Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
by Lesley Ackland
Oct 2001, Hardback 96 pages, ISBN 13: 9780007123551
The basic premise of Pilates, which is very popular with dancers and models, is to strengthen ligaments and joints, increase flexibility, and lengthen the muscles. The exercises are simple, and not very different from other types of callisthenics, although they draw from Yoga a focus on breathing, and on slow, controlled movements done perfectly, in an attempt to integrate mind and body.
There are few fitness programs which don’t advocate exercising. The benefits of strengthening muscles extends beyond just the calorie burning effect of moving more. Weight bearing exercise is important for women who are worried about osteoporosis, and being strong and flexible can have a positive impact on energy levels, and overall well being. Lesley Ackland is a walking advertisement for the Pilates exercise system. At over 50 years old, Ackland is stunning, and has the sort of body that most 20 year olds would love. Pilates is a low impact exercise specifically designed to elongate and strengthen the body rather than build bulk, and Ackland has been teaching Pilates at her Body Maintenance Studio in London for over 10 years. She is also the author of 4 other Pilates books, and is clearly dedicated to this program. The basic premise of Pilates, which is very popular with dancers and models, is to strengthen ligaments and joints, increase flexibility, and lengthen the muscles. The exercises are simple, and not very different from other types of callisthenics, although they draw from Yoga a focus on breathing, and on slow, controlled movements done perfectly, in an attempt to integrate mind and body. The book covers the origins and philosophy behind Pilates, including the use of things like creative visualisation, breathing, control over the specific body parts being conditioned, flow, precision, and coordination.
The exercise program is broken up into segments focusing on balance, breathing, abdominal exercises, side stretches, back exercises, legs, and upper body exercises. Each exercise includes a photo of Ackland demonstrating the technique. Although the exercises are pretty easy, it can take some practice to coordinate the breathing, and get the movements exactly right, and these are key points to the Pilates program, but explanations are very clear, and if you read through each one first, and practice the breathing until it is almost rote, it isn’t hard to do these. The most attractive element of Pilates is that they focus on increasing muscle length through stretching, and avoiding the creation of bulky muscles. This is particularly relevant for women, who don’t want to create treetrunk legs or even super muscled arms. There are suggestions for using weights, and hints on posture, and general tips on gradually increasing the benefits of the movements with weights, and other forms of resistence.
Thorson’s First Directions publish a range of new age type books, featuring popular heath related topics and short, easy to follow formats. Pilates is a small, hardcover book which is easily carried around, and many of the exercises can be done anywhere, with little equipment. If you don’t already have a callisthenic program, and don’t live close enough to attend Ackland’s trendy (but expensive) studio in Convent Gardens, this book is a pretty good investment.