Pilates stretches Herald reporter

HERALD reporter Chris Taylor finds muscles he never knew he had, when he tried out Pilates.

I AM not a bendy man.

I knew this before I agreed to undergo an hour of intensive, one-on-one Pilates, and I was acutely aware of it afterwards.

My hour with Gaille Dean of Ultimate Pilates taught me two things: my hamstrings aren't as long as I thought they were and evil can wear a pretty smile and leggings.

Some people will tell you Pilates is like yoga.

I don't agree.

Yoga was invented by a monk in a loincloth in a mountain forest clearing. Probably.

Pilates was invented by a German ex-boxer while in a British internment camp in World War II.

You know, that war where men were probably more manly than they've ever been since.

Joseph Pilates, the Aryan superman who gave his name to the exercise, developed early forms of the technique using prison hospital facilities, such as chairs and traction beds, and designed it partly to aid the recuperation of patients.

With a smile, Gaille told me that equipment at her Goring studio was directly inspired by those very same penal accessories.

I just hoped that I wouldn't be left with the uncanny urge to invade Poland.

To look at the studio, stylistically positioned somewhere between a sex dungeon and a branch of Ikea, I had a feeling that its origins had something to do with state custody.

Somewhere along the line, and I know I'm being controversial in saying this, it seems to me Pilates became hijacked by holistically-minded, thin-waisted ladies seeking to breed a race of superwomen.

And, if Gaille is anything to go by, they've done a pretty good job.

Although relentless in her mission to stretch me in ways I had not been stretched before, she did it with a smile and cheerful encouragement.

That said, it was the kind of smile usually associated with the words, "Goodbye, Mr Bond".

She taught me that stomach massage can be nasty and a Cadillac isn't always a smooth ride.

I also enjoyed a session on the Wunda chair, was put back in a straight line on the Reformer and reached giddy heights on the Ladder Barrel.

I exercised muscles where I didn't know I had muscles on her array of wonderfully-named pieces of equipment, and learned the true value of sucking my belly button up into my ribcage.

And I learned that I had a weak left buttock that may or may not be causing a subtle imbalance in my entire body. Great.

Previously a mobile phone saleswoman, Gaille started Pilates seven years ago after a back injury forced her to give up the active, sporty lifestyle she loved.

She was introduced to Classical Pilates and took an apprenticeship to a teacher in Brighton, as well as training in London, learning the system inside out.

She can now lighten, intensify or modify exercises to suit every age and physical condition.

She now takes 15 classes across the area, from Angmering to Lancing, and offers one-on-one and shared sessions for two people in her studio.

She is also, perhaps obviously, a passionate believer in the overall health benefits of the exercise.

She said: "We normally see an improvement in posture strengthening in abdominal muscles and back muscles.

"It does tend to relate to better health.

"If people practise a lot, they are less susceptible to colds and viruses.

"I think just because of the blood flow of oxygen you have more energy.

"You really do see a phenomenal difference in people after only a few weeks."

I have to say that I felt a subtle straightening all over in the days after my session with Gaille.

With a few more sessions, I reckon my stomach would settle nicely into the constant clench the exercise recommends and my shoulders might actually start to relax once in a while.

With my new body, maybe I could go on holiday.

I wonder what Poland's like this time of year?

For information on studio sessions or classes, contact Gaille on 01903 609311 or email info@ultimate-pilates.co.uk