You know you’re getting old when you use a decade as a measure of time. When Melissa Siple, owner of Benefitness Pilates Studio & Training Center, asked me if I had ever tried Pilates, my answer was, “Yes, but it was like ten years ago." I tried to make light of the time span, but I was actually worried that my post-kids physique wouldn’t be able to move on the equipment quite like my twenty-something body did. Although I picked up a daily weight training routine at home a few months ago, I was not only going to exercise in public, but alongside a well-respected trainer.
As I arrived at the East Greenwich studio, Melissa was saying goodbye to two older men who had just finished a class. We walked into the large Pilates room and memories of mat and reformer training rushed through me. If those two guys can move on these machines, I’m sure I can do this, I said to myself. As soon as I laid on the machine for my first exercise and Melissa started to ask me to manipulate my body, I instantly knew that my body wasn’t going to be the problem. It was my mind.
“I want you to make an imprint, which is when your pubic bone is towards the ceiling and your lower back is gently pressed into the mat,” she instructed. “Then I want you to roll into neutral, where your hip and pubic bones make a flat plane, as if I’m trying to balance a glass of wine.” Say what now? Lying on the mat, squirming to get in these positions, I was working up a mental sweat.
The thing is, I’m never able to focus on just one thing – like, ever. Admittedly, I do a double take when a shiny object is in my periphery; I take multitasking to Olympic proportions; and I’m never more than 12 inches away from my iPhone. Oh, and that home weight training I boasted about? I load my dishwasher in between sets. But I digress.
Lucky for me, Melissa was a patient and encouraging trainer, guiding me through the many exercises with genuine enthusiasm and even humor. She went into great detail to explain why the body moves the way it does, and what each exercise can do for specific areas. She explained that with over 6,500 types of exercises across a variety of Pilates equipment, she can customize a training program for just about anyone. During our one-hour session, she had me work on three different machines, with the concentration on breathing and keeping my abs tight. And speaking of concentration, that was finally happening too. “We call it a mind-body exercise because your mind needs to focus on a specific part of your body. Everything I’m asking you to do you have to think about,” Melissa said.
Melissa, who has a background in physical therapy, has been doing Pilates since 1994 and running Benefitness since 1998. Her PT background, levels of certification and passion for the discipline have propelled her to become one of only 180 STOTT PILATES instructor trainers in the world. Along with her team of six trainers, she’s proud to have built a center based on the highest levels of education and certification. “I’ve been training for 27 years. People can take a class on the Internet and can be called a ‘personal trainer.’ I think it’s great when people make a decision to exercise, but I always tell them to check credentials.”
Pilates is mostly known for its ability to produce flat abs and lean muscle, but is also a great way to improve posture and balance strength. She admits that people have come in to reap the benefits without wanting to actually do the work. “You have to enjoy it. I don’t care if it’s yoga, Zumba or jogging. If you want to see a difference and stick with a fitness plan, you have to enjoy it.”
I felt that good burn in my abs for days after my session with Melissa. But what I really enjoyed, surprisingly, was the ability to stop thinking about work, family, bills, the DVR, Facebook, how to cook all of the zucchini that’s in my garden, and all of the other stuff running through my head all the time. The big change in ten years wasn’t how my body changed; it’s how I adapted to this super-connected, fast-paced world. What I thought would be the biggest challenge was my biggest Pilates benefit – to stay in the moment, unplugged, and focused on my own self. Who would have thought that?