Pilates: The foundation of a strong core

Photo Courtesy of Hasti Pilates

If you go to any gym, you’re sure to encounter Pilates classes. And at many, including the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco (JCC), you’ll find both Pilates mat and Reformer classes.

What’s the difference between the two, and what’s a Reformer?

An unhealthy child, German-born Joseph Pilates developed the Pilates method of exercise during the 1920s. As he grew up, he was determined to become fit, studying anatomy, yoga, boxing, wrestling, and other forms of exercise.

During World War I, Pilates was placed in an internment camp in England, where he focused on exercises to strengthen the core — or torso — muscles. After the war, he returned to Germany, where he worked in hospitals rehabilitating wounded patients. Using materials at hand, Pilates developed a system of metal poles bolted to hospital beds with hooks and straps to aid the injured in regaining their strength by using resistance. This was the foundation of the Pilates Reformer, the long, moveable, padded platform equipped with straps, springs and pulleys that you’ll see at gyms or Pilates studios.

Pilates came to New York and began to teach his form of exercise designed to tone the muscles while improving flexibility, range of motion and proper body alignment. His students went on to teach the Pilates method.

Leni Manijeh Mostaghim, a professional bodywork practitioner and certified Pilates instructor has been working with clients on Pilates equipment for close to 12 years. She currently trains at Hasti Pilates in Hayes Valley, “The whole idea behind the system,” she said, “is to work with the body to achieve uniform development and alignment through the spine. For example, when I work with a client, I might see that they use their left leg more than the other. So I work to correct that. Unlike weight lifting, Pilates work focuses on eccentric contraction — basically lengthening the muscles to strengthen them — rather than contracting them. The equipment is designed to work the muscles we tend not to use.”

Mostaghim says that the most important part of all Pilates training is the core. “Pilates works with the deeper abdominal muscles, along with the two layers of oblique muscles along the sides. I help clients feel and find those muscles for the development of a strong, lean core,” she said.

Though Mostaghim only trains clients on the Reformer and other Pilates equipment, she says mat classes can be even tougher than the machines. “In a mat class, you have to rely on your own resistance to work your core.”

Lying on the Reformer, holding onto handles with springs, I learned to curl up slowly, using every muscle in my abdomen, starting at the lowest point, while keeping my chin slightly tucked without using my neck. This alone was one of the most difficult exercises I’ve ever done. I’d recommend Pilates for anyone who wants a subtle yet tough workout.

Most private Pilates lessons last 55 minutes and range from $75–$95; rates vary and most studios offer discount cards for 10 or more classes. Members of the JCC can choose from daily Pilates studio classes and Pilates mat classes.


Leni Manijeh Mostaghim, 415-902-8466

Hasti Pilates, 650 Laguna Street (at Grove), 415-355-1973,

Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California Street (at Presidio), 415-292-1200,

This article was corrected on Oct. 3, 2012 to reflect an accurate quote from Leni Manijeh Mostaghim, which appeared on page B11 in the June 2012 issue.

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