Fitter Than Ever: How To Have An Ageless Body
She lifts one leg and with an ardent stretch touches her toes with her hands. She arches her back perfectly, the tilt of her face catching sunlight. She looks at the camera and keeps still. We take the photograph. It’s almost like a real performance.
Maritoni is still the arrestingly attractive ballerina whose moments of stillness are as exquisite as her dancing. She has made her mark with classic repertoires and works created by renowned choreographers. She’s played Cio-Cio San, Juliet, and Odette and Odile, among a plethora of roles. She’s trained in New York and Switzerland, where her schedule involved dancing six hours a day, six days a week as a professional ballerina. For over a decade until 2000, she played every role as a dancer who deserved her audience’s devotion. “Hard work is key,” she quips. “I may not have been the best dancer in class or the one with the best feet and physique for dance but I worked harder than everyone else and I was able to become good at it.”
A famous ballerina once advised Maritoni to rehearse to the point of throwing up. This will make you appear effortless. This will help you have good stamina, she said. The toughest tips indeed are the ones that persist. “Prepare, prepare, even over-prepare. It’s the only way you can enjoy your time on stage on performance night.”
For over a decade until 2000, she played every role as a dancer who deserved her audience’s devotion. “Hard work is key,” she quips.
Maritoni put up her own ballet school, Danspace, in 2001 to impart the same lessons and to pass on the magic of being a ballerina to the next generation. From a summer with 35 students in the basement of her parents’ home, her classes have grown to having daily schedules at the Manila Polo Club with over 80 students including beginners, hobbyists, and those building a career in dance. The school has been joining two international competitions every year since. “Ballet gives you good posture, great legs and firm buttocks, grace, and poise,” she says. “The aesthetic demands of ballet, I believe, give way to good work ethic and make hard workers of dancers.”
Pilates is similar to yoga in the sense that both share the same principles of centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow. It is a misconception, though, that Pilates is derived from yoga. “The emphasis of Pilates starts with core stability, strength, and muscular isolation,” says Maritina. “One of the most obvious differences is that in addition to mat-based exercises, Pilates is also performed on equipment originally created by Joseph Pilates.” In private Stott Pilates sessions, Maritina analyzes her clients’ posture to program Pilates routines best suited for her clients’ safety, strengths, and weaknesses.
After years of dancing, Maritina suffered multiple injuries due to a lack of understanding of “biomechanics and constantly working through the pain,” she says. In New York, the Pilates studio was located below Steps on Broadway, where she was taking dance classes in the mid-1990s. When she had surgery on her right foot, she decided to try Pilates to maintain her fitness and strengthen her foot. Years later when she moved back to Manila, her friend Marilen Concepcion encouraged her to take the Stott Pilates Certification. “Marilen would say, ‘I know you will be an excellent teacher exactly because you are a dancer and have had many injuries. You already know how to adapt instinctively.’ That comment inspired me to no end,” she says.
Today, Maritina teaches Level 1 Pilates at b+b studio, and is in the process of furthering her certification to higher levels. The beauty of Stott Pilates is that anybody can do it, from beginners to the most elite athletes or dancers, to those who are going through rehab from surgery and those who want to strengthen their spine and improve posture. “It helps you connect with your powerful core or center once again,” Maritina adds. “It frees the body as well as challenges it.”
Wawa’s famous program is a body of work that developed in the mid-’80s. She created it to motivate, inspire, and support clients to make healthier choices and unleash their body’s best shape through exercise and sensible eating, which is her expertise as a professional dietitian. “The ’80s were the glory days of aerobics; I was uncertain, and the thought of teaching Jane Fonda moves did not appeal to me,” she recalls. “Personal training appealed to me. I felt a strong sense to enhance the body differently.”
While traditional personal trainers were working the dominant large muscle groups, Wawa focused on unleashing and defining the contours of a woman’s body. She worked toward the aesthetic effect apart from the fitness benefit of exercise. She sculpted instead of building, connecting, and working on symmetry as opposed to merely toning body parts. “After more than a decade, other methods hit the country, and I had already begun my personal connection with fitness. It was a calling,” she relates. “I seek balance, and I like to believe I am good hearted. Empathizing with clients became effortless on my part. When I was a teenager, I took dance workshops where I found the teachers too strict and very impersonal. So I thought I wanted a different style.” This is one of the reasons Wawa’s clients keep coming back.
Today, her program is at its peak and has gone through a rebirth which she now calls Body Design and Beyond. Her cardio moves are tailored to achieve one’s best body proportions. The cardio segment adapts moves to target hard to treat areas that most women have, such as back fat, love handles, and big thighs. She alternates moves to burn fat, firm, shred, and tighten. “High-intensity alternate bouts elicit calorie burn integrated within the 30-minute endurance exercises,” she says. “Elements from various exercise methods have been chosen and modified to allow clients to burn calories even after their workout. We use weights, G5 machines, poles, Bosu balls, stability balls, glides, bender balls, medicine balls, bars, and bands. The duration of each session is just an hour— perfect for the very busy executive who does not want to overthink nor make exercise a big production on her daily regimen.”
Another reason why her clients always look forward to sessions at her studio? “Sisterhood,” she says. “Conversations are engaging, ongoing, and have become a source of stress relief. You should be here.”
“Yoga is not a religion,” Marilen says. “I really just have to clarify that misconception. It is a practice that stems from Indian philosophy, but I don’t think you can get converted to another religion practicing it.” There is an addictive quality to it, however, with its many kinds having their share of devotees. Varying sequences of body bending poses, flowing movements, and rhythmic breathing are common in most yoga disciplines, which promote flexibility, strength, and fitness.
Yoga encourages positive thoughts and self-awareness, making its hard-core practitioners among the nicest and most genuine people you’ll ever meet. It’s a mind and body workout in one, and Marilen, who has been practicing and teaching it for over a decade, is a perfect exponent. “My relationship toward my students goes beyond the yoga room or the shala. I tend to develop a deeper relationship with them over time. I find so much satisfaction in seeing my students realize that they are not too old, too stiff, or too weak to practice yoga,” she says.
Being in Marilen’s presence is refreshing and uplifting. She speaks with conviction but keeps a sanguine aura. She’s funny without realizing it, humble without trying. She’s an effective mentor, too, which isn’t surprising given her previous background in teaching secondary school. “The practice of yoga naturally creates so much more self-awareness, from the food we eat, how we think, and how we behave toward others,” she shares. “But it is the overall feeling of wellness I felt that I wanted to share with other people. They too can feel better inside and out.”
She practices yoga six times a week and teaches between one to two classes every day, which adds up to over half a day on the mat at her studio Echoyoga Shala. “I practice yoga ‘to move into stillness.’ In today’s world, we are bombarded with so much noise. Our daily life is full of needs and wants and lists of endless things to do! With the advent of smartphones, we have become so connected to everyone and everything in a press of a button. We are never alone, we are never silent and still. I practice yoga to be able to control my mind from reckless thought. I have been practicing yoga for over 12 years and I still have a monkey mind!” she adds, laughing. “Seriously, the physical benefit of having a flexible body and a trim figure is just gravy. But to understand how a lot of people are first attracted to it, I list down the physical benefits. If one comes to practice at least three times a week for three months, I guarantee you will see the results.”
Marilen has been running full marathons for the last five years. She has been practicing and teaching yoga and Pilates for over a decade. She has done aerobics and weightlifting, and at some point, even joined powerlifting competitions. What’s apparent in everything Marilen does is that if anything’s worth learning, it’s worth mastering.
Her latest “calling,” as she would say, is the suspension workout called Redcord, which she first tried four years ago. “My first session totally humbled me. I thought that Pilates had done it all for me, but when I tried Redcord and felt the tremors as I balanced myself, I knew there was definitely something here, why my body was responding this way. Pilates taught me control, but why couldn’t I control the swerving of my leg or body in this or that direction? That was a challenge,” she relates.
Like the many things she’s tried, Redcord was a workout she took seriously enough to pursue an instructor certification in. And because it involved carrying one’s weight through various workouts while suspended on a cord, she decided to take a break from weightlifting and working out at the gym. She teaches both Pilates and Redcord at b+b studio, which she runs with her business partner Carmen Jimenez Ong. Suspension exercises develops spatial awareness. “It is functional. It makes you stronger without muscle shortening. It balances you. It teaches you where or what your weakest links are, and gives you a chance to improve,” Marilen says. Redcord, after all, was invented for therapeutic reasons and not only for aesthetics. Exercises are anatomically based, where teachers create specific programs based on the clients’ needs. “I’m 54 and I have three grandchildren! Exercise has its rewards in ways that can’t be measured,” she adds. “The fact that I can run, swim, and enjoy all the activities with my grandchildren and my dogs tells me that I must be doing something right.”