BY ANAAM IKRAM
Set right in the heart of the Manama Souq, amongst the narrow, bustling streets, La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art stands as a beautiful juxtaposition between the modernised surrounding of his historic monument. A true representation of architectural mastery, La Fontaine’s structure is reminiscent of grand European houses while still capturing the essence of traditional Gulf Islamic architecture. 150 years old, the structure stands fully renovated by French artist Jean Marc Sinan boasting an art gallery, an open-air amphitheatre, a fine dining restaurant, a spa, and a state-of-the art Pilates studio (the first of its kind in the Gulf region). The excellent studio facility is situated above the art gallery, with the exterior designed almost similar to that of a tree house, as wooden steps lead to the entrance at the top. Perle Magazine spoke to instructor Julia Vladõkina about the Pilates offered at La Fontaine and how the form of exercise is beneficial as it heals the body from within to result in a stronger core and spine, and overall anatomical structure through the method of Contrology.
Developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, the eponymous physical fitness form was introduced by the German physical trainer, and called the system “Contrology” as he presented controlled movements, which, upon completion, should feel like a workout. Over time, the practice of Pilates can help with improvement of flexibility, strength, as well as developing control and endurance within the body. Focusing on the “Powerhouse” – the muscles of the abdomen, lower back, hips and buttocks – a unique system of exercise helps to create strong support for the spine as well as increase overall flexibility and strength.As the muscles get stronger and the body gets used to the movements, the intensity of the movements can also be increased to continue challenging the body. “Pilates is not about using one piece of apparatus or another, it is working the whole system in order to build ‘Strength. Stretch. Control.’ in the body”, Julia explains.
Julia found her beginnings in Pilates in 2004 after hearing about the fitness form, and coming from a dance background, the idea of trying out movements that did not stress the body but rather helps it get stronger progressively. Having tried Pilates for the first time at La Fontaine, Julia returned to her home country of Estonia and searched tirelessly for the right facility and instructor who would allow her to feel the essence of Pilates that drew her to the exercise form in the first place, to no avail, until finally meeting Britt Timusk-Kalbus. Britt, who had remained Romana Kryzanowska’s apprentice at True Pilates, New York – Romana in turn had remained Joseph and Clara Pilates’ protege after her time as a famous ballet dancer at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet – that Julia was finally able to experience the magic of Pilates movements. Julia notes from then on she was drawn to Romana’s Pilates and performed many of the movements without any apparatus to use the body’s full force. Julia adds Joseph Pilates initially had not introduced any equipment and only worked with the mat. He soon realised that not everybody is able to perform mat exercises in a flawless manner, and thus created the corrective apparatus that allowes one to work precisely, developing good alignment, core strength and flexibilty. Starting her practice in Estonia and even offering classes for the visually impaired, Julia shifted her career path and dedicated herself to teaching Pilates and moved back to Bahrain to offer classes at La Fontaine. Currently in training for further certifications, Julia works with Cynthia Lochard – who in 2009 was appointed by Romana as one of only three Grand Master Teacher Trainers worldwide – Julia explains that Romana’s Pilates Training is one of the most demanding, it requires every Instructor to go through different stages of apprenticeship in order to be able to perform and teach any Pilates exercise. Staying true to the conventional and traditional method of Pilates, Julia notes that in Pilates everything takes time, and each body is different therefore a routine that works with one body type would not work with another. “We constantly learn with every client”, she says, and adds “The more you get into Pilates the more you can work with the smaller details of each individual body. The deeper you understand, the more you can realise what you should do.”
Mirroring the inside of a tree house as well, the entirely wooden interior of the spacious studio provides a comfortable and welcoming setting for the clients. The large windows allow in ample sunlight and allow a constant flow of fresh air while the sessions are in place to give the sense of a more natural and outdoors ambiance. The studio is dedicated to working on and enhancing the work of Joseph Pilates by educating the clients about the importance and benefits of Pilates. Understanding the different needs of each individual client, Julia helps the clients target their problem areas to help enhance their functionality through Pilates.
Fashioning an individual approach for every person, Julia explains that the idea is also to lengthen the spinal column as well as engaging and strengthening the Powerhouse. Pilates workout starts from observing client’s body when he/she walks into the studio and from filling a health questionnary which helps to determine the specifics of the individual needs.
Julia likes starting new clients with some of the ‘Pre-Pilates’ exercises that help them to understand the basics of the system: Powerhouse, “scooping the belly” and a two-way stretch. Usually each class combines Mat and Reformer exercise routines. At the end of the class the client is taken to other apparatus depending on the individual needs.
Mat routine starts with ‘hundred’ – an exercise that replaces warm up as it helps to “pump the blood” through the body and bring oxygen to all the muscles and internal organs. In the first sessions it is followed either by ‘roll-down’ or ‘roll-up’ to work on articulation of the spine.
‘Leg circles’ help to massage and strengthen the muscles around the hip joint. ‘Balancing’ is a preparation for ‘rolling like a ball’ which is in simple words a massage of the spine. In the following ‘stomach series” the muscles of abdomen are being strengthened. The list of all mat exercises is pretty long and they have a particular order on every stage of learning as one exercise is preparing body for the next exercise.
Reformer, an apparatus similar to a bench with a movable seat attached to springs that provide finely tuned resistance, helps generate smooth muscular contractions that develop strength without bulk. It allows to work precisely, develping good alignment, core strength and flexibility. There is a logic behind the order of all exercises including the ones done on the Reformer as they are performed taking into account the effect of gravity – from laying down to seating, to standing and to inverted positions in more advanced workouts.
Cadillac – the bed-frame-like apparatus stood for All-American comfort, innovation and luxury – it has a lot of elements that allow one to learn more complicated yet safe movements. Referring to Joseph Pilates’ idea of Contrology and also incorporating elements of Reflexology into his movements, Julia explains that the different exercises done all relate back to the Powerhouse and how it can be strengthened to result in a stronger body. The movements of the feet, for example, correspond to different internal organs, such as the ball of the foot is connected to the heart and lungs, whereas the arch of the foot is connected to the digestive system, and the heel of the foot is connected to the kidneys. “He [Joseph Pilates] placed a lot of focus on the foot because the feet are something we are standing on all day – but that does not mean that is all he focused on. The main focus is the Powerhouse, once you strengthen that, the rest you can do with less effort”, Julia says.
At the later stages, clients are introduced to other apparatus such as the Ladder Barrel, Wunda Chair, ‘Electric’ Chair, are used to challenge the body further and even smaller pieces such as the Spine Corrector or the Toe Corrector are used to ensure that no part of the body is left unattended and to help switch on the right muscles to correct the posture and the body as a whole. “It is about how you connect it all to the Powerhouse.”
Offering private classes and a weekly group mat class, Julia explains the group is kept small – no more than 6 people – to make sure that each client gets the required attention. Though acknowledging the benefits of the group workouts, Julia says sometimes it is best to work individually to be able to focus on the different needs of each individual. During the session, Julia also offers her clients certain exercises to do at home as she says the body constantly needs a bit of movement to improve and develop on what they have learnt in the class.
“Pilates is an exercise system which is helping the body and mind to connect and regain strength, stretch, and control. The system is called Contrology because you are completely aware and connected to your body”, Julia explains and adds that often times Pilates is confused with being similar to Yoga. Though there are overlapping factors between the two different practices, Julia distinguishes that Yoga focuses more on meditation and working towards reaching a certain state of mind, whereas Pilates works on the core of the physical body. Also addressing the widespread notion that Pilates is an exercise for women, Julia says despite the fact that it was created by a man, it remains beneficial to everybody as it strengthens and tones muscles, improves posture, provides flexibility and balance, unites body and mind and creates a more streamlined shape.
For more information:
La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art, Hoora Avenue, Manama
(00973) 1723 0123
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