Pilates and Her Broken Back

She was 14 when she walked in. A tall and lovely young soccer player, she was at the top of her game, but her back was broken. From the repetitive action and over training, she had fractured her L-4 vertebra.

I worked her evenly and trusted the exercises to do the work. She was STRONG and smart. Working her symmetrically and not focusing on the weaker side, but on finding what straight and align was gave her what she needed. The weaker side had to work doubly as hard as her strong side just to keep up. Her stronger side had to allow the weaker side to do its job. The Method does this by design. The reformer was her new best friend.

I am proud to say that not only did she heal beautifully but also she went on to have a stellar high school and college career. She started as a freshman at the University of Miami and refused to lift weights (she made me proud!!!). This was her own personal war at college and she stuck to her guns. She knew the correct way to train and to move- Pilates had taught her and saved her body.

 Thank you Kathryn Ross-Nash of American Body Tech in Allendale, NJ for sharing this inspiring story!

Pilates and Dance

I first found Pilates in my College Dance Department. Being a part of The Skidmore College Dance Department was an amazing experience. We were given the opportunity to take classes from a variety of guest teachers, from all styles of dance. It was great to explore new techniques and good for me, a Type A personality, to step out of my comfort zone. While I grew a lot as a dancer and found great joy in contemporary Modern dance, my first love was classical ballet, followed by Graham Technique. I loved the emphasis on technique, the discipline, the structure. These styles just felt good in my body, they were my roots.

Dancing, unlike many activities or hobbies, has been know to offer a short career (though I dare say this is starting to change, thanks to Pilates!), as the demands on a dancer’s body are so extreme. As a young serious dancer there is a time when you decide how Dance will fit into your life longterm. Am I “good enough” to make it? If I do “make it” what will my life be like, and what sacrifices will I need to make to get there? Is it worth it? How badly do I want to this?

When I was 15 I got to perform in NYCB’s Sleeping Beauty while they were in residence in Saratoga. It was a dream come true for me, and an eye opening glimpse of reality… seeing first hand the not so glamorous side of life for some of the professional dancers I met. I knew then that I did not want that life. I did not want to be “a dancer.” I just was not sure how I could make dance fit into my life a different way.

My first Pilates Class in College was life changing. Really. Pilates felt in my body the way Classical Ballet and Graham Technique always had. I was home. I left that class feeling a foot taller and walked away with a lightness in my body that I had not felt in years. Pilates felt natural to me. It made sense, and it allowed me to find and work from muscles I had somehow forgotten about along the way. Needless to say, I was hooked!

The following winter, my last semester at college, I was cast in 3 amazing roles in our Spring concert. This would be my “final performance” and I was excited to go out with a bang. That semester over that Spring Break, on a ski trip with friends, I got a terrible knee injury. I was devastated by the idea of being taken out of my roles and began Private Pilates lessons with my instructor. We worked on strengthening all of the muscles around the injury and I was able to dance on it after all. Pilates had saved the day for me, and that performance meant more to me than any other in my college career.

After graduation I got a job and chased after my new dream of being a Romana’s Pilates Certified Instructor. Right before I finished the program I went back to ballet class. It had been a few years since I had taken a modern dance class, and several more since I had been in a ballet class. Not only did it all come back, I was dancing better than I ever had! The Pilates I had been doing gave me the best ballet body I ever had! I was cast in lead roles that season in the Nutcracker and could not have been happier.

Now, more than 10 years after graduating Dance comes in and out of my life, but one of my greatest joys as a Pilates Instructor is being able to work with young dancers. It feels so good to give back to them all that Pilates has given me. My journey has come around full circle as I now teach the Pilates Classes in the Dance Department where I took my first mat class. I feel like I have the best job in the world.

Thank you to Meghan Del Prete, Pilates studio owner and Pilates instructor at Reform. A True Pilates Studio in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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.

Pilates and my Stiff Neck

This is the story of how I happened onto Pilates in the first place, and you’d think that it would actually be as titled above, first and foremost because I had developed a stiff, tense neck.
But, no.

As a working actress I had been cast in a new play. When I saw my costume I was terrified. Baring my arms and midriff in tight black vinyl was surely going to challenge my confidence on stage, so a friend suggested I abandon my Tae-Bo videos and check out a Pilates class.
Ok, it’s like yoga right?
Uhm, no.

I enrolled in a 6 week Beginning Mat class and did my homework exercises every day. I am very diligent student and at first we were given just 5 exercises which took almost no time at all to complete. I soon discovered that I really liked this Pilates stuff. It was fun, challenging and I even made some new friends in my class. After our initial 6 weeks we were told we could move to the next level class: Intermediate.

Meanwhile, back to my stiff neck…
A friend referred me to her Chiropractor and I had been going as much as I could given that his office was about a 45 minute drive from my house. It made me nervous when he would “adjust” my neck and although I did feel better afterwards, my mind kept speaking in a tiny voice that this couldn’t possibly be the answer. I’d started my Pilates classes and after a few weeks passed I suddenly realized that my neck felt much better. I was starting to make the connection between better posture and the relief I felt in my neck, well my whole back really.

The Pilates exercises were something that I could do to help myself.
It felt vigorous, elegant and strong instead of awkward and scary like the chiropractic treatments. I was in my mid late-twenties at the time and didn’t want to feel like an invalid that needed to be ‘fixed.’ I loved Pilates for putting me charge of how my body felt every day. I learned that I could do something about my neck stiffness and maintain it – who’d have thought?
I love Pilates for empowering me to care for my body.

Thank you to Andrea Maida, Pilates studio owner, Pilates Instructor, and Pilates Blogger at Pilates Andrea in Solana Beach, California.

Kathi Ross-Nash Loves Pilates!

What Pilates is to me…
I have no words that can express what this work means to me. It means everything. It is what I believe in for myself, my family, for everyone. I believed in it so much that I refused to allow my son to lift; he could only use the method, his entire high school football career. He broke all the records he could and today is the starting running back at The University of Chicago, for the third year.
It keeps me whole, both body and mind. The work brings clarity to the chaos of life. I become at total peace the moment I begin to move through the ritual of my mat or reformer. I know that I can overcome challenges in life as I have overcome them in the work. I know I will have an hour of freedom from the stress the world has put on me the moment my workout begins. I feel alive as the blood rushes through my veins, cleaning me from the inside.
Pilates sets me free and brings me to the present moment. I am blessed enough to share this with my students and the lovely teachers who honor me to share their journey in this work when they train with me. Pilates fulfills my passion for movement and a healthier life. Pilates makes me whole.

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



Introducing…Pilates Love Stories

I remember falling in love with Pilates.  For me I was most aware of my bursting heart when I was amongst my beloved teachers and colleagues.  Attending conferences and workshops, and taking lessons was the expression of that love.  I would come home walking on clouds, overjoyed by what I’d experienced.  Over time, life happened.  With the inevitable changes that occurred, and with my inability to travel, my love became internalized.  As my personal Pilates practice developed and changed with the ebbs and flows of my life, my love of Pilates became much more personal.  While I encourage each and every person to partake of lots and lots of training when it comes to Pilates, I encourage developing a personal relationship with the work in equal parts.  There is a particular buzz that comes from being in the presence of others who share our enthusiasm and passion.  But there is also a danger of losing ourselves in that thrilling experience.  It is important to take time with the work of Pilates, because to understand the depths of the method is to understand oneself.  Many of my teachers told me that certification is only the beginning.  Of course they were correct.  I am eternally grateful for the foundation that my Pilates training gave me, I have so many individual people to thank for that experience.  And now, as I go through my days apart from all those people, and as I remember what they told me many times over, I realize every day how the work is continually blossoming in my life.

I have created this cyber-space for sharing Pilates love stories.  This idea came about when I was reading the biography of Joe Pilates.  Upon completing the pages that chronicled his life, I was left feeling a considerable amount of sadness at the frustrations that Joe Pilates experienced with respect to the aspirations he had for his work.  I wanted to reach through time from the confines of my life in the here and now, to the confines of his in the there and then, and give him a giant congratulatory hug.  Today, we are so lucky to have his work.  I created this space with the idea that celebrating that luck and expressing our love and gratitude will serve to expand upon that good fortune.

I’m celebrating this Valentine’s Day by launching what I hope will be the start of a collection of Pilates Love Stories to be viewed in cyberspace by anybody and everybody.  I’ll add stories as they are submitted…I’m hoping to soon be inundated, because I can’t think of a better thing than to be surrounded by the positive effects to of the work that I so revere.

Now you are invited to share a story.  Please please please, share a story.  Tell your friends, colleagues, clients, and teachers, to share their Pilates love stories.  I know that everybody who has practiced Pilates for any considerable length of time has one.  Share it, so that others can bask in the light of Pilates.  So that they can be inspired and motivated to find that same love within themselves.

Think of it as a valentine addressed to Joe Pilates…