"The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning develops the body uniformly, corrects posture, restores vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit." - Joseph Pilates
Far more than a recent fitness craze, Pilates has been developed and practised since the 1920s when Joseph and Clara Pilates opened their 'Body Conditioning Gym' in New York City. Founder Joseph Pilates' principles are advocated at many schools even today, however, several modifications to his techniques to adapt to modern needs have also been encouraged.
Fitness is an integral part of a performer's life. As someone who has had injuries in the past and still continues to struggle with building consistency, I decided to have a chat with Sonia Lulla, a Fitness Trainer (Pilates and Functional training). She completed her Pilates and CrossFit Level 1 certifications in 2011 and 2014 respectively and has been a practising fitness professional ever since. She also has a degree in dance. She took to fitness as a means to tackle obesity at the age of 15 and managed to shed 30 kilos subsequently. Having always had a flair for dance and movement, the journey led her to exploring health science, a subject she is deeply passionate about. She also won the pan-India competition Reebok Ultimate Fitness Fan in 2013 and bagged the second place in 2014.
Anjana (A) : What are the top three benefits of pilates for performing artists?
Sonia (S) :
- A phenomenal increase in core strength and stability. This makes it among the best functional fitness formats to take to, as it trains the core to perform its ‘function’, i.e. stabilisation, better.
- It builds lean muscle mass, and recruits the smaller muscles of the body that can get ignored during traditional lifting formats. This plays an important role in rectifying imbalances in the body.
- The long and beautiful muscular definition attained via pilates is unparalleled. Given the focus paid to both strength and flexibility, pilates encompasses all the requirements that must be met when training muscles.
A : Could you explain in simple terms the difference between injury prevention and injury maintenance? And how does pilates contribute to the career sustenance of a performing artist?
S : In my opinion, Pilates and performing arts, especially dance, fit together like a hand in a glove. Each one aids the other and together they are capable of redefining a performer’s body. Professional dancing does justice to all the fitness principles advocated by trainers. Let me give you an example - High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is among the most popularised fitness formats for the umpteen benefits it offers. Think about a four-minute dance act put up on stage. You will see performers take 20 to 30 seconds, or even more, of high-intensity dancing, and follow it with a 10-second break. Of course, choreography is never set in intervals, but the alternating pattern of high-intensity work coupled with short breaks is evident in performing arts. In fact, the movements that the dancers adopt during the dancing bouts may also be more advanced than traditional movements like jumping on a box or jogging. You will find dancers in a push-up position in one second and in a backward bend in the next. These are advanced movements that also demand safe transitions. Hence, professional dancing is a superior fitness format.
While working the muscles enables them to develop, working on them excessively can make them injury-prone. It is here that Pilates works like a balm. In addition, it brings about correction in imbalances, which is crucial for all performing artists. We all know how dance teachers teach choreography with different movements along the body’s right and left sides, and then tell students to perform it in the opposite way. Pilates brings about that coordination.
Not everybody knows that legendary dancer Martha Graham was among Joseph Pilates’s students, and also that she reportedly employed a similar vocabulary with her techniques.
A : How does consistent training benefit your overall lifestyle and mental health?
S : The importance of consistency is rooted in exercise science, which emphasises the need to build muscle mass. Without muscle mass you cannot increase your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) and improve your metabolic chart. You may train to develop muscles but if you stop, you will lose them again. It becomes a repetitive cycle that eventually brings about no result.
However, for people who have invested years in training, consistency is rarely an issue, because they have seen the benefits of adopting a fitness program and are unwilling to let go of that physical state. It’s really magical.
A : As performing artists, at some point we have all been conscious of our bodies regardless of size, shape and colour. In your personal experience, how has training helped develop your relationship with your body?
S: As someone who grew up being obese I never had a great relationship with my body. However, my love for dance and sports had me drawn to physical activity from a young age. My focus was always trained on the physical work, which is why I developed the strength that made it possible for me to do things I loved – twist, tumble, sprint, and dance better. Even at peak fitness levels while pursuing my dancing degree – where I had a body fat percentage of eight, and an enviable metabolic chart – I’m certain I could still be critiqued on the standards that performing artists are. Yet, I was winning competitions, and feeling as close to being superhuman as I could. I realised early on that I would be favoured by not giving way to insecurities related to the body.
A : Lastly, motivation usually lasts only for a little while, discipline is how one builds consistency. Any tips on how to develop consistency on a daily basis?
S : This is absolutely true. Which is why I always tell my students that even the finest and most enthusiastic trainers they follow on Instagram will have days, weeks, months and even longer phases where they don’t enjoy doing what they do. Magic happens when you do what needs to be done, even if you don’t want to. Of course, this should not hamper your mental health, and it must be addressed if it does. But discipline is built by not letting emotions come in the way of doing what is essential. How I build consistency is this:
- While I change this often, for a long period of time, sticking to training at the same hour helped me.
- I always have a goal that is aligned with my major fitness goal. For instance, I always try to learn something new, within a deadline – pull ups, head stands, some gymnastics exercises. I work towards it in small bouts, after my exercise program. But knowing that I have to address that is a motivator to keep training.
- I do a lot of what I love. I hate rowing, so I sprinkle bouts of rowing upon a workout chart comprising running, spinning, pilates, all of which are activities I love.
This conversation with Sonia has helped simplify my approach to building consistency. Time to get on the mat!
“Through the Pilates Method of Body Conditioning this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind and spirit can ever be attained. Self-confidence follows.” - Joseph Pilates