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How Pilates Saved My Life: Exploring the Benefits of Pilates for Older Adults

I have always been an active person – I love tennis, yoga, walking and biking. But then the age-related injuries and aches and pains made themselves manifest in my body. Tennis was over and, suddenly, I found myself crying in yoga class. “Hey!” I said to myself. “Yoga’s not supposed to make you cry!”

You Have to Accept Your Body

This required me to figure out a new strategy for fitness given my new difficulty in walking (a tightened adductor muscle) and searing nerve pain down my arm (years of tennis).

Then, on top of all this, I had the misfortune of contracting chikungunya from a mosquito bite. It happened back when I lived in the tropics – Merida, Mexico to be exact. Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne, dengue-related disease that affects the joints and muscles. As in: it causes tremendous joint pain and muscle pain.

I could barely stand up and, when I did, I hobbled. I couldn’t open a jar of mayonnaise or screw off the top of the ketchup bottle.

There is no medication for Chik V, as it’s called. Ibuprofen is prohibited. You have to just tough it out. So I was bedridden – or couch ridden – for three months. I entered in a period of great acceptance and meditation.

I Had to Do Something!

Five months later, I asked myself how was I going to begin exercising again. I couldn’t even face yoga. I needed to do something to prepare my body so that I could practice yoga again.

How I Discovered the Amazing Benefits of Pilates

Pilates (pii-lah-tees) was developed by Joseph Pilates in 1934 as a rehabilitation method for wounded soldiers. That right there tells you it is gentle and sensitive to the myriads of different “issues” a body might have. It’s about adapting the movements for each person’s body.

There are two forms of Pilates. Floor Pilates, which are movements done on a floor mat, and there is apparatus Pilates, consisting of a variety of different machines. I use the apparatus method, specifically, the Pilates Reformer and the Gyrotonic.

My first day of exercise in 6 months was on the Gyrotonic (recommended for me to start with) and I was petrified. I lay down on the Gyrotonic platform and the instructor placed the straps on my feet. I was told to gently move my feet as if I were swimming, a flutter kick.

Gyrotonic machine

It felt marvelous! Because I was attached to pullies and springs, my feet were supported, and the movement felt like a relief. It was one big gift to my body.

When my first Pilates session ended, I knew I would get my body back. Suddenly, I felt like exercising again. I love feeling good and Pilates made me feel good.

I wasn’t sweating. I was invigorated. I felt refreshed, positive and thrilled.

Pilates is super gentle. It promotes alignment, breathing, core strength, coordination and balance. There is no stress on the joints and no pressure on the muscles. It focuses on concentration, control, centering, flow, precision and breathing. This is not a competition sport. YOU are the star in Pilates, no matter what your fitness level.

Now, I’m moving again. I started Pilates twice a week and I now go three times a week. I’ve started walking in the stadiums a few evenings a week and I’ll begin my yoga practice in the near future. I’m buying a new bicycle too!

Invest in Your Body

Pilates is not inexpensive. The prices will vary, depending on where you live. No matter what, you want to go to a center with the equipment and certified instructors for either group or private classes.

In my Pilates center, for example, there is a room with 12 Reformer machines and one instructor. You get on your machine and follow the instructions of the coach, who modifies exercises for each student depending on her ability.

I believe you must invest in your body if you want to have an active life in your later years. Even if you can only do Pilates for short period, try it! It can get your body into shape for pursuing other sports or activities. It is money well spent. Stand tall and breathe. Love your body. It’s the only one you’ve got.

Have you experienced the benefits of Pilates? What did you think of it? Do you have any other recommendations of routines or sports or methods that can help us own our bodies again? Please join the conversation.

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The Author

Elizabeth Dunkel is a writer and novelist who recently moved back to the U.S. after living in Merida, Mexico for 25 years. Elizabeth is the proud founder of the Merida English Library. As a Cambridge CELTA certified teacher of ESL, she considers herself not just a teacher but a dream maker. “Teaching English empowers people to reach their dreams.”

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