Yoga in Abu Dhabi
Carmel DeAmicis tries the Yoga Tree and Soma Pilates studio out for size 1 Comments
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What do you get when you lock up a fanatic fitness buff in a stifling WWI internment camp? Shaking hands with Caroline and Nadia, two Pilates practitioners at the Yoga Tree and Soma Pilates Studio, I learned that ‘washboard abs’ is the answer. Pilates is the only fitness regiment invented in a wartime prison hospital, but over the last few decades it has gathered a worldwide devout cult of followers, who swear by its spine stabilising body benefits.
Nadia and Caroline certainly appear to be the poster-children for health and happiness. They hold themselves gracefully erect even while sitting on the floor, and although I initially try to mirror their ramrod postures, laziness wins out. I concede to looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame plopped beside the Nutcracker ballerinas. Later in the session, Nadia explains, ‘Pilates will eventually make your spine stronger, so keeping your back straight becomes second nature.’
Glancing around the small room, my eye is drawn to two machines in the corner that look like torture technology from the 1920s. Ropes and pulleys hang from steel rods attached to a short wooden table apparatus – known by those in the Pilates field as ‘The Reformer.’ As if that title wasn’t terrifying enough, other Pilates pieces go by ominous epithets such as ‘Guillotine Tower,’ ‘Trapeze Table,’ and ‘The Wunda Chair.’ Whoever named the equipment obviously forgot to coordinate with the PR guy.
I giggle nervously, imagining what contorted positions I’ll have to heist myself into on The Reformer, but Nadia and Caroline assure me the workout is simple and suitable for everyone. Originally, Joseph Pilates developed the machines for bedridden prisoners stuck in the wartime internment camp. He’d hook up mattress springs to various contraptions, and get the sickly patients pulling their way back into health. It’s unconventional, but when the war ended and Joseph made his way to New York, his techniques spread rapidly in the dance world. The machines’ springs resist in both directions, which gives muscles a lean and long shape (as opposed to the more defined bulk of a gym body).
The last time I lifted a weight was in a seventh grade PE class, so we avoided the magic machines and stuck to a mat-based workout. Pilates takes the controlled breathing/inner peace approach of the yogis, and applies it to gymish exercises, à la crunches and push-ups.
Pilates techniques are a world apart from the heaving and huffing of your momentum-based gym moves, but once you get the hang of them you’ll be on the path to the famously flat Pilates abs. We are talking stomachs smoother than a baby’s bottom, and flatter than a rainforest purchased by a paper company. If you’re hunting out a six pack, don’t bother; these taut tummies are a much more refined, elegant sort of stomach than the gnarly ripped gym belly. The secret comes from the precise positioning – by doing smaller, controlled movements, Pilates is able to work tinier and deeper muscles than the typical fitness techniques. Every Pilates exercise fires up the so-called ‘Girdle of Strength’ – tummy, lower back, hips, and tush.
But the real Pilates miracle is not a rockin’ ‘girdle’, but the gift of a painfree lifestyle. Because so many Pilates moves bolster spine-supporting muscles, they help ease the tensions carried in your shoulders, neck and lower back. They can even offer rehabilitation to back injury patients. At one point Nadia chuckles, ‘We get a lot of people coming to us who pull something during gym workouts. We’re like the gym cleanup crew.’ A guilty look flashes across her face and she quickly corrects herself, ‘I’m not trying to say that gym workouts aren’t great too! Pilates just offers a different sort of practice.’
Paired with three-four days of cardio a week, Pilates can take the place of your gym’s strength training session and offer the same meditative mind-body focus as a yoga class. What with Abu Dhabi’s swimsuit season being a year-round sort of thing, a Pilates class might be the perfect investment. I strolled out of the studio feeling the burn from muscles I never knew I had. Hello, Girdle of Strength!
Classes start from Dhs55 per session. For more info, 02 667 6579; soma.ae.
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