A Bangalore-based couple is spreading the word, and the training for a fitness regime favoured by the likes of Madonna and Roger Federer.
Amongst the many garishly coloured signboards on the busy Koramangala high street in Bangalore, Anjali and Sharat Sareen’s first-floor studio is tucked away discreetly. Inside, The Zone is grey and brown, with labyrinths that enclose bed-like contraptions that appear rather intimidating. The overwhelming calm, however, must surely ooze from the grass-themed green walls.
It’s mid-afternoon. Two of Anjali’s students are helping each other perfect moves on a mat. The man, I learn, will soon move to Australia, where he plans to become a licensed instructor. The woman will likely start her own school or studio. Anjali says she started doing pilates [pih-lah-teys] some 15 years ago. She had by then traipsed through group exercises, cardio boxing, boot camp, step aerobics, gym, personal training, yoga and kalari. By 2006, she was training people to become instructors in a contemporary or improvised form called Stott Pilates.
Training the trainers
She herself had trained in Toronto, at the Stott school headquarters, to become a certified coach for prospective pilates teachers. It wasn’t easy getting there, says Anjali, who is one among 250-odd such trainers across the world. Pilates is not something you can pick up from books, Web sites or DVDs — you need to do it the right way under licensed tutelage, she says. “First you need to have a body of knowledge and experience [about fitness.] Then there is a gruelling schedule and 90-hour classroom courses.” You would need to conjure up exact movements for specific problems such as backache or knee pain.
The next step was to create more trainers-for-trainers like herself. “So that we can bring it in a retail format. In India there is no formal pilates course.” About 130 people have passed through their portal.
The Sareens also have a studio in Whitefield, 30 km from Bangalore, and another in Goa. Anjali’s dream is to expand in the South and then go pan-India. Pilates, like yoga, is a breath-based movement. “It is both for the mind and the body, it teaches you the best way to move. It retrains and strengthens muscles, especially core muscles in the abdomen and back,” she explains. The core muscles are like the foundation of the body. Make them sound and solid, and you would be able to bust stress, cut flab, gain wellbeing or heal injuries, aches and strokes, she says.
Pilates may have not taken off in full force yet, but some physical rehabilitation experts in hospitals have started recommending it for those recovering from strokes, cardiac bypasses, and as a pre-and post-pregnancy regimen, she says. “You may be strength training, dancing, swimming or playing tennis, pilates enhances it all. To me, everything begins with it.”Quickly growing in popularity worldwide today, pilates traces its origins to Europe a hundred years ago. Joseph Pilates (1880-1967), a German self-defence instructor, was involved in training Scotland Yard detectives. When World War I broke out, he was held captive as an enemy national. Pilates improvised his physical training techniques using the springs and hinges found on hospital beds. (According to a pilates-related Web site, an influenza epidemic broke out in England in 1918 and claimed many lives, but all of Pilates’ trainees reportedly survived.) The movement then spread on either side of Europe.
Sharath Sareen, who formerly belonged to the merchant navy, is fully involved in running the pilates venture. Such centres promise at minimum 25–30 per cent return on investment in just six months. “But it’s not enough to have the money and start a centre, you need the experience and knowledge,” he says. Only a few hundred people in India have taken to pilates, while there are believed to be 10-12 million practitioners in the West, he says. “Look at Madonna — she is doing her world tour this year and says she is at her fittest this time only because of pilates; and she is also able to wear her eight-inch heels and dance.” The couple lists several other celebrities who practise pilates: Jennifer Aniston, Sting (who ensures he has a Stott Pilates machine even on tour); Tiger Woods, Leander Paes, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic...
“The cricketing teams of England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are all into pilates and they are free of injury,” says Sareen. “When I watched Saina Nehwal (badminton champion) moving on court, I felt she lacks something like Pilates” in order to be able to beat the Chinese top league, he adds.
According to Anjali, “Our cricket team needs to wake up. They would be injury-free. It’s for any of our sportspersons who want to be free of hamstrings, or injury.” Or to refurbish and extend the career of the likes of Sachin Tendulkar.