said. "To me, one of the biggest challenges people face in a workout is that they get bored."

Joseph Pilates invented the exercise about 90 years ago in Germany. Pilates grew up suffering from asthma and rickets, which inspired him to find ways to strengthen his body. He studied yoga and martial arts and in the 1920s he brought the exercise system that bears his name to the United States by opening a studio in New York City.