Graceful Aging: It Begins with the Choice Everyday

Va Va Voom body with Rachel Northrup

“We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make.” - Marcel Proust

When you observe the age of countries and civilizations around the world, you can see those who seem to be aging gracefully and those that are experiencing growing pains ... ahem. Regardless of your own whereabouts on this age continuum, once we are born we are headed towards death - pretty standard really. It’s all the beautiful goo and mess in between that’s so much fun, heart wrenching, light, heavy, purple, grey and contributes to a life well lived.

As the age of countries go, the United States in comparison to other countries is merely a teenager, and as such, is more concerned about body image, appearing young and not very well educated on the process of aging. To be fair, the type of graceful aging that this article is speaking of is more complex than looking healthy on the outside and having some cosmetic procedures to help you forget the last decade. Denial can be an effective coping mechanism, but that’s another article for another time.

It seems those who truly age gracefully are tuned into something far deeper than the flesh and this vessel we call our body. More than physical, more than mental, there is a peacefulness ... 

The latest version of Karate Kid (the movie starring Jaden Smith) features the practice of Kung Fu. This young practitioner learns Kung Fu is not just punching and kicking to beat people up that are mean because “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” - Gandhi. It’s the subtlety of how he puts on and takes off his own jacket everyday or how he decides to throw it on the floor and then be defiant when his mother asks him to pick it up. Sufice to say, Kung Fu is not just physical movements, rather it’s something bigger. It’s a way of life, of being and of moving within each activity of one’s day.

Since the beginning of summer, this column has explored and advocated many different movement disciplines to help you experience your “holy moly hotness.” So without further ado, you are invited to discover the benefits of the Pilates Method.

The Pilates Method

The practice of pilates is much like Proust speaks of; you will discover wisdom and it will continue to inform you over a lifetime ... with wisdom only granted to those who breath, lengthen, and stretch not just on the mat or the reformer but beyond.

Joseph and Clara Pilates developed this method in the 20’s for rehabilitation and for prevention of injury which served dancers primarily. Today there are only a few elders who remain of the first generation instruction of Joe and Clara’s time and that are keeping the classical Pilates flame bright. Romana Kryzanowska is the oldest living disciple of Joseph Pilates and continues to teach at 89 with her daughter and granddaughter in Florida. You might think since she has been practicing and teaching, that she is problem free, however, she deals with her own set of challenges. The difference is she calls on grace to move in ways many can only dream of at 89. Similar to Kung Fu not being just about kicks, the Pilates Method is more than the well known “Teezer” move or lengthening on the reformer; it’s a lifestyle, a way of being in the world.

Kathy Grant, a member of the elders who is not with us currently, recalled her teacher’s intention of the discipline in an article saying, “Joe used his method as a way of keeping your body ready for anything.”

Pilates is not just an exercise system; it’s a way of living and observing oneself in relation to one’s spine. Joseph is famous for saying that “you are only as old as your spine.” You don’t need to be a dancer to experience the benefits of pilates, and Joe primarily taught to men in his time so it’s not just for women. Pilates is a method to help in the aging gracefully category, emphasizing a neutral pelvis, connection to posture and breath - not only in the studio but in line at the bank, when you eat, when you sleep, while you play and while driving your car.

Schoolhouse Pilates

Sherrie De Shong, of Schoolhouse Pilates in Ellicottville, came to pilates 12 years ago after a knee surgery which happened at a young age. She went to a pilates class in Pittsburgh to help rehab and be able to ski again … that was the day she knew pilates would be a part of the rest of her life.

Today Sherrie is passionate about helping people become graceful - not only in her studio but in their lives. She is a certified classical pilates instructor, as well as a physical therapy assistant, which she embarked upon to make herself a better instructor. Sherrie holds weekly mat classes with various apparatus and private sessions on the reformer Room 14 of the 1887 Building. Call Sherrie at 412-417-6008 for more information.

If you are not able to visit Ellicottville for Schoolhouse Pilates, you can visit your local library for information, books, videos on pilates or use the world-wide web to find an instructor in the Classical Pilates Method.

Author’s Note:
 I was lucky enough to enjoy a session after my interview with Sherrie, and was reminded of my posture and the benefits of integrating various disciplines to return back to beginner’s mind and enjoy the mental and physical challenge of the Pilates Method. The method meets you wherever you are on the age spectrum. Enjoy and remember well-being is your natural state; all you need to do is return back again and again ...

Start now by becoming more aware of your breathing and your posture. Sit in a chair with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Next, release your hands next to your sides and drop your shoulders down and back. Then, inhale to feel lifted from the top of your head, exhale down into your feet to feel rooted to the ground. Continue breathing, keeping your spine lifted and feet grounded so you are simultaneously being lifted up and feeling rooted down into the earth at the same time!

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