Mind and Body

Yoga, Pilates offer complete fitness workout

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— Joseph Pilates believed that physical fitness could not be acquired by wishful thinking or by outright purchase, which is bad news for the modern American seeking immediate results through late night infomercial devices.

Such a statement obviously does not apply to everyone, but it is true that many don't grasp the concept of what complete physical fitness is, according to both Victoria Strohmeyer and Kristin Smith.

Strohmeyer is director of the Yoga Rx at Bear River Center. Smith and sister Wendy Puckett own and operate Steamboat Pilates.

They believe that one must develop a strong mind, which works with the body to create a stronger sense of self and fitness.

Pilates is the latest health trend to sweep across America. If Hollywood's doing it, it must be in style. Smith said she's fine with people picking up Pilates because celebrities find it worthwhile. She just wants others to realize its benefits.

However, it isn't all that new.

Created by Joseph Pilates during World War I to help rehabilitate wounded soldiers, Pilates utilizes all of the bodies' muscles in a lengthened position to create controlled, precise movements that result in a total body workout. The emphasis is on correction of posture and misalignment caused by imbalances and repeated improper usage of muscles. The hundreds of diverse exercises ignite a person's core lower abdominal and back region uniting the body and mind.

"Pilates used to say, 'You're only as old as your spine feels. As long as your spine is supported, aging is a myth,'" Smith said. "We're not trying to sell anything new. We're going back to the basics. There's really no argument. Like people are going to tell you it's bad to work your stomach muscles or it's bad to properly align your spine."

Through small classes and private lessons, Smith and Puckett aim to teach the people of Steamboat the importance of core strength using balls, machines, mats and a variety of props.

Steamboat Pilates opened in early December and the clientele ranges from patients rehabilitating after surgery to members of the Steamboat Springs High School football team.

The exercises are low-impact and the resistance used varies depending on a person's flexibility and strength, but the proper position is essential for results. Concentration on breathing and remaining in a neutral position are the key aspects of Pilates.

Explaining the neutral position is difficult. Demonstrations help a little, but people are encouraged to take a private lesson and learn firsthand the proper body position for effective movement.

"We don't move on until you get it," Smith said. "A millimeter in Pilates can make all the difference."

Smith received her bachelor's degree in Kinesiology from the University of Colorado. Puckett left her marketing manager position with PowerBar to become a Pilates instructor. Like Puckett, Strohmeyer also bucked the good life to pursue a job that would enhance the lives of others.

Strohmeyer has practiced yoga since she was four, after her mother introduced her to it following a community education class. However, Strohmeyer pursued business as her initial career, earning a M.B.A. from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania before becoming an executive at Johnson & Johnson in New York City.

Originally from Monte Vista, Strohmeyer said she had to escape the fast-paced life in the city and return to Colorado. Yoga, a long-time love, became her full-time passion. She enrolled at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health where she became certified to instruct.

Strohmeyer, along with eight other instructors, work at the Bear River Center studio that overlooks the Yampa River. Everything in the room was carefully planned out from the color of the walls to the type of wood.

"It's one of the most beautiful yoga studios in the world," Strohmeyer said. "This is a sacred space."

With the soothing sound of running water in the background, yoga participants concentrate on breath, relaxation and inner peace.

"Yoga was created to still the mind," Strohmeyer said. "If the body is at all restless, the mind cannot be still."

Joseph Pilates was also a student of yoga and the sense of mind and body connection Pilates students seek is similar to the inner peace and balance students of yoga yearn for.

The difference, however, lies in the physicality of the practice. While Pilates emphasizes the strengthening of muscles, Hatha yoga, a form most commonly practiced in the United States, focuses on controlled breathing, poses and postures.

Toning of muscles is a side effect of doing yoga, but Strohmeyer said students seeking a cardiovascular workout wouldn't find one in her classes.

"People need relaxation," Strohmeyer said. "The people that need it the most are drawn to the most aggressive forms of yoga. They are the ones that have the tendency to be imbalanced."

Both Strohmeyer and Smith said a number of men now partake in their disciplines. Strohmeyer even taught yoga to an NFL football player over the winter before he returned home to Los Angeles. She wouldn't reveal his name.

Professional and amateur athletes alike are realizing the benefits of core strength and inner solace, which both yoga and Pilates provide.

"It's such a mind-body connection," Smith said.

To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208

or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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