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The Corner Studio

Pulling Your Body Into Shape With Pilates

Somehow I missed the celebrity-fueled Pilates craze a few years ago. Even if Demi Moore's Pilates-toned body (not to mention alleged plastic surgery) helped her land a younger man, I don't really want someone like Ashton Kutcher for myself anyways. I only grew curious about Pilates when, following my regular workouts at a major chain gym, I pedaled past the small white building at 19th and Bryant in the Mission that houses The Corner Studio.

From the outside of this unassuming structure, it's hard to see what's going on in there. Only the pulleys and wooden contraptions peeking up over the manicured hedge in front of the window, and of course the sign painted with the words "Pilates and Gyrotronics®" give you any idea, but what is Gyrotronics®? It can't have anything to do with a spicy gyro, can it?

The Corner Studio offers classes in Pilates and Gyrotronics® (also referred to as Gyrokinesis). For those of you like me who don't really know what either of those forms of exercises is about, here's the scoop:

Pilates is a body conditioning system built around improving core strength, mainly, but not limited to, abdominal muscles. The goal is to create ease in movement through toning and lengthening of the muscles while improving posture, flexibility, and balance. There is Pilates Mat where you do the exercises on a floor mat much as you do in yoga. There is also Pilates Tower, which uses boards on the wall with springs or other slightly medieval-looking machines to add support and resistance to the movements. I don't want to scare you, but the machines do look a little like cruel devices from a very tidy torture chamber, but it's all for your own good.

I didn't have a chance to check out their Gyrokinesis Series (this is a pre-registered six week series, though drop-ins are welcome), which is based on the The Gyrotonic® Expansions System created by former dancer Juliu Horvath. Using equipment made up of various pulleys and boards, these exercises, performed in circular patterns with an emphasis on mobility, coordination, range of motion and strength, work to stretch and strengthen the body, while mobilizing and articulating the joints. This system focuses on spinal mobility, using movements similar to swimming, yoga, tai chi, or dance. With backgrounds in dance, this is something that co-owners Nicole Dessoye and Elizabeth (Liz) Donahue are very familiar with.

Nicole and Liz opened the studio back in August of 2004 after both teaching Pilates for a number of years at other studios. These two women decided they wanted to open a space of their own that had a safe and warm environment. In this I believe they succeed. Though the small space is filled with wall towers and trapeze tables, it remains airy, comfortable and light. The group classes are intimate (there were only five of us in the Saturday morning beginning level Pilates mat class). In the hour long class, Liz was able to spend time with each student and was aware of any physical issues her continuing apprentices might have.

Speaking of physical limitations, you might want to try Pilates over some other forms of exercise as it is a bit gentler on the body, especially if you have some problems with any type of joint movement. Pilates works much like physical rehabilitation by re-educating your body to properly move and keeping it in proper alignment.

Though most of the clients there take one-on-one sessions ($65 one session, $225 for a one-time introductory five session package), The Corner Studio offers semi-private ($40 a session, $175 for a five session package) and group classes on Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturdays ($13 for one, $110 for a 10 session package). Check the schedule at http://www.thecornerstudiosf.com for times and other available discounts.

For newcomers, the Saturday morning beginning Pilates Mat class would be perfect. Trying to follow the instructor Liz, I felt a little lost at first, but she was able to take a little time throughout the session to show me how to execute the basic movements. She was encouraging and positive without sounding insincere, which I appreciated as I resent the sugary sweet reassurances I often hear when I try out something new for the first time. I didn't get to the point of completely comprehending the movements, but maybe sprouted a seed of understanding that would grow and could be expanded should I attend more sessions.

Liz and Nicole both told me that Pilates and Gyrotronics® won't necessarily make you lose weight, but it can create a foundation to strengthen, tone and increase flexibility in your body, thereby making any other activity you do easier. I quickly saw the truth in this. Since I never really perspired during that session, I decided to ride on over to my gym and work up a sweat climbing stairs. I noticed that my legs did not feel as heavy moving up the steps as they usually do. The next day when I did some sit-ups, I paid more attention to my abdominal muscles as I had learned in class, and I definitely felt the difference (and added burn) the following day.

If you're curious about either of these exercises, drop into one of The Corner Studio's various classes, or make an appointment for a private lesson. I doubt it will transform your body instantly into movie star form, but it's a lot cheaper and less painful than plastic surgery.

Group classes: Monday, Tuesday, Saturday
Make appointment for private or semi-private sessions