Le Petit Studio Darien

I had wanted to convert my storage shed into a working studio for my Pilates students and also envisioned passing on the Pilates lineage to another generation of teachers. However, without capital or skills I was unable to see how I was going to transform a Cinderella into a beautiful Princess. But when Sally C., my assistant and first official apprentice, suggested a crowdsource funding opportunity, I realized that my goal was indeed possible! Of course, I had no idea what to expect, never being part of an online campaign before, let alone my very own, and the Go Fund Me business model was a simple one. Enter the amount of money needed and why.

The explanation was just as simple. Last summer, a Pilates instructor from Switzerland came to study with me for two weeks. She told me that she learned more in our two weeks together than from the Pilates instructors who would eventually certify her. That experience increased my drive to impart the traditional work to the next generation. The Pilates method is so huge in scope, and though the studio would be small, I knew I’d be able to help many who were seeking to learn the original repertoire as taught to me by Romana Kryzanowska, one of Joseph H. Pilates’ main disciples. To my stunned delight I didn’t have to wait long before my first $100 donation came in; a day later another $100; and then the next day a $50 donation. Soon I was receiving donations from family, friends and even people who preferred anonymity – my email account was filled with not only donations but encouraging wishes as well.

Then the real work began. Each and every clumsy step I took emphasized my inexperience as a builder. But Sally kept me sane as we put on the various hats we needed since we found out early that contractors weren’t always reliable. We insulated, sheet rocked, taped, mudded, sanded, textured and finally primed and painted. Neither one of us will ever look at a wall or ceiling the same way. When the time comes to build my school, I’m confident that with my new skills I’ll be my own project manager!

My once shed is no longer a shed, and both Sally and I are very grateful for the generosity of our donors who helped to make this project a reality. All forty of their names adorn a wall of Le Petit Studio Darien as a constant reminder of how dreams can come true with a little or a lot of help from our family, friends, and even the anonymous.

Click here to view the shed before, during and after!

The Feet

“Connect your feet to your seat,” Romana Kryzanowska would often say. Not only was Romana one of Joseph Pilates’ most devoted pupils, she was also one of several ballet dancers who were introduced to him by the master choreographer, George Balanchine, whose own school was in the same building. Romana as well as many other dancers learned about the Pilates technique and how it helped and healed injuries, and as a result, Pilates quickly became accepted in the dance world. Countless hours are spent at the ballet barre, articulating and strengthening all parts of the body, especially the feet, and it was  under the tutelage of Mr. Pilates that Romana deepened her knowledge about the feet’s relationship to the rest of the body.

I, too have a history with the feet, though not as dignified as ballet. Two weeks after my birth, my mother watched in disbelief as I dug my heels into the bassinet’s mattress and flipped myself over and landed on my back —I’ve always considered that my first athletic move. But when I six years old, my mother took me to the family doctor for a check-up, and he said my feet were flat, weak and that I needed corrective shoes. Destined to be physically fit, I dismissed his opinion, and followed my own athletic dreams — from high school all-around competitive gymnastics to a near twenty-year professional dance career. By the time I was introduced to the Pilates method, my feet had pushed, pressed, propelled, gripped, balanced, and articulated —quite an accomplishment for a pair of condemned feet.

Romana’s mastery of the Pilates method inspired me to emulate her, and though my feet still have their challenges, I use the knowledge and guidance she imparted, and infuse them into my own teaching. The concepts and principles of the Pilates method has a strong and balanced foundation, and it is the feet that begin the body’s journey.

Age (ing)

Age (ing)

I used to live in one of the most superficial cities in the nation, one that was only capable of seeing and celebrating youth. But I was inspired by someone who was neither young nor yet celebrated, and by then, already in her seventies.

Pilates protégé, Romana Kryzanowska, began visiting Los Angeles at a time when Pilates was an unknown conditioning method, and I was fortunate to be one of the teachers who would learn the undiluted Pilates system through her certification program. Romana’s desire was to pass on the traditional Pilates repertoire to those of us with what she considered special requirements — physical strength, endurance, and the intelligence to understand the technique. On one of her West Coast visits, I watched her fearlessly demonstrate various inversions on the Cadillac, as well as an advanced exercise named the Star, on the Reformer, a Romana signature exercise that Joe taught her. She must have excelled in his eyes, because thereafter Joe considered Romana, his star. Joseph Pilates’ statement, “We should be in our prime in our 70’s, and should not be considered old until we are 100,” was clearly echoed by Romana as she showed off her Pilates strength throughout our certification program.

As some of our own youthfulness recedes, we can indeed keep strong by choosing body conditioning programs like the traditional Pilates method, or any of its variations, and by embracing activities that require us to push, pull, press, reach and resist. Like Romana, we too, can echo Joe’s philosophy and celebrate our aging with confidence.

 

 

 

 

Sharing the Work, sharing myself

Recently, I was interviewed for a local Petaluma radio show, and the first question was what initially drew me to Pilates. My answer came easily as I told the interviewer I was working as a professional dancer and a member of Jazzantiqua, a LA based dance company, when one of the dancers invited me to take a Pilates lesson with her. It was 1993 before the explosion of the internet, and Pilates information was word of mouth, and the word was, the Pilates method improves your dancing.

Our semi-private lesson took place in a Beverly Hills home and maybe because I had been a former gymnast and used large pieces of equipment, it didn’t seem odd to me that there was so much Pilates apparatus in the living and dining rooms. In fact, as my friend and I stood to the side of each of our reformers, originally named the Universal reformer, it all felt very familiar. I listened and watched my teacher intently as she had us lie down on the reformer, the “carriage,” as she called it, and gave us our first cue – Feet on the foot bar and push the carriage away. As we extended our bodies out straight, I was aware of a buzzing sound and a strange sensation in my head. In my mind’s eye, I saw a pure white light, though not bright, it muted out all other colors in the room. I wasn’t aware of any external sound, either, and though the sensation only lasted a moment, as quickly as the carriage came “home,” I knew that I, too, had come home.

And though it’s true as I shared with the interviewer’s audience, my dancing did improve incredibly, more astonishing for me was the sense of already knowing and understanding Mr. Pilates’ inspiring method.

The Mat Work – Hand Placement Information

The Side kick series hand placement is practiced in the Classical position. The bottom palm of hand is pressed into the mat and in line with the waist. The shoulder blades are actively drawn down the back helping to support the rib cage.

However, people are spending more time at their computers and wreaking havoc on the wrists with repetitive wrist movements. The Stability position may be a more effective position because the wrist joint is stablized and supported using the fist.

To advance this series with the Challenge position, the bottom hand is slightly wrapped around the waist and lower ribs, to maintain a square ribcage, opposed to the ribs usually sinking into the mat. The shoulder blade connection on both sides is imperative to keep the spine from dipping down.

In my presentation of the full Intermediate mat, the first 3 exercises I incorporate the wrapping of the waist to support the bottom ribs, and the fist is used for the Bicycle.

Try what works for you. Classical, if there are no wrist issues, Stability, if there are, and the Challenge position to strengthen the ribcage. The final and most challenging  hand placement are the hands behind the base of the skull with the elbows wide.

Classical position - palm flat

Classical position – palm flat

 

Stability position - fist

Stability position – fist

 

Challenge position - hand wrapped around the low ribs

Challenge position – hand wrapped around the low ribs

 

Yes, men too.

Joseph Pilates was an athletic man, which makes his life’s work a natural for men – too bad the true power of his method is misunderstood by many men choosing the gym instead. By using  free weights and gigantic machines to train mostly the larger muscles groups, they virtually ignore the smaller muscles. Mr. Pilates understood not only that smaller muscles groups need attention too, but the deeper muscles, especially the ones on each side of the spine, were the secret to spinal health and longevity. He recognized that a supple spine meant efficient movement overall, and he advanced this understanding by inventing various apparatus so he himself could master the technique. Each exercise focuses on the balance of spinal strength and flexibility, and those progressions promote the use of the entire body, not just one body part.

The men I’ve worked with in the past and the ones I presently teach know that a “just show up and work,” attitude is the entry into this life-long practice, and their competitive nature motivates them to improve, succeed and give one hundred percent, each and every time. I especially appreciate working with male athletes because they don’t spend a lot of time chatting, sharing or processing and it makes my job simpler and more enjoyable. And in my view, one main reason for the ignorance about who benefits from the Pilates method, is that advertising largely pushes products and services using mostly female models, thus giving the perception that Pilates is mainly for women.

With more opportunities to share my work and knowledge of the Pilates method with both amateur and professional athletes, and to a greater extent, athletic teams, I’m confident the perception of Pilates will change as coaches witness stronger, more effective performances from their athletes.

A healthy partnership – Acupuncture and Pilates

The quiet, powerful work of acupuncture and the Pilates method are regularly partnered because of the focus on stimulating and cleansing the organs. Joe often said by practicing his method, the organs would experience an internal shower, and though many people credit Pilates with mainly strengthening the core muscles, a more complete description is that when practiced correctly, the exercises can have a profound effect on all the systems in the body.

In his book, Return to Life, Mr. Pilates speaks in depth about his vision of true health originating from the inside out and lectured to many types of doctors in order to help educate them about the value of his work. Joe also photographed his students when they first began their training, and months later, as balance and strength returned to their bodies. He was able to share these student transformations at his lectures as the photos clearly illustrated the power of his method and consequently, Mr. Pilates is credited as the first fitness instructor to document his client’s progress with photos.

Acupuncture not only strengthens the organs energy points, but treats acute and chronic pain by reducing inflammation and helping to shut down unnecessary pain signals. The needles provide increased blood flow that promotes tissue regeneration. When an injury is healed, by maintaining health through prevention with regular acupuncture and Pilates conditioning, the patient is re-educated, ultimately keeping new injuries to a minimum by improving overall body alignment.

Pilates instructors and acupuncturists both believe that alternative healing methods could alter the practice of western medicine and its heavy reliance on drug therapy. With more natural remedies available such as Chinese herbs and homeopathic supplements, it may be inevitable that the entire medical profession will have to make room for other types of health practitioners who inherently understand that the real physician exists in each one of us.

 

 

Splendor in the hills

A loyal Pilates path is a righteous thing, but other types of passions can be on that path as well, and, for me, it’s always been my deep love and respect for horses. Regal, powerful and spiritual – these beings have it all. Recently, I was privileged to spend the day with a small herd of horses and had the opportunity to observe the quiet but very intense communications they had with each other. Magnificent multi-colored hills and I were an appreciative audience for these gorgeous equines.

It probably isn’t an accident that I’m attracted to an animal that serves as an instrument for healing and transformation – just as Pilates does with its own unique insights. Horses are used to help humans cope with many kinds of self-esteem issues and health challenges such as muscular dystrophy and autism. Even the mechanics of horseback riding can be seen in  the reformer’s leather straps, which were modeled after the reins to guide a horse. Horses and Pilates are a beautiful fit, so whether someone is utilizing the Pilates technique on a horse or on a reformer, this method continues to demonstrate its usefulness and specialness. Those of us who teach and practice the Pilates method already know the unlimited impact of Mr. Pilates’ vision, and know that it, too, it will remain a powerful healing modality.

 

 

 

 

 

My mama didn’t raise a wuss

“You’re a bull in a china shop,” he said unapologetically. So how does my interim new boss think I’ve become as established as I am? Well, certainly not from hiding behind my mother’s apron. But just before I left Los Angeles to begin a new chapter, one of my very wise clients said to me, “ Remember, wherever you go, there you are.” For me, this meant that even with my New York chutzpah and LA accomplishments, I’d still have to prove myself all over again in a new town. I knew my Pilates training would help me in centering myself.

Most of us have had the experience of dealing with a boss, partner, client or others to whom we sell services or products. Those dealings can either bring out the best or worst in us, depending on our confidence level and sense of self worth. I’m not implying that to be successful you have to bulldoze through a negotiation, but to know you are fearless enough to do so will help you achieve your objectives and goals. I didn’t need to hide behind any apron when I negotiated a higher salary and helped to redefine my role in an existing project; convincing the boss of my abilities and what they were worth to him. In another instance, with another employer,  my compensation was less than agreed on, and I kept up the pressure until the situation was corrected.

I’ve learned that it’s important to understand your value in the marketplace, be proficient in your chosen profession and continue to develop your talents. If you are not clear in communicating what you have to offer, you leave it to others to define your worth. My students know that I always encourage them to believe in their talents and the contribution they can make to the world. The confidence attained with Pilates has helped many of my students stand strong and not back down when offered a job opportunity that did not utilize their skills. Remember if you are not going to be respected and compensated accordingly, take the bull by its horns, and if needed, go and seek out your rightful place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A funny thing happened on the way to Sonoma

As I move further away from time spent in Los Angeles, a new sense of freedom has emerged. It’s probably the clean, crisp air that’s making me feel both grounded and open, evidenced by the ease with which I practice Pilates, because I know I did not experience this type of expansion living in LA. The funny thing is, my move to Sonoma has become more than just teaching Pilates to a new and appreciative audience; it’s invited me to reclaim my whole self. My lungs feel healthier, my stress level is much lower, and it’s so apparent how a smog-filled big city and hurried life can impede the process of practicing deep Pilates. And I can report with certainty that the mental grit and grime has also lost its hold.

However, the excitement my new students are showing for classical Pilates motivates me to share a few memories of Romana Kryzanowska both in New York and Los Angeles. What a great feeling to share those memories and to know how fortunate I was to learn from and be around Joseph Pilates’ main disciple. Two compliments she gave me regarding the way I practiced Pilates, I still hold very dear. During a Romana workshop, I was as usual working extremely hard, and  was aware that she was watching me. She moved quietly to my side and whispered, “You’re doing real Joe, now,” and I could hear the pride in her voice. Those five unforgettable words totally lit me up, especially because I’d never heard her say them to anyone before.  Another time during a continuing education class, she told me that I practiced Pilates with great rhythm and that was music to my ears as I continually teach my students the importance of transitions and the innate rhythm in them.

Romana gave me a new level of confidence in my own innate rhythm because one surprising bonus of moving north is I have ventured off the reformer, (after my workout, of course) and into a weekly drum circle where I’ve fallen for the Djuns and Tongue drums. Understanding the importance of practicing Pilates with rhythm can help in other areas of life, whether it’s music, sports or even cooking. There is a rhythmic universal heartbeat that’s available if time is taken to listen. I’ve listened, and a new Sonoma path has opened – it includes hiking, drumming and the opportunity to soar.