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Touch Guys Don't Dance - But Do Pilates!

Pilates in ChiangmaiWhat makes a successful young Canadian caterer, with a degree in cultural anthropology, become a Pilates instructor? Answer: a bad back. When Mark Warhaft was in his late thirties he ran a highly professional catering company; weddings, parties, even catering for movie and television stars on location. Mark put his all into the company; 15 hour working days became the norm. And, in line with the title of Marilyn Monroe's final and unfinished film "Something's Got to Give", it did, and it was Mark's back. He shuffled around like an octogenarian, in constant pain. He tried physiotherapists, chiropractors; swallowed painkillers by the handful, but none of this could relieve his pain and suffering. His girlfriend, a dancer, and follower of the adage - when the going gets tough, the tough get going - dragged Mark to his first dance class.

The lady not only had style, she knew that the exercises involved in dance routines often freed up knotted and strained muscle groups. Mark took modern dance and ballet classes for some months, and slowly began to see the benefit. Then he heard that a world famous Pilates teacher was coming to town, and he consulted her on how this form of exercise could help cure his back problem. One year later, having studied Pilates on a full time basis, Mark became a fully qualified Pilates instructor.

The excellent news for Chiang Mai is that Mark has opened northern Thailand's first Pilates studio in the city; but more on that later.

For those of you who have never heard of Pilates (pronounced Pee-lah-tees), please write in and tell us what life is like on your planet. Pilates could almost be described as an art form; but in reality is possibly the most high-tech exercise form in the world. Pilates teaches you how core stability can create flexibility in the hips, spine, shoulders, neck and limbs. The exercises use muscles deep in the abdominal core that most of us, athletes included, never use. Flexibility increases automatically as the support of the core allows for the safe release of injured muscle groups, even in spasm, following common sports injuries.

Above all, Pilates is a safe, powerful and fun way to strengthen and stabilise the body, and mind, through stretching and breathing techniques that work muscle groups through their complete range of motion, providing long, lean muscles, and improving lung capacity. Opera singers who have taken Pilates classes report a tripling of lung capacity due to the unique breathing methods involved.

Doubtless you have seen those graceful ballerinas in women's magazine adverts for Pilates; those lithe bodies stretching and twisting as though double-jointed. It might surprise you, therefore, to know that Pilates is in daily use by rugby and football teams; by golfers to improve their swing, skiers to gain better balance and stamina. The range of people now making use of Pilates to improve the quality of their lives is as diverse as ballet dancers and boxers. More than twenty percent of all Pilates students in the world today are men.

Pilates was discovered early in the last century by Joseph Pilates, a young German who, after suffering from rickets and rheumatic fever as a child, studied yoga, gymnastics, boxing and all forms of martial arts in a bid to improve his frail physique. As he experimented with new theories, Pilates slowly developed his own unique and startlingly effective method of achieving supreme fitness.

By the time he had reached the age of thirty, Joseph Pilates was teaching tough, Scotland Yard detectives in London the art of hand-to-hand, unarmed combat.
Refusing an offer to train the new German army in his powerful methods, Joseph Pilates left his homeland for New York, where he set up a studio and taught his craft until his death in 1967 at the grand old age of 87.

Pilates' methods of achieving supreme fitness and wellness of being have, particularly during the last decade, taken the world by storm. Young mothers use Pilates to regain pre-pregnancy figures: athletes show dramatic improvement in their performance, and those suffering from painful back injuries learn to move freely. To find out more, I joined Mark's beginner's class one Saturday morning at the Yoga Studio on Rachamanka Road, just around the corner from Wat Chedi Luang.

Mark Warhaft, now forty-something but could easily pass for being thirty-something, welcomed me to his session with a smile that would shame the average Thai, and the only excess weight on his athletic frame was a T-shirt and shorts! I just happen to be carrying an extra forty pounds or so; must be all that loose change from the Song Thaew driver or maybe it's the sensible shoes. As Mark put his class through a series of gentle stretches and breathing exercises, the sun shone through a window, casting my shadow on the rear wall of the classroom. "Good grief, I'm a pear," I thought to myself. The shadow of my torso resembled the profile of Snoopy, the cartoon dog!

Mark's beginners comprised five ladies and two men; some were local residents and others here on holiday. After the class was over, each one of them made it clear that they would be back. Pilates Chiang Mai is in business!

Private classes are available at Mark's home and cost 600 baht per hour; four lessons come at the reduced price of 2,000 baht, what you can expect to pay for a one hour session in Bangkok! To make an appointment.

Call Mark Warhaft on 081-402-3885.

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