The Journey from “Gym Junkie” to the World-Known Pilates Author and Instructor by Brooke Siler

This Pilates journey has been written by the well-known and hugely loved Brooke Siler – a Pilates author, instructor and owner of the re:AB Pilates studio and teacher training program. Brooke has retired from running a studio as well as the teacher training program in 2014 but she still has plenty of inspiration and wisdom to share with the Pilates teachers at any point of their teaching career.

Hello to you Sunni and all your many readers. Thank you so much for the opportunity to reach out and share my Pilates journey with those who may be interested.

I’m often asked how I found Pilates but in truth, Pilates found me. In 1994 I was working in a boutique gym in the west village of New York City while working on getting my foot in the ‘writing for magazines’ door. As a self-proclaimed ‘gym junkie’, I had seen and tried all the many exercise fads that came and went in the world of body-sculpting and aerobics, and was quite happy with the weights and cardio equipment I had grown up knowing so well. (Oh, but I did love my 80’s Jane Fonda too!) ;D
One unassuming day, large pieces of foreign gym equipment began coming through the front door and being set-up in front of me. I had never seen anything like them. The gym owner explained that these were apparatus for this “new”“Pilates method” that he thought might interest the members – I was intrigued.

Fast forward to me trying my first mat class; I was shocked and horrified by how challenging it was for me. Lol. I totally thought I was already super-fit and I could not understand how this, seemingly simple, class could best me. As a tear of frustration rolled down my cheek, during that Open Leg Rocker I could barely manage, I knew I needed to know everything about this Pilates and to understand it from the inside out. Soon after, I was referred uptown to Joseph Pilates’ protégée, Romana Kryzanowska, where I began a decade-long apprenticeship that would change my life in the best possible way.

At the time, 1994, not many people had heard of Pilates. I spent almost as much time pronouncing and explaining it to people as I did practicing the actual work. It certainly wasn’t about obtaining a certificate or even teaching as much as learning back then; and I can’t think of anything else in my life that I took to quite as quickly as Pilates. My first two years of apprenticeship I spent 5-6 hours a day with Romana; and I still couldn’t get enough.

When you find something that ignites a passion in you, changes your body, your mind, your life…you share it with as many people as you can! And that’s what began the teaching side of my Pilates journey. As I’m sure many of you do too, I talked about Pilates…a LOT! Friends got sick of hearing about it and wanted to try it for themselves. I slung a mat over my shoulder and went to their apartments to teach them what I was learning and loving so much. It didn’t take much; after one lesson they loved it too. Everyone I taught wanted more and more Pilates and I wanted to give it to them. But how?

Coincidentally, at the same time as my Pilates path was beginning, a long-term relationship with my live-in boyfriend was ending. I’m not sure the real relevance of what I’m about to tell you but I love this part so I’m going to tell you anyway. A short time after he moved out of our 600sf apartment and the finality of us grew, I strode my long, lithe Pilates body down the street to the hardware store wearing my stretch, pleather pants and stack-heeled boots (that I later taught in :0) and bought myself an electric Sawzall. If you don’t already know I’m sure you can guess by the name what this is, but if not, a quick Google search will give you a better idea. Now picture me, a six-foot tall redhead in pleather pants and heels returning home with a major power tool, plugging that puppy in and sawing off my ex-boyfriend’s side of the sofa! And that’s how I made room for my Pilates equipment.

Eventually my 300sf living room became too small for me and in 1997, with interest from friends who became partners, I was able to transition my business into a new studio we named re:AB Pilates – because sometimes your abs need rehab too. 😉 With one of my partners being a big model at the time, and the other another talented Pilates teacher, between us we helped create and ride the wave of Pilates that hit around the late nineties.

I was still up in the studio with Romana every week and now helping with the new wave of apprentices seeking to learn from Romana and her daughter Sari. I had always felt Romana’s teaching was very intuitive and easy to understand however I watched with interest as these new apprentices struggled to get the essence of the work. I had begun jotting down notes at home that I had hoped to compile into a manual or guide to help the apprentices better understand where Romana was coming from. As fate would have it, I received a phone call from a literary agent soon after, asking if I had ever considered writing a book. And so began my journey to writing The Pilates Body, which was published in 2000 and has been a blessing of epic proportion.

I followed The Pilates Body up with The Pilates Body Kit, an audio CD kit that had flash cards and beginner and intermediate mat workouts on audio CDs that WAY too many people had this to say about: “Why can’t I see the picture when I put the discs in my DVD player?” Oh dear. There are some things even Pilates can’t fix.

After that I wrote Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge; both a prequel and sequel to the original. Maybe it was with the new-found wisdom of having had my first baby, but I wanted to get across that Pilates was more than just something to be done in a gym or a studio with spandex and ballet barres on the walls, it was a methodology of movement that extended to every area of your life. Besides creating targeted Pilates mat routines, I included ways to incorporate Pilates into your regular gym workouts as well as working office furniture, garden tools and even your baby into a Pilates-inspired workout. Hey, why not?!

I think the most-asked question of me around 2006 was “when are you going to do a DVD?” (I guess this should’ve been expected seeing as how the CDs weren’t working in all those DVD players.) I had just had my second child and was much more interested in getting through a 5lb bag of peanut M&M’s than a workout at the time. Still, I signed on to do the DVD because it scared the bjeezus out of me to commit myself to the permanence of the video/dvd medium and I’m a big believer in facing fears. They asked if I could do a “weight loss for beginners” title, which, while fitting for my M&M lifestyle, challenged me to figure out how a ‘weighty’ beginner in mat Pilates might be able to safely, and without supervision, accomplish enough moves, with enough dynamic to actually lose weight. The answer to that was – they couldn’t! So I adapted. I created a standing workout to start the DVD and get heartrates up, and then transitioned them into a basic intermediate mat. I had also chosen some really great upbeat Latin music to be played along with the workout to inspire the pace. Unfortunately, when I received my copy, they had replaced my motivational musica with some sort of ambient spa sound that you might use to relax and unwind in a bath. The most common response in the reviews: “This DVD is too hard for a beginner.” #IAgree. Oh, and “The music sucks!” (I’m paraphrasing.)(And projecting.) Well, at least it’s safe.

And that was how the Element: Pilates Weight Loss For Beginners came to be.

Okay, we’re into the home stretch now – Sunni did you have any idea the can of worms you would open up when you asked me to “please find a tiny bit of time to write a blog post about you, and your Pilates journey”?? Yikes!

In 2012 I was asked to write a book for Women’s Health for their “BIG Book” series. Mine was appropriately entitled, The Women’s Health BIG Book of Pilates. Being that I had already written two books, a kit and a DVD about ways to learn and do the 34-plus mat exercises Joe Pilates prescribed, I wasn’t sure which direction to take this one. After looking back at my original book contract and seeing that any future books I might write needed to contain a certain high percentage of alternate content than the first book I knew I needed to get pretty creative. I decided to try and recreate a bit of the Pilates studio through the use of home equipment like balls and bands. I think I may have bought every therapeutic band and door clip on the market to try and create something similar to the support and resistance we experience on the apparatus. I got a great workout at home while developing the routines for this book and threw as much diversity into it as possible. In the end, I think it makes a phenomenal resource for teachers who teach mainly mat classes or teach one-on-one without the Pilates apparatus. It’s also great when traveling to places that don’t have access to Pilates. (Do those places even exist anymore?)

Throughout all the product production over the years, I was still running my studio re:AB. Or was it running me? I knew that I wanted – nay, needed – out many years earlier. But between wanting and getting, a huge a chasm had developed. I felt horrible guilt over the idea of letting down the, now, hundreds of clients and twenty employees that worked for me. To say nothing of the decade-old teacher training program I had established and the apprentices that were still finishing their hours. But my body and soul was saying ‘enough’. So in 2014 I closed re:AB and started the unfamiliar process of turning my care inward. We moved our family to the southern English coast (my husband is British) where we are all thriving by the seaside and I am learning how to balance my love of Pilates and teaching with the love of myself and my family.

And that book is still being written.

4 thoughts on “The Journey from “Gym Junkie” to the World-Known Pilates Author and Instructor by Brooke Siler

  1. WOW Brook! I didn’t know any of that! I was an apprentice at Drago’s when you used to do duets on the wunda chair with your friend (think she was British) on the wunda chair with Sari! Your beginning journey with Pilates sounds a bit like mine in that I started in Gyms and became a pro bodybuilder then found Pilates and started my pursuit that was 1997 at the PA ballet. I wish you all the best and thank you for much inspiration!

  2. Wow, so enjoyed reading this Brooke! Your first book, “The Pilates Body”, was used as a reference by my first Pilates instructor! It was so helpful for a beginner! Whenever your pictures were in Pilatesstyle magazine demonstrating different Pilates moves, I would save them, always perfect! Thank you for the inspiration!

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