Sat08302014

Senior Lifestyles

From weekend warriors to seniors: Local Pilates studio owner aims to strengthen students of all ages


Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

Evolve Classical Pilates owner Allison Gonzalez, center, leads Marsha Oviatt and Ricardo Levy in strength-building exercises at the Los Altos studio.

During her 20 years as a professional classical ballerina, Allison Gonzalez discovered Pilates out of need.

While recovering from an injury, she found the Pilates exercise system a means of strengthening her body to enable her to continue her career in the performing arts.

“I had a friend in New York who brought me to her Pilates studio and said, ‘You need to recover with this,’” said Gonzalez, currently the owner of Evolve Classical Pilates at 106 First St. in Los Altos.

After recovering, she used Pilates – named after its founder, German-born boxer and gymnast Joseph Pilates – for more than a decade to cross-train for dance performances.

And although her ballet days are over, her love of Pilates certainly isn’t. As a Pilates instructor, Gonzalez said she aims to help others discover the benefits she experienced.

That includes weekend warriors and senior students, several who use Pilates following physical therapy to help regain function, strength and flexibility on surgically repaired knees, rotator-cuff injuries and back pain, to name a few maladies.

“A good certified instructor knows how to work with certain injuries, modifying exercises and giving the overall workout,” Gonzalez said. “We’re not physical therapists, who very often work spot-specific (areas of the body). What happens sometimes to people is they go through an injury and the rest of their body becomes deconditioned. The whole body has to be part of the solution to recover from an injury.”

Strength-building

When it comes to proof that Pilates benefits seniors, Gonzalez points to 70-year-old Marsha Oviatt. A retired educator who attended one of Gonzalez’s classes several years ago, Oviatt has since become a certified Pilates instructor and sees the benefits it provides her and her peers.

“When you’re a senior citizen, some of the things you worry about are falling and your balance, and also losing height,” Oviatt said. “With Pilates, I’ve lost no height and I’m 70 years old. I’m still the same height I was when I was 17. I don’t think I would be in that place unless I’d done Pilates.”

Oviatt noted that like all students, some of her most senior participants are initially hesitant about Pilates, although not out of fear of attempting something new.

“I think that they want to try it,” Oviatt said of her senior students. “I think they want to be current and do what they see their children and grandchildren doing. When they can say, ‘I go to Pilates,’ it has a little coin.”

In due time, Oviatt said many of her senior students experience increased strength, confidence and physical independence. In instances where students have undergone knee and hip replacement surgeries, Oviatt adjusts exercises to prevent strain and meet each individual’s fitness and strength level.

“They found they could do the work and they also found that they progressed,” said Oviatt, who along with Gonzalez is currently developing a more senior-specific Pilates curriculum. “They now have more confidence in general in their ability to move, go up and down stairs, lift and things like that.”

Beyond the physical benefits, Oviatt noted that Pilates serves as a social platform for many retirees in her classes.

“It is a part of my social life, and it is for some of my students as well,” she said. “They’ll come 15 or 20 minutes early so they can lie down on the mats and talk with each other as they get ready for class.”

As for Gonzalez, she said the best part of her job is seeing her students become stronger and more confident as time goes by.

“It’s so satisfying,” Gonzalez said. “I get so much pleasure out of seeing people improve, get stronger and understand their bodies more.”

For more information, visit www.evolvelosaltos.com.

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