Leading The Pilates Revolution Pioneer Valley Business Latches Onto A Steadily Growing Trend In Wellness

Pilates. The exercise regimen with the funny name. It’s something new that came out of California a couple of years ago, right?
It might seem that way, considering the explosion of interest in the discipline recently. The fact is, it’s been around since before World War I, when it was developed by Joseph Pilates and later taught to wounded soldiers. What is recent is its discovery by athletes and Hollywood stars who have picked it up from dancers, who have used Pilates since the 1920s.

Since then, the trend has spread quickly throughout the country. Only a few years ago, there were maybe a half-dozen Web sites dedicated to Pilates. Today, you’d spend the better part of a week counting them all.

Riding the wave of popularity surrounding Pilates (pronounced “puh-LAH-teez”) is Momentum — The Pilates Center. The center’s two partners, Charrette Boyce and Krisen Martin, opened the first of their two studios on Route 9 in Hadley in 1999. Just two years later, they opened another facility in West Springfield at 380 Union St. They now have about 200 customers, a far cry from the four or five who used to meet in Boyce’s basement in 1998. They also have nine full- and part-time employees.

“I had a part-time job in Lenox at the time,” Boyce recalls. “It was a long commute. I knew when I moved here that I wanted a studio, and this seemed like the ideal time. I had an offer from a local chiropractor to join his office and teach Pilates lessons for him.”

When she asked him about opening her own studio, “he told me to go for it, so I did.”

From Student to Teacher

Boyce, who serves as the president of the two studios, was first introduced to Pilates about 10 years ago when she began to use the regimen as a rehab tool. “I was suffering from chronic fatigue. I started doing Pilates, and I started feeling stronger from the inside out. I got more energy,” she told The Healthcare News.

From there, Boyce became certified to teach Pilates from three different schools, one of which, the Pilates Studio of New York City, required 600 hours of training. Originally from that city, she taught Pilates classes there before moving to Western Mass. when her husband, a professor of painting and drawing, received an offer to teach at an area college in 1998.

When Boyce talks about “feeling stronger from the inside out,” she is not just using hyperbole. The whole discipline of Pilates revolves around what is called “the core”— essentially, the center of the body beginning with the spine.

“An example of how Pilates works,” she said, “is when we exercise the Psoas muscles and the abdominal muscles together. These muscles can mobilize and stabilize leg movement along with the large leg muscles. This spreads the work over more muscles than most people use, so that individual leg muscles will get less fatigued and the person feels more integrated in their movement.”

Furthermore, she notes that strengthening the abdomen and other muscles in the body’s core are, well, the core of Pilates. One of the common exercises is to “pull your navel to your spine,” Boyce says. “It’s not the same as sucking in your gut. This gets your abdominal wall engaged.”

Strengthening the core has the further benefit of creating a new sense of balance in the body. The ramifications of this can be helpful in a lot of ways. Boyce told of a student of hers who was a bass player in a musical group. “A bass player stands a lot, and one leg bears most of the weight. Also, the instrument itself causes a lot of fatigue in the shoulder by the end of the concert. When my student began using Pilates, we strengthened his abdomen and center. This gave him a more centered balance, which reduced his fatigue.”

Celebrity Endorsements

Tennis star Martina Navritilova is also a firm believer. She credits Pilates with giving her the strength to continue her career after four years off the court. A bad back caused by bad knees seemed to have forced her retirement.

Instead, she returned to competitive tennis with the same ferocity she showed as a younger player; at Wimbledon in July, she set a record for being the oldest player ever, at 46, to win a Wimbledon title (mixed doubles). She says she can now reach higher, gets more snapping action in her racquet, doesn’t get as tired as she used to, avoids injury, and breathes better. And there is no pain in either her knees or back.

Children can also benefit from Pilates exercises. “So many children sit at a computer for hours at a time, moving around less,” Boyce said. “We teach them to sit properly with less fatigue. Pilates can also help when childrens’ bones grow faster than their muscles. It stretches the muscles and helps relieve that discomfort. Pilates also makes for a good warm-up exercise for sports.”

This versatility may be the key to the popularity of the regimen. Even Navritilova says that one thing she likes about Pilates is that it is not repetitively boring. At Momentum, there are two types of exercise: apparatus and mat. “The apparatus are machines that are specialized for Pilates,” Boyce explains. “The mat exercises are somewhat similar to yoga. It’s not just exercising … it’s body conditioning as a discipline.

“Part of this is learning how to breathe properly as you do the exercises,” she continued. “Breathing properly helps filter the oxygen. People feel good after these sessions. That’s one of the reasons for its popularity. You can also do some of these things anytime, like just sitting up or checking your posture; I’ve developed routines for people who were on the road and wanted to keep up their exercises in small places like a motel room. In one case, the client asked for a routine to do in a small cabin where she didn’t want to get down on the floor, so I had to come up with exercises she could do standing up.”

Boyce has even used these techniques to enhance the quality of life for handicapped individuals. She warns, though, that Pilates is not easy to learn on one’s own. “Newcomers should really come to a qualified studio to learn how to do this. Videos and books can help, but people really need to be taught first,” she said.

The Future

Where does Momentum — The Pilates Center go from here? Boyce said that, at the moment, she is not interested in opening more facilities. “We’re concentrating on the places we have now,” she says. “We are, though, developing more contacts within the community, and we’re taking Pilates to area corporations. We’ve done classes in hospitals, and we’d like to do more of them, maybe on a regular basis.”

If the incredible growth of the Pilates phenomenon continues at a rate anywhere near what it has been over the last five years, there’s no doubt that Boyce and and Martin will continue to gain Momentum for quite awhile.

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