July 1, 2015 02:10 PM

A new Pilates studio in the Oil Center has given this writer a new lease on life.

What I know for sure is that when I wake up in the morning I stand up straight rather than bent at the waist, creaky and stiff. I am stronger and more agile than when I moved to Lafayette five years ago from the San Francisco Bay area. I was not a couch potato in California. I went to yoga class twice a week, worked out at a gym, gardened and hiked in the hills. I was in fairly good shape, and yet I did not feel good.

Now, my lower back doesn’t ache, and I don’t have arthritis in my hands. What has changed besides my home? I started taking Pilates classes twice a week with Alyce Morgan, first at Wise Body Pilates at Camellia House and now at Alyce’s new studio, Embody Zest! in the Oil Center.

Alyce’s goal is that her clients feel good and are able to move in all the ways that bring them happiness. Her 80-year-old clients travel, play with their grandchildren, dance and enjoy life. You read that correctly, Alyce has clients in their 70s and 80s, and many have attended her classes for more than 10 years. They prioritize their Pilates sessions because they know what keeps them feeling energetic, flexible and vital. The class I attend ends just prior to their class beginning. We feel great and are also energized by the next group’s laughter and camaraderie as they greet each other and us. They are a happy and noisy bunch. When I first started taking class, having been used to yoga classes in California that were mostly quiet, I was annoyed by how loud they were and what I thought was disrespect for our class. I soon came to appreciate their lively and joyful presence.

So what is this magic potion? Alyce describes Pilates as a system of exercise that teaches good body mechanics. It focuses on the muscles closest to the spine, the intrinsic muscle stabilizers.

“The benefits that people derive from Pilates include body awareness and the ability to self-correct posture. Clients often report less back and neck pain, they feel stronger and develop better posture. The chronic aches and pains come with less frequency and don’t last as long,” says Alyce. Pilates is never boring because it is not necessary to do a lot of repetition and also there is a huge repertoire of movements.

In 2010, Alyce was looking for a mentor and found one in Eric Franklin, with whom she took a half-day workshop at a Pilates conference. For the past four years, she has traveled to Colorado and New York twice a year to train in the Franklin Method.

“When we make changes in our body, we’re also making changes in the mind. We can’t have one without the other,” Alyce explains. “And so, (the) Franklin Method asks that a student comes with a desire for change and the willingness to be curious. [The] Franklin Method is based in how your body moves. We get clear imagery on that, both metaphorical and anatomical. Very quickly students notice less tension, more efficient movement, a more relaxed state and better breathing.”

Toni Daigre has taken classes for about seven years. At 76 years old, she says that Pilates and the Franklin Method have given her increased awareness of her body and built her core strength so that she is able to do what she enjoys: walk, garden, paint, collect antiques and travel. Using the imagery of a “high heart” helps her maintain good posture. “Another thing that I like about class is that we have fun,” Toni says.

“I want my student’s exercise to be effective,” adds Alyce. “If someone comes in with tight shoulders or a tight low back, I won’t add strength training right on top of that as that just strengthens the tight shoulder or tension into the body. It is important to help the person bring awareness to their body and release some tension before they start exercising. You want to relax your body and then strengthen it.

“If you have a smart phone but you don’t know much about it, you won’t use it to its fullest capacity,” she adds. “Once you know how it functions, it is a much better tool. The same is true with the body.”

Alyce explained how she came up with the name for her new studio: “The word ‘embody’ comes from the Franklin Method. ‘Embody’ means to know something from experiencing it through many of the senses. “Zest comes from Joseph Pilates’ philosophy that we stay physically fit so that we can live our life with spontaneous zest and pleasure. That is why I exercise: To live my life with zest,” says Alyce. “I want the ability to be spontaneous. If you invite me to go kayaking, I want to be able to say, ‘Yes. I don’t have to worry about my back or my shoulder. I am ready for life.’”

With the opening of her studio, Alyce has the freedom to express her creativity. You can see that in the name of the studio and in the classes she is offering. “Old Tight Guy” Pilates is for those men who want a healthy and flexible spine. Pilates was developed by a man, Joseph Pilates, in the early 1900s, and he was fit and strong well into his 80s.

As Alyce was readying her new studio, knitters from Yarn Nook next door would stop by and tell her that they don’t exercise; they only sit and knit. That’s when she got the idea for a “Cross-Training for Knitters” class.

Another new offering, Aerial Exercise, brings zest to the studio in the form of the brightly colored hammocks that hang from the ceiling and give students the chance to leave the ground, stretch, hang upside down and feel cocooned by the silk cloth that supports their bodies. That’s the class I’m going to add next to my exercise repertoire.

For a complete list of classes and workshops: Embody Zest! Move. Breathe. Enjoy 1120 Coolidge Blvd., Suite D, Lafayette (337) 806-7737 embodyzest@gmail.com facebook.com/franklinmethodlouisiana

Also in Health & Wellness

Read the Flipping Paper