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Power of Movement: Pilates in New Orleans 

New Orleans embraces Pilates for rehabilitation and overall fitness

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Many fitness regimens come and go, but the conditioning techniques of Pilates, which has been popular in the rest of the United States for decades, is steadily gaining strength in New Orleans.

  Sarina Cupo, a Pilates instructor and owner of Serene Body Pilates, says she noticed a boom in the exercise regimen's popularity after Hurricane Katrina. "People's attachments did not go back to materials that could float away but toward taking care of themselves and their bodies," she says.

  According to IDEA Health and Fitness Association, an organization that provides research, educational resources and industry leadership to fitness professionals, the number of Pilates classes offered has increased by at least 23 percent in the United States over the past 10 years. The New Orleans area has more than a half-dozen studios that boast Pilates as their core exercise offering.

  Erin Romney, an instructor and owner of Romney Pilates, says, "Pilates is not just a fad like people originally thought. People are seeing the physical results that are positive and not trendy."

  If you stick with regular Pilates workouts, she says, the physical benefits are both internal and external. Inside, practitioners develop a robust core strength, flexibility, overall toning and body awareness. Externally, Romney says her students notice their posture improves and they look leaner overall.

  Happiness is one of the perks Cupo associates with Pilates. She stands on a famous quote from the exercise program's founder, Joseph Pilates: "Physical fitness is the first requisite to happiness." Cupo says many of her clients look forward to their Pilates sessions as a retreat from outside distractions and an opportunity to explore how their bodies work. It's also an intimate, qualitative experience, she adds.

  "Pilates is designed to address a single person's needs," Cupo says. "This concept gets lost in mass classes." Within a smaller instruction group, the client and teacher can grow together, Cupo says. "Any(body) and everybody can do Pilates in the right environment."

  The quality of instruction and small class sizes could be the reason so many studios in the New Orleans area are incorporating Pilates into their programs. Romney says her studio has never been busier. "We are trying to set the tone for quality instruction at the studio by enforcing proper technique to benefit the students," she says. "It's important that people go through the progression of various levels so that the principles can be understood and fewer injuries will occur."

  Pilates mat classes range from beginner to advanced. As students become familiar with the basic exercises and comfortable with their ability to do them, instructors add props, which serve as circuit-training tools. Weighted balls, resistance bands, magic circles and form rollers are among items used to complement Pilates workouts. They can add stability for some students or can be used to make moves more challenging for others.

  Cupo says people don't get bored with Pilates because, with a good instructor, there is always more to learn. "It's not about plateauing in Pilates," she says. "You can go back to the beginning and work harder." She constantly assesses her students and creates variations in the standard exercises to challenge them physically and mentally.

For some people, their introduction to Pilates was connected to rehabilitation. Romney, who specializes in using Pilates as a technique to help people recover from injuries, says Joseph Pilates used his coursework to rehab injured World War II soldiers. A lot of Pilates movements are similar to physical therapy exercises, which makes Pilates the perfect conditioning program to keep injured people in shape, she says. A number of her clients who initially came to her for rehabilitation decided to continue with Pilates as a fitness tool because of their positive experiences, she adds.

  Joy Walker, who was introduced to Pilates through a small community class, is an advocate. She says she developed a new core strength that allowed her to try more advanced moves after only a month. "In Pilates, I feel my abs working, even throughout the week," Walker says. "But in the gym, I am working body parts without a guaranteed feeling and hoping that I will see results."

  Pilates method veteran Alex Rowe tried the exercise regimen eight years ago because he hated working out at a gym and wanted a more rounded, body-awareness program. "I was not intimated by taking Pilates with so many female followers because I knew that initially Pilates was created with male bodies in mind," he says. Sticking to the program has paid off for Rowe, who says it has helped him perform better in various sports. Cupo also touts this benefit: "When you build a strong core, your options for other physical fitness activities just increases."

  She stresses anatomy and fundamentals when she teaches, which makes her students more invested in the program and their bodies. "Every client I meet feels the feedback after class," she says. "In turn, this makes them intensely committed to Pilates."

  Compared to other workouts, which Romney says serve as great calorie burners but lack clear instruction and can cause injuries, Pilates heals injuries while improving participants' overall well-being.

New Orleans-area fitness studios with Pilates as a core

Core Incorporated, 2410 Palmer Ave., 861-1966; www.coreincorporated.com

Heartsong Pilates-Yoga Studio, 5150 Hwy. 22, Mandeville, (985) 845-8045

NOLA Pilates, 6250 Gen. Diaz St., 483-8880; www.nolapilates.com

Pilates Embodyment, 1600 W. Causeway Approach, Suite 10, Mandeville, (985) 624-5528

Romney Pilates, 3701 Magazine St., 895-1167; www.romneypilates.com

Salire Fitness and Pilates, 214 N. Jefferson Davis Pkwy., 821-4896; www.salirefitness.com

Serene Body Pilates, 251-4490

Uncle Joe's Pilates Studio, 8211 Hampson St., 895-5008; www.unclejoespilates.com

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