Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Dayle Liu performs Pilates exercises on a reformer machine at Kailua Fitness, above. Although she exercises regularly, Pilates improved her posture and strengthened her abs.

Pilates poise

By Keiko Kiele Akana-Gooch
Special to the Star-Bulletin

For the young and limber, falling down and getting hurt is part of life. For the elderly, it could mean permanent injury or worse, death. Those who are alone and fall first face the question "how do I get up?" When your ailments include osteoporosis and arthritis, and your body doesn't flex the way it used to, pulling yourself off the floor is a nearly impossible task.

Just ask Mildred Chung. An 83-year-old Kailua resident, Chung prided herself in her daily walking routines, which have spanned 21 years. But one morning Chung found herself lying on the ground, having fallen on the sidewalk. "I couldn't get up, I simply couldn't get up," Chung recalls. "I stretched my legs, I rolled from side to side, but I couldn't do it." Somehow, she was able to stand up but she realized her walks weren't enough to keep her fit.

Two months later, after reading a sign advertising Kailua Fitness' new Stott Pilates classes, Chung found herself again on the floor. Only this time, her new Pilates instructor, Jayme Newhouse, was there to make sure she got up.

Instructor Jayme Newhouse, whose ideal class numbers four for maximum attention, leads John Mazur, 71, left, Liu and J.O. Park through stretches.

"My first day when I got there, she told me to sit down" on the floor, Chung said. "She told me to get up. I know darn well I cannot get up."

With Newhouse's coaching, Chung managed to find her two feet an hour later. It was a lesson Chung probably never thought she needed to learn after infancy, but it's a lesson she'll never forget. "It's the best thing I have learned since taking Pilates," Chung said.

Eventually, Chung was introduced to the Pilates rebounder, a single-person trampoline that stimulates the lymphatic system and aerobically exercises the body without impacting the joints. In no time, Chung was performing many exercises that Pilates practitioners half her age do.

Probably the most important outcome of Chung's private Pilates classes was keeping her independence. "I don't want to go to a nursing home. I can talk, I can cook and I can walk."

ONLY 43 YEARS OLD and with "six-pack" abs, Newhouse shares Chung's worries. "My biggest fear, I don't want somebody changing my diaper or pushing me around" on a wheelchair, she said.

Mary Chinn also knows that feeling. She was stuck in a wheelchair and then dependent on a cane after undergoing two major surgeries last October which gave her fits of depression. "I had a hard time dealing with it. I couldn't eat at all, and I had difficulty walking," she said.

Lucky for Chinn, who's in her 80s, her family allowed her to work with Newhouse after she passed their rigorous screening process. "I felt like I was going to work for the FBI," Newhouse said.

One month later, Chinn was up and walking again, cane-free. "After that first lesson, I can't say enough about the program," Chinn said. She lives near the Convention Center so Newhouse devised a way she could turn the center into an exercise apparatus, assigning her to walk all the center's 58 staircases once a week. The climbs have become Chinn's daily routine.

Chinn's plan B is driving to Ala Moana Center, parking in a stall farthest from the mall, then hunting down every staircase.

Fitness instructor Jayme Newhouse, squeezes a large rubber ball, part of her Pilates routine at Kailua Fitness.

Chinn said her first month with Newhouse didn't come easy. "My legs were wobbling. I wasn't used to that kind of exercise," Chinn said. "One hour is a long session."

But she says the results have been worth every minute. From body to spirit, she said she experienced a complete transformation. "I think it shows in the face, in my movements," Chinn said. "My attitude has changed. There is joy in living."

Stott Pilates is a contemporary approach to fitness methods developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900s. "When something's been around that long, it works," Newhouse said, in comparing Pilates to Billy Blanks' Tae Bo, calling the latter a fad exercise.

Pilates involves building strong abdominal muscles and forming long, lean muscles by stretching, stabilizing your shoulders, keeping your posture straight and breathing properly. Pilates exercises work several muscle groups at once, whereas weightlifting focuses on one muscle group.

Newhouse offers various classes that use different Pilates equipment, including the rebounder; the reformer, an apparatus to increase muscle tone and flexibility; the theraband, a rubbery, elastic band that provides resistance; the fitness circle, a hoop that also provides resistance; and inflatable balls for balance.

Newhouse says her Pilates class works because "there's no cardio involved, so it's not hard on the body. Anyone can do it." Pilates is especially beneficial for older people "because when you have movement in the joint area, it lubricates the joints and helps for flexibility," Newhouse said. Pilates "keeps them moving, it keeps them out of the doctor's office, it keeps them living longer, and it keeps them away from depression."

It's also a great social function.

Joe Park, a 54-year-old housing director, isn't a senior citizen, but he also wasn't a poster boy for good health when he began taking Pilates class. Park had back problems, a bad leg and high blood pressure. "I had a sports car I couldn't sit in," Park said. "I couldn't look over my shoulder to back up."

He would huff and puff walking up stairs, and his golfing game was going downhill.

Since taking Pilates classes and lifting weights at Kailua Fitness, Park has bought a new sports car and is living his "third childhood." Park completed the Aloha Run this year, his limp is gone, he's off his high blood pressure medicine and is more than 30 pounds lighter. "The only medication I take is ibuprofen for sore muscles," Park jokes.

Newhouse, Liu and Park practice some resistance exercises.

In the meantime, Park's treadmill at home collects dust and the gym where he could work out for free never sees his face. "I never did anything that I was interested enough to stick with," he said. "The biggest challenge is to get me to come back." Park has been with the class since it started a year ago.

"(Newhouse) tries to keep it so you're doing different things," Park said. "It's very varied."

Dayle Liu has also increased her flexibility since taking Newhouse's class. "I never thought I could get my feet over my head," she said, speaking about a Pilates floor maneuver. And it's only been one month since she entered the class.

While she's a member of a much larger fitness club, Liu visits Kailua Fitness specifically for Pilates because the class "is very personalized. You can't hide out in the back and fake it."

Newhouse keeps a maximum of four people per class. "I don't want a larger class," Newhouse said. "This way they get the attention they need. They're not lost with a class of 10 or 15. I can correct them."

UNLIKE THE OLDER students, Liu, at 24, doesn't have any health problems. Newhouse said Liu "had a good sense of body" before taking the class. But Liu was bored with her old work-out routine. "I've corrected her," Newhouse said, and now Liu has stronger abdominal muscles and a better posture.

Liu, who lives in Pearl City and works in downtown Honolulu as a juvenile probation officer, hasn't missed a class yet.

Newhouse stresses that Pilates is not the be all, end all for physical fitness. Her personal health and fitness routine includes cardiovascular exercise, Pilates and weightlifting, plus a healthy diet with lots of water.

Whether her clients stick with the class or not, Newhouse just wants them to stay healthy. "I teach people so they can practice it outside of class," get hooked and continue to exercise.

"We take better care of our cars than we do our bodies," Newhouse said. So her advice: "Think of your body as a Rolls-Royce." With good maintenance and regular check-ups, your engine can be up and running in no time.

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