Bluemat Pilates instructor Riana Leaf makes sure she’s active in her classes – checking each and every foot is aligned, every stretch is working aching muscles, every breath is deep.
“I’ve always said to people: ‘If you go to a pilates class or a yoga class and the instructor is up the front the entire time, you’re not in an ideal class’.”
“You want to be in an environment where the instructor is moving around every single body, making sure that everyone is doing what they should be doing with good form.”
Riana says students often leave feeling more mentally relaxed as well as physically.
“Pilates is a gorgeous form of mindful movement, so often people talk about how at the end of a class they feel so relaxed because they haven’t been thinking about any of their to do lists or worries, as you really have to think about what you’re doing when you’re doing pilates.”
And the benefits don’t end there; Riana laughs when I ask her to list just some of the physical benefits of pilates. “I could honestly go on and on and on.”
“Increased body awareness, so knowing how to improve your posture and learning how to access the correct muscles to do that; increased flexibility; increased strength; increased stamina and endurance in particular muscle groups; it’s a really good preventative form of exercise for injury, and a great maintenance programme for clients complaining of new twinges or pains that they have never had to worry about before.”
Bluemat Pilates offers group classes and private sessions from their Hamilton and Mount Maunganui studios, as well as Riana’s private studio at her house in Pitau Rd.
Riana says the one-on-one private studio sessions are ideal for those who want to start their pilates journey, or who have specific goals they want to meet as the sessions can be tailored to the person’s needs.
“I take quite a holistic approach to people’s bodies too, so I really listen to the words they say because that can tell you so much.
“I’m guided by their goals so I’ll ask what they ultimately want to get out of pilates and what are they wanting to achieve from doing pilates.
“So if they’re wanting to run 10km two or three times a week again, or if they want to be able to climb the stairs without pain in their knees, I will do specific programmes that are going to get them to that end goal.”
Beginners are in for a muscle-stretching and strengthening treat when they come to their first class, not to mention a bit of a physiology lesson.
“New students can expect a whole bunch of information they’d probably never considered before about their body,” says Riana.
“They can expect to come and have a good workout in a really fun and relaxing environment, but with a well-informed instructor.”
Riana definitely qualifies as a well-informed instructor – she completed a year-long course before she was licensed as a pilates instructor, while doing a four-year apprenticeship at a Hamilton physio/pilates studio.
When her mum began getting bad back pain and couldn’t get anything better than temporary pain relief, Riana decided to step up and find something that would help her mother for longer than a few hours.
“I started to look into pilates because I wanted to teach someone like my mum some really good tools on how she could manage her own body and her own pain, and not have to rely on necessarily having to go to someone to get fixed.
“That’s where my passion is because I just love to help people back into order and back to where they want to be,” says Riana.
“The way I teach is all about teaching good body mechanics, so educating people on how to move their bodies safely and efficiently – the way they’re physiologically designed to move.”
And making sure you’re getting these moves right is important, says Riana, to avoid injuries.
DVDs and online classes have their place. “If you’re taking classes with a hands-on instructor in the first place, and they know you have good form already, then you are more likely to get the moves right at home unguided when doing your online or DVD workouts.”
The best place to start is in a private or specific beginner’s group class, says Riana.
“The benefit of being in a class session or a private one-on-one session is you will have that guidance and you will have that feedback.
“The nice thing is when you’re constantly getting feedback from an instructor your muscles have a memory,” says Riana.
And Riana’s classes are the best place to start, to make sure you’re getting great form and a good stretch.
Personally, her favourite pilates stretch is ‘chalk circles’. “It opens your chest up making it easier to breathe, and easier to stand upright, decompresses your spine and frees your back and shoulders up.” This, she explains, is where she lies on her side with her fingers interlaced behind her head.
Knees in front of your hips and knees at a 90 degree angle, Riana says that from an aerial perspective she would look like a chair lying on its side, “then I keep my hips and my knees still and I rotate my spine back as my arm circles around my body – letting my head and gaze go with me”. “It just feels delicious.”