Progress in Pilates: It Takes a While!

By Melissa Greenwood

In his Literary Hub article “Writing My Own ‘Indian American Novel’ Meant Looking to California,” author Sameer Pandya notes, “Sometimes it takes a while.” In his case, the “it” was publishing his first novel, which, on account of many false-“starts and stops,” he didn’t end up doing until he was 48.

Although I’m younger than Pandya, I understand the feeling. I remember being 28 and wondering whether to apply to graduate school for my MFA in creative writing. I lamented to my then-therapist, “But, I’ll be 30 by the time I finish!” She rightly pointed out, “You’ll be 30 either way, with or without that MFA.”

She was right. I got the degree (I also moved to Canada and back again and met and married my husband), but around the same time, I picked up a hobby – Pilates – that slowly developed into an unexpected career. Nine years ago, it was my mother who dragged me to Yogaworks for my first-ever class. The company, which I later ended up working for, is sadly no longer physically standing on account of the pandemic, but back then, it was the place where – together – we sought out the movement-cure à la mat. In the ‘70s, following a divorce, Mom had written her master’s thesis on the healing properties of movement, and now she was hurting over another break-up, and I–along with this new fitness routine–was her moral support. Although I didn’t know it then, the Pilates system would prove just as important and therapeutic for me.

I loved Contrology right from the start, even with the knowledge that I was doing it all wrong. Do you remember that Friends episode from season one – “The One with the Fake Monica” – where the girls go tap-dancing, and the teacher says to the real Monica: “You’re getting it all wrong!” That was me for the first year (or five) of weekly and then twice- and thrice-weekly Pilates. But remember Monica’s response?: “Yeah, but at least I’m doing it!” That’s exactly how I felt too. I was doing it despite the fact that it was too hard; that I was too uncoordinated; that I was too inflexible and not just in my hamstrings. (My mom says that when I was a child, flexibility was the “f” word: It was like a four-letter word to me.) Just as in the case of Pandya’s novel, progress in my then-hobby and now-career was going to take a while.

After my first exposures to this new way of moving, I was keenly aware of my shortcomings. There was patterning I couldn’t even begin to achieve and shapes that in 2011 my body could not yet form. What’s more, there were other people in the room who were so much stronger, so much more mind-body attuned. But there I was, trying it anyway.

One of my mentors, first-generation teacher Jay Grimes of Vintage Pilates, likes to joke, “Come back and show me in ten years.” In a recent virtual workshop, he added that it might take a decade or two to master anything in the system, “but don’t give up…it’s a lifetime journey.”

Jay’s words hold wisdom even outside the Contrology world. They apply to any pursuit and certainly to my three hobbies: writing, singing, and teaching. No matter how much natural talent we bring to the table–and I had no aptitude when it came to Pilates–there is always more to learn. It’s like the old adage: The more we know, the less we know. That’s why, even after completing a 600+ hour comprehensive, classical bridge certification, I still take Pilates lessons almost daily and attend all the workshops I can afford. That’s why, even after publishing articles and earning an English teaching credential and graduate writing degree, I still wake up early every morning to attend a writing group. That’s why, even after finishing my weekly voice lesson, something I’ve done on and off since I was 11, I still make the time for self-practice.

This is all just to say that everything worth doing well “takes a while,” whether that something is finding a career that fulfils you; a romantic partner worthy of becoming a life-partner; or Pilates in your body. It’s even been true of finding my teacher’s voice or the right words–now more so than ever in our Zoom-world–so my students understand what I’m asking of them and can work, bit by bit, at achieving it.

A dedicated Pilates practitioner since 2011, Melissa Greenwood—a reformed couch-potato—has been teaching the method since 2014. She has taught both in the US and Canada and, from 2017-2019, bridged her piecemeal Contrology certifications with a comprehensive one she highly-recommends from Strong Body Pilates in Los Angeles.

In her life before Pilates, Melissa had zero athleticism or coordination and struggled with yo-yoing weight, as well as disordered-eating. Like her mother, and Mr. Pilates before that, Melissa found that “movement heals”—flash-forward to several of her own break-ups, pre-marriage. Melissa is proof that this system is literally for every body and everybody—even people who aren’t natural-born movers, like herself. Case in point: As a kid, she only ever once scored a goal in soccer; unfortunately, it was for the other team. With that in mind, and with the new understanding that progress “takes a while,” Melissa sets more realistic goals for herself these days as she works to continuously hone her craft.

Here, Melissa demonstrates the control balance: pre-quarantine at Strong Body Pilates,where she teaches (left); on vacation in Carmel, California in August of 2018 (center); and on the same beach this past summer—July 2020 (right). Progress, progress, progress!

Journey to Becoming a Pilates Master Instructor

My journey to becoming a Pilates Master instructor began when my mom handed me a pair of “Reeboks with the strap” and told me about an opportunity to audition as a fitness/group exercise instructor for a local organization. Given I had been dancing and doing gymnastics since I was ten, it seemed like a natural fit. So I happily went to auditions and got the job! That was just the beginning and it propelled me to study Fitness Management in college. I began teaching aerobics and gymnastics and was the president of the dance company. My job naturally kept me fit and strong and helping others to become fit and strong became my goal.

After my college graduation, I worked for the YMCA as a fitness director and while there I began competing in the National Aerobics Competition. I ended up doing very well with my mixed pairs partner who was a dancer. After several years of intense training and competition, it took a toll on my body and I ended up with a severe avulsed fracture of C6&7. Training clients and personal workouts became difficult for me. I decided to go to a physical therapist for my neck and they gave me exercises that were very similar to Pilates. It made me feel so much better that I ended up attending a Pilates workshop. Immediately I was sold!! Although I didn’t study physical therapy in college, I had a real passion for it and decided to specialize in Post Rehab/Corrective Exercise Training for my clients. Working with local PT’s and chiropractors in order to bridge the gap between fitness and the medical community created a relationship among my professional network in DC. I was happy to send my clients to the right practitioners and in return, they returned the favor by referring clients to me. It was a win-win! I then began providing CEC workshops for everything fitness. Whether it was step, low impact, muscle conditioning, post rehab, cycling or Pilates,I presented my workshops at multiple conferences on the East Coast. I had found my passion!

Being a gymnast, I have always been a very structured individual. Naturally the discipline of Pilates was appealing and it came very easily to me. After attending a weekend with Janine Galatti, a 2nd generation Romana certified instructor, my body felt amazing. I was sore in places I hadn’t been sore before (the good kind) and I found areas of my body that probably never had been trained that way. Following that weekend, I signed up for a year long certification program. For the entirety of 2001 I drove to Philadelphia every other month and learned the classical Pilates method. During the course of that year I experienced many different things, but one thing stays clear in my mind. I had a hip flexor release during the roll up and FINALLY my neck didn’t hurt during any supine exercises. As part of my training I had to work with other instructors, observe, take lessons and have practical teaching hours. It was during this intense process that I truly began to understand the classical method of Pilates and how important it was to learn, practice and teach the original classical order. I was blessed to have had this experience as a health and fitness professional and it only improved my skills as a personal trainer, group exercise instructor and education provider.

In 2003 I began my journey to becoming a fully comprehensive classical Pilates instructor. I met with Cameron Macdonald, a Master Instructor for Peak Pilates. She was starting a Level 1 weekend and I was ready to go! Over the next two years, I made the investment of time and money and finished my Level 3 training and, despite having two young children, I committed to opening a studio. During my training we talked multiple times about using my fitness presenter skills and becoming a PIlates teacher trainer. Peak was still building their program, and my children were really young so I decided to wait until the time was right. I LOVE learning, especially Pilates and anything health and fitness related so I attended every workshop I could find and filled my brain with knowledge. It was in 2014 that I decided to attend a three day Pilates and PT workshop with Clare Dunphy. Cameron always wanted me to train with Clare, she said we would be a great fit! I was so happy to finally have the time. The weekend was wonderful and the workshop blended two things that I truly love: Pilates and post rehabilitation/PT. It was nice getting to know Clare and as we walked on the beach and talked about my desire to be a Pilates Educator, I was driven to begin the process.

In late 2014, Peak was adding to their list of Master Instructors and I was encouraged to apply. Quickly putting everything together, I gathered references, filled out a lengthy application form, provided instructing videos as well as Pilates performance videos AND had a zoom/skype interview. There was a lot of work to be done in order to make it happen. When I received my acceptance into the Peak M.I. program I was nervous and excited but so proud and eager to get going! Over the next two and a half years, I attended M.I. camps and co-taught with other Peak Senior M.I’s. It was a great experience to go through the entire comprehensive program AGAIN. Their backgrounds were so well rounded and it was an amazing yet an exhausting and worthwhile experience.

Oprah Winfrey said “The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance, and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.” I am incredibly passionate about helping others learn to teach the Pilates method. My journey has not been a direct path, but all of the steps along the way and the people who have helped to shape me into the Master Instructor that I am have only served to fuel that passion. Since 2017, I have been a Level 3 Master Instructor and the time spent with each and every instructor I have trained and certified has been all that I dreamed of and more.

“Debi on Demand” Vincent

Debi Vincent is the owner of Active Body & Health Inc., a Personal Training, Pilates and Sports Performance company. 
As a certified instructor through Peak Pilates, NCPT and a member of PMA she is a recognized leader in the fitness industry and is regularly called upon to share her knowledge and expertise with other trainers across the country. As a Comprehensively Certified Pilates Instructor and Master Instructor for Peak Pilates, Debi has spent more than 30 years in the industry as a trainer, educator and athlete. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Fitness Management and has been a fitness pro for over 30 years. As an athlete, Debi has been a national aerobics competitor, regional champion, Lululemon ambassador and a highly competitive collegiate gymnast. Her specialized training and competitive experience, coupled with her energy, enthusiasm, and passion for sharing knowledge, have been the foundation of her successful business. She has numerous dedicated clients who are continuously inspired by her enthusiasm, knowledge, and constant support. 

Debi is proud to be an Education Center and Instructor trainer for the Peak Pilates Comprehensive Training program, offering only the best in quality Pilates Instructor Education. She also enjoys offering continuing education workshops for instructors. 

The Reveal: Best Pilates Client to Teach

Recently, my sister asked me what type of student was the most rewarding to teach. I didn’t even have to think about it — a professional athlete or a professional dancer, highly physically conditioned and very motivated. When she probed a little deeper though, I realized something quite profound. Actually, it wasn’t the talent of a body I was attracted to; it was the talent of a mind. I recalled a former client who was not an athlete nor a dancer. She was a professional writer who basically sat on her butt all day which caused her to have constant back aches. Shaped like an apple, she practically rolled into my studio.

From the very first exercise she attempted, her overall weakness and lack of abdominal strength were obvious, and I wondered if she’d stick around long enough for me to help her. But she did. I underestimated her commitment to changing her life, and she made such progress that her backaches completely disappeared, her waistline narrowed and her enjoyment of working out was evident. She made me think of Mr. Pilates’ quote, “Physical fitness is the first requisite to happiness.” I loved teaching her because she was present, smart and willing to try anything I asked. However, because she was body illiterate, I had to be very clear about my choice of words and readjusted my language and terminology.

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Heritage of a Lifetime

by Jillian Hessel

If you’re a teacher or avid student of Pilates, you can trace your roots back to a mentor or formative teacher. Since Pilates is life-changing,many of us decide to become teachers ourselves. This is how the living chain of Pilates lineage works: Our mentors change our lives, and we teach the next genera-tion of students, inspiring them with the transformative magic of Pilates.

I initially studied with two Pilates elders simultaneously: Kathy Grant and Carola Trier. In 1981, I was dancing professionally in New York City, but years of ballet training had taken their toll on my body. A fellow dancer told me about her teacher, Kathy Grant, who had helped her with a chronically painful back condition, so I decided to give it a try.

My first impression of Kathy’s studio was intimidating. It was very small, and filled with all sorts of strange-looking apparatus. But oh, the beautiful movements her clients performed on that equipment! To my untrained eye, it looked like a combination of gymnastics, yoga and underwater ballet. I longed to do it immediately; after all, I was a professional dancer, so why not? All too soon, I learned why not.
Continue reading “Heritage of a Lifetime”

All Roads Lead to Joe

A road with many twists and turns: Cheerleader, Gymnast, Modern Dancer, Iyengar Yoga Teacher, Communication and Wellness Consultant and last but not least Pilates Aficionado. While teaching Pilates and managing a studio is where I am now, the various paths that led to here are most definitely connected. Let’s start with the Cliff Notes version of Midwest Girl goes to New York City then on to The Netherlands and ends up in sunny California.

I grew up Quincy, Illinois, daughter of a successful basketball coach, Mom of many talents and brother extraordinaire.Took my first dance class at age three and was hooked from that moment on. At that same time, I became the mascot for our father’s team, the Quincy Blue Devils. This passion for dance, cheerleading and gymnastics all morphed into one huge dream of life = movement. (little did I know that would later be Pilates)

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Journey to Classical Pilates: Building a Successful Classical Pilates Studio

My name is Lili Viola and I am a Pilates teacher and studio owner in Toronto, Canada. My original training in Pilates dates back to 2002 through Stott Pilates in Toronto. I went through all of their training in modules, beginning with the mat and Reformer and gradually adding in the Cadillac, Chairs and Barrels modules, and working through their certification process to the advanced levels. I started my work experience teaching primarily mat group classes at gyms, and eventually ended up teaching out of a fitness club that had Stott equipment and the ability to offer me private clients.

In 2013, I was hired by Equinox to be the Coordinator for the Pilates studio in their newly opened location on Bay Street in Toronto. This studio was outfitted with Gratz apparatus, and this is where my conversion story begins.

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My Pilates Journey by Jennifer Ruggiero

My name is Jennifer Ruggiero and own The Pilates Movement in NYC. My journey with Pilates began as a dance major at SUNY Purchase in 1994. It was built into an Anatomy class we were required to take. My first impression at 18 years old was not a good one. It pointed out all of my muscular imbalances that my body had from years of ballet and my ego didn’t like that very much. In truth, I hated it.

In 1995 I had developed a stress fracture in my second metatarsal of my left foot which meant I could not take my dance courses for about 6 months. The dance department at Purchase during those years had a Pilates studio downstairs. I was allowed to take Pilates private sessions in place of my dance technique classes. I was 19 years old and not dancing while all of my friends were upstairs dancing, was torture, not to mention I was in a lot of pain. 6 months later I was allowed back into my dance classes and to my amazement my body was stronger than it was before. When I think back to those sessions, they were very interesting as I was not able to put any weight on my foot. My teachers did not follow any specific order with me and it was a very different experience from what I was used to. Continue reading “My Pilates Journey by Jennifer Ruggiero”

Pilates Fire That Keeps on Burning – Going More Joe with Carrie Pfenning

carrie pfenningIn 1995 I was a performing arts major in my junior year at The Boston Conservatory. I spent one hour a week in Jessica Sayre’s ‘floor barre’ class. In this class we quickly executed the same exercises every week, following Jessica’s enthusiastic voice while we moved to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. And while I was having fun, those same exercises got a little boring after a while. During that year, I had been at my strongest in the studio and on stage, and looking back on it, I now attribute that to the “floor barre” that I had been doing. So, really, my “Going More Joe” experience happened over a period of 17 years. Some of us learn quickly, while some of us…well, you get the idea.

By 2001 I had finished my brief stint in the performing arts world and had become an early childhood educator. My youngest son had just been born, and as a Mother’s Day gift I received a gift certificate for 10 mat classes and 2 private lessons at a local Pilates studio. (To this day my husband marvels over the fire that gift certificate sparked.) My college roommate was getting certified to teach Pilates and had been telling me how much I would love it. Well, I did love it. It’s precision and principles spoke to my inner dancer, and it was suggested I get certified. Why not? I had a degree in Performing Arts and one in Education- it made sense as a next step even though I already had a plan to work towards a job in the school system (for the benefits and vacations). Benefits and vacations had no chance in my mind anymore – I was in love with Pilates.

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Going More Joe Story by Susannah Cotrone

Susannah Cotrone
My first introduction to Pilates was as a 14-year-old ballerina at the Houston Ballet summer intensive. They had a studio on site and it was a required activity for our level. I was very annoyed that I had to wake up early and take an exercise class before my ballet class and tried many different ways to get out of it. Eventually, I was rounded up and shipped off to my first Pilates class. And wouldn’t you know it, I loved it! I had never taken a class that was so balanced, specific and useful for what I wanted to do with my body. That summer I went from trying to avoid Pilates to trying to sneak on the bus whenever there was an extra spot.

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