Pilates is fast becoming Dubai's latest "it" exercise for youngsters. Classes have begun popping up across the city and some schools have even introduced it into their extra-curricular activity programmes. But what makes Pilates a good form of physical activity for kids? Is this just another Dubai fitness fad?
Developed by the German-born Joseph Pilates, the exercises combine elements of martial arts and yoga, and are designed to help balance the body through core strength, flexibility and awareness. Many adults who practise regularly see improved flexibility, posture, abdominal strength, motion and circulation. Pilates can also help to decrease back, neck and joint pain.
Area Pilates instructors say demand for children's classes has been on the rise since the end of last year.
Kirsty MacPherson, the co-founder of the Dubai-based Phoenix Rising and a Pilates instructor, says that since Phoenix Rising started extra-curricular classes in three Dubai schools in September, parents with children in other schools have been asking for classes. This has led to a weekly session that is open to all, and MacPherson says they're considering introducing classes at two new sites.
"The popularity of Pilates has grown tremendously in Dubai over the past few years," she says. "As it's becoming more popular with adults, they're starting to understand its benefits and are therefore seeking it out for their children. The younger you start practising, the sooner you can see its benefits."
The benefits of Pilates for adults have been well documented, but what about children? Experts argue that more rigorous forms of exercise can be harmful for young people, so a low-impact workout such as Pilates is ideal. MacPherson says improved posture is important once children start spending long periods of time at a school desk or in front of the television.
According to Paul Thornley, a certified Stott Pilates instructor at Real Pilates in Dubai, another advantage is an increased awareness of the body and its workings.
"Pilates improves the way the body functions, looks and feels - and knowing one's body inside and out can lead to greater self-esteem," he says.
"Also, most people may not be aware that Pilates can assist with weight management issues in younger people because this form of exercise strengthens and lengthens core muscles without adding bulk. So children can learn to love their bodies, no matter what."
Thornley's classes last for 55 minutes and combine a warm up with exercises that target children's coordination, balance and muscle endurance.
"Central to Pilates is an improved breathing pattern, which will overall improve focus and concentration, both inside the studio and carrying across to their general performance," he says.
Meanwhile, the classes offered by Phoenix Rising combine yoga, Pilates and acro-yoga. Children are separated by age. For children ages 4 to 10, the classes take on a theme or story, and the instructor teaches the Pilates postures in the context of an adventure. Students ages 11 and above are encouraged to take a more detailed look at the poses and learn about the body and anatomy.
The Dubai-based public relations specialist Balkiz Sumerler encouraged her 12-year-old daughter Alara to try Pilates after finding out about the classes at Real Pilates. Sumerler, who practices Pilates herself, says she believed it would be beneficial for her daughter since it is known to help improve self-confidence, mental concentration and balance.
"Alara has attended three classes so far and she's loving it. It's a creative outlet through which she can let all her energy out. I've already seen the benefits of her practice. Her posture is better, which is helping her to stand up straight and feel more confident. Exercising is also giving her the motivation to eat more healthily."
Real Pilates classes cost Dh65 each. Packages start from Dh300 for five classes. Call 04 458 5399 or visit www.real-pilates.com. Phoenix Rising classes cost Dh70 for children under 11 and Dh80 for children ages 11 and over. Call 050 429 8148 or visit www.phoenix-rising.me