Shakila Padamshi, the founder and teacher at Atelier Pilates and Movement Studio in Nairobi used to exercise often, but underneath the corporate work outfits and high heels was a body disintegrating bit by bit.
“I’ve always loved physical activities. No matter the job I held, exercising was priority. You could say I was fit. But the amount of time I sat on my desk versus the time I spent exercising wasn’t commensurate. Therefore, my body wasn’t operating in its optimum state,” she says.
Despite being fit, she used to see a therapist due to body aches, which was frustrating until Pilates found her.
Pilates is a low-impact exercise that uses breathing patterns to strengthen and restore body muscles, while improving flexibility and posture. Once you have mastered the breathing and concentration, you begin exercising the spine, muscles and pelvis.
“I’d travelled to the US and my sister was doing this thing called Pilates,” Shakila says.
Out of curiosity, she decided to try it out.
“After five sessions, my aches and pains subsided. After going daily for two weeks, I was pain free,” she says. And she never darkened the door of her therapist again.
Having experienced the healing power of Pilates, she resigned from her job and went to the US to study a comprehensive programme called the Pilates Method Alliance with Fletcher Pilates.
In 2009, Padamshi came back home and started Atelier Pilates.
“I’m a certified professional teaching Pilates and movement therapy to clients, including those with injuries,” she says, adding that about 40 percent of her clients have back problems.
“Because your core supports your spine, its health is important because that’s where all movements and sensations begin. That means protecting your spine is protecting your life,” says Shakila, who has been doing Pilates for 12 years now.
To see change, practice Pilates a minimum of three times a week to keep the muscular function active. Also, wear fitting clothes that allow the teacher to see your body better during the exercise.
Pilates has over 100 exercises from contemporary and classic, taught on either mats or equipment.
The basic Pilates equipment is the reformer but there are others: the Wunda chair, the Cadillac, spine corrector barrel, high barrel, etc.
Examples of the reformer exercises are the semicircle that improves the spinal intersegment movement and establishes shoulder girdle stabilisation; the front support that enhances stabilisation of the trunk on the shoulder girdle and strengthens the upper limbs, hip extensors and abdominals.
Examples of the mat exercise are the single leg kick (in prone position) which strengthens the middle, upper back extensors and gluteals and opens up the chest, and the kneeling hinge pattern which strengthens the core, hamstring and gluteals.
A Wunda chair can be used for advanced Pilates exercises like the side pike (single leg) which is a complex, integrated movement that increases stability.
Pilates also focuses on precision and integration as opposed to repetitions and isolation as is with other exercises.
“Most exercises isolate functions of the body parts. This can only work if we were born in parts: Head first, then arms, etc. But we were born whole, thus workouts need to be integrated for maximum benefit. This builds the flexibility, strength, balance and agility of your whole body not just parts of it.”
Can anyone practice Pilates? “Absolutely. It doesn’t matter the age, size and gender. It is for anyone who wants to alleviate pain, recover and rehabilitate existing injuries, improve quality of life or maintain a good sense of well-being. It’s never too late to begin,” says Shakila.
And are Kenyan fitness enthusiasts doing Pilates exercises?
“Not quite yet, but as holistic living gains traction, I hope they’ll realise the true benefit of Pilates to both the mind and the body,” she says, adding that “people should look to have a strong body not necessarily slim. Being strong gives you a solid foundation for everything in life.”