workout of the week

Sian Williams, Power Yoga Instructor, teaching at the YMCA. — Courtesy YMCA of MV

Some people just aren’t into sitting quietly, meditating, chanting, or moving at a slow pace. That’s cool, but don’t think that’s all there is to the art of yoga. There are thousands of ways to practice yoga, and a handful of those methods are available on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard — including power yoga. It’s not that power yoga leaves out the fundamentals — the flowing movements, the quiet room, and the deep stretches are all still there. But there will be sweat. Oh, there will be sweat.

Power yoga takes a quicker pace than most yoga classes, and it includes a lot of isometric holds: poses that lock your muscles in a contracted position. One Vineyard ambassador of power yoga, Sian Williams, teaches power yoga sessions which include lots of planks, and even pushups, to get your blood pumping. A common power yoga flow takes you from plank position, through chaturanga (lowering yourself through the shoulders, hovering), into upward facing dog. This sequence can be challenging, even for the physically fit, and especially tough on the shoulders. If you lift weights, or do any other athletic activity that stresses your shoulders, make sure they are well rested before taking a power yoga class. Power yoga is especially great for core stabilization too (again, lots of plank variations). For those in decent athletic shape, power yoga will be challenging, but not unbearable. Most classes end with one or two challenge moves. It’s okay if you can’t get it right the first try, most of the people that nail these moves are seasoned veterans. But it’s fun to put your strength, flexibility, and balance to the test while trying. And that clear, meditative state of mind that comes with the sitting quietly, meditating, chanting, and taking it slow? Yeah, you get that too.

Power yoga by Sian Williams is offered at the YMCA of M.V. Wednesdays at 6:30 pm and Saturdays at 10:15 am; the Mansion House Health Club Mondays at 4:30 pm; and Island Co-Housing Thursdays at 5:30 pm. 508-696-0037. Additional power yoga classes are offered at One Hot Yoga, The Martha’s Vineyard Yoga Center, Fit’s Possible, and Yoga Haven. Call your favorite studio to see if they have a power yoga class on the schedule.

Pilates — familiar to many, undecipherable to some. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

jib-ellisJib Ellis writes from the wilds of Vineyard Haven, where he thinks, often, about how the Island is, was and could be, and helpfully decodes emerging vocabularies.

As it turns out, Pilates are not the obscure Polish potato dumplings I thought they were. It seems that they are quasi-civilized means of contortion and I actually did some in my exercise class today — who knew?

I remember the term first coming of age at a high-denim and potluck social event. They were on all the pouty lips. Pilates this and Pilates that … “Oh, I saw her at Pilates,” chirped from the perfect smile of many fit figures to other high and rosy cheekbones. Everyone seemed tuned in but me and I didn’t dare admit it was a completely new word to me.

I only knew that the most attractive and confident women of my relaxed congress of friends agreed on the providence of Pilates in their lives the way penicillin must have been greeted toward the end of WWII, or as with the promise of an end to locusts in biblical days.

And the way the circumstance was expressed made it difficult to determine if it were a computer function, a dietary trend or something involved with esoteric dance. I only knew that it required a class — hence technology, movement and cooking came to mind but it sounded familiar as food-oriented. Thus I nodded, smiled and pretended I knew all about Pilates, blindly linking them in my thoughts to a particular fragrance sifting away from a Polish friend’s pantry on a dinner best described as Hippie Goes Home for Family holidays.

My family, who often assume I am hip because I’ve failed at so many things and don’t seem to care, had once asked on a helpful note if I were vegan. I didn’t falter. Again, a new word to me but the root and usage made it clear it involved vegetables, ergo no meat.

The “pilat” root, beyond the name so buoyant in Easter rhetoric, lent me no hints so I remained at semantic sea. And the family, traditionally more interested in this year’s hypoglycemia than any exercise or gourmet themes, had never used the word so they would be spared any inquisition.

The gross under assumption was that, a society which hosts cookie decorating parties and classes, would also afford organized sessions to make Pilates. I was destined to fake it, as with so many things and mentioned Pilates in passing, to all energetic women, being careful to not be exposed by any undue facts.

I expected that use of a deep fryer might be the reason any instruction was needed or that there was room for only the smallest error in the timing of their preparation, making a class important in making the delicacies these mysteries were adored to be.

The frying bit did bring a few baffling moments as only thin waists and pink cheeks spoke of these queer treats but then I also had thought a “hashtag” was something like a “Sloppy Joe” until recently. A lot of data had escaped in the chasm where my education has failed me. So the frying enigma may have pointed to frying lite. That meant these babies were perhaps more sautéed than sunken in hot lard and I continued my ugly charade pretending to know of what I spoke.

Then my physical salvation, my strength and balance class, took a surprising turn. My compassionate and age-sensitive instructor went to wherever such gurus go on holiday and the substitute sprung in to lead us with the taut energy which almost demanded a full flip and 10-point landing before class.

He, a professional dancer, former trapeze artist and perhaps assassin, with a resilience to make Parris Island seem casual, introduced the assembled to proper breathing. He next lead us sheep through the predictable geriatric variations on push-ups and sit-ups, then announced we would do a few Pilates.

It was a stark shiver of awakening as I awaited, at last, a demonstration of what a Pilate might be. There wasn’t so much as a hot plate around. He did not have even a table-like surface or electrical outlet, so cooking would be out of the question. A bolt of tension surged in my soul.

The next thing I know, instructor was on the floor reaching for an untoward part of his body, exhibiting the sort of contortion which was totally foreign to me. After all, it was my generation of white men who invented the riding mower and remote control to facilitate everything and it has been us who would ride a golf cart for a mile to avoid any unwarranted steps. The thought of such sinewy exertion hit me like a giant salami. Pilates were — indeed — nothing mysterious, nothing charmingly starchy; they were a means of torture far kinder than waterboarding but similarly more cruel than oldster jumping jacks. I would have done much better with potato pancakes but at least I had been finally enlightened.

Now I speak of Pilates with a certain athletic homage and respect. They are in fact, nothing I can eat but rather something I cannot easily do.

Jump rope coach Susan Waldrop with Alice Greene, Franklin Pilcher, Lizzy Bruce, and Kira Bruce (left to right). — Photo courtesy of Alice Greene

Skipping to the lou with the “Island Whirlwinds” jump-rope team.

Jump-roping has long been regarded as a simple pastime, usually a short-lived phase of childhood. I remember jumping rope as a child, the silent counting, or the competitions with siblings and neighbors during sweaty Martha’s Vineyard summers. But as my early youth faded, more commitment-based sports replaced my basic jump-roping.

When I heard about Susan Waldrop’s efforts to gather a jump-roping team at the Vineyard Workout and Tennis Center, I decided to give “The Island Whirlwinds” a whirl. Ms. Waldrop founded the Lightning Bolts jump rope team, from Morristown, New Jersey,  and led them to the Junior Olympics. In her role as coach, Ms. Waldrop accompanied her team to competitions alongside such teams as  “The Forbes Flyers” from Connecticut, “The Kangaroo Kids” from Maryland.

Competitive jump-roping has six levels, which accommodate every level of learning and mastership. Early levels use padded handles, rubbered ropes, and slower music beats. As the levels increase, simple ropes are replaced with wires instead of rubber, allowing for greater speed and precision. In group jumping routines, beaded ropes are used. The distinct “clack” of the black-and-white plastic strands allows jumpers to more easily count the beats in the cycle.

I invited my friends Kira Bruce, Franklin Pilcher, and Chelsea Phaneuf to join me in the level one “Intro to Jump Rope” class at the Vineyard Workout and Tennis Center with Susan Waldrop. Ms. Waldrop provided us with a chart outlining some of the skills practiced in level one jump-roping.

Before we could start, we had to find the right ropes. A correctly sized rope reaches roughly to the underarm when stood on equally. Once we had found our ropes, we practiced simple stretches, along with a minimum of 100 warm-up jumps. Then, we practiced a number of beginner moves, including the “double bounce,” (jumping twice while the rope circles you.) While I grew frustrated by my lack of coordination and heavy breathing, I realized how little Ms. Waldrop seemed to have to strain. I was ready for an orthopedic bed and some Gatorade at this point, but we weren’t done yet.

Kira, Franklin, Chelsea, and I joined together hesitantly for group jumping. Ms. Waldrop and Kira’s mother, Lizzy Bruce, swung the large beaded team rope for us. With the larger rope, we were all able to jump in and out of the swinging rhythm. After we had all successfully made it through the double teamed group jump, we realized how much fun it was to remind ourselves of an activity we had almost forgotten.

Thanks to Ms. Waldrop’s enthusiasm for the sport of jump rope, “The Island Whirlwinds” jump rope team is definitely something I would recommend to any jumper young or old.

Sessions run twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays from 4–5 pm. For more information, call Susan Waldrop at 973-879-9813, stop in to the Workout and Vineyard Tennis Center, or see their website at