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Hard core

A winning west side Pilates studio rolls out the barrel for a skeptical writer


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  • Jon Kelley

Pilates Studio

ReVibe Pilates & Bodywork

2410 W. Vermijo Ave., 231-6430

"Release your bum muscles!"

My "bum" muscles aren't happy with me, nor with my trying to release them. But ReVibe Pilates & Bodywork co-owner Trish Doyle-Stahl, with her Irish accent and word choice, helps me crack a smile.


Frankly, that word has made me cringe. I took my first mat Pilates class years ago, and swore I'd never do it again. As a dancer, I prefer to enjoy my exercise. Mat Pilates to me was the equivalent of repetitive deep fifth-position pli├ęs in ballet class, or, worse, banging out 50 sit-ups in high school PE to meet some stupid health requirement.

But like any good reporter with a disturbing penchant for physical challenges, I find myself at a Pilates class during the last week in September atop a piece of equipment aptly named the "barrel."

When I walk in, Trish does warn me that her barrel class is a bit more advanced than Pilates on a mat. And after introducing me to fellow student Katie, she notes that it took Katie "a while" to return to the studio after her first barrel session.

Katie grimaces at me, and I wonder if I should just leave now.

But then I think, she came back. It can't be that bad. And like any wise teacher, Trish starts slow.

With our backs flat on a mat, Trish coaches Katie and me into finding our neutral spine positions. We pump out some pelvic lifts and sidle into crunch-type moves.

From the floor, I can see equipment to my left. Many people have heard of the Reformer, a piece of resistance-exercise equipment designed by Joseph Pilates. But there's other equipment as well. Sitting next to ReVibe's Reformers are two wood and metal contraptions that Trish jokes look a bit like torture devices.

I ignore those.

Tucked against the wall sit five smaller "barrels." Each barrel has two attached sections, a step you sit on and a larger, curved hump that rolls back and up from the step. It's cushioned and actually doesn't look too dangerous. At least from the floor.

Also known as spine correctors, Trish says, the barrels assist not only in strengthening the core, but also in straightening out the hunched-over-the-computer havoc many of us play on our chests and backs. OK, I'll admit I do need this class.

Within the first half-hour, we've got our backs on the barrels and our feet in the air, cycling and "helicoptering" our legs. (Not at the same time, although some moves feel a bit, as Trish says, like "patting your head and rubbing your tummy.")

When I finally come off the barrel an hour later, I'm feeling strong, sweat-free and proud of myself. I even think, "Boy, that was easy."

I pay my fee ($13 for one barrel class, package deals available) and chit-chat with Trish as I drink a little water and find my flip-flops.

A native of Wexford, Ireland, Trish moved to the U.S. in 1994 and has been teaching Pilates for three years. After working at studios around town, she and husband Kenneth Stahl (a licensed neuromuscular therapist), opened ReVibe in April. Its lime green and orange walls and high ceilings exude fun and warmth, much like Trish herself.

She says she loves Pilates not only because of how it realigned her posture and changed her body (she went from a size 10 or 12 to a size 6), but also because it gave her "more focus and life." She was hooked after her first class, drawn to a fluidity and grace of motion that you don't find picking up a pair of dumbbells or sitting down at a weight machine.

I wave goodbye and promise to come back. I'm flying high, happy to have done my core some good.

About two hours later, however, I notice some pain around my stomach. And then my back. Oh, yeah, and my neck. As the clock ticks, the pain grows. Bedtime can't come soon enough.

I skip my next morning at the gym, and three days later, I'm still achy. And grumpy. And whining.

"Why, exactly, is this good for me?" I ask my husband, who I know is sick of my complaining.

"Because you'll live longer," he says.

"And why would I want to do that if it means going though this?"

He just shakes his head.

I have to admit, it took some serious self-talk to get myself back to ReVibe. Perhaps it was his comment. Perhaps I didn't want to let Trish down. More likely it was because I roped my husband and two other friends into coming and sharing the pain.

Whatever it was, I'm glad I returned. This time, my abs ached only one day. (I'm improving already.) And I learned from Trish that relaxing your shoulders when on the barrel is as easy as smiling.

Just keep smiling.


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