Saturday, April 12, 2014

What Does it Take to be a Great Pilates Teacher?

In a word, PASSION.
I have been teaching Exercise, Yoga and Pilates for 24 years and teaching people how to teach Pilates for 18 years. And I must say that a good teacher can be trained and re-trained very easily and can become a household name in the industry after several years of honest work. And a good teacher can work hard at building a business and with a good personality (and a good economy) do extremely well. But what about a truly great teacher? How do they come to be?
A great teacher cannot be trained or re-trained. A great teacher is not all about personality and nothing else. A great teacher may not even be someone who is well known in the industry. A great teacher is simply born great. They are intuitive and introspective. They have a deep rooted understanding of the method. They eat, sleep and breathe the method. They teach from within. Their teaching is passion driven. Their teaching is not celebrity or profit driven!!
In my honest opinion, there are only a handful of truly great Pilates teachers out there today. There are plenty of good and very good teachers but only a small selection of greats!
We should all aspire to be the best that we can be and take a leaf out of the great teacher's books. But remember if you don't teach from your heart and you are not truly passionate about teaching Pilates then it will show and you will be doing yourself and your client, not to mention the method, a huge diservice. If you can't be great becasue you were not born that way, at least be the best that you can be. And remember that A GOOD TEACHER EXPLAINS; A GREAT TEACHER INSPIRES!!


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Get Empowered by doing Pilates

Pilates is hard, there's no doubt about it. Anyone who has tried it will tell you, here is a very steep learning curve and things often seem impossible to achieve especially in the early days of your Pilates practice. BUT... please, please persevere. As my Dad always said, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." Good advice for most things in life but especially useful when learning Pilates. The scooping, the imprinting, the breathing! Its all so different and so weird and so new. Its going to take quite a while to "get it", but get it you will and when you do, you better believe you will become empowered. You will feel invincible. You will feel powerful. You will feel as if you can do anything....simply because you have learned Pilates.
Many years ago I had the pleasure to work with a beautiful client who had one very bad demon in her closet - she was a smoker. She never mentioned it during lesson and yet I knew she continued to smoke because I could smell it on her. Like everyone else she struggled to learn many of the Pilates moves when she first began working with me, but surely and slowly things changed and she began to excel. I think it was right around the time that she mastered the Teaser on the Reformer that I asked her if she felt proud of her accomplishment. She of course said yes, but went on to explain, with a huge grin on her face that she had successfully quit smoking recently. As much as this accomplishment required hugs and congratulations it was even more special because this particular client did it without even trying. She just said to herself one day, "I don't need those cigarettes anymore". And she has not gone back since. If that's not an example of how Pilates can empower you, I don't know what is.
Its the same thing with male clients who often come to Pilates with a little skepticism and even a slight grudge since their wife is most often the one to push them into trying Pilates. After just a few sessions I have seen time and time again how Pilates empowers them. Men show their empowerment in a different ways than women but its nonetheless impressive. Sometimes its not about succeeding at a particular Pilates exercise but more about improving in something outside of the studio that brings the male client back for more... and usually with a huge smile on their face. Maybe their golf game improved. Maybe their backache went away. Maybe they got the six pack they always dreamed of. As weird and foreign as Pilates can seem to most men when they begin on the journey, before long they embrace it and become empowered in all areas of their life.
My interpretation of this phenomenon is that Pilates actually changes us on a very deep cellular level both mentally and physically. The mind body challenge of Pilates can actually reconnect neuromuscular pathways in our brains and then facilitate new movement patterns in our body, thereby creating new brainwaves. Its a big circle of improvement through the mind having to focus on lots of new things (beginning of our Pilates journey) to our body actually learning to do these new things our brain is asking us to do (several weeks into Pilates) and then when we actually "get" it these mind body neuromuscular patterns become a new norm for us and that's when we become empowered.
My favorite example of how profound Pilates can be is the case of a 14 years boy with cerebral palsy whose mother enrolled her youngest son because she truly believed he had more physical potential than the medical professionals wanted to believe. When he came to me, this poor boy had been subjected to Achilles cutting (to try to lengthen his Achilles), painful Botox injections in his hamstrings(to try and get his legs to straighten) and was told by doctors and therapists that his legs were too tight and the muscles too tonic for him ever to get off crutches and walk normally. Well, suffice it to say after just 4 lessons, this boys legs were straight and his crutches were used only if he was going to be walking quite a distance. He wasn't tight in the hamstrings, he was ridiculously weak in the quads. His lower back was on the verge of spasming constantly and after a few additional weeks of core training he was standing up straight as any normal teenager would. His demeanor went from I cant do anything" to I am a Pilates champion". His awesomeness came out of the disabled shell of the boy I first met. He excelled at school and went on to get multiple scholarships to colleges all because of Pilates. How empowering is that?
I will go one step further and add to this by saying that through each of my clients success (and there have been many) I have become empowered myself. Not just with what Pilates can for people but with what the human spirit can accomplish with just a little focus. You know, focus on scooping and imprinting.
Way to go everyone who has made strides, either big or little, through Pilates. Keep up the great work and you will truly see that it is ALL worth it!!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Pilates.....Is it therapy or exercise?

Joseph H. Pilates, born in the late 1800's, is often considered the father of modern Physical Therapy. Much of his early work was done in a hospital after World War 1 where he was able, albeit crudely, to help many patients get strong enough to leave their beds. Its said that Joe Pilates got the wounded up and out of their beds faster than the doctors. Pilates' secret weapon was strength training. He fashioned crude weight training devices out of bed springs and surgical tubing. He rigged up pulleys and springs against the traction beds that became home to many of the wounded soldiers after The War. With little more than shear determination Joe Pilates, a high school dropout who happened to be working as a hospital orderly, was able to develop many of the Physical Therapy techniques that are used today in the modern PT clinic. 
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Modern Traction Bed
Some say Joe Pilates was a Nurse or a PT but actually he was just a simple man who believed in nature's ability to heal. He instinctively knew that "movement heals" and would not stop working with a patient until he was strong enough and fit enough to get out of bed. One of Joe's early inventions, he called the Bednasium, was a traction bed type of device that would allow even a bedridden person to exercise and get/stay fit and strong.

Joe Pilates working with a client on the Bednasium
 This Bednasium matured into the modern Pilates Cadillac which resembles a four poster bed. The exercises done on these types of modern Pilates equipment run the gamut from super simple and therapeutic - such as would have to be done with patients with limited strength or mobility - to the super advanced extreme exercises that would make even Olympic gymnasts break a sweat!

The Pilates Cadillac
And so it is that Pilates, as an exercise method, has evolved from a therapeutic beginning (Joe Pilates himself began exercising to heal himself from childhood Asthma and Rickets) to an exercise discipline sought out by celebrities and everyday folks looking to get fit and stay in shape and yet more recently has turned towards healing people again.
The original Pilates Studio in NYC         from left:Joe, Mary (Joe's niece), Clara, unknown client
But when we ask the question, Which is best....Physical Therapy or Pilates? It seems that for the injured patient, PT always wins out. So how come the shift away from Pilates, a proven method of getting patients well enough to leave the hospital in a timely fashion. In my opinion, it is not so much a shift of what the actual activity is, but more a shift of who performs it. After the war Joseph Pilates came to America and opened a Gym (we now call it a Pilates Studio) in the heart of the entertainment district in New York City and although he rehabbed many a dancer in his time there, his exercise techniques became better known as more of a fitness/dance method and less of a rehab method. Then, after Joe's death in 1967, the method stayed with the dancers and fitness enthusiasts for many years until the last 5-10 years when it has emerged again as a "back to basics" method of rehabilitating everything from joint replacements to aching backs and even neurological issues. So in recent years Pilates has primarily been taught by dancers and fitness instructors to people who want to get and stay fit. Now that many Physical Therapists are realizing the benefits from Pilates, perhaps by taking a class at their local gym themselves, it is beginning to be accepted as a proven method of physical therapy. Courses of study specifically for PT's are popping up across the country including the PIA courses "Pilates Essentials", "Mat 1" and "Reformer 1" that are pre-approved for CE credits for PT's and PTA's. The best way to rehabilitate an injury, recent surgery or bio mechanical issue is to learn corrective body mechanics, to strengthen weaker body parts and stretch the tighter body parts, thereby restoring the balance that our bodies most definitely crave. Of course, Joesph Pilates knew we needed this basic movement experince almost 100 years ago. Pilates is not a new craze or a fad - it is proven to make people well. It heals the body from the inside out and not only addresses a particular body part that requires rehabilitation, but it actually addresses the entire body as a whole and makes the whole body strong, fit and limber so that aches and pains become a thing of the past.
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So......It is not really a question of which is best, PT or Pilates, but rather which Therapy Center should I go to to get the best therapy? Because if it was up to me, I would choose the therapy center where the therapists are trained in Pilates techniques and employ them right alongside the more traditional therapy methods. This way I can be sure my therapeutic outcome would be the absolute best. Who knows, I might even keep doing Pilates every day because it makes me feel good and I know it will help prevent future injuries (see Frankie's PIA Pilates Blog on "Pilates for Life").

visit for Pilates Workshops for PT's

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pilates for Life

If you know anything about the History of Pilates you will know and appreciate the many amazing benefits of the Pilates Method. From flattening the abdomen, to reducing back pain; increasing flexibility to eliminating the need for certain surgeries; Pilates really IS an amazing program. But Pilates is way more than just a toning or stretching exercise. It's a results driven muscular re-education program that takes the body back to a state of youthfulness.You remember: those days before all the aches and pains and injuries of everyday life set in. Joe Pilates practiced what he preached and was proud of his method:
"I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They'd be happier."                           Joseph Hubertus Pilates, in 1965 (two years before he died) 
Although we are active at sports and recreational activites like hiking, running and biking, we are not balancing our bodies and giving them what they need to stay healthy. How many runners are side-lined because of repetitive stress injuries? How many retirees want to play golf and tennis but their backaches are too severe from all the years sitting behind a desk? How many athletes, as skilled as they may be at their chosen sport, just need that extra edge over the competition? Pilates is here to help.
Pilates is more than exercise. It's more than therapy. Its a way of life. And it should be done every day for your entire life. Pilates is like taking a shower. We shower (hopefully - LOL!) on a daily basis. Its something that we need to do in order to stay healthy and clean, but if you do it too often you will shrivel and dry up. Your daily shower is also an habitual activity. You do it regularly and just don't feel right without it. Pilates is like that. You choose to do and your body craves Pilates everyday in order to maintain your vitality, flexibility and energy.
Lolita and Me at a Pilates Conference
My good friend, Lolita San Miguel (Pilates Elder and only living person actually certified by Joe Pilates), once said to me after being asked why she does Pilates every single day, "I just don't feel right if I don't do Pilates". Now in her late 70's, Lolita is living proof of the effects of a daily Pilates regimen.
Pilates gets into the very essence of your being because it can affect the body on a cellular level. Your energy and outlook on life is different when you practice Pilates daily. You digest better and sleep better when you do Pilates. Everyday tasks seem much less daunting after you've done your Pilates session and the energy boost seems to last all day. I have been practicing Pilates for over 20 years now and I agree with Lolita... I just don't feel right if I miss a day. In fact, I think I've got to cut this Blog Post short because I need to go and do some Pilates right now.
Even just a few minutes of focused work makes a huge difference. But don't be fooled: Pilates is not a quick fix. It can take many lessons in order to learn the techniques and many years to master them. But, trust me, its worth it!
Want to do a little Pilates with Lolita and me? Check out this DVD.... Sample of Lolita & Frankie DVD available at The PIA StoreThe PIA Store in Workout DVD's

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

PILATES PROPS - Is it still a Pilates Mat Class?

Pilates mat classes are everywhere. Some good, some bad. Some in fitness centers, some in Pilates studios, some on DVD. Many of these classes have begun to add props for variety and it is my opinon that many times props are used incorrectly in a Pilates class.
Firstly, lets talk a little about the history of Pilates. Joe Pilates created the mat repertoire for himself as a means to get fit, strong and flexible. He was an athletic young man and went on to become quite an accomplished gymnast, martial arts specialist and boxer. His personal workouts were challenging to say the least. In 1934 his Book "Return to Life" was published and in it he displayed his 34 Contrology exercises - which later become known as Pilates Mat Exercises. Not only are these exercises pretty challenging but, as can be seen in archival footage of Joe performing the moves himself, are very athletic in nature and not the rehabilitative Pilates that many know today. And so I feel it is very unfortunate that Pilates Mat classes are the only available source of Pilates training in many fitness facilities and clubs around the world. Many people are drawn to Pilates for its rehab quality and do not relaize that Joseph Pilates had to invent the Pilates apparatus to better assist those lacking in certain strengths and flexibilities in the Mat. 
I feel that many Pilates teachers have evolved their Pilates mat class into something a little more user friendly. Firstly, I notice teachers changing the order of exercises, then deleting exercises altogether becasue they feel they're too hard. Now there seems to be a shift to teaching a Mat class with props such as small balls,weights and bands. Many times the original repertoire is completely lost to the small equipment and the class now becomes a calisthenics or body sculpt class using props and NOT Pilates. I have no problem using props per se, but I do have a probelnm with teachers portraying a Pilates Mat class as something that uses a ball, band or weights and the poor consumer does not realize that they have to work hard  using their body and mind to get the kind of results that I know everyone in a Pilates class is looking for. If you must use props in a Pilates mat class, then call it a Props Class and make people aware that the ball or band or weights are just that, PROPS. Let people know that the real effort in Pilates still should come from inside the body. A better name for Pilates props is "tools". The ball and band represent a tool to assist in learning or perfecting an exercise rather than taking over the entire exercise. If anything, the Pilates tools/props should serve the purpose of the large apparatus. That of assisting those not strong enough to do the exercise on their own or not in tune enough with heir body to "get" the exercise without the prop.
Just remember when teaching Pilates.... that it is a mind body discipline that involves focusing the mind on making the body strong and flexible. Thats it! If the props/tools you use take away from that, then don't us them. If having a small ball betweeen the knees on a shoulder bridge makes the student feel the hamstrings and abs more, then use it. But don't use that ball betweeen the knees to turn shoulder bridge into an inner thigh exercise, because its not! Enough said.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What IS a Pilates body?

A Pilates body is.....NOT super model skinny; NOT muscley and sinewy. A Pilates body is a body that functions well, performs effortlessly and is pain free. That's it in a nutshell. Don't let the media or Hollywood celebrities tell you otherwise. Pilates was primarily designed as a body building technique back in the early 20th century to build a strong and balanced body that moved with grace and functioned with ease. A body that could withstand the wears and tears of a long and active life. Joseph Pilates was a nature lover and a student of movement. He intrinsically knew that animals remained healthier when they were active and quite rightly believed that humans should follow the same patterns. Thnink about a dog or cat when they rise from a nap. The first thing they do is stretch. Even before they lie down to sleep they have their own routine of decompressing and releasing the muscles so they are ready to sleep deeply. When, if ever, do humans do that. When, in fact, do many humans even make it off the couch. With the advent of modern technology the human race has become sedentary. A far cry from our hunter-gatherer forefathers. Although modern medicine keeps us alive into our 80's, 90'sand beyond there seems to be an ever increasing number of these seniors who's highlight of their day is having somone in a white coat bring them their tray of medicines while they waste away in a nursing hime bed. Pilates believed that we could all live a long healthy and active life if we simply followed his guidelines for daily exercise and breathing. In other words, move your body and move the air through your lungs in order to stay healthy and vital. His exercise program certainly makes you strong but it was designed on more of a fundamental level of simply making you alive and healthy. So remember that pilates is NOT about looking a certain way it is about feeling and acting a certian way. Who cares if I'm 75 and can't wear a bikini on the beach. I'm more interested in being 75 and walking the beach 3 miles a day and chasing after my great grandchildren! That's the Pilates body.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Imprint to reduce lower back pain

As a highly respected expert in the Pilates field I am often asked by novice teachers and new clients "why do I need to imprint my spine?". The answer is simple and two-fold: Safety and Effectiveness. Let me explain.
In Pilates we need to activate the deep muscles of the abdomen and pelvis often referred to as the "powerhouse" or "girdle of strength" and representative of part of the core. Yet at the same time we must try depserately NOT to activate the superficial muscles of the abs (rectus abdominus) or lower back (erector spinae). This, as anyone who has tried to turn off these dominant muscles will tell you,  is not an easy feat. This is partly due to the fact muscles only know how to do one thing: CONTRACT. They cannot turn off. They only release their tension when the opposite or antagonistic muscle turns on. Think about what this means for an area of the body that is perpetually tight and sore such as the lower back. These muscles are in a state of perpetual tension creating, at best, annoying aches and at worst, severe pain. All manner of stretches and massages will help but only to a certain point because these treatments are passive and once the stretch or massge is removed the muscles will go back to their perpetually tight resting state. In order to effect permanent relief and permanent "stretch" for these tight muscles we must recruit the opposing muscle groups and teach them to "take over" some of the tasks of the tight lower back muscles. In other words engage the abs so that the lower back can take a break. Its really that simple. Strengthen one set of muscles so that the opposite set can release their tension. It is simple to say and in theory simple to do. Many will say "do crunches to strengthen your abs and your back will feel better". Or "work your core and reduce your back pain". Sorry but if it were that simple, nobody would be stricken with back pain. Pilates IS the solution but it MUST be done with an imprinted spine and NOT neutral. The pelvic floor and deep abdominal musles must be engaged in order to allow the spine to flatten into the mat, without jamming the back down and without engaging the hip flexors, glutes or legs. This takes some practice but it is well worth the effort. With time what happens is: the back muscles learn that its ok to let go because the abs are getting strong enough to hold the spine in position. The abs get strong enough to not only pull in and scoop but also to help with bending and spinal stabilzation. So over time, every movement and static strength requirement of the lumbo-pelvic regin will come mostly from the abs and pelvic floor muslces with assistance from the erector spinae, rather than the lumbar muscles doing everything and not even letting up enough for the abs to help out (therefore causing overworked and sore lower back muscles). Can you begin to see why an imprint is so important to spine health in the early months of learning Pilates? With the spine imprinted there is not only the switch of muscle work from the lower back to the abs and pelvic floor but there is also tactile feedback that the Pilates novice needs to perfect her skills. When the back is touching the mat it is quite simple to tell when something goes wrong and/or muscles turn off that should be turned on because you will feel the loss of connection with the mat under the lumbar spine. Now trust me, we are not looking for the back to be pressed down into the mat to the point where indentations of the spinal protuberances would occur. Far from it. We are simply allowing our spine to rest on the mat because our transverse abs and pelvic floor muscles have engaged enough to allow the erector spinae to release allowing the lumbar spine down to the mat. In fact, if someone "jams" their back into the mat the opposite happens; the back gets tighter by way of the hip flexors and psoas muscles kicking in. I have seen the "imrpint" taught incorrectly many times and perhaps that is why the opponents to it are adament that a neutral spine is better. BUT.... even done incorrectly the imprint is safer on the lower back than neutral done correctly. I cant even count the number of times clients have come to me with complaints of their lower back hurting after a Pilates class because they were told to keep some "space under the low back" or maintai a neutral pelvis.
All is say to them is this:
1. Joseph Pilates worked with a flat, imprinted back - so why change it?
2. Neutral spine/pelvis is hard to find and even harder to maintain for a beginner - imprinting is easier
3. Neutral actually hurts the person whose lower back is chronically sore & tight -  so imprint to lengthen the back muscles thereby reducing pain
4. A beginner needs to focus on strenthening their abs and pelvic floor and cannot do so in neutral - working in an imprint helps to activate the abdominal muscles and speeds up the learning curve.
Imprinting is the ONLY way to learn Pilates and one of the best ways to reduce lower back pain becasue it is SAFE and EFFECTIVE.
To learn more about imprinting take a PIA Pilates course at