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Strong Body, Clear Mind

Life is busy. Just ask Nicole Fraley—mother of two toddlers, online marketing director for a South Florida interactive marketing fi rm, and a long-drive commuter. She started taking a Pilates class when pregnant with her first child, but had to stop during her last trimester.

As a frazzled new mom, Fraley hadn’t found the right time or place to start again. By chance, she ran into her former Pilates teacher and decided to return to class on a regular basis. With a 5-foot-7-inch frame, she wasn’t particularly upset about the extra baby weight that had her in sizes 12-14. But Pilates was part of her renewed focus on health, which also included watching her diet. Perhaps best of all, it gave her a place to focus on herself. “All day long, whether at home or at work, everybody always wants a piece of me,” she says. “The best thing about Pilates is it challenges you muscularly, but you can’t do the exercise properly unless your mind is engaged, too. It forces me to focus on the exercises and on my body parts. Pilates recharges me, clears my head, and the results are unbelievable.” Fraley lost 65 pounds in a year, 45 pounds below her pre-pregnancy weight. She shed inches everywhere, including the typical problem areas for women. Now she has to shop for size 2s.

Popular among men and women, Pilates is a unique combination of stretching, strengthening and breathing that improves circulation and body alignment. It engages the powerhouse of the lower abs, obliques, hips, buttocks and lower back in almost every movement.

Throughout the workout, practitioners strive to stay aligned from shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, making sure the neck and limbs are used in long, graceful movements. Think ballet combined with acrobatics and a bit of calisthenics.

Mat work is the most common form of Pilates, and there’s also a series of exercises on Pilates-specific apparatus. In both, you are concentrating on specific muscles, moving gracefully to heft your own body weight, and breathing with purpose to help you in the effort. It’s as challenging for the beefy guy in the weight room as for your petite 50-something aunt.

Brooke Siler, a certified Pilates instructor, will inspire you to go as far as you can without comparing yourself to others. “You have to start somewhere,” she says. “I’ve watched myself come back twice from having kids. It’s challenging, even for me. Everybody needs to motivate themselves and everybody has that day when they just don’t feel good about their workout. It’s OK because there’s always tomorrow.”

Joseph Pilates, born in 1880 in Germany, was a sickly youth who invented a series of exercises to strengthen his body and even conquer his asthma. After moving to Great Britain, he was held during World War I as a German citizen in an internment camp. There, he taught the other inmates his exercises. After the war, he immigrated to New York and developed a strong following among dancers and stars. He trained others along the way, and one of those frst protégés taught Siler all about this fi nely honed discipline.

Pilates has grown wildly in popularity, with more than 10 million participants in the United States, according to a recent Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association study. This year, Pilates made the top-10 list of trends in the American College of Sports Medicine Fitness Trends survey. You can find classes at the local Y, fitness centers and designated Pilates studios. With books, videos, DVDs and more, you can find Pilates anywhere.

Nicole Fraley’s experience is typical of what brings in the harddriving financial advisors and Hollywood stars like Liv Tyler, Kirsten Dunst and Dustin Hoffman to Brooke Siler’s re:AB Pilates Studio in New York. “They get to come in and don’t have to be the boss,” says Siler. “Any successful person enjoys going back and being the student again. Anyone who’s in a top-level position has gotten there because of their ability to learn and grow. Pilates is about revitalizing your body. You leave with mental clarity, and it’s not exhausting. It improves your circulation, and most people leave feeling energized.”

“It’s important to know what Joseph Pilates intended,” Siler says. “It’s hard when you see things get diluted. You should find an instructor who is at least accredited and certified, with a minimum of 500-600 hours to earn the certification. Safety has to be No. 1.” Pilates’ popularity is no doubt due to the results practitioners see over time—and we know Type-A folks are resultsoriented.

Just look at Nicole Fraley’s success in losing weight and gaining energy and a greater sense of well being. As Joseph Pilates said, “In 10 sessions, you will feel the difference; in 20 you will see the difference; and in 30 you will have a whole new body.” With as few as two sessions a week, you can maintain these results. Siler suggests doing four to five sessions a week at fi rst so that you u nde rstand both the language and the exercises themselves.

After that, you could easily do fewer studio sessions and supplement with books or other media, or larger group classes. So power up with Pilates. The sky is the limit—remember that as your foot quivers above you in mat class. Soon you’ll be admiring your sleeker profile in the mirror.

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