Posts tagged ‘Success Story’

Advancing to the Ideal: Modify and then Advance

Some of the greatest tools available to us in Pilates are modifications of exercises. Modifications are great! They are necessary! However…we must make sure that over time, when appropriate and possible, we bring out clients closer and closer to the Ideal of the exercise…and eventually the Ideal…again, if possible. There are some common modifications that are often kept too long and not advanced to the Ideal. Let’s address a few of them:

Continue Reading November 23, 2010 at 10:49 am 14 comments

Pilates Teachers, what do you need?



Pilates Teachers, what do you need?

I’m about to begin writing an article on Continuing Education and would love your input.  Would you help me out by answering a few questions?

If you’re willing, please copy/paste the following 11 questions on an e-mail to me.  I could really use your help.  I want your voice heard.  Not just mine.  Please, don’t be shy!

E-mail me at with answers to the following:

1 – What do you want from Continuing Education (CE)?

2 – Are Conferences and Workshops satisfying your CE needs?

3 – What works at conferences?  What doesn’t?

4 – What works at workshops that aren’t conferences?  What doesn’t?

5 – What do you think the hourly rate for a workshop should be?  What is it worth to you?  What can you afford?

6 – Are PMA credits important to you for a CE workshop?

7 – What would you like to learn in a workshop?  New exercises?  New skills?  Dig deeper into exercises and skills you already know, but now have a different perspective on since you’re a teacher and not an apprentice?

8 – Would you list 3 (or more) workshops you wish you could go to?

9 – What is the best day of week/weekend and time for workshops?

10 – What else would you like to share about CE?

11 – Would you be available for an interview on this subject?

Thank you!  Thank you!  I can’t express to you how much I appreciate your input on this!

*****Please check in next week for a post on how to deal with conflicting information from multiple sources.

If you’re in NYC and want a Pilates session e-mail me at

If you’d like a workshop and/or semi-privates at your studio, e-mail me at  I travel all over the world and would be thrilled to come to you!

If you’d like to set up a meeting on the phone or in person to ask questions about the teaching or building your business, e-mail me at

– Shari

November 12, 2010 at 10:30 pm 5 comments

Flow, rushing, pacing…what’s it all about?

Cog and Wheel Flow

A colleague wrote in asking our community for assistance on a question a client asked him.  Great stuff!  Here’s what he wrote:

“So a client asked me a direct question today!

Direct questions give so much away, tells you so much more about whats going on, but the best bit is, she made me think, and I have thunk, and now I am here!

Me; Try not to rush! (or “don’t” rush through it) she’s always in a rush, but I love that energy, its precious!
Me; Try to flow through it (or “do” take a little more time) she just can’t wait to finish the race, and I can’t take that zing away from her!

30 mins in she say’s “Whats the difference between rushing and Flow”?
Now I know the difference, In me, I can see it in her, but I don’t think I answered her properly, and we were busy in her session!

Its a simple question, and the answer could probably be discovered by her in time, but shouldn’t I have been able to answer then? irrespective of her knowledge and maturity in pilates!

I couldn’t and may still not be able to put it into context for her!”

I’m glad that he’s asked about this…and is thinking about it!  It’ important for us to be able to understand what we say and why we say it.  If a client is going to trust us and follow us, we ought to be able to really understand everything that we’re saying and asking of them.  It’s  a process.  Staying present and understanding beyond the action but deeper into the whys and wherefores.

Flow (in Pilates) is continuous movement.  The connection of one move into the next, one repetition into the next, one exercise into the next.
Flowing movement has rhythm.  That rhythm is set by the teacher’s voice.  What rhythms do we use?  Mr. Pilates’ rhythms.  He had a set rhythm to every exercise (this is why we don’t use music in classical Pilates.  The rhythms of outside music would conflict with the rhythms of the exercises.  Perhaps some would be congruous, but most would be incongruous.)

Tempo is speed.  The tempo or speed of an exercise can be fast or slow or somewhere in between.  They rhythms remain the same, but the speed can be altered to either challenge or assist the body or the mind.

So, we can have fast flow or slow flow.  As long as it’s continuous movement, it’s all flow.  Flow is continuous movement.  That’s all.

If your client is racing through an exercise or is lagging behind, they are not keeping up with the rhythm or perhaps the tempo that you were desiring.  We have to ask the following questions:
1 – Did I set a strong rhythm and tempo?  And do I maintain that tempo long enough for my client to pick it up?
2 – Have I taught my client to follow the rhythms and tempos that I’ve created?
3 – Have I done 1 and 2, but my client is not focused enough to pick it up?

If the trouble lies in 1 and 2, then you have take a look at your style of teaching and make sure you are commanding your class/session in the flow department with rhythms that you set verbally/vocally.  If the trouble is 3, then you have to notice that your client is not doing a mind/body workout.  S/he is stuck in body only and not connecting mentally.

How do you take care of 1 and 2…come to my Flow and Rhythm workshops.

How do you take care of 3?  Kindly, you have to teach your client that concentration is an important part of Pilates.  To get the full-value of the Pilates workout, it’s important to make  a mind/body connection.  S/he will benefit more at actually get whatever s/he wanted to get from Pilates if s/he works to focus and stay present.  The rhythms and tempos are important.  Encourage your client to listen strongly for your rhythms and tempos and coordinate the movement with them.  Also, encourage your client to use this hour to put outside cares aside.  The time spent in the Pilates studio focused only on this method will help align all that is going on in the outside world, too, but not by thinking about it while s/he’s working out.  Instead, let it go for the hour and return to it refreshed afterwards.

Now, I wonder if the confusion from our colleague comes in from the Power Pilates technique of teaching Technique Flow Cue.  It’s a great formula, but many teachers get confused and most do not clarify.  “Flow” is a teaching component.  A useful tool for teaching your client.  There are other useful tools like hands-on touch, spotting, cueing, etc.  Being able to use your voice to create a sense of continuous movement is a tool.  In the formula laid out by Power Pilates, Flow is also the key factor to teaching repetition #2 of any new exercise to a client.  What that means is that you focus on the rhythm, tempo and accents of that exercise on the 2nd repetition, in the attempt for the client to have continuous motion.

So…what to share with this client?  Some exercises are fast, some are slow.  All exercises have a set rhythm.  I pick the tempo/speed.  It’s my job to give you that rhythm and tempo clearly, your job to follow it.  When you rush, you are usually going faster than the set tempo and losing precision.  It’s absolutely possible to be fast and precise; however, you’re losing your precision and therefor some of the benefit.  It’s a partnership between teacher and client…a dance together in a way.

I hope this helps!

Please let me know if this sparks any questions, positive changes in your teaching, challenges in your teaching, etc.
Thank you for taking the time to read and continue your education in this way!

If you’re in NYC and want a Pilates session e-mail me at

If you’d like a workshop and/or semi-privates at your studio, e-mail me at  I travel all over the world and would be thrilled to come to you!

In fact, I’m at
ALL Wellness in Burlington, VT – Oct. 16,
Pilates Internacionale  Barcelona, SPAIN – Nov. 5-7,
Pilates on Fifth, NYC – Nov. 13

If you’d like to set up a meeting on the phone or in person to ask questions about the teaching or building your business, e-mail me at

Enjoy!- Shari




October 7, 2010 at 4:20 pm 14 comments

Purpose and Legacy

Kathy Grant Dancing!

Our lives are busy.  Filled with family, friends, work, hobbies and sleeping.  It’s not easy taking time out for more.  Still, sometimes we must and when we do, we are sometimes rewarded beyond our expectations.

I hope this post inspires you in some way either personally, professionally or both.  While I will write a post that is about exercises and tips another day this week, sometimes we need tips and reminders not about technique, but about living and why we teach Pilates.  If we remember why we started doing and teaching Pilates in the first place, take stock of how we’ve grown, then we can continue with passion and grace for a long time to come.

Can you tell I went to Kathy Stanford Grant’s memorial last night?  Yes.

The Alvin Ailey Theater was filled with Kathy’s family.  Those she is/was genetically connected to, those who she claimed as her “kids” and those who admired her, learned from her and are still learning…like me.

Last night, I learned more of what I had suspected about Kathy.  She was more than a stunning dancer, creative administrator, intuitive and intellectual teacher of dance and Pilates.  Kathy was a woman.  She lived life.  Lived it.  No holds barred, I see, she figured out what she wanted to say and said it.  She grew beyond ego and shared her heart.  Sometimes the package was soft and sometimes it was hard.  Last night, those who shared their memories of her showed us all that she would stop at nothing to teach what she believed, help others and live life the way she desired.

If we’re lucky, we all go through many phases in life.  We are shy, then bold, then full of ego, then humbled and more.  These are often the phases of our teaching in Pilates.  They are natural and necessary.  Especially the “humbled and more”.  Once we understand our truest gifts and their power to do good for others, ego goes by the wayside and must.  It’s important to have experienced boldness and know the value of what you have to give and then find yourself humbled by your purpose which is to share and help.  That is what a teacher does in and out of the studio.

Kathy seemed to delight in giving all that she had to everyone who wanted it.  Can we do the same?  I think so.

I came to Pilates hoping to help others in the way that it helped me.  This method and my teachers helped me regain both physical and emotional strength after I was paralyzed and then scared to move again.  I was sorely disappointed when I learned how much in-fighting there is behind the scenes and how much of the business is about training very wealthy people who don’t find value in their time, dollar or lives.  Of course, there are many who appreciate every moment of their sessions, apply it to their lives in every aspect both physically and emotionally, but you all know what I’m talking about.  I have been blessed with a remarkable clientele of hardworking, passionate people, but I have also seen my share of those who do not appreciate their privileged position.  I want to stay excited about doing and teaching Pilates even when a client or life has the potential to take me down.

So, I look at what Kathy has done with her life and career.  Beyond her dance work where she performed, of course, but then built dance companies that gave life to art and gave livelihoods to many, many people.  In Pilates, she continued to save the dancer, among other non-dancing clients.  From my perspective, she seemed to have a mission:  Save the dancer…Keep her/him dancing throughout life in one way or another.  She did it!  She did what she set out to do.  She had a purpose and now has a legacy.  She had her niche.  From her niche she reached out to all people…she would have been successful with anyone, but it is from her primary passion that she developed something tremendous for all.

Would you take  a moment to recall what passion got you into Pilates in the first place?  Why did you decide to start teaching?  Why are you teaching still?  Have you fallen into the common mundanity of it or do you find ways to reignite that fire of why you started in the first place?

Our “Pilates Elders” are just human beings.  Kathy Stanford Grant was just a woman.  She truly lived a life.

Kathy Grant

Please take a moment to comment, ask a question about this or anything in Pilates, say hi, etc.!
If you’re around, I’m presenting workshops in Burlington, VT on Oct. 16, New York City on Nov. 13 and Barcelona, SPAIN Nov. 5-7. E-mail me if you want information!

If you’re in NYC and want a Pilates session e-mail me at
If you’d like a workshop and/or semi-privates at your studio, e-mail me at  I travel all over the world and would be thrilled to come to you!
If you’d like to set up a meeting on the phone or in person to ask questions about the teaching or building your business, e-mail me at
– Shari

September 28, 2010 at 1:10 pm 12 comments

Commanding Your Class – A question from a reader

Many teachers ask me wonderful questions that I either answer directly or through the comment section of this blog. Katie, a teacher in San Diego, asked me a question about commanding the class. I thought I’d share my entire response with you all:

On September 4, 2010, Katie wrote this to me:

Hello Shari, First of all, you’ve been doing a fantastic job giving advice and providing a forum for Pilates instructors to discuss important topics and I want to thank you for that! Second, I came across an article you wrote regarding being able to command the class with authority. It was a short paragraph ( so I was hoping if you might be able to expand more on that topic in future blogs.

I am currently undergoing a certification program, and one of the requirements is to practice teaching for mixed level group classes. Along with the many difficulties of teaching group classes, the most difficult part of teaching for me is being able to command the session. I often find that some clients are rushing through the exercises while others are leisurely performing the exercises, and as a result, the faster clients end up waiting. I often tell the faster clients to slow down the movement and do the exercises with control and precision, but sometimes they don’t listen! What can I do to take a more authoritative position in my classes?

Thank you!

On September 6, 2010, I responded with the following:

Hi, Katie,

Thank you for reaching out to me…and for reading my blog!

I understand the challenges of commanding a session whether it be one person or a group. You are not alone. A lot of people have trouble with this. Because you are aware that command slips away from you or, perhaps, it takes all your energy and will to maintain command of the class, you are already on the road to overcoming this. However, there are definitely ways to move forward strongly.

1 – Be well prepared. That means you have to truly know the material inside and out. You have to practice it all on yourself, often, and teach as often as you can. If you have questions, you ask the most senior teacher available to you and get those questions answered.

2 – While you are certainly concerned about every client in the class, don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to control them all. You can’t. You give clean clear instructions, strong rhythms to exercises, direct cues that even if they are only for one person, you direct them to the entire class so that everyone can benefit. If some people rush…let them rush. If some people are too slow…let them catch up. You set it all strongly and make them work to your pace. You are the expert. If clients are rushing or too slow, don’t hestitate to say, with kindness, “Listen to my rhythm and stay with me”. That means, again, that you have to set strong rhythms. Do you know your rhythms and do you set them by the 2nd repetition and maintain them?

3 – There are often a few people who disrupt the class making it seem as though the class is their private session. While not ignoring them, you must not give them power. You can have a talk with these people after class and remind them that this is a group class. You can’t stop the class to answer their questions, but you are more than willing to talk with them after class or they can take private sessions to learn more. Keep those talks very, very brief. They really ought to take private sessions if they want more from you.

You mustn’t be afraid to be the teacher. You are the expert.

Take more and more sessions and classes, continue your education, study up and keep asking questions.

Does that help at all?!

Thank you for reaching out! Please reach out again!

All the best,
– Shari

On September 7, 2010, much to my delight, Katie wrote back with this:

Hi Shari, Thank for such a detailed response!

You mentioned setting a rhythm for the class and I found that advice very useful when I taught because I saw that clients knew what the right pace for the exercises were.

I really appreciate the time you took to answer my questions and I look forward to reading more blog posts!

Are you still holding workshops in Beverly Hills or have you moved to New York?

Thanks again!

***I do hope this gives you all some ideas of how to help yourself command your classes. I always say, “command with kindness”. You do not have to beat your clients up to maintain their attention or respect. Please let me know if this sparks any questions, positive changes in your teaching, challenges in your teaching, etc.

Thank you for taking the time to read and continue your education in this way!  Please comment, ask questions, say hello!

If you’re in NYC and want a Pilates session e-mail me at

If you’d like a workshop and/or semi-privates at your studio, e-mail me at I travel all over the world and would be thrilled to come to you!

If you’d like to set up a meeting on the phone or in person to ask questions about the teaching or building your business, e-mail me at Enjoy! – Shari

September 8, 2010 at 3:48 pm 11 comments

Breathing – That’s What Your Nose Is For!

Breathe in and out through your nose!

Breathing…it’s fundamental. We don’t think about it in daily life…an autonomic action…but, boy, does it become an issue in Pilates. It seems that every school of Pilates teaches a different way to breathe. What was Mr. Pilates’ intention?

Well, Mr. Pilates just wanted you to breathe properly. Proper breath is both inhalation and exhalation through the nose.

Yes…through your nose.

Close your mouth and breathe in and out through your nostrils. The entire system of your nostrils, to sinuses/nasal cavity to trachea to lungs is designed to heat, hydrate and purify the air you take in so that it is prepared to oxygenate your blood…the stuff of life.

When you breathe through your mouth, you dry out the tissues of your mouth, trachea and lungs as well as allow in every molecule of pollution. The dryness and particles add not only to bad breath, but also open you up for infection. The more dry your membranes, the more liable to crack. Those cracks become entryways for bacteria and viruses to enter your system.

The very small entryway of your nostrils is your first line of defense against bacteria and viruses. Your lips and mouth are far bigger than nostrils allowing a lot of danger in. Directly inside your nostrils are nose hairs. While they seem rather annoying, they are incredibly functional catching big debris and small. Air passing through these hairs is literally combed. Teeth and tongue don’t do quite the same thing. Those nose hairs also help heat and hydrate the air which is vital for respiration.

If that’s not convincing enough, the mucus in your nose is another catch-all for particles and gives a means of getting rid of these particles from your body. Blowing your nose allows you to expel the dirt and debris that you take in without letting it enter deeply into your body. If you take everything into your mouth, then you must swallow and allow every bit of polluted debris to go through your digestive track, liver, kidneys, etc. That takes up far too much energy. It’s inefficient. Why make your body work harder than it needs to? Use what you’ve got. Your nose and sinuses were meant for this!

One more thing, because the air has to pass through the wild caverns of your sinuses, warm and deep within your body, the air stays hydrated sometimes moistening the tissues it passes by and other times taking on more moisture. And the cilia (microscopic hairs) beat back and forth to move that mucus where it needs to get to get out of you! (Horrid, yes…but incredible!)

Breathing through your nose is brilliant! And all you have to do is close your mouth!

But wait…there’s more!

When you work to breathe through your nose in exercise…it’s actually work! Yes! And your goal in exercise is exertion. Mr. Pilates wanted you to learn to breathe correctly. Part of it is to have a complete and strong exhalation. When you exhale completely, not only do you rid yourself of stale, old air, but you create space to let in fresh, new air. A strong exhalation through your nose requires effort from your abdominals…your deepest abdominals. Your transverse abdominus is your deepest layer of abdominals. It’s the layer we’re seeking to connect with in Pilates. And a great way to connect is to work the exhale because the transverse abdominus aids in exhalation! While it works when you exhale through your mouth, it doesn’t have to work very hard at all. A strong exhalation through your nose with the effort of your transverse abdominus helps you make a healthy core connection.

OK…so what do you teach your clients?

Beginners have a difficult time coordinating their breath. Except for a few exercises that can teach them where to inhale and exhale (The Hundred, The Roll Up, Spine Stretch Forward and Breathing), there is little reason to teach breath in other exercises at the beginner level.. Wait until they are more intermediate before layering on many breathing cues.

The action of in and out through the nose can wait, too. It takes a lot of mental energy to get this physical coordination. If your clients ask, then have them try. If they can’t do it…that’s fine. Eventually, they will be able to coordinate it all.

If they can do in the nose, but can’t do out through the nose (the more difficult action, for certain) then they can do a modification for a while: Inhale through the nose, then exhale strongly through pursed lips as though you’re blowing through a tiny straw. That narrow passage way through the lips simulates a nostril. At least it will take effort from the transverse abdominus to push the air through that tiny opening and considerable focus.

When it is possible, when your client has become adept at this modified breathing, then advance the breath to the ideal breath: in through the nose, out through the nose. Don’t forget to advance your clients to idea versions of exercises and actions. This one in particular.

What about when your client’s nose is stuffed or because of other sinus problems your client can’t do this breath at all…no way no how? Then just make sure your client is breathing in and out and not holding his breath (unless that’s part of the action of the exercise, of course).

What’s beautiful about this breath (in and out through the nose), is that it is a simple example of how actions we do in Pilates are intended to be actions we do in the rest of life. This is how you breathe in Pilates…and how you are meant to breathe in life. Now, I hope it’s clear why.

Close your mouth and breathe through your nose! What else is it there for? Just to smell? Your mouth is for eating, drinking, talking and kissing. Your nose is for smelling and breathing! And it looks cute in the center of your face!

*****Thank you for reading! Please take a moment to comment, ask a question or request a blog topic!

*****If you’re in the NYC are and would like a Pilates session, e-mail me at to schedule

*****If you’re interested in my coming to your studio for workshops, e-mail me at to create something for you, your teachers and community!

August 18, 2010 at 10:05 pm 24 comments

Classical Confusion: Clarifying the Definition of Classical Pilates

Jospeh Hubertus Pilates

What is Classical Pilates?  While it can be clearly defined in 3 sentences, there are a couple of variations within this strict definition.  It’s worth taking the time to understand what Classical Pilates is and a little bit about the differences in teaching it…even if you are a Classical Pilates teacher, I urge you to read.  You might have questions, comments, disagreements or clarifications with what I say.  I welcome it all!

I teach many teachers in sessions and workshops and realize that while I was trained by Romana Kryzanowska, I teach in a different way than some of my fellow Romana-trained teachers.  There are a growing number of us who have evolved differently creating at least 2 sects of Classical Pilates teachers.  I’m glad we have this forum to discuss it!

Classical Pilates (defined):
Joseph Pilates actual exercises executed in the order he created with his intentions.

Let’s delve into these 3 parts of Classical Pilates.

Joseph Pilates Exercises:

Classical Pilates covers only the actual exercises that Mr. Pilates created.  These exercises are verified through The Elders (who are wonderfully clear on what are Mr. Pilates’ exercises and what are their own creations), photographs (which there are many.  They are beautifully clear with shots from one action to the next within each exercise) and film (converted to video.  While the conversion makes everything appear faster than in real-time, these are valuable, easily accessible on DVD and YouTube and vital to watch).

A Classical Pilates teacher teaches only these exercises.  When s/he does an exercise that is not Pilates, s/he clearly states, “This is not a Pilates exercise…” and briefly explains where it does come from (her own creation, physical therapy, yoga, etc.).

A Classical Pilates teacher might create a modification that will assist/train a client to be able to do the ideal version of the exercise, but never claims that that is an exercise created by Mr. Pilates.  Instead, it is a preparatory exercise intended to develop into Mr. Pilates’ creation.

When it comes to variations (advanced versions of an exercise), a Classical Pilates teacher stays within the variations Mr. Pilates’ created.

Why do we stick to what Mr. Pilates created and not venture into our own or others’ work?  Because we find that doing it all Mr. Pilates way truly crafts the body and mind into balance.  Mr. Pilates’ exercises are simple enough, challenging enough and “deep” enough to delve into for a lifetime.  So, we stick to this.

The Order of Exercises:
Mr. Pilates created a set order of exercises on the mat and reformer.  A Classical Pilates teacher follows this order every time s/he works on the reformer and mat.  S/He may omit exercises to make it suitable for the level of the client (over the past 20 years, training programs have created systems to determine what are beginner exercises [foundational actions], intermediate exercises [physically accessible and appropriately challenging to a majority of clientele], advanced exercises [truly challenging for even the strongest, normal healthy client] and super-advanced exercises [the extra challenge for elite athletes and Pilates professionals.  Some regular clients will do these, but they are the utterly devoted who are true Pilates-philes].  These systems were developed to help apprentices and new teachers know what to do and what not to do with a client.).

Classical Pilates teachers teach within the order of exercises Mr. Pilates created for the reformer and mat.

Why?  Because Mr. Pilates’ order appropriately warms up the body, challenges and cools it down.  His order strengthens and stretches the torso, arms and legs in all planes of movement.  His order challenges clients in the appropriate progression with and then against gravity:  lying down, sitting up, kneeling, standing.

What about on other apparatus?  Classical Pilates teachers use the previously mentioned progression as well as all of the information s/he gathered during the reformer and mat portion of the session to pick which exercises to do on other apparatus and which order to do them in.  If the session is primarily on an additional piece of apparatus like the wunda chair or cadillac/trapeze table, then a Classical Pilates teacher works to create a session with that gravitational progression and the theory behind the reformer and mat exercise orders to create a well-balanced and challenging session for her client.

Now, I must note that the current order of exercises on both mat and reformer are different than what Mr. Pilates did.  There are benefits and drawbacks to this.  Most teachers don’t actually even know that they are different.  And most don’t know that there are a lot of exercises left out of training programs that are vital to the balance of the body.  There are plenty of exercises for extension, lateral flexion and rotation of the spine that are no part of the common vocabulary.  Personally, it has been my quest to learn as many as I can and share them across the world of Pilates teachers.

What was Mr. Pilates’ intentions?  That the session is a strong full body and mind workout, appropriate for the client that centers around abdominal strength.  Note that I said “workout”.  Indeed.  Clients are meant to exercise to their fullest potential.  We must take into account the person in front of us adapting the workout for each client’s individual needs.  A relatively normal, healthy person ought to be challenged in stamina, strength, stretch and stability.  Those who are ill or special cases in any way still get challenges, but we take their condition into account when challenging stamina.  We have choices.

Classical Pilates teaching style may vary in many ways:

Now, within this Classical Pilates definition, there are multiple camps.  The most clearly defined are Romana-trained and non-Romana-trained.  Why?  Because Romana Kyrzanowska always taught Mr. Pilates’ exercises, order and intention.  Only.  She did not develop her own method based on his work as the majority of other elders have.  However…

However…there are strong Romana-isms (as I call them) that are truly creations of Romana and not from Mr. Pilates.  In addition, with so many teachers coming out of Romana’s school, there are miscommunications and mistakes that have been translated from teacher to teacher and teacher to client.  This is nearly impossible to avoid.  It happens in every teacher training program.

The most notable Romana-isms are as follows:

  • Flattening the lower back in supine exercises.
    Initially, I learned to teach this, too, but I have been told by many people that Romana never taught this.  So, I believe this was a misunderstanding that apprentices and teachers adopted, even in their training that has continued on.
  • Squeezing the buttocks/sit bones all of the time.
  • Pulling the shoulder blades down the back all of the time and when in a shoulder supporting position pushing the shoulder blades off the back to get them to appear flat on the back.
  • External rotation of the leg in the hip (with the ballet term “turnout”) in nearly every exercise.
    When I studied with Romana, I remember her using this external rotation a lot as a modification.  She would always say, “Eventually this exercise becomes parallel.”  However, probably because she was busy and perhaps tired, she eventually dropped the “Eventually” statement and everything remained in external rotation.
  • Dance-like style of movement.

While my training was initially with Romana, when I left her studio, I then studied with other great Classical Pilates teachers, studied anatomy and kinesiology,  as well as talked with and learned from our Elders and students of Mr. Pilates.  From my additional work, I learned that much of these Romana-isms are just that:  Things that Romana did or errors that became common practice.  It’s interesting because Romana, herself, would call many things ”viruses” and always wanted to clear out viruses in the work, but I believe that it all got a bit away from her as the world of Pilates grew and I also think that she tired of clarifying, correcting, policing, etc.  Some of it, too, could be from Romana’s disdain for anatomical study and because she didn’t have Mr. Pilates to go to when questions came up during her certification program.  Hence, when there were questions, she went to what she knew outside of Pilates…ballet…to answer her questions.

So, those of us who took our Romana training and weeded out what were Romana-isms in the search for what Mr. Pilates’ intentions were practice the following:

  • Neutral Pelvis in supine exercises.  We honor the natural curves of the spine when the spine is elongated (“straight”) in an exercise.  The spine is never actually straight.  We work to lengthen the spine by opening up all sides of between each vertebra in every position.  We learned that when the lumbar spine is flattened, only the posterior portion of the spine is elongated while the anterior is compressed.
  • We keep the buttocks/glutes/sit bones “un-squeezed” to keep the lower back of the pelvis open and balanced.  We know that there is plenty of work in Pilates to create and maintain toned glutes and creating a connection in the back of the leg comes from working the hamstrings in resistance exercises as well as maintaining a strong mid-line connection.
  • We open the collarbones and draw the shoulder blades on the back more than draw the shoulder blades down.  Most of the time, people shrug their shoulders when they don’t have an abdominal connection.  We work on creating an abdominal connection first and find that the shoulders find their way to a restful position on their own.  Later on, we focus on their placement.
  • We work most exercises with the legs in a parallel and together or parallel and apart position.  Except for 2 cases:  1) When needed as a modification to aid in creating a heel connection when we’ll rotate the legs outward only enough to make this heel connection to strengthen the midline/adductors.  2) When an exercise calls for the knees to bed outward, like The Frog”, we work in external rotation.  Otherwise, our focus is on creating a balanced leg.  For that, we must reduce the overuse of the larger, more superficial external rotators and focus on the strengthening of the adductors and deep external rotators.
  • We work with flowing movement, but less like dance and more like exercise.  Mr. Pilates didn’t like dancers.  He said, “Dancers ruined my method”.  No joke.  And, yes, I am a dancer.  However, I don’t do Pilates like dance and I don’t teach it as such.  We have to remember that this is not choreography, but strengthening exercises.  Fluid movement is part of it, but the style of movement is more like a long, lean muscle man, rather than a ballet dancer.

While the actual movements are the same, these nuances make remarkable differences.  They are actually differences in philosophy.

What I am about to say, I say this with great respect as I learned a tremendous amount from Romana and honor her completely:  From my point of view, it was never OK to ask Romana a question.  When I did (and I have been told that many others share the same experience) I was dismissed.  She never wanted to talk anatomy to her apprentices and when questioned “why” about any part of an exercise, the common answer was something the the extent of:  “because that’s how we do it”.  I was frustrated and wanted answers.  As a teacher, I am a student and wanted to learn more.  I wanted to understand why things worked or didn’t work.

It was years after my training with Romana that I met up with other people like myself who honored Pilates and Romana, but wanted to understand more.  We especially wanted to understand why certain issues weren’t getting better with Pilates.  Why did so many great Pilates teachers and “performers” have such bad S.I. trouble, lower back trouble and neck trouble?  I wondered why my own issues weren’t resolving.  I also wondered why I couldn’t really connect to me inner thighs and lower abdominals the way I ought to have.  When I started studying more about alignment, anatomy, etc (and now as a biomechanics scientist) and what I listed above, my entire body changed even more for the better than before…and so did my clients’ bodies!  Less pain, more strength, longer, leaner, better!

So…there is the definition of Classical Pilates and a little bit on some of the differences within Classical Pilates.  Do you have any questions?  Comments?  Challenges?  Concerns?

Are you a therapeutic or contemporary Pilates teacher who would like to take Classical Pilates and study the foundation of the method?  Come take a session!  Contact me at I would love to introduce you to what Mr. Pilates created.  It will enrich your teaching experience!

Are you a Classical Pilates teacher and want to take a session with these differences?  Contact me.  At first, the differences will feel unusual.  It’s the seeming opposite of everything you’ve learned.  I know…I was there, too!  But once I tried and trusted it…the entire world of Pilates opened up for me!  I wish that for you, too!  Contact me at

****Thank you for taking the time to read this.  I hope you’ll also take the time to share this blog site with your friends and write a comment.****  ****Enjoy!****

August 2, 2010 at 10:01 pm 90 comments

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