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Adapting My Pilates Practice to Covid-19 Times

On Sunday, March 15th life changed here in Canada and in many other countries across the world. With the COVID-19 pandemic upon us, I was forced to shutter my Pilates on the Ball studio in the Danforth area of Toronto.  All businesses were in the same boat, large and small, like mine. We had to do our bit to stop the coronavirus spread.  Through the next weeks that became months, I watched online ‘check-ins’ to see how some of my colleagues in the Pilates and fitness communities were coping with this tremendous disruption.

Reactions were varied and fascinating – and I now had time to observe and be fascinated. Some instructors were reaching out to their private clients on Facetime, teaching in a way they had never dreamed of, and enjoying the novelty and sense of accomplishment gained from new approaches. Other trainers were overwhelmed by a biting anxiety and depression, seriously questioning their careers and the viability of ever again teaching group exercise classes in enclosed spaces. Some instructors were ‘waiting it out’, ignoring the advice by others to at least try and get online. ‘Oh no, I can’t do that,’ they said, and I agreed with them.

I totally understood their resistance.  I was no techie. Nor did I use any social media platforms. I wasn’t at all comfortable with navigating new aspects of the computer and the internet. What about being live on camera? Was this a natural fit for me?

What about my students, the vast majority of whom are older adults? Some of my students I’ve known for well over a decade. I have followed their struggles with life-changing health and fitness challenges, as well as the sad loss of partners and parents. They are role models to me: their positive attitude and robust resolve have inspired me.

I could not abandon them. Now more than ever we require mobility, strength and flexibility, not to mention sense of calm. Especially in this time of uncertainty and isolation, I needed serenity and strength as much as they did.

Pilates on the Ball in masks—I was just not seeing it.

Like many movement teachers, my approach to Pilates means lots of physical feedback. Dozens of times in a class I adjust a student’s posture or position.  We work with breath—exhaling sometimes forcefully through the mouth. Pilates on the Ball in masks—I was just not seeing it. There was no way around it. I would have to learn to be live on camera, natural fit or not.

I was lucky and felt my luck during those daunting months in the form of a deep gratitude. I was safe and healthy in my home. Like many of us in a privileged position, I was able to sit out the pandemic and use it as a time for reflection.  I was also able to learn some practical skills to get myself online with my teaching, and then make sure my students followed.

And they did! In spite of my prejudgements and nerves, my students had no trouble getting online. I was amazed to hear from many that they like the Zoom classes even more than studio ones.  The classes made them feel less isolated and part of a community. The flexibility of online classes gave students the opportunity to attend more often than usual, and from the privacy of their home. I began to realize that this approach would continue to make sense long after the corona threat was over. Come heatwaves, snowstorms, dangerously slippery pavements, people could stay safe and comfortable – and just zoom in. No travel time lost, no parking headaches. Why hadn’t I thought of this before! 

Then a friend suggested I write a blog as a way to keep even more connected to my students. This was brilliant. I would produce a weekly blog which would sometimes include a short video.  The video component would be an opportunity to do a deep dive into an essential exercise, review the muscles used, and explain why this exercise must be included in any movement program designed to help you age well. A blog, with a short video, would be as useful for my students, if not more, as consulting my hard-copy books.

Over my summer break, I had another brainstorm. To introduce a new class: Chair and Standing Pilates. I imagined this 30-minute class for people who have trouble getting down to or up from the mat. This basic-level class would mean that no one would be excluded. Weights and bands could be used in a seated or standing position to improve balance, strength and posture. Standing work is very functional and has benefits for everyone. And if desired this class could be done sitting on the large ball for challenge.

In the scheme of a worldwide pandemic, a blog and a new class are teeny-weeny offerings.  Uncertainty abounds and the coming months won’t be easy for anyone, especially parents returning their children to the school system while grandparents may be forced again to withdraw from their lives. Perseverance and patience will see us through. Next week we’ll focus on breathing, one of the foundation principles of Pilates, and a sure-fire way to stay relaxed and grounded.

My blog is titled Adapting Pilates for our Longer Lives. And so is my approach. No exercise method can promise to extend your life, but my hope is that the blogs, videos and online classes will be a guide to help keep you committed to your health and to ageing well. Embarking on a strength-training and balance-improving program cannot solve all your woes, but it will affect the quality of your longer years. Your first step might be to visit a physio therapist or your family doctor. But if you’re ready, join me online from the comfort of your own home.

Colleen Craig

Colleen Craig

Colleen is the author of Pilates on the Ball, Abs on the Ball, and Strength Training on the Ball, and the producer of the Pilates on the Ball DVD.

Disclaimer: I highly recommend you watch the video two or three times before attempting an exercise.  Listen carefully for watchpoints. Check with your doctor or health care practitioner to be sure these exercises are suitable for you. Pay attention to modifications and stop if there is any discomfort. If in doubt, avoid an exercise.

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