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The Straits Times (Singapore)
24 April 2002

Inflight Exercise

Hiss to stay in shape

A new health video featuring Pilates is now being screened on Singapore Airlines and other airlines to promote on-board health and prevent Y-class syndrome


Hiss to stay in shape. Scan of Pilates story written by Micky Stuivenberg, published in The Straits Times in 2002THE next time you fly Singapore Airlines and feel stiffness setting in after a few hours, stop worrying about economy class syndrome and start doing Pilates exercises.

Pilates (pronounced ”puh-LAH-teez”) is a body conditioning programme that is gaining ground in Singapore as it has in the United States and Canada.

It uses low-impact resistance control exercises coupled with special breathing techniques to improve flexibility and strength without adding bulk.

Singapore-based Spafax Airline Networks incorporated Pilates-based exercises in on-board health videos it produced late last year for SIA, Malaysia Airlines, Aeromexico, Korean Air, Royal Brunei and Delta Airlines in the US.

SIA is replacing its existing health video with the new version on its aircraft, while Malaysia Airlines has been playing its video since November last year.

Spafax approached Asia’s largest Pilates-only studio, Pilates Bodyworks, last year for help in putting together the exercises.

Studio director Alvin Giam opened the studio, in Sinsov Building near Raffles Place, in 1999. It was the first dedicated Pilates studio in Singapore.

He started out with a handful of clients but word spread quickly that the Pilates method worked well for building strength, flexibility and coordination, and developing long and lean muscles.

The method was invented by Joseph H. Pilates, a German who took it to the US in the 1920s, where dancers, athletes and artists flocked to his studios. The exercises have a specific breathing pattern to help direct energy to the areas being worked while relaxing the rest of the body.

Pilates is sometimes compared to yoga, but they are quite different. For starters, yoga is religion-based while Pilates is not. Yoga practitioners also stay in one position for some time, while Pilates students are always moving.

Dr Tamara Wong of Tamara Chiropractic says she refers people with chronic back problems to Pilates Bodyworks. ”Pilates works more on the whole body, it improves posture and the mechanics of the body,” she says.

Physiotherapist Er Beng Siong, who is vice-president of the Back Society (Singapore), adds: ”Pilates is very good for strengthening the trunk stability, and the exercises are safe.”

Efforts to prevent economy class syndrome – a life-threatening condition doctors have identified as deep-vein thrombosis, or DVT – intensified greatly after it struck otherwise healthy people after long flights last year. These have included encouraging people to get up and move around the cabin occasionally, and exercising.

SIA plays its 15-minute ”TravelWise” video on one of the aircraft’s video channels available on personal screens in all classes. It also shows extracts on other channels before the start of each movie.

The video guides travellers through several exercises for different parts of the body. The exercises are said to ensure good blood circulation while also providing relief from back and neck pain.

Mr Giam explains that the strong breathing forces the heart to pump blood through the veins, which can prevent blood clots. The exercises further benefit travellers because they move the spine and open up the joints, he says.

One person who swears by his Pilates exercises and has been doing them during his travels for several years is Mr Ong Yew Huat, 46, a partner in an international accounting firm here.

He had suffered a pinched nerve below his neck. Long periods of sitting still in an aircraft seat would aggravate his pain and discomfort.

He performs at least two Pilates exercises whenever he is flying – a breathing exercise, and a ”roll-down” exercise which he does standing near an emergency exit.

”These little exercises give my neck and back a great deal of relief. More importantly, they help prevent the onset of the discomfort,” he says.

Another person who has made Pilates exercises a routine on her flights is Mrs Janette Scott, 44, an American housewife living here with her businessman husband.

”The exercises help to relieve my lower-back pain and improve blood circulation in my legs,” she says.

She uses the aisle to do some more elaborate exercises after meals and before sleep, as well as some leg-flexing exercises after she wakes up. ”It also helps me relax so I can fall asleep easier.”

At the Pilates Bodyworks studio, clients are taught to breathe loudly and the constant hissing seems to be part of a good workout there.

So, the next time you are on a long flight, you may recognise the real Pilates-connoisseurs. They are not those who perform the most elaborate exercises, but those making the loudest breathing sounds.


Text of story as published in The Straits Times, Singapore, April 24, 2002