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Scene: Stretch Marks

Appealing to grandmothers, athletes and grandmothers who are athletes, a Pilates studio draws a diverse crowd.


Spread-eagled across a scarily named machine called The Reformer, each of your legs held aloft by a rope pulley, you’re thinking, Don’t leave me like this! But, no worries, it’s not the Spanish Inquisition—it’s just Pilates.

Body Balance Centre 1115 Young St.

Pilates originated from the work of Josef Pilates, who lived in England and served as a nurse in World War I. A former boxer who had also studied yoga and the exercise routines of the Greeks and Romans, Pilates incorporated those ideas into a plan to stretch and strengthen wounded soldiers. Using some bedsprings from the hospital beds, he also created a resistance machine —of which today’s Reformer is a descendant. Pilates became a favorite therapy of dancers, then a trendy exercise method, particularly in Los Angeles, and now is gaining popularity among Baby Boomers.

At Body Balance, a studio on Young Street, clients push and pull their way to good health on stainless steel equipment, wooden Pilates machines, even something called a Gyrotonic Expansion System, designed to work the body in three dimensions. They might hang from The Cadillac (similar to a trapeze) or nurse a bad back on The Barrel.

Maria Torcia, who owns the studio, says that she and her group of seven instructors focus on teaching flexibility, core strength, balance and coordination. Her clientele is mainly women, but increasingly includes men, particularly those of Baby Boomer age. “We see a lot of stroke patients here, too,” says Torcia, whose oldest client is a 93-year-old stroke victim. Other people come to treat osteoporosis, train for athletic events, or do pre- and post-partum exercise. “People who are injured are often scared to move,” says Torcia, “but slow, careful movements can be very helpful.” She says a growing number of physicians prescribe Pilates to their patients, so she works accordingly with insurance companies.

No, it’s not an acrobatic team—it’s a Pilates class. photo: Sergio Goes

What do medical experts think of Pilates? The National Institutes of Health classifies Pilates under mind/body exercise, while a 2006 study conducted by the nonprofit American Council on Exercise found that Pilates did not offer significant calorie-burning or cardiovascular benefits, but that it did increase flexibility, balance, strength and coordination.

In addition to training sessions, Body Balance offers massage and physical therapy. “It’s unusual to have physical therapy in a fully equipped Pilates studio,” notes Sheila Harrris, of Harris Therapy, who sometimes works out of the studio. One client, Liz, has been coming to Body Balance to work on mending her badly broken leg. “If it weren’t for Sheila, I wouldn’t be able to walk,” she says. “Here, they make sure you’re healed, not just semi-healed.”

Classes are offered seven days a week. Rates start at $27 for a group class and $75 for a private session.

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Honolulu Magazine April 2018
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