When I first heard of Pilates about 15 years ago, I had the impression that it was a fitness activity reserved mainly for celebrities. It seemed they were the ones always singing its praises, crediting it for their toned physiques, increased flexibility and better overall mind-body connection. At that time, though, it seemed like a New York City- or Los Angeles-only thing to me; a fitness activity that was hard to find in our little city.
Eventually, the Pilates movement became more widespread and I had easier access to it locally. I always stuck to the mat classes rather than the equipment classes, feeling, I suppose, more comfortable closer to the ground. The Pilates apparatus not only looked, but sounded intimidating, with names like The Reformer, The Cadillac, The Wunder Chair and The Ladder Barrel. Thanks, I’d think, but I can do all the work I need here on my safe and familiar mat.
But that is exactly the kind of mind-set that Maria Andresino, owner of Mind 2 Body Fitness and a Master Pilates trainer, is trying to change. “The mat exercises are the basis of all Pilates moves, but taking these exercises off the mat and onto the apparatus takes it to the next level,” she says. So, ready – or at least willing – to try to get to that level myself, I headed over to her studio for an equipment class along with with two fellow newbies. An impressive two-story loft space located in The Plant, a historical mill complex on the West Side, the studio contains all of the funky-sounding machines I mentioned above, but we spent most of our time on The Reformers.
Maria was very hands-on with us to keep us in proper form and alignment. “Just so you know, I’m a poker,” she said as she wedged her hand under my tailbone to get my positioning right during an exercise. And she kept us entertained while calling out her “signature phrases” during class: “blow-suck,” which was our cue to blow all the air out of our lungs and suck our bellies in for a full contraction of our abdominals; and “kumquat” when she wanted to remind us to keep our collarbones wide and squeeze our armpits down towards our hips as if we were trying to get the juice out of two kumquats. This helped really activate our oblique muscles.
Maria told me that the first equipment class people take is seldom what they expect it to be. I guess I pictured a strict ballet-like class, complete with an instructor clapping her hands systematically to ensure rigid adherence to the movements. I definitely wasn’t expecting for it to be a fun, effective way to destress while getting my butt kicked. But that’s what it was. Afterwards I felt longer and lighter, and as Maria predicted, happy that I had taken my Pilates practice to the next level.