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We've all been there including myself.  A teacher you've been working out with for what seems like forever is leaving the studio or gym you train at.  You go into a panic thinking to yourself, "oh my, what am I going to do now?  No one will ever know my body like this person did."


Do not panic.  You will find another teacher that understands you and your body and your needs.  Pilates Instructors and Personal Trainers all move on for various reasons as do most employees of any industry.  


As a former professional dancer I've had many teachers over the years.  When I was younger in high school and college I wasn't able to choose my teachers.  After graduating from college I was attending open dance classes here in New York City, mostly at Peridance Center, Steps on Broadway, Pilates at Drago's Gym (now known as True Pilates) and The Pilates Studio NY.  I found myself trying every teacher on the schedule that worked with times I was available.  I really enjoyed this process.  I worked with so many different teachers and tried out many different class levels.


I found a core group of teachers that I really enjoyed taking class and privates with.  After speaking with friends we all had different opinions of the same teachers.  Teachers I loved, some of my friends didn't.  Friends that I danced with for years adored a specific teacher that I really didn't enjoy taking ballet from.


As a business owner, I hire and fire instructors.  It is a very difficult process.  When interviewing an instructor not only am I looking for knowledge and high level instruction, but I have to keep in mind all the different personalities that are at the studio.  Not every student will enjoy working with every instructor.  We all have different personalities and bond with different types of people.  


How do you find the right instructor for you?


1.  Does the instructor know the subject they are teaching you?  This is very important.  I can say that all of my employees are very knowledgeable in The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning but that may not be the case in other facilities.  If you are a new student, it may be difficult for you to determine if they know the subject, as you do not know the subject.  However, if you are a long time student,  you can tell within the first 5 minutes if someone knows what they are doing.


2.  Did the instructor speak to you about how you are and how your body is feeling today?  Our bodies are different each day.  Some clients get annoyed when I ask them how they are feeling in their bodies.  A common response is "I don't know" or "It's too early, I just woke up", or "It's the same".  Those 3 statements are given to me by 90% of my clients.  When I take a session (and I do on a regular basis), and a teacher asks me that, I can go into great detail about how my body is doing.  It is very helpful to communicate with your instructors about the things you are feeling in your body.  Something you think is minor, such as you wore high heels all night last night and your low back is achy, is something we need to know.  People are afraid that we will give them a lighter workout if they mention anything they are feeling, when in fact we will adjust the program to make it safe.  Instructors can not read your mind, although we try to read your body and your energy, we can not know what you are thinking or feeling without asking and without you telling us.


3.  Do you like the person?  Do you get along on a personal level?  Can you communicate easily with the person and do you feel at ease with this person?  Sometimes, personalities clash and that is okay.  Not everyone gets along.  It would be nice if we lived in a world where we all got along and we all liked each other, but the truth is we do not.  You should work out with someone you like.  Someone you want to show up for, someone you want to do well for, someone you respect.  If you do not feel those things, then find a new teacher.


4.  How do you switch instructors?  Maybe you've had the same instructor for years, but you are now going through a life changing event and you believe that a new teacher would benefit you more.  Changing your schedule and switching teachers can feel like a big problem to most students.  It is not.  Instructors are fully aware that students need different things at different points in their lives and need to hear different opinions.  We encourage clients to workout with others.  Yes, it is a business, but the majority of us really care about the students progress and what is best for them and if switching teachers is best for them, we support it.  


If you want to switch instructors, speak with the manager of the facility or the owner and discuss what it is you are looking for and why you'd like to change.  They can help point you in the right direction, but ultimately you will make the final decision by trying out different people and seeing who works best for you.





Mat vs Tower Classes



Often students ask the question "What is better, mat or tower?".  Another question is "Which is harder, mat or tower?".   They are different.  One is not better than the other.


As history states, Joseph Pilates first created the mat series.  Recognizing that the work was difficult and to help his students with his work, he created the Pilates apparatus.  The apparatus was created to do some of the work for you.  The Pilates apparatus helps you find your muscles, helps to give you awareness and teaches you how to use your body so you can do the mat work more efficiently.  Joseph Pilates  called his method of body conditioning, Contrology.  He worked with students one on one for a few sessions and then they were left on their own.  He had charts all over his studio with pictures of the exercises and clients would follow the charts if they forgot what came next.  Of course there were teachers there, and some students worked privately, but it was very much like a gym.  They would come into the studio as if it were a gym and do their series that he taught them.  He would teach his students new things when he felt they were ready.


As far as I know the only place Joseph Pilates taught mat classes was at Jacob's Pillow, a summer dance festival held every summer in the Berkshires, Massachusetts.   


Joseph Pilates did not create the Studio Wall Unit, aka. Tower unit, which has nearly all the same capabilities as a Cadillac.  He did not teach "group classes" on this apparatus neither did my mentor Romana Kryzanowska.  It is true that a student learns better in a one on one situation, but that format is not available for everyone wanting to study Pilates.  A group class offers an affordable option.  I do recommend all clients to take private sessions when ever possible.  It is important to check in with an instructor on their progress and to have all the attention focused on them.  


In my opinion the mat work is the most challenging series of the Pilates Method.  You do not have any assistance.  It is just you and the mat.  The mat work flows from one exercise to the next, often with transitions that are like exercises themselves.  When practiced in a classical way, a mat workout is truly that, a workout.  You should feel as though every muscle in your body has been worked.  You will perform exercises laying down, sitting, laying on your side, kneeling and standing.  Joseph Pilates put the exercises in a particular order for a reason.  They warm your body up in such a way that you are ready for the next exercise.  Learning the names of the exercises and the order of them is very important.  Challenge yourself to learn what each exercise is and see if you remember the movement when it is called out in class.  


I often hear that students do not feel "challenged" in a mat class.  There are so many things to focus on in a Pilates session or class.  The principles of Pilates are very important.  If you focus on even just one principle the whole class, you'll see the difference.  Once you have that down, then try to focus on 2 or 3.  I will blog on the Pilates Principles in the future.


If you are really focused in on everything that is going on in each exercise, it is really difficult.  I love taking a basic mat class.  It is my favorite.  I also hear from people who used to do Pilates that they got "bored".  It could be that people get "bored" in a mat class because there are no fun springs or straps to focus on.  To focus on your body is difficult.  People are looking for a distraction.  I find Pilates so fascinating that it is fun for me to focus on all the different parts of my body.   In the beginning the focus is just on the Powerhouse.  After you have that focus secured you may focus on the shoulders, breath, legs, arms etc.  but all of the movement comes back to the Powerhouse.  Without it, you are NOT doing Pilates.


A tower class is different from a mat class.  At The Pilates Movement we teach tower classes that will often begin with a little bit of mat work, and then work into using the tower unit.  The Cadillac exercises (the exercises we do on the Cadillac and tower unit) were created as something that you give to clients depending on what their body needs.  If I am teaching a private session I will only give the Cadillac exercises that their body needs on that particular day.  I pick and choose which ones to do, and rarely give every single Cadillac exercise in a private session.  I may do 3-5 of them and then move on to another piece of equipment.    In a tower class, you loose a lot of the flow from one exercise to the next because you have to stop to set up the equipment.  The exercises were not created in any particular order and you can do them in any order you choose.  I find a lot of clients like tower classes because you are using the equipment and it is easier to understand and to "feel" what is working when you are pushing into a spring or holding onto a wood bar.  


The exercises in a tower class will strengthen and stretch your muscles, but realistically so do all Pilates exercises.  We often end tower classes with hamstring and lower back stretches.  You may not be sore but that is okay.  Pilates was not created for you to be so sore that you can not exercise or even walk the next day.  You may be sore, but it's not the "goal" in Pilates.  


Tower classes  help you understand your body, how it stretches and moves with the aid of the tower unit, but it is very important to test what you have learned by taking a mat class.  The recommendation is to take a combination of both mat and tower classes as well as privates whenever possible.





My Journey with Pilates


I first discovered Pilates in 1994 while I was attending SUNY Purchase as a dance major.  I attended Purchase from 1994-1998 and while I was there we had a Pilates Studio downstairs in the dance building.


Pilates was introduced to me as a freshman, in 1994 during my Anatomy class.  As a dance major, the majority of my academic classes were in the evenings from 7pm-10pm and I danced all day from 9 am or 10 am until 5pm or 6pm.  It was a very challenging schedule.  By the time my Anatomy class came at 7pm, I was exhausted, physically and mentally.  My teacher recognized this in all of us as well.   He changed our class so that we learned academic Anatomy from 7-8:30pm and then from 8:30pm-10pm learned either The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning (mat work only) or Massage Therapy.


My first experience of Pilates was kind of a joke.  I was 18, exhausted from the day and really not interested.  I also was really bad at it.  My body was not muscularly balanced (although at the time I thought it was) and I could barely do any of the exercises.  I didn't understand this because as a dancer I could do almost anything.  Why couldn't I do this?  At the time I thought it was because it was so late at night after dancing all day, but as the years went on I learned otherwise.


In February of 1995 I was diagnosed with a stress fracture on my second metatarsal on my left foot.  I couldn't walk, forget about dancing.  It hurt to even have a sock on my foot.  Needless to say I was devastated.  I was at school as a dance major and my dean wanted me to watch all classes.  Was she kidding?  I had to sit there and watch all my friends dance while I was in so much pain?  After our physical therapist (Sean P. Gallagher) convinced me that I should be doing Pilates while I can not dance, I went to our dean to find out if I could study Pilates instead of my technique classes.  She said yes.  So to the Pilates studio I went.  I went three times a week for about 6 months.  This process was very interesting.  I had no experience on the equipment, only the mat and I hated the mat work, but I trusted Sean when he said that if I did Pilates while my foot was healing I would just have to rehab my foot and not my whole body.


When I think back on those early days in the Pilates studio as a 19 year old injured dancer, boy do I feel for those who worked with me.  I was a mess.  My body was a mess, my emotions were all over the place and I really didn't want to be there.  In thinking back on what my sessions were like I couldn't do anything weight bearing on my feet.  I couldn't even do the foot work series on the reformer.  I didn't work much on the reformer at all, but I did do a lot of mat and a lot of cadillac.  I don't even remember when my attitude changed.   I didn't like Pilates and complained all the time that I just wanted to be dancing, but somehow I continued to go. 


Sean was right.  6 months later when I was approved to start physical therapy and begin dancing again my body felt great.  My foot really still hurt, but the rest of my body felt like I had never stopped dancing.  It was amazing.  Actually I was stronger than I was before the injury.  I had learned in my private sessions that I had major muscular imbalances in my body from years of always practicing "my good side".  As a ballet dancer, I would spend hours a day practicing my turns on the one side I could do a lot on, or lift the one leg that got higher than the other.  Years of this had caused major imbalance.  That is the reason why I could not do the mat work my freshman year.  It all came together for me.


My junior and senior year at Purchase I thought about getting certified to teach Pilates (as they offered it at our studio in the dance building) but I could never get it together to do it.  It always seemed to conflict with a show I was in or rehearsals.  It never seemed to work out.


After graduating from Purchase I moved to NYC with 2 of my friends.  I really missed Pilates but could not afford it.  I went to Sean's office and begged him for an internship where I would work in exchange for sessions.  After a few months I decided I wanted to get certified in Pilates to learn more about this method that I was now fascinated with.  


That was it.  I fell in love with teaching Pilates thanks to my mentors Romana Kryzanowska, Sari Santo, Bob Liekens and Stephanie Beatty.  I started my journey into teaching in 1999 but finally finished in April of 2000.  Since then I've had the pleasure to study with a lot of amazing teachers that I continue to learn from.  I'm still learning.  I learn something new every day.  Romana always asks us, "what did you learn today?  Always ask yourself that question."  That is a lesson that has stuck with me through my 10 years of teaching.  I ask myself that question after every client and after every session with my own body.




Pilates and the Spirit

Hello.  Here it is.  My first blog submission.  When thinking about the Pilates Method of Body Conditioning, one thing that I see everywhere (including my own logo) is a mind, body and spirit form of exercise.  I've been wanting to write about the spirit part for a long time.  I feel that for the most part, the majority of teacher's and clients have the mind and body part.    Where is the spirit part?  I've often struggled recently on how to fit this into my own teachings.  I find that most clients just want to work out and have a hard enough time connecting the mind and body together, how can I get the spirit involved?  Will they be open to it?


It can be argued that the spirit is involved once you start connecting the mind and body together that they are connecting through the spirit.  I am not too sure.  On a daily basis I teach beautiful men and women who constantly criticize their bodies.  Even when their bodies start to change and they look amazing, they do not see it.  Their spirit has been broken.  How do I help them get that part of themselves back?  Is it something that can be spoken about within a private lesson or a group class?  


Recently, my health has been challenged with the flu.  Possible swine flu.  This took me by surprise as I am someone who thinks they take really good care of themselves.  I take all my vitamins, eat well, exercise a lot and in general am a very happy person.  Over a decade ago I began my journey into self discovery.  I started working with a healer/life coach and began reading a lot of books by authors such as Wayne Dyer, Julia Cameron, Eckart Tolle, Gary Zukav, Louise L. Hay,  etc.  I began taking responsibility for my life and the outcome of the choices I've made and I started to see my life change instantly.  Do not be fooled, it has not been an easy road.  This has been hard work and I constantly have to work at it.


A book that has been very important in my own self discovery has been "You Can Heal Your LIfe", by Louise L. Hay, she speaks a lot of disease being a dis-ease in the body.  I began to think, what is my dis-ease?  After a few days of the flu,  it began to be very clear to me as to what my dis-ease is.  In looking back over the last 6 months, I have not been taking care of myself on a regular basis.  I was working extra hours, eating bad food (foods I know my body doesn't do well with), not sleeping enough and saying yes to every invitation that came my way.  At first I could argue every one of those previous statements.  I had a reason of why I was doing each one, but when it came down to it, I realized that none of the explanations had to do with me.  I was putting everything and everyone else before myself.  I have done this many times in the past and know that when I do this for a long period of time, I get sick.  I shouldn't be surprised.  I have been down this road before.  


This lesson makes an appearance a lot.  It clearly is one of my major life lessons.  I do believe the Universe will continue to show me this lesson until I finally make the choices to change.  I go through phases where I'm really good about taking care of myself and then I don't even know what happens, but I loose it and before I know it, I'm sick.  It is clear to me that I must pay attention to this lesson as it is a serious one.  


Here are some things that help me get my spirit back:

1.  I recognize all the beautiful things that surround me on a daily basis.

2.  I acknowledge the love and support that friends and family are giving.

3.  I take time for myself, whether it is a walk along the east river, reading a book or sitting at my favorite coffee shop, time              alone is important.

4.  I recognize my limitations and do not judge them.

5.  Breathing- I often will sit in a quiet space and do the breathing of the 100 exercise, no movement, just breath.  Inhale for 5,       exhale for 5.  This will quiet my mind and center me.


So, how can and where does the spirit fit into the teachings of Joseph H. Pilates?  I am going to start to include this part of the teachings into my sessions and classes.  Joseph Pilates did write about the spirit in his books and I plan on exploring how to teach this within my sessions or at least how to supply this information to my clients.  



October 22, 2009