Tokyo is one intense city. It was quite a shock to the system when we first arrived. Seeing Tokyo in guidebooks is not quite the same as being here finally and experiencing it for myself.
I moved to Tokyo for work with my family in tow six months ago. Getting the accommodation, kids’ school and other administrative bits done up really zapped all my energy at the beginning. In between juggling work and helping the kids settle in and adapt to the huge cultural changes, I didn't have very much time for myself.
Coming from Mediterranean Spain where life flows at a slower pace, Tokyo is fast in comparison and highly competitive. I love how dynamic things are at work while also being extremely organised and respectful. It is definitely teaching me to adapt to a different way of working and we are lucky that our two kids have made a few little friends at school and are blending in rather happily. It helps that they adore the pretty bento boxes and colourful food I guess!
What I missed most and needed most at the beginning was not just having enough time to rest but also to find a fitness program that worked for me. I went on expat forums on the Internet and it seemed like many went to gyms to keep fit. I suppose that could have been a place to try and also get to meet other expats and get a bit of personal networking going on, but honestly, I am just not a gym girl. It's just so not me to slap on spandex and blast some Beast Workout music on the machines. It feels too loud and rushed and competitive to me. My husband David is a lot more flexible in that sense so he started on a gym straightaway near his office. He has been trying to get me to join him but I have kept up my resistance. I’ve tried taking up running but it was hard on the knees and I just couldn’t rev up the motivation to pound the streets a few days each week. I tried to tell myself it's okay not to have a fitness routine, and that just running after my kids every day making sure they behave is enough of an exercise. But I really did not feel good at all.
My colleagues at work, especially fellow expats, have been very helpful and understanding about my transition and they found my experiences something they could also relate to. What they found surprising was how I changed after the first month. They noticed my muscles looked toned, I was moving differently and it wasn't just about looking good. They noticed I even ‘felt good’. I didn't quite fit the image they were expecting of the burnt-out, drained-out new expat trying to cope with everything. They kept pressing me which gym I went to or which special fitness or diet program I was doing to have that ease of movement and confidence.
So, here's my dirty little secret.
I do Pilates. Yes it's that simple.
I had been in Tokyo for about a month when I was on one of my walkabouts near where I lived. I happened to chance upon a charming place called My Body My Pilates and coming from the noise of the city, it was rather pleasant to step in and feel the calmness the place exuded. My knowledge of Pilates at that time was rather vague. I was really glad I heeded my curiosity and stepped in that day. I most certainly did not look back.
I did not remember much of my first conversation with Helen that day. I only remembered this director of the place had a lovely warm smile and she not only looked good she also “felt good.” And I wanted to feel how she was feeling. I started my Pilates journey the very next week and that was how I found the perfect fitness program that suited my lifestyle, my personality and my needs.
I got quite a few of my Pilates myths busted during my first month of classes. If you asked me before I started, what exactly is Pilates, I’d have said something like, oh it’s a bunch of exercises where you stretch a lot and you do strange postures on scary-looking torture machines. I´m going to share with you here some of my embarrassing misconceptions about Pilates.
Misconception 1: Pilates is really light, just stretching, and you don't sweat much or burn many calories.
I was really wrong there. While Pilates is a low-impact exercise (which is why I also like it as it does not damage my body), it also strengthens muscles by focusing on postural alignment, flexibility and the famous ‘core’. In Spain when summer approaches, or pretty much after the Christmas festivities and gorging is over, everyone hits the gym and gets into Operation Bikini. We all want to have the flat abs ready for summer when we can don our bikinis and hit the beach. And for years I have never been able to get the abs I wanted so every summer I have always hidden behind bathing suits. Now after doing Pilates and working on my core, I am really excited to jump into a bikini and hit the pool! Basically, Pilates is the most complete exercise method there is - it works your entire body and you work from the inside out. I love the exercises that focus on the core (although they are really tough and yes you sweat buckets!) and you really feel the difference as your core strengthens over time, you move differently and more efficiently. I just don't fight with my body anymore. It is working with me, for me, because everything is in the right place. When I feel physically aligned, it even affects my mood and how I feel.
Misconception 2: Pilates is slow and therefore boring. It is for old people or those who have difficulties with movements.
That cannot be further from the truth. Pilates offers a range of exercises that encompass different speeds. And speed is not really the issue here. Nobody goes to Pilates and competes with their neighbour on who can do their hundreds faster. What Pilates focuses on is precision of movement and alignment as well as breath control. I had never paid any attention to my breath or how I was breathing. It was quite a shock to realise I had to learn how to breathe in Pilates. I didn't know I was often holding my breath in anticipation of something going wrong, and I never noticed how tensed my jaw was because I was always running against time and in a hurry to do everything. There was a lot of unlearning to do when I started Pilates. And even the simple act of breathing takes great awareness to change and once that happens, your body will really thank you for it. Ease of movement is definitely one of the first effects I noticed. And you know what, Pilates is never boring. I love every single one of my sessions at My Body My Pilates and they are pretty much the highlight of my week to be honest! It totally centres me and keeps me grounded. What I appreciate about Pilates is it is for everybody. You don't have to be ‘cool’ or ‘posh’ to do Pilates. You meet people from all different backgrounds, physical conditions and challenges, a variety of needs and objectives and this is definitely a very ´fair´ exercise regime. It does not discriminate against age. At My Body My Pilates they even have classes for kids and I am always kept humbled to see much older students do a stunning series which I am still struggling with. I definitely learn a lot from my mates and this studio now feels like my second home! This is where my friendships are growing and just the caring and respectful nature of the exercises and the instructors really make a difference.
Misconception 3: Only advanced students can go on the Reformer.
There are lots of ‘toys’ we use in a Pilates session and I totally trust the instructors to know what I need at each stage of my training. The machines and equipment you see in a Pilates studio are not limited to how advanced you are. Each has a specific purpose and I love how Pilates is not a one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter fitness regime. The instructors really get to know the clients and, as each of us is so different, we have our own goals and we are given exactly what we need. There is zero competition here, which helps me focus on myself and really listen to my body. Sessions are personalised and I have noticed the instructors are so considerate, they even notice if I am particularly tired one day and need a calmer class, or perhaps I seem low on energy and need an energy boost, and they adjust the exercises based on how I am feeling that day. There are days when I appreciate releasing the spine by lying over a barrel, and other days I can have a challenging session doing spine stabilising exercises on the Reformer. Respect for each body is what the instructors go by, and you do not get put on any equipment before you are ready for it. Having said that, I am always thrilled when I'm allowed to start a new routine on the Cadillac! We all have our personal favourites when it comes to equipment and exercises.
Misconception 4: If you don't feel sore the next day it means you haven't worked hard enough.
Pilates is not running the next marathon and it's not going to prepare you to become a weightlifter. Sore muscles do not always mean you have worked well. Sometimes bad pain could mean you have over-exerted yourself or have gone out of alignment. In Pilates, some of the more intense core exercises will give you a bit of a burn, but it's not the aim of Pilates. Building awareness, working on breath control, aiming for precision are all just as important as toning up muscles. And as Pilates is such a complete, integrated fitness regime, you work all parts of the body (and mind!) in one single exercise style. You do not need to combine it with several other things to work on other parts of the body. Pilates is a great complement for other sports and exercises, and it's equally fantastic when enjoyed on its own. The reason why I keep going back to Pilates is precisely because it does not give me ‘bad pain’. It does not overwork the muscles and my body does not take a beating. It means my body is able to work more efficiently every session and I am able to keep coming back for more! I remember how running used to be too much for my knees and pain was one big factor that took away any possible enjoyment.
I can pretty much keep going about the benefits of Pilates. Some people do not believe me when I say Pilates is all I do to look the way I do. Trust me, I do not have a secret hunk of a Personal Trainer stashed away in my storeroom. I don’t think my husband would be too thrilled about that if it were true. Pilates is really that amazing and you have to try it yourself to feel the effects.
Pilates is my dirty little secret to looking good without spending a ridiculous amount, without torturing myself to go on icky diets, without burning my body out, without becoming mean and competitive…
I am glad I found My Body My Pilates. The instructors are professional and so caring and I love how international it feels there! We are all picking up smatterings of each other´s languages each session and there is a wonderful spirit of good fun and everyone is really dedicated to their Pilates sessions. I am still trying to get my husband and kids to join me here. David feels a bit intimidated I think by all the strange exercises but he is rather impressed at how fit I am without having stepped into a gym. Perhaps my kids will join me in Pilates when they give up their dreams of being the next Karate Kid. For now, this is My Pilates and Pilates is an integral part of my lifestyle.
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My Body My Pilates studio is at 3 丁目5ー11元麻布 1/F Pilates Studio, Block C Majes Motoazabu Gardens, 港区 Tokyo 106-0046