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"Gentle stretch, easy burn"

"In a couple days, the holidays will be over. With this ending come the inevitable symptoms of the post-holiday blues: stiffness and maybe a bloated feeling from eating too much. It's time to exercise.But maybe it's not quite time to rush into a hard-core running and weightlifting routine. At least one Whidbey Island fitness expert, Pilates practitioner Shannon Licastro, believes some low-impact strengthening and stretching would be a good idea first. Licastro teaches an exercise routine known as Pilates (pronounced pill-Lot-eez) at studios in Oak Harbor and Langley. And she's found there's interest in the fitness regimen on all ends of the island.Lying on her back on a padded board in Licastro's Body in Balance studio in downtown Langley, Tracy Miller places her heels together on a padded roll attached to an odd-looking, boxlike structure, apparently held together with little more than a steel substructure and springs of all shapes and sizes.Her hands are in a pair of stirrups attached to straps directly over her head. At the word of her instructor, Miller lifts her legs off the roll and pulls the stirrups over her head, down to the sides of her body, then splays her arms like delta wings. She then does 10 crunches, lifting her head and legs on each repetition while she holds the stirrups. When she finishes, she lowers her legs and moves her arms back over her head, then lets her stomach muscles loose with a quiet whew.Miller is doing Pilates, and she is doing it on the Pilates Universal Reformer, a spring-loaded resistance machine designed to work muscles and tendons for strength and flexibility. Licastro has been teaching people how to exercise on the machine for about four years. She said those who try Pilates get something out of exercise they are not used to.It's a full range of motion with fluidity, Licastro said. A German named Joseph Pilates developed the exercise regimen. While working as a hospital orderly in England during World War I, Pilates began putting together makeshift equipment out of bedsprings to help injured veterans exercise their muscles while they recovered. The modern-day incarnation of Pilates' bedspring contraption, the Universal Reformer, is a rack-like device that allows Pilates practitioners to work out while sitting, lying down, upside down and in a number of more advanced postures. There are other Pilates exercise devices used for other, more specialized exercises, but none is as common.Pilates almost never needs to be the same old, same old, Licastro said. There are currently 400 different exercises for a Pilates instructor to choose from when working with a client, each targeting different muscle groups in distinct ways. At the same time, she said, many of the exercises work the entire body even as they work specific muscles and tendons.When you're working your laterals, you're working your whole body, she said.Many of the early Pilates practitioners were dancers. They were sent to Pilates after they injured feet, knees and tendons and were in need of a solid workout that would not aggravate their injuries. Licastro herself learned Pilates to stave off dancing injuries. Eventually, she had her own dance students working out on the Reformer.Pilates is a cross between resistance training - like weight lifting and Nautilus - and physical therapy. During the entire workout, a client's body is fully supported by the Universal Reformer, allowing him or her to concentrate on the exercises rather than on keeping balance or devising ways to work out without aggravating a particular injury.Licastro trained to become a Pilates instructor four years ago. With a background in dance and in Nautilus fitness instruction, she had as much to learn as unlearn about the body as an athletic machine. While all sports and fitness regimes are good for the body if properly executed, they can be even better if Pilates is thrown into the mix.This is just foolproof, she said.Except in one area. A cardiovascular sport Pilates is not, so Licastro tells her clients to work out in their own sports as well.You'd better get out there and walk or ride your bike, she said.One of the people who started Pilates to work through injury is Nancy Miller. Miller went to Licastro three years ago with chronic lower back and shoulder pain. Those symptoms are gone now. Miller said she cannot imagine why a person concerned about fitness and health would not learn Pilates.People who take responsibility for their bodies will be attracted to it, Miller said.Langley's Sandy Nogal has danced with Licastro's Studio Siena for several years. She started doing Pilates for much the same reason as Licastro, to build her dancing muscles and increase her flexibility. After a while, the workout sessions became much more than a sidelight to dancing. It turned into staying in shape, Nogal said. It helps me stay healthy.----------------In addition to traditional Pilates, Licastro also offers an equipment-free Pilates mat class. Licastro teaches her classes in both Oak Harbor and Langley. In Oak Harbor her studio is located at 840 SE Bayshore Dr., Suite 101. The phone number is 240-1295. In Langley, she can be reached at Body in Balance at (360) 221-6595. "

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