It’s hard to fathom that the Pilates movement, so popular in the sparkling gyms and modern fitness studios across the world, has its roots in the hopes and dreams of a sickly child, growing up in Germany in the late 19th century. But that is in fact where it all started, when a little boy called Joseph Hubertus Pilates, himself plagued with asthma and other illnesses, went on to explore a variety of exercise regimes to balance body, mind and spirit. Today, due to his perseverance and commitment, Pilates is a popular choice for dancers, gymnasts, athletes and the general masses, to achieve limber muscles and flexibility as well as improve posture, and as a treatment for all sorts of back and muscular ailments. And here in Dubai, children as young as seven are sharing in the benefits of the exercise in fun and challenging classes, improving not only their physical development but their mental wellbeing too.
Malicah Eissa believes in the benefits of this exercise and has created a junior Pilates programme, running at Real Pilates studio, to help young children develop appropriate muscle and posture alignment while building stability and coordination. She tells us: “Pilates offers a wide variety of benefits to children including improved posture, spinal alignment, increased strength and flexibility and positive thinking. Exercising from a young age can provide much more than just physical fitness to a child, it can formulate other attributes such as improved learning, increased athletic performance and it builds self-esteem.”
Eissa, concerned with the amount of time children spend hunched over in their chairs or in front of screens, wants to make them more aware of how such activity affects their bodies. She believes that regular Pilates can bring together the body and the mind to create a better awareness, improving concentration and ensuring better movement. “Children must think before they move, drawing their attention to what is or should be happening at their joints and muscles while moving,” she explains. “By doing so, they are able to form a deeper connection with their physical bodies and train both mind and body as a whole. Because exercises are designed to enhance flexibility and improve posture, children can move more freely and thus think more freely.”
Eissa tells us that during a session children work on their breathing, which creates a calming effect not only on the body, but on the mind as well, enabling participants to disconnect from the noise of their daily lives, finding a space within themselves to feel safe and happy.
The class begins with the children sharing information about their days and the emotions they may be feeling. This serves to release any pent-up stress before they begin the session. This is then followed by a warm-up, and leads into a variety of exercises in different positions and focus areas. In all sessions the children get to use different props and experience how they can be used to help them move, and they then take turns sharing what they were feeling in their bodies. A fun group activity ends each session, requiring both teamwork and coordination to put what they’ve learned into functional practise. The children then cool down, stretch and head home refreshed and energised. According to Eissa, this approach to Pilates helps little students to challenge themselves outside the realm of a competitive environment, enabling them to find something that works for them within their own personal best. She explains: “Because it is such a customisable approach, exercises can be modified to fit each child’s individual needs, making it achievable for almost every body type, fitness level and age. By introducing children to Pilates earlier, they begin to develop a better foundation to help prevent future risk of injury and learn some of the tools they need towards living a more holistic lifestyle.” So, get them stretching and watch their inner calm grow.
Dhs 850 (10-week course), Monday, 4pm-5pm, Al Sarayat Street , Level one, Jumeirah Lake Towers, Saturday 9am-10pm, 1st Floor, Jumeirah Road Palm Strip Mall, www.real-pilates.com (04 458 5399).