By Dijon Rolle, USAG Baden-Wuerttemberg Public AffairsSeptember 24, 2010
HEIDELBERG, Germany -- Tucked away inside the Patrick Henry Village Activity Center in Heidelberg a small group gathered, its members armed with long swathes of purple or lime green stretchy material.
Their teacher, Stasia Bryant, led them through a series of simple exercises using brightly-colored resistance bands while she shared a few jokes to break the ice and keep her students encouraged along the way.
Bryant is a Pilates instructor and the first class of her fall session was full of new faces like Yuko Daniels, who admits she signed up for the class to help her stay committed to her exercise routine despite a busy home life.
"If I tried to do this on my own, I think it would be hard for me. I would probably do it once or twice and then stop, but coming here will help keep me accountable," Daniels said.
Accountable indeed, as Bryant focused her 19 years of ballet training and eight years of Pilates teaching experience into making sure each student used the proper technique. Earlier in her career she danced throughout the United States and Europe, most recently here in the Roadside Theater's production of "Cats."
With a gentle hand and warm demeanor, the Colorado native carefully inspects and corrects each one of her student's form with razor-sharp precision during the weekly sessions.
"Inhale ... shoulders up," Bryant said.
Bryant has taught Pilates in Heidelberg four times a week for the past four years and her passion for it, and overall commitment to helping her students improve their physical fitness is evident.
"I love it. I enjoy teaching, and I love people," she said. "I hope to be doing this forever."
Pilates is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by the late Joseph Pilates. It was primarily used by athletes and dancers before gaining mainstream popularity several years ago.
Pilates can be practiced using different specially designed apparatuses or with mats and props such as exercise balls, foam rollers, rotating disks and resistance bands as Bryant's class does.
"Pilates uses all the core muscles, which does not necessarily mean just the abdominals; it uses the core of every muscle. We work on first stability, then go out from there," Bryant said.
Her hour -long class stresses the important principles of proper alignment, breathing and control - all of which the mother of two credits for her own improved health.
"After I had my children and was teaching ballet so much, I had a lot of lower back pain, and one of my ballet teachers started teaching Pilates. That's how we would start every ballet class and ... it really was unbelievable. I really would wake up in the morning with no lower back pain at all," Bryant said.
"Not everyone can do ballet and dance, and you can't do it forever, but Pilates is something that everyone can do," the instructor said.
Bryant said Pilates is an especially good form of exercise for new mothers, people with back problems and anyone seeking to improve their flexibility and posture or recovering from an injury.
The class can also help with toning and overall fitness and also is suitable for all age groups and fitness levels.
"I just wanted to get back into shape ... I was a dancer before and I've done aerobics for years, but I wanted to try something new. It's hard but I love it. I noticed my flexibility and posture improved and I feel stronger," said Allison Grover, a student in the class. Grover's husband is a member of the Canadian Army and the couple is stationed in Heidelberg.
Bryant said many people confuse Pilates with Yoga or are intimidated after seeing some of the exercises. "One thing is people think they have to have flexibility to come in; that's pretty irreverent. They think it's a lot like Yoga. Totally different system then Yoga ... and it's an entirely different exercise program. Some of the exercises look the same but they are done differently and it's nothing like Yoga."
Pilates and other regular fitness classes are offered through the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Sports and Fitness Office.
The classes give Soldiers, civilians and family members an opportunity to enhance their physical fitness as part of the Comprehensive Community Fitness program.