As Greek girls, we love the generosity in our breasts, but we hate the same in our butts. What can a girl do to keep from looking like Kiria Evangelio—you know, the widow in black with the podgia and knee highs rolled down right under her knees, in a fish hair net. You know, the one who looks like a giadouri when she bends down to pick up the chorta from her front yard? Yes, that middle zoni is considered irresistible in Middle Eastern cultures, a tribute to the Goddess, but in Ameriki, agapoula mou, you can’t get away with wearing your flab like a Firestone radial around your waist.
Luckily, another Greek has come to our rescue. His name is Joseph Pilates. Pilates designed a fundamentally new regimen of fitness, one that focused on one’s “powerhouse”—the stomach and butt, the center point of all the body’s activities. If you are a Greek girl who likes a little more than your usual helping of galaktobouriko and feta cheese in her souvlaki pita, chances are those are the areas you need most help toning. We at greekamericangirl.com can vouch for Pilates. In one month, there was a noticeable difference in our bodies. It is the one sort of exercise that combines yoga with muscle toning so that with a concentrated, efficient use of muscle, you can burn fat and tone at the same time. In contrast to other workout programs that build bulk through repetitive movements or useless sit ups (most sit ups never even touch the lower abdomen, the part that sucks your gutt), Pilates both flexes and elongates muscles in the torso and oxygenates by using controlled breathing. In the end our stomach winds up looking like one of those 6’2” models on the runway of the upcoming Vogue collection.
Joseph Pilates was born in Germany at the end of the 19th century to a Greek gymnast father and a German naturepath mother. He was a very sickly, fragile child , always getting sick. When he was passed over as a player when he was a teen due to his ill health, he devised a series of exercises that toughened up the gutt, the core of the body.
Years later, he put this exercise routine to work on his patients who were crippled or parapalegic casualties of World War I. He gave these patients a gentle but firm way of using their torso, the only part of their bodies they could use, for some of them. He eventually migrated to the US where he founded a studio on Manhattan’s East Side. His technique which bears his name very soon became popular with the actors and dancers of the NYCity arts and culture scene.
His technique has witnessed a massive wave of popularity in recent years, appealing to many from the likes of Melanie Griffith to Daisy Fuentes. It is especially effective for women’s bodies as it elongates the torso without building excessive muscle.
Check out these sample Pilates moves, but remember to consult your doctor before starting this or any other exercise regimen. It is recommended that you take a class or two with a certified Pilates instructor to get the gist of the proper form and the most effective breathing technique.
THE ONE HUNDRED: This is a classic Pilates opener. Lie down on your stomach on your mat, feet together stretched straight out, arms at your sides. Slowly lift your head and bring your chin into your chest while at the same time raising your arms off the floor straight out beside you along your body. Then, taking a deep inhale, bring your head towards your neck and stare at your navel, slightly picking yourself off the mat. Then using a count of five, pump your hands up and down, exhaling through your mouth with a short puff for each number. Without lying back, continue with another round of five inhaling through your nose. Exhale out slowly – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5—pumping your hands at your sides, then inhale in—1, 2, 3, 4, 5—pumping your hands all the while. Do this for five series of inhales and exhales for a total of 100 pumps.
THE TIGHT ROW-ROW-ROW YOUR BOAT: Start by lying down relaxed with your hands by your sides, legs, together. Take a deep inhale while lifting your legs together to a 45 degree angle off the floor while at the same time extending each arm straight out next to your ears over your head. Your torso should make a slight “V” shape. Next, with a through-the-mouth exhale, fold your legs towards your crotch while each hand finds and clutches its corresponding ankle. Hold this pose for a second or two. Then with a deep inhale, straighten out your legs and your arms. Your legs should go back to the 45degree angle and your arms should be straight out past your ears. Then exhale again bringing your legs close to your torso while at the same time reaching out your hands to hold onto each ankle. Repeat this inhale, extend, exhale bring back for a total of five times (ten if you can bear it.) Your torso should never lie all the way back to the floor. This is what tightens the lower ab.
ROLLING LIKE A BALL: Sit up straight with your legs folded in front of you for this one. Grab your right ankle with your right hand and your left ankle with your left hand. Lift them slightly off the floor and find your balance on your butt. Then extend your legs out straight in front of you holding onto your ankles with your hands all the while. Your legs should make an open “V”. Then taking a deep inhale, rock yourself back all the way to your shoulders. With the exhale, rock forward and stop just at the starting point of the V leg extension (if you can.) Your hands should be holding onto each corresponding ankle throughout this exercise. The trick is to tighten your abs and torso so that they counteract the force of gravity and momentum bringing your body to a halt. The power it takes to end the forward force is what tones the muscles. This is a hard one. It takes balance and skill, not to mention a lot of guts.