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Mind over tummy

After working in the exercise industry for 30 years and teaching Pilates for 15 of those, Kathleen Pagnini thought she "knew everything about the core."

Then Pagnini attended a workshop hosted by Theresa Nesbitt, a Chicago obstetrician-gynecologist turned health coach and author. Pagnini, 53, realized her work as a San Diego fitness trainer was scratching just the surface of core function.

"After I went to her workshop, my head was spinning," says Pagnini. "The true core you do not train; you facilitate it.

"We train the unconscious movement."

Inner Fitness is the name that Nesbitt trademarked for the program that Pagnini plans to present Saturdays, Jan. 25 and Feb. 15, in Jacksonville. Using guided imagery and techniques for self-awareness, Pagnini touts Inner Fitness for alleviating arthritis, incontinence, hemorrhoids, digestive difficulties and pain in the joints, feet and pelvic area, along with a host of other lesser conditions. A flyer advertising the class says the approach can yield "flatter low tummy, more balance, increased bladder control and better sex."

"It's like an inner corset," she says. "We're trying to go from the inside out."

Effort is focused on the innermost and strongest layer of the core but requires little in the way of movement, says Pagnini. That makes it suited to anyone with chronic pain, she adds.

"They are exactly the ones who need to be doing it."

Pagnini's workshop is open only to women, namely those in the 40 to 65 age group. But anyone can benefit from it, including very fit individuals, even elite athletes, says Pagnini.

A Medford native who returned to the area late last year, Pagnini first offered Inner Fitness locally to three of her sisters, ages 51 to 63, and as a one-time class at a Medford Pilates studio. She previously taught the program for about year in San Diego, during which her own body has changed dramatically. She says she no longer needs to stretch or massage down muscle pain.

"It actually returns your height to normal."

Inner Fitness starts as a "journey inside the body," says Pagnini. Participants identify the "bony landmarks" in their anatomy, map movements and even reorient their perceptions about the spine's location, bringing the all-important structure back toward the center of the body.

"I'm a tour guide," says Pagnini.

Part of the trip takes participants back to infancy, when the arms and legs have no strength. The inner core, says Pagnini, is what enables a baby to hold up its heavy head. From that foundation, children gain mobility, eventually walking and moving like adults, with one noteworthy difference.

"If you look at children and toddlers and you look at their posture, it's perfect," says Pagnini.

Then injuries and other bodily changes — pregnancy and childbirth notably — impair the inner core and the brain's control of it. So the outer core is forced to compensate, along with other muscle groups, such as the gluteus, says Pagnini. In the case of postpartum women, she says, the nervous system's link to tissues may need to be reconnected.

"It's like the door's left open and they don't know how to close it."

Yet Inner Fitness is "not about Kegels," a commonly prescribed pelvic-floor exercise for women. Movements are even more subtle, making them seem almost "magical," says Pagnini. And Inner Fitness principles are adopted very quickly during and after the class, which runs for an hour and 30 minutes. Pagnini gives out homework and invites anyone to follow up with her via Skype.

"It's something they can tell their friends."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or slemon@mailtribune.com.

“The true core you do not train; you facilitate it. We train the unconscious movement.” Kathleen Pagnini, Inner Fitness instructor - Bob Pennell illustration