Pilates After Major Back Surgery

This is the story of how I learned that when all else fails, Pilates prevails.

When I was a very new teacher and only beginning to understand the Pilates system of exercise in its complete and original form, I had a client who had undergone two very difficult years before coming to me. She had spent those years in bed suffering from a tremendous amount of pain because her spine had collapsed and then been reconstructed in an invasive surgical procedure involving multiple pieces of hardware being installed along her vertebral column. Apart from what I knew of Pilates, I had learned a lot of other more basic movements that I incorrectly thought would be more appropriate for her. For a while we worked our way through those, realizing one by one that they were causing her more harm than good. As we approached the end of my list of repertoire, I reconsidered what I could show her of actual Pilates. We worked with the simple concept of engaging her center to support her spine while she did the push down on the wunda chair. She immediately felt considerable relief and perhaps more importantly, hope. We continued for many years deepening our study of the method over and over again. I learned so much working with her and fell more in love with Pilates with each discovery that we made. But my favorite lesson was that first one, when I realized the singular power of Pilates when it is respected as a complete system for addressing an entire person.

Submitted by Eliza Twist, AKA The Body Sleuth.

Pilates After Being Crushed By a Van

15 years ago a beautiful woman, in her late 50’s, painfully slide out of her car in my driveway and slowly made her way to the front door of the studio. I watched as she painfully made her way up the three steps. Each movement was measured and with such care. I knew that this was how she spent her life. A life where movement did not mean freedom, but pain. I sighed, as I knew it was a long journey ahead of us, but grateful she had chosen to share her journey with me.

“What do you want from Pilates?” I asked her, as I ask all my clients. (If they tell me they want to look like Cindy Crawford and are 5’1’’ I giggle and say so do I!!!) It is important to know what their expectation of the work is.

“ I want to ride my horse well,” she answered.

Off to the Cadillac we went.

Many years before this meeting, she had been crushed by a van against a concrete wall. To add insult to injury, she was just a few month post partum after her second child. Her pelvis had been smashed, legs shattered, ribs broken and collarbone and wrist fractured. She spent a year in a body cast. Now years and many doctors, surgeries, therapists, therapies, she arrived at my studio.

Our work Began.

Without changing the work, or making it become physically therapy (as I am NOT one), we began to first build her powerhouse by breaking down the work to its most basic and foundational movements.

Using Joe Pilates order, and breaking down each exercise we built her strength, stretch and control. She has had two knee replacements and a hip replacement over the course of time.  Due to her powerful “girdle of strength” and her strong constitution, she has rapidly recuperated from each challenge.

Romana used to say that the five parts of the mind were an important part of this work. A person needed to have intelligence, intuition, imagination, will and memory to truly experience all the benefits of the method. She had them all.

A few years ago, she spoke of loving to dance and jump as a child. I asked her why being an adult should stop her. Over the next few months we worked on the 2X4 and the foot corrector. Eventually we moved the work to the High Chair, where I supported the pedal at the correct height for her hip, and she began to pump. We placed two boxes behind her and began to work her squats with the roll back bar. I placed the leg springs on her thighs, so she could build the muscles of her legs without endangering her knees.

A few months later, at the end of her lesson we did jumping jacks. I have never seen a more exuberant smile in my life!

Today she rides, easily walks up stairs and does the occasional jumping jack.

Thank you to Kathryn Ross-Nash, Pilates studio owner and Pilates Instructor at American Body Tech in Allendale, New Jersey.

Pilates and Sciatica

I have been fortunate enough to guide the most wonderful woman in a Pilates regimen. I’ll call her Anne. Life has given Anne a bit of a physical beating. She suffered from chronic sciatic pain before taking weekly Pilates lessons. She has no cartilage to speak of in her knees. To this day she describes her lower vertebrae as “fused together.” The list goes on.

Despite living in constant pain, this inspiring woman won’t let life slow her down. To the contrary, Anne realizes that only by working through the pain, properly, will she have any relief from it.

I realized early on that a traditional Pilates regimen would never suit Anne. Her knees often protest under the resistance of only one spring so the Reformer is not our “go to” apparatus. The Cadillac has been a fantastic tool for Anne because it allows her wobbly body to sit, aligned on a flat surface and work evenly to stretch and strengthen.

The first time Anne did the Tower Stretch (stretch only with no lift due to pain in her low back) she really appreciated the way it targeted the exact location where she feels the sciatic pain. This soon became an exercise we worked into virtually every lesson. Anne got better and better at deepening the stretch and working through its associated pain.

After approximately a year of lessons, Anne came in one day exclaiming, “You’ve cured my electric leg!” She claimed that the pain she had once felt daily was gone. I was thrilled for Anne and reminded her that she had done all the work.

Anne continues to do the work her body needs to feel the best she can every day. This is why I teach Pilates. I love helping people feel well by creating the best physical versions of themselves.

 Thank you Liz Boyd of Irving, Texas for sharing!

Pilates and My Ideal Body

In August 2000, I took my first Pilates lesson because my dance teacher was offering discounted sessions as an apprentice. I loved her and so I signed up. Eventually it occurred to me that Pilates would be a good way to earn money while I completed my education to be a PE teacher, and it would probably make me a better teacher. I enrolled in a local certification program. That’s all to say, that I came to Pilates through a series of back doors and that it took me a couple of years before I realized that I was completely enamored with the method that would eventually be a transformative part of my life. One moment in particular stands out:  I’d completed my first certification, realized that I really must train with Romana Kryzanowska, and was preparing for my apprenticeship in her program. When I was a teenager, I had something of a mild obsession with the notion that I could build my ideal body with nothing more than myself and gravity. Comparing that idea to the many pieces of apparatus that I was (then and now) using daily to create my ideal body, I was suffering something of a crisis of confidence in my choice to work as a Pilates instructor. But then, I remembered:  the apparatus is much more of an aid into the body rather than a departure from the body. In that moment I realized that I’d arrived just where I needed to be, just where I’d envisioned myself before I even knew what Pilates was. My nearly fourteen years of study have presented me with a continual series of questions and subsequent realizations and with each one I’ve fallen more deeply in love with Pilates. But that was one of my first, and therefore one I will never forget.  

Submitted by Eliza Twist, AKA The Body Sleuth.