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[whitespace] It's a Stretch

Pilates-based fitness center works to connect

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INSIDE the nondescript, easy-to-miss Santa Rosa building that houses Monica Anderson's Tone fitness center, three brand-new students lie sprawled on the floor, softly gasping with effort. Carefully balanced on long foam half-tubes that run the length of the spine, the concentrating trio perform various abdominal exercises and stretches as Anderson coaches them through their first introduction to the increasingly popular training method known as Pilates.

Based on the work of the late German-born fitness champion Joseph Pilates (pronounced Puh-lot-tees), this yoga-like exercise method employs a series of techniques that Pilates developed in New York in the 1920s, when he was asked to train the dancers working under George Balanchine and Martha Graham. Because dancers require a way to strengthen their bodies without adding bulk, the Pilates method--incorporating floor exercises designed to develop and balance the body while educating the dancer's mind about the body's limits, and a series of highly focused routines performed on Pilates-designed machines--was ideal for the injury-prone world of ballet.

Now Pilates-based exercise programs and Pilates equipment can be found in gyms and physical therapy offices across the country--and now in Sonoma County. According to Anderson, the recently opened Tone is the only fitness center in the county to offer a Pilates-based exercise program.

Catering to those who want an alternative to the large, chain fitness centers, as well as to people on the mend from back injuries and the like, Anderson's small, highly individualized program has been building its clientele steadily since opening day last October.

"The Pilates method is about wellness and balance and healing," she explains, as the class ends and the new students enthusiastically bound to their feet. "This is deep work, but Pilates is a subtle method. It's not as harsh on your body as some other training methods."

THE PILATES MACHINES, with names like the Reformer and the Trapeze Table, are unlike anything you'd expect to find at most fitness clubs. Employing an adjustable series of springs for resistance, the Reformer--which Anderson spryly demonstrates to the class--looks something like a horizontal springboard, with which the subject uses his or her legs to trampoline back and forth, rather than up and down.

This, according to Anderson, is a popular exercise for dancers and skaters, as it is much safer than actually leaping into the air, yet it helps build a sense of balance while developing the body strength necessary for actual leaps and spins on the ice or on the dance stage. In fact, since opening its doors, Tone has become a popular training spot for local ice skaters, offering classes for skaters of all ages and experience levels.

As important as physical exercise and body development are, according to Tone manager Alyson Dobbert, the Pilates method stresses the mental aspects of physical training as well. This, she says, is where Pilates gets its reputation for being so similar to yoga.

"Our clients learn to think about their bodies, to understand their muscles and the way the whole body works in harmony to itself," she explains. "It's a thinking person's exercise, connecting body and mind.

"Training," she adds, "imparts understanding."

Pleased by the modest success that Tone has already experienced, Anderson and company are expecting greater results as word of mouth spreads around the county. "This is a great thing. I definitely believe we fill a need that exists in Sonoma County," Anderson says.

"This is not your basic hot body gym," adds Dobbert with a laugh. "It's a place you can relax and learn about your body, and, if you've been injured, where you can get the tools you need to heal."


The Tone Fitness center is located at 850 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. For details, call 526-3100.

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From the January 13-19, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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