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Book Review: Pilates Practice Companion by Alycea Ungaro

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I will often tell my Pilates classes that to me Pilates is a way of life. The exercises are the basis of correct movement patterns for daily life, whether your daily life includes grocery shopping and cleaning or training for a marathon. Having recently rehabbed myself after three weeks at home with a broken finger, injured arm, and ulnar nerve compression, I am a walking billboard for the effectiveness of Pilates. My kettlebell, TRX, and other workouts are all done from a safe Pilates placement.

One of my favorite people and favorite Pilates teachers is Alycea Ungaro of Manhattan’s Real Pilates, where I have had the pleasure of teaching as well as taking many classes. Ungaro, a licensed Physical Therapist as well as highly experienced Pilates teacher, believes as I do that Pilates exercises are uniquely suited to developing balanced functional strength and flexibility in the spine and throughout the body.  According to Ungaro,

Pilates should become a way of life for you. The principles and ideals are easily manifest in your daily living. I don’t mean to suggest that you should burst into exercise at family functions, but the way you hold your body during your workout should be reflected each and every day in your day-to-day activities. There are many opportunities to use your Pilates in your daily life.

In the Pilates Practice Companion Ungaro reviews the history of Pilates, the principles behind Pilates, every Pilates mat exercise with modifications and variations, and discusses how to apply the Pilates principles to your life in terms of sex, aging, working, and eating, just to name a few. She explodes some of the biggest Pilates myths (no, Joseph Pilates was not a dancer; yes, you should sweat when exercising, including Pilates; no, Pilates is not simply a breathing or stretching technique) and offers some wonderful tidbits of information (“Pilates has specific applications for making your sex life that much better,” “I consider Pilates to be cross-training for real life,” “I believe that all Pilates workouts should make you out of breath at least twice during your workout, if not more.”)

But the meat of this book is Ungaro’s presentation of the Pilates mat exercises. She explains what each exercise is for and how to best approach it, as well as how it works with the other exercises in a given workout. Plus, instead of simply offering the mat exercises, Ungaro offers sequences at varying levels ranging from 15 minutes to 45 minutes.

Seriously, I am a tough sell when it comes to Pilates and fitness books. Most of them fall far short of the mark in terms of what they offer. The Pilates Practice Companion delivers in spades. Whatever level of Pilates you are at, from rank beginner to decades of experience, there is something in this book that will interest, surprise, and challenge you.  Here is one of my favorite quotes from this book, as the issue of Pilates not being hard exercise comes up a lot:

Q: What if it’s not hard enough?
A: No such thing. You may not be working hard enough. Or possibly you are speeding through the hard parts of each exercise. Focus on the moves that are difficult for you. Slow down and work harder.

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About Lynda Lippin