There’s a lot more to pre-natal pilates than learning how to breathe, as Karen Iley discovers
Way back in the mists of time, pre-natal exercise consisted of sitting cross-legged in a candle-lit room, ample bottom snuggled on a towel, a few pelvic floor squeezes topped off with a lovely long snooze. In fact, as a working mum-to-be, I used my twice-weekly pre-natal yoga class to catch up on some much-needed shuteye, although I always felt a wee bit embarrassed when the cleaners, purposefully clanking their mops and buckets, discovered me dribbling on the mat half an hour after the end of the lesson.
Oh, how times have changed. Opening the door on the pre-natal pilates session at Exhale Studio in Jumeirah Beach Residence I’m greeted by six pregnant ladies ensnarled in machines that look like some sort of modern torture device. Known as ‘the reformer’, the instrument is not designed to force you into confessing your sins – although it may also have that effect – nor is it a dodgy character in a gangster movie. In fact, it acts as a smooth resistance to the pilates workout and helps strengthen the muscles.
‘Can you feel the burn?’ asks Caroline Leon, the instructor, as the mums-to-be engage the machine in a slow and deliberate battle to lift and bend their legs. No one can speak, but the nods come back thick and fast.
Pilates uses specific exercises to isolate and strengthen muscles, restoring your body to its natural balance and helping it function better. ‘With pregnant ladies, we concentrate on strengthening the legs, arms, waist – everything other than the tummy,’ Caroline explains. ‘We do a lot of work on pelvic stability, but we don’t work directly on the abdominals. We want women to feel more comfortable as they go through their pregnancy, so that, as they grow, they don’t start feeling out of breath, so they can walk with ease and feel energised, happy and strong.’
Mmm, I could do with some of that – particularly the energy bit. The ladies are making it all look very easy, so I decide to join in with a couple of arm exercises. This, it turns out, is overly ambitious. My arms are so weak, they struggle to support my own hands, so slowly lifting an imaginary oak tree while attached by a giant piece of elastic to ‘the reformer’ is, frankly, as difficult as it sounds. And it’s certainly not the relaxing ‘breathing-and-maybe-if-we-can-be-bothered-a-bit-of-stretching’ routine I’d anticipated. Yet I can certainly see – and feel – how these exercises work. Even after a few moments of tree-hugging, I’m sure I spy a teensy bit of muscle definition fighting to get through the wobbly bits.
‘Yes, it is tough, but it’s definitely worth it,’ says Rehana Sharma, whose first baby is due in 12 weeks. ‘You definitely feel the burn, like you’ve worked hard – especially on the reformer. When you think of people like Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna who can do this every single day, it’s no wonder they’re so toned and strong.’
Jolene Nash, also in her third trimester, takes both yoga and pilates at the studio. ‘I guess I’m a glutton for punishment,’ she laughs, ‘but I really enjoy both classes. Yoga is much more spiritual and holistic, whereas with pilates you have a real workout.’
Caroline is very much tuned in to her client’s individual needs, const-antly wandering round to offer a block to sit on, adjust the tension on the machines or just give a gentle nudge into some of the stretches. ‘I love the fact that Caroline is professionally trained in anatomy and physiology which makes me confident and relaxed,’ says Rehana. The classes also include plenty of rolling on the floor, stretching out problematic muscles in the back, the bottom, the hips and thighs with the aid of a large, slightly squidgy cylindrical tube. I have a bash at loosening my outer thigh muscle and get a shock when I see my grimaced reflection in the mirror, although I take comfort in the fact that everyone else seems to have adopted the same, pinched expression. ‘Yes, this can be quite sore, but the more you do it, the easier it gets,’ assures Caroline. We try the same technique on the back muscles and ironing out the wrinkles in my spine is almost as good as a massage. ‘This is the nice one,’ Caroline smiles, adding, ‘Just do what you feel is comfortable for you – do what feels good.’
And it certainly does feel good. ‘I always feel really energetic afterwards,’ says Reshma Govindjee, who says the rolling technique has really helped ease her backache. ‘I love it – so much so that I have a private lesson every week as well.’ After the hour-long session, the newly energised mums-to-be trot next door to the coffee shop to discuss girls versus boys, delivery suites and nursery furniture – all accompanied by a slice of something sweet. Undoing all their hard work? Not at all – these gals have earned it.
Call Exhale on 04 424 3777 or visit www.exhaledubai.com for course details. Single classes cost Dhs70, Dhs650 for a package of 10, including both pilates and yoga.
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