Rector's Letter, February 04

My dear friends,

I always thought that Pilates exercises were to do with blokes poncing around like ballet dancers rather than getting on with some proper exercise. I was therefore surprised to hear of the role that Pilates techniques are having in training British athletes for the Athens Olympics this summer.

Ben Challenger, a young black high jumper with a world student silver and a commonwealth bronze medal to his name is leading the way along with a supporting cast of sports scientists. Pilates is at the core of his training programme and is destined to be "the next big thing" (legally) for athletes in disciplines such as pole vault, long jump and javelin.

The key to success for these events is the transfer of energy gained in the run up into a moment of supremely co-ordinated explosive power. And the transfer of that energy requires an immensely stable core. If the body "wobbles" or flexes at that moment of critical stress then energy is lost.

Strange exercises with giant inflatable balls, and kneeling on the floor with arms and legs stuck out like a stick insect doesn't immediately strike me as being directly relevant. I am however quite wrong. Pilates uses such strange plyometric exercises to develop the deep postural muscles at the core of the body in the abdomen, trunk and back. It is not only useful for the athlete, but also I am told for people such as myself recovering from a fractured spine. Many with chronic back problems swear by its benefits.

So why the advert? Well, this month sees the beginning of Lent. Christians are called to the discipline of looking deep within ourselves, indeed to our very core. In our busy lives we don't give serious attention to prayer and self-discipline. It is easier to attend to the overt aspects of life's activities: what we do for the church, how many meetings we attend, or how busy we are with work or family. These are the things a watching world would judge us upon, surely? We are however in danger of neglecting those things which the world does not see, in particular our "core stability", that centre of our being which keeps our lives upright and strong.

If we were to make time for the covert dimensions of reflection and prayer I believe we might be attending to the very factors that make our lives successful and worthwhile. Factors that could make the weak strong, and the strong stronger still.

Jeff Cuttell.

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