Pilates Plus

Push me, pull me, just get me straight

By Ronni Ancona | The Times | 4th October 2008 | Original article


I've got a wonky pelvis. Not in a sexy, advantageous way like Elvis Presley but in a rather sad, pathological way. My grumpy doctor-husband says it's because I'm “rotated”, although not far enough from him, he adds.

It makes me swim like a frog that's had a stroke, and I'm always chasing physiotherapy to help relieve the pain. Pilates seemed an obvious solution to help realign me, but for years I thought the classes involved studying the works of a lesser-known Ancient Greek philosopher.

But the all-too visual damage after nine months of pregnancy and what felt like nine months of labour has finally motivated me to try the teachings of Mr Pilates. (Superficial, moi? Twisted spine? Nah, can't be bothered. Fat thighs? I'm there before I've left!).

So off I trot to see David Higgins, a highly experienced Pilates instructor/exercise rehabilitator, who is going to give me some personal tuition before I venture into anything so nerve-wracking as a class.The focus in Pilates is on posture correction, core strengthening and, particularly useful for me, regaining a semblance of symmetry.

I arrive in trepidation (I have just learnt that Mr Pilates was German) to be faced with a room full of machines, called Reformers. From a distance they look like medieval torture instruments, but close up they look much more like medieval torture instruments. I'm soon proved right. I lie on the rack-like contraption, with my feet and hands attached to various pulley systems, and suddenly feel the urge to confess to some heinous crime before it's too late.

David immediately notices my pelvic wonkiness and that all is not what it should be. He takes me through a series of exercises, which introduce me to muscles that I never knew existed. Ignorance is bliss; knowledge is mild agony. The exercises are strenuous and hard, working against the resistance of the machine's springs, but after a couple of sessions it becomes addictive. The improvement comes fast and I feel strangely liberated.

David is a good-looking Australian with a pleasing manner. But underneath his cute, Antipodean demeanour, I conclude that the man is a sadist. He smiles as he pushes my limbs to places they have never been before (I'm sure my leg doesn't bend back that far...crikey, yes it does, well I never!).

I ask him how soon it'll take to get me looking like Gwyneth Paltrow. He doesn't seem too fazed and says: “If anything can change a body, Pilates can.” I am giddy with excitement. He then adds that maybe, first, I should aspire to standing up straight. Thank God, he has never seen me swim.

I swear after one session that my tummy has withdrawn into submission, after two it is terrified of popping out in case it draws attention to itself resulting in more strenuous attacks.

Soon David says that I am ready to join a class. I am nervous, surrounded by women who look like attractive elastic bands and careful not to place myself next to the tautest one in case she snaps and pings me in the face.

I have a great time. Everyone is strong and focused. There is great music playing and with no more thanten in a class, David can easily get round to torture everyone in turn. I was worried that I might feel neglected.

My grumpy doctor-husband has noticed I no longer rotate so much and that my hips appear to be on the same latitude. A lot of my problems have gone. Thank you, David. And danke schön, Herr Pilates!