When people in exercise and spa planning talk about the “greats” in the field, our guest is named more often than not. Skilly is a legend and to spend time with her is a joy, because she lives what she believes. I am fortunate enough to attend her classes five days a week, and have been doing so since arriving in Oklahoma. Now, dear readers, don’t stop reading. Remember, Marie Tallchief and the other American Indian Ballet dancers were from this state.
For thirty years, Skilly has been a consultant to world class spas. She comes from a dance background but came to body awareness when she was looking for answers for her husband’s medical problems. She studied in New York with Pallades and in England with Burke, as well as with most of the “firsts” in their fields. So, when, Skilly gives you advice, you know she comes to you with more information about how bodies move through time and space, than many so-called experts in the field who espouse only one philosophy.
I gave Skilly the abstract about the prevalence of stomach fat in obese women, knowing that the presence of too much fat in the middle of our bodies predisposes us to heart disease. We sat for more than an hour, and I asked her how she has helped women who are overweight to lose inches. Her responses were frank, but hopeful. Skilly has had many clients in private sessions over the years who have had a variety of physical ailments and I have watched her succeed with many. There are those, she concedes, who do not do well. These, she says do not have motivation to modify the way they live. They also can not learn to see things’ in a moment way”, that is to take the joy of learning to change alignment, learn breathing, movements, relaxation, and more. She is convinced that we need to take the best from many schools of thought and use what we need from each to get the results we want.
“Walking through Bodies” is Skilly’s metaphor for helping her clients to understand how a body should function. When asked how she would begin a program for an overweight client, she said, “First I need to know how much that person can move and how often they do move.” For many people, she begins in the water, not leaning against the side, but actually moving, using resistance to shape the body. At the same time she begins to teach proper breathing. I was surprised the first day I attended one of her classes to find that the first few minutes she led us in the “right” way to breath. Is this important? It must be, because every spa I’ve ever attended does the same thing. I also now know different types of breathing go with different types of exercise from aerobics to yoga. So, when you’re looking for a teacher, here’s your first question. “Do you teach various breathing techniques?’
We spoke at length about the problem of measuring waists, thighs, and chests, and the road to failure at some health clubs. Here’s a suggestion from Skilly: If you are very overweight, measure your neck. As you firm up, lose inches etc., this measurement will also change, and because it is a small measurement, most people are willing to take it. Later, when you’ve changed clothing size, start measuring other parts of the body.
Skilly suggests looking at exercise in a fresh way. She stops clients from gritting their teeth and thinking that they have to do 16 of some exercise even if they do it incorrectly. She knows that if you throw your body around and don’t use your muscles properly, you can hurt yourself. Second question to a potential teacher then is, “Do you have more than one way to reduce body fat? What are they?” This is very important, Skilly shares, because most overweight people should start exercise with resistance, never jumping up and down. She stresses body alignment too. Clients are amazed that they look so much better in the mirror when their ankles, knees, pelvic bones, waist, and shoulders are aligned. Then you can have your head sitting on top of your shoulders like a golf ball, not sticking out 6 inches as many older people do, and you look and feel ten years younger.
I defy you to guess Skilly’s age. We all know approximately how old she is by her history with friend’s mothers, but she has the energy of a 30 year old and the body of someone half her age. Third question. “Can you teach alignment, posture, walking etc.?” She walks like a young women, not a slouching model, but a lively youth. She teaches this and it is rejuvenating.
You are now practicing breathing, alignment, resistance, and are ready to body sculpt. The fourth question is to ask what the instructors use for this task. The roll of your teacher is to make sure that you, using light weights, are always behind the movement so you don’t use bone instead of muscle. Knowing about other resistance methods including elastic bands and the levels of these bands is also important. You are also ready for floor exercises to deal with stomach fat.
Now is the time to ask question five. ‘What is your sequence of mat exercises, and which ones are for which abs?’ If your teacher does not have exercises for all of your abdominals including the obliques, find someone else. If they only know one or two exercises to get at those abs, look further. If they are not aware of helping devices to protect your back think twice about that teacher. Again, you may not have exercised for a long time and your endurance and strength will be different from others in the class. Alternative exercise should be given.
Stretching is mandatory in any exercise program. Skilly suggests you start with 20 to 30% of your program in this area. As we age, our flexibility and balance may become compromised, so working on this aspect of knowing your body is very important. We start and end each class with warm up and cool down periods which are stretches. If you start a class with loud music and everyone is jumping around, you may be in the wrong program. Sweating is not the answer in the first minutes of a class. No stretching is a recipe for harming muscle and bone.
Question number six. ” Do you understand the principles of Yoga and flexibility? How do you teach for flexibility, balance, and strength?” Once a week we have a Yoga master teach our class. We all look foreward to this day of postures, head stands, downward facing and upward facing dog, and the rejuvenation at the end of the class. We all see a slow and steady shift in our flexibility and love it.
Finally we are at the aerobic part of the picture. Skilly suggests that for those who have not exercised for a while or who are overweight, low impact exercises are what is called for. That is, no jumping up and down, but rather movement forward, backward, and sideways, using muscle to tone the body. As you are able to exercise more intensively this will include changing the level of your body; that is, you may start an exercise standing and then at some point stretch both backward or to the floor. You may then be asked to lift a leg, arm etc., to raise your level of function and heart rate.
Question seven has to be, ” How do you begin aerobic exercises with people who are out of shape?” If the answer is “Do it or not, or just stand in the back”, you will want to leave. If the teacher does not know to correct knock kneed or pigeon toe stances, again, think of finding a better instructor. If the instructor does nor know about shifting your center of balance or keeping it during exercises, they are missing something you will need to help with your alignment and balance. An instructor who does not walk through the class giving advice, helping those who need it, or giving alternatives may be more interested in her own exercise and not helping you meet your goals. We’ve all been in classes where the instructor never stops, never helps, and never turns down the volume of the music.
We have the questions and the answers. Now is the time to begin your search for a good instructor and class. Go into exercise for the joy of it, for the way it makes you feel, for the benefits it will bring to you, your mind, and body for your ability to walk through your body, for the model you project to your children and friends, and most of all because you know that you need to do it to keep healthy. If there is a Skilly in Tulsa, you can bet that there is a eclectic, well trained teacher in your town or city. Go to different classes, interview teachers, and find classes that include breathing, alignment, posture, relaxation, stretching, aerobics, resistance and body sculpting for all levels of fitness not just people who look like models or who are generation “X”. It works.