My journey to Pilates started, as many do, with an injury. Or more specifically, through a civil war my body conducted with itself named Adrenal Fatigue. It was the early ‘90s and I was managing a fitness facility in New York’s Westchester County, which is about 40 minutes north of NYC. I had worked in fitness in a variety of roles, mostly group fitness but also personal training for many years, and thought I had reached the pinnacle of a successful career when I landed a management job. As anyone who has managed a fitness program or center knows, if an instructor calls in sick, YOU THE MANAGER have to cover the class, cuz the show must go on — especially in Westchester. So in addition to teaching my own classes (which I wouldn’t give up even though I was Manager), I often ended up teaching 4-5 classes per day — mostly high energy classes like Step, Spinning, and Sculpting. I kept to that schedule for almost 2 years and then my body’s revolt started. At that time, Adrenal Fatigue wasn’t recognized as a chronic, real, condition as it is today. I thought I was tired. I thought I didn’t work out enough because I was gaining weight. I thought my depression was because of anything else (and there were many many things that I could blame that on) not the fact that I was slowly killing myself by doing too much of EVERYTHING.
I developed a very painful lower back condition that never got any better regardless of the chiropractic or massage, or yoga or strength or stretching — or anything else — that I tried. I couldn’t stand or sit for longer than 10 or 15 minutes without being in agony. But of course, I did stand or sit even while in agony because that is what I had to do to do my job. It got to the point where I was a miserable, broken, exhausted, overweight (by 30 pounds!) zombie who pretended to be fine and dandy. One day, one of the instructors I worked with came into my office and found me crying — and for the first time I basically unloaded — I mean confided — in someone that I was only a zombie inside this body. She listened, then said, “I want you to go with me to my Pilates lesson. You’ll feel better, I promise.” I had no idea what Pilates was, but I agreed to meet her there because I was afraid to be alone that afternoon. Seriously. I didn’t want to be alone — anyone who knows me realizes how telling that statement is.
I had to teach a Spinning class right before she was scheduled to take her lesson, and it was a 10 minute car ride to the Pilates teacher, so I rushed out of the club still wearing my padded spinning shorts and broke a land-speed record to get there on time. I walked into this teacher’s house sweaty and gross, in agonizing pain, and completely giving up. We talked for a little while and then she put me on the reformer (still in my sweaty spinning shorts — OMG I could die of embarrassment right now). We started with Footwork (seriously? I can leg press well over 200 lbs and she thinks this is going to be a workout for me?), and she saw right away that I wasn’t using my legs equally. She then had me do Feet in Straps – Frog (again with extreme mortification because of my shorts and the “for real? I feel ridiculous with my feet in these straps and ropes” attitude). I was a spastic. I mean, completely uncoordinated and could barely push my legs out. Then she had me try Frog with only my left leg and it was excruciatingly painful and there was just no movement at all. She was very patient with my judgmental self. And proved over and over that I had no control over my left leg and that my right leg did all the work and no wonder my right SI joint was screwed up and I was in pain and agony.
And then she mentioned that I didn’t breathe. (“Oh for the Love of God now I don’t breathe right? I teach Yoga – I know breathing.” ) Then I was schooled on breathing — mostly exhaling — cuz, you know, I didn’t. She quietly commented that not breathing correctly (or at all in my case) contributes to all kinds of bad stuff and was the leading cause of dis-ease in people and did I think I had a lot of stress? Are you tired a lot – you should breathe better. Are you sick a lot? You probably should breathe better. Do you have a lot of joint pain? Breathing better would help that. And on and on. By the end of the session I had barely gotten past Feet in Straps and was a dripping, frustrated, HUMBLED, mess. I sweated buckets and was even more embarrassed about the whole shorts thing. I was a mess – but I was also completely sold – because by the end of that lesson my back didn’t hurt. At all. I mean the pain was completely gone. I continued to take lessons from her, and felt better and better, until one day I woke up and realized that I was back to myself again. I “refound” myself through Pilates.
I knew I needed to bring Pilates to the health club I worked for and decided to sponsor a mat training for our instructors. A longtime colleague/friend put me in touch with Joan Breibart of The PhysicalMind Institute. At this point in time, there were hardly any organized schools to learn to teach Pilates, and certainly none in Westchester. But Joan was bringing her newly organized school to NY and was willing to send us a teacher who would travel to our club to give us all a training. It was during this weekend that I decided to dedicate the rest of my career to Pilates.
I registered for one of the first NYC PhysicalMind Pilates teacher trainings immediately after that weekend. At that time the training was over the course of about 18 months or so with classes on weekends and apprentice/practice/observation times during the week. It was a grueling schedule on top of working full time and having 3 kids and a (very understanding and supportive – love ya babe) husband at home. But it has been worth every bit of stress I put myself and my family through. I keep telling myself that — it’s true some days — others — not so much.
When I first became certified, I was still working at the same health club as when I started my training. I began to offer Pilates personal training as an adjunct to my “regular” training. It wasn’t long before my clients only wanted to do Pilates. More people saw the changes in these clients’ bodies, until one day, the only clients I was seeing were Pilates clients, and my personal workout was Pilates as well.
Then one day, I had taken the day off because one of my kids was sick and home from school. While he napped I worked out in my basement on a reformer that I had purchased second-hand (from Alan Arkin!!) and I was just about finishing up when I received the phone call that ended up changing my life completely. My daughter, Carly, who was 11 at the time, had been hit by a car while crossing a busy street in our town, and was being airlifted to Westchester Medical Center. Her injuries were serious — compound fracture of tibia/fibula, multiple fractures of the pelvis/sacrum, and a fractured skull. She was, however, alive and asking me if I was mad that she was crossing a road she wasn’t supposed to be on. It was the luckiest day of my life because my little girl had survived.
For the next 4 months taking care of her consumed me. I took a leave of absence from my job, and stayed home with her while she recuperated, and was by her side for every doctor’s visit and as she started to go to physical therapy. It was excruciating watching my daughter struggle with exercises that didn’t make sense to me, under the direction of a therapist that was seeing multiple patients at the same time. We went to 5 or 6 of these appointments, until I couldn’t hear another therapist tell her “do 10 more of these and I’lll be back in a minute” and couldn’t watch the compensation patterns that were developing in her body because of the lack of precision. We walked out (me pushing her in a wheel chair) in the middle of a particularly brutal appointment, and I promised her that she wouldn’t have to go back — that I would take over her rehab.
That day was the first day of a long recovery period for Carly. She learned how to walk again doing Footwork on the Reformer, she gained strength and recovered range of motion on the Cadillac, and rebuilt her self-esteem and self-confidence on the Wunda. She also developed a love for Pilates and had a new appreciation of the joy movement can bring to you. So much so, that 6 years later she became a certified Pilates teacher through Peak Pilates, and has been a successful teacher ever since! I am convinced that I was drawn to Pilates in order to have the tools to help my daughter become healthy again. If I hadn’t been desperate enough to take that first lesson, I wouldn’t have had the knowledge or skills to help her relearn gait or to correct the faulty movement patterns she had developed during her recovery.
After the initial crisis had passed, and she was getting ready for physical therapy and rehab, I began getting calls from my clients asking when I’d be back to work. I wanted to – needed to – work again, and we needed that income, but leaving my daughter was out of the question. Anytime I left the house I had panic attacks and rushed back to make sure she was okay. She was getting better, but I was still a mess. PTSD wasn’t a thing back then, but looking back on it now, that is exactly what I was suffering from: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I confided in one of my clients that I was terrified to leave my daughter. This client, Hilary, who I think was sent to me by my guardian angel, said, “Well, you have a reformer in your basement – how about I come to your house for lessons instead of going to the club? You won’t have to leave your daughter, you’ll make some money, and I’ll get Pilates. It’s a win/win.” And that is how I started my first studio. Before long I had a thriving, busy studio running out of my house; I was home when my kids needed me, and was able to work full time without the anxiety of leaving them. Slowly, I was able to let go of the trauma and anxiety that my body and mind were holding on to, and began to recover, myself. I found that I was able to completely be in the moment, give the stressed-out brain a rest for a while, when I was teaching. Teaching Pilates saved me by giving me an outlet in which I could get out of my own shit by being of service to others, and helping them to feel better.
In 2003 my husband and I decided to make a huge change in our lifestyle. After a year of planning, we moved to the west coast of Florida in 2004. My family was there, and we were involved in the opening of a new wellness club. Our two older kids were off to college. My husband sold his businesses, we sold our house, and I sold all of my Pilates equipment (except for my Current Concepts Ladder Barrel which you will have to pry my cold, dead, fingers off of when I die) to my client, Hilary. My clients were divided up among three other teachers in the area; one was my friend who had put me in touch with PhysicalMind, and two who had started their careers by taking lessons with me! These three women have built their own successful careers, Elin Benson and Lesly Levy with Power Pilates, and Joy Puleo with Balanced Body.
The new venture included a Pilates studio. As a coincidence, the Pilates Method Alliance was holding one of it’s first conferences in Miami as I planned for this new studio, and I attended with the hopes of figuring out where I could get good equipment and how I could train more instructors to staff the new studio. It was at this conference that I met Julie Lobdell, the owner of Peak Pilates at that time, and my life was changed again. I fell in love with her equipment and purchased a full Peak Pilates studio package on the spot. She spoke to me for over an hour about Pilates, the industry, where she saw it going, and how she was developing a new education system with the help of Colleen Glenn. Julie promised to have Colleen call me to discuss having a teacher training at the new studio when they were ready to launch their educational programming.
A few weeks later, true to her word, both Julie and Colleen called me to talk about their program. They told me how it was organized, and explained that they were basing it on Romana’s programming, which was Colleen’s background, rather than on Eve’s programming, which is what PhysicalMind Institute based their system on. I don’t remember ever hearing the delineation of “classical” or “contemporary” back then. We talked about lineage and disciplines. I was completely surprised when, in the middle of this conversation, they proposed that I become a Teacher Trainer for Peak Pilates. They were having a training summit that included some other teachers that Colleen had trained and would I be interested in coming? At that point I couldn’t get away to attend, and frankly was a little intimidated by the whole different lineage thing, and didn’t know if I wanted to learn a whole new way of teaching in front of people that all spoke the same “language”. I proposed that they send a trainer from this group to Florida to train instructors to staff our studio, and I would observe the training as part of my decision-making process of whether or not I wanted to climb on board.
A few months later, Peak Pilates Teacher Trainer Cherry Herzog came to Florida to teach one of the first classes of the new Peak PilatesSystem Education. My daughter, Carly, and 4 other women were students, with me observing. The manuals weren’t even printed yet! At that time, the first module of Level 1 was 4 days long. By the end of the 2nd day, I was completely awed by this “new” way of teaching Pilates that I was learning through Peak. I decided to enroll in the course myself in order to be certified through Peak as well. Believe me when I say that it was not easy for me to relearn Pilates and to also relearn how to TEACH Pilates. I was again humbled by the Method, but found myself (again) through it by finding my Teacher’s Voice and confidence. At the end of the grueling 4 month period of this Level 1 training, I decided to take the leap and become a Teacher Trainer for Peak Pilates myself.
I was a Master Instructor for Peak for almost 15 years. During this time I had the opportunity to present at Pilates conferences, had a 4,000 square feet Education Center and working Pilates studio employing 10 other instructors that I had personally trained, and taught hundreds of students how to teach Pilates to others. I also wrote articles for major fitness magazines, taught for and appeared on Pilates Anytime, began a continuing education program for Pilates teachers to advance their teaching skills and Pilates knowledge, and met thousands of dedicated, hard-working Pilates practitioners that continue to inspire me daily.
Last year I decided to once again change up my life. I was growing restless with the status quo and had recently downsized my studio to include only one other teacher on staff (my daughter, Carly). In order to focus more of my attention on my studio and clients, I left Peak Pilates. I needed to take this time to decide what to do with the rest of my life. A new chapter is beginning for me, and while I’m not sure (exactly) what it’s going to look like, I know that it will include my passion for Pilates and for teaching others how to advance themselves and help others in this industry. I look forward to meeting and working with people who are interested in furthering the profession and practice of Pilates teaching, and to participate in the evolution of the Pilates Method. Here’s to another 25 years of Pilates!