Posts tagged ‘Success Story’

“Success Story” – Pilates Style

Little Shari in spangels! Rhythm tap was my childhood passion!

Pilates Style featured me in their “Success Story” column this issue:  July/August 2010.

It’s all about how I went from dance being my fascination, to musical theater as my career, to a horrifying injury into my current career in Pilates.  There’s a considerably amount of drama in it…I hope my life is far less dramatic in the years to come.

If you’d like to read my story, here is a direct link to the article:  Shari Success Story PilatesStyle July 2010

What’s your “Success Story”?  What got you into Pilates or what is something that you feel Pilates has given you or one of your clients that’s been life-changing?  Please post a comment in this blog and let us all know.  We’re all touched by this great work in some special way.  Please share!
Thank you!

– Shari

July 13, 2010 at 1:18 pm 21 comments

Pilates Apparatus – So many different manufacturers. Can we teach on anything?

(I’ve owed Troy this blog for nearly 2 years…maybe longer!)

Every year there is another Pilates apparatus manufacturer putting out another line of equipment, stating that this is better, more progressive, less expensive, longer-lasting or whatever else they want to say to get you to buy their apparatus.  Marketing, man, marketing!  So, what’s the truth?  How do you know what works and what doesn’t?  How do you pick and does it even matter?

Ultimately, any apparatus can work if you know what you’re doing.

From my perspective, ideally, one would use Pilates apparatus that is closest in design to Mr. Pilates’ actual apparatus doing Mr. Pilates actual exercises in the manner in which he intended.  This is how you will get the greatest results from Pilates.  That’s pretty simplistic.  As I always say, that doesn’t mean it’s easy…just means it’s straightforward.

In the current world of Pilates, we have  many variables.  Mr. Pilates’ method of Contrology has been played with in every manner imaginable.  Equally,  his apparatus designs have been retrofitted and redesigned in countless ways.  This is pure observation.  Not judgement.  I think we all can agree on this.

What is out there in terms of apparatus?  Well,  you’ve seen it all:  Pilates designs by Basil, Gratz, Peak Pilates, Balanced Body, Stott Pilates, etc.  If you Google search “Pilates Equipment” there are an outrageous number of names that come up…in every country!  Most people work on what they were originally trained on.  It’s comfortable for them.  It’s “feels right” for them.  There are great debates about one being better than the other.  I’m bored of the debate.  Just use what you like and use it well.

I am fortunate to have been exposed to many different apparatus manufacturers as I guest teach in studios and present at conferences.  I have found that it is possible to teach Pilates on every apparatus that I’ve worked on.  Whether it’s teaching “Classical Transitions of the Advanced Reformer” on Balanced Body’s decidedly non-classical apparatus the Allegro or Gratz’s very classical Reformer.  It all works.  Now, some work better than others, but it all can be done.  It depends on what you’re looking for in an apparatus and in the Pilates session.  You need to know what you need…what your clients need.  If you’re teaching classical Pilates, then you ought to be teaching on a classical apparatus that allows you to do the exercises in the manner in which Mr. Pilates intended keeping all actions long with the ability to resist strong springs and do full classical transitions (minimum motion with maximum flow).  If you’re teaching classically on the reformer, but can’t take the footbar down with your feet after The Hundred…in absolute pure thought, you’re on the wrong apparatus.  However, in reality, can you still teach effectively…of course!  It’s just modified now, and you must remember that.  If you’re trained in a more modified version of Pilates; more for physical therapy, and are used to working on a reformer with different spring strengths or ropes and risers.  You’ll find that your method’s exercises may not work easily on a classical reformer where the springs are all the same strength and the leather straps are not adjustable.   Does this mean you can’t do your method?  Absolutely not!  You must learn the apparatus that you’re working on and adjust it to your needs.

Too many new teachers say to me, “I can’t work at that studio!  I can’t work with type of reformer!”  I say, “You can’t or you don’t like to?”  Anyone can work on anything!  It just depends on how hard you’re willing to work.  Ideally, the apparatus supports our style of teaching.  Ideally the teacher can focus her/his efforts on the client’s needs and not spend too much energy making the apparatus work for you.  Let’s not waste our energy.  Again, ideally, buy and use what works for you!  But you need to work!  Please don’t allow the apparatus at a particular studio keep you from either accepting a job or  renting space there.  You can work on anything!

What do I prefer to work on?  Pilates Designs by Basil and Gratz.

Why?  Because I am a classical Pilates teacher.  I teach only Joseph Pilates’ actual exercises in the order that he designed them to be done with his intention that every client get a balanced workout of the mind and body that is appropriate for him/her that emanates from core strength.  With that, I work on apparatus that is as close to Mr. Pilates’ actual designs as I can.  While training and teaching with Romana Kryzanowska at Drago’s, I had the pleasure of working on some of Mr. Pilates’ actual pieces.   Along with several wonderful accessories, we had one of his Cadillacs/Trapeze Tables, a High Chair and a Wunda Chair.  Therefore, from my perspective, I always want to work on apparatus that feels as close to the feel of Mr. Pilates’ actual apparatus.  I trust that Mr. Pilates, a true genius, designed his apparatus with great thought.  I trust that the width of the Cadillac/Trapeze Table was purposeful.  I believe the height of the Wunda Chair in relation to the length of the pedal was mindful.  I am certain that strength of the springs on the Reformer was necessary.

If you’re in Croatia and someone is making great apparatus out there that suits your needs…get it there.  If you want to order from Basil, he’ll ship it to you!  If you’re in Southern California and can pick up Balanced Body straight from a conference at a mark down and that’s what you love to work on…fantastic!  If your brother is a a carpenter and is going to make you a Trapeze Table from scratch…great!  Just make sure you’re working on safe apparatus that does what you need it to do.

And…make sure you are well-educated so that you can safely and effectively work on anything.  That doesn’t mean that you will like working on anything, but you ought to be able to do it.  How ridiculous would it be for me to walk into a conference workshop of 100 teachers all waiting to learn the Super Advanced Reformer and for me to say, “I can’t do it” because the apparatus is not classical?  I prepare myself by spending time with the apparatus before I teach on it and then present to my workshop.  I may have to give these teachers notes about how the exercises or transitions must be different because of the apparatus, but I would not say that for any other reason than keeping the integrity of Mr. Pilates’ work.  When I teach at a studio that has 3 different manufacturers apparatus and I’ve got a group of 5 teachers taking the session (yes, this has happened more than once), I had better know which apparatus does what as well as be able to guide my clients through the workout appropriately.

What you must not do is make excuses.  If you find that you cannot teach on an apparatus, again, it’s your education that is lacking.  What shall you do?  Take a session with the most senior teacher in that studio.  Make sure the focus of the session is learning the value of that apparatus and how to adapt it to your teaching.  Ask the manager of the studio if you can work yourself out so that you can get used to their apparatus.  Then, when you’re working with your clients, you are prepared.  If you do not like the apparatus, please do not share your thoughts on the apparatus with your clients.  Please be generous to the owner of the studio and respect her/his space.

As always, work with the best available to you.  Study with the best teachers available to you.  Practice a lot.  Be open to working in different situations on many different styles of apparatus.  I just closed my studio in L.A. and moved home to NY.  I now find myself honored to be practicing out of several of my friends’ studios.  Each week, I’m working on Pilates Designs by Basil, Gratz, Balanced Body, Peak.  Each  I work out on 4 different manufacturers’ apparatus!  And guess what?  They all work!  I’m getting great workouts and am grateful for my friends’ generosity!

*****Thank you for reading!  Please write comments and ask questions!  Your comments are insightful and may spark something for another reader and me!

If you have a topic you’d like me to blog on…please let me know!


March 30, 2010 at 1:30 am 79 comments

Pilates Myth: “Get out of your hip flexors”

Shari Berkowitz - Big Twist

(This post was updated on August 16, 2013 over 2 years after originally published…please read and learn more information than when originally posted)

I don’t mind saying that there are a lot of commonly used phrases in Pilates that have little to no meaning. We must make sure that we are present with what we’re saying that not only do our cues make sense and have value to our clients, but that we know what our cues actually mean!  Along with that, should we happen to use a phrase that is a Pilates myth, then we’d better be using it for a really good reason!

A “Pilates myth”?  Yes, there are a lot of Pilates myths out there.  Wonderful phrases that teachers use to cue their clients that actually don’t make any sense at all.  Some have value.  Some do not.  They are virtual lies.  We have to make sure that we know what we’re talking about, why we’re saying this and that they are indeed untruths.  Here are a few: “Your Powerhouse moves the carriage.”  “Your back does nothing; your abdominals do all of the work.”  “Push with your Powerhouse, not with your legs.”  “Get out of your hip flexors.  You don’t use your hip flexors in Pilates.”  OK, my fellow teachers… all of those phrases, and more, are 100% not true  Personally, I try to stay away from them and reword them thusly:  “Scoop your abominals in and up then move the carriage.”   “Work  your abdominals as much as you work your back.”   “Deepen your abdominals to push with your legs.”   “Lift your abdominals and lower back bones, so you’re not just hanging in your hip flexors.”   Why not talk in truths?

You are well-meaning…you don’t mean to be speaking something false.  That is true.  Let’s learn!

Let’s focus on that last one “Get out of your hip flexors”.   A fellow teacher, Alex, who reads this blog wrote to me asking that I go into further detail.  I’m pleased to do so.  Let’s dispel this particular  myth and understand why this phrase ever came about in the first place.

Our clients come to take Pilates for many reasons.  Whatever their reasons, we find out in their early sessions that they are imbalanced.  We recognize their imbalances and use the method of Pilates to restore balance to this body and mind.  It is a constant process; un-ending.  There is no balance, there is only working-towards-balance.  That is The Truth.

Now, that we know we’re looking for imbalances and working towards restoring balance we see some common patterns:  weak abdominals, tight and weak lower backs, tight and weak hamstrings, tight and weak hip flexors.

Tight and weak hip flexors?  Yes.  Those hip flexors are weak.  Many people think that our clients tight hip flexors are strong and taking over the responsibilities of other muscles, but the truth is that they are probably short, tight and weak and half of them are completely underutilized.

As our clients are beginning their training in Pilates we see that their hip flexors seem to want to do the work that the abdominals ought to be doing.  Some exercises that we see this in are The Roll Up (Beginner Exercise), Neck Pull (Intermediate Exercise), Teaser (Intermediate Exercise).  What do we see in The Roll Up?  When the client curls her head and chest up and then attempts to reach her torso forward over her legs, her legs actually pop up off of the mat while the torso stays still rather than her legs staying still as her torso comes forward.  The same thing happens in Neck Pull.  In Teaser, our client strains and aches in her hip flexors.  She often times can’t move her torso forward towards her legs without throwing her legs forward or using her hands to pull her torso toward her legs.  You’ve seen this over and over again.  And you say something like, “Get out of your hip flexors”.  If your client could get out of her hip flexors, she would, but she can’t so, you must first figure out what is really going on and then figure out what you can really teach your client so she can indeed
get out of her hip flexors” or, rather, into her abdominals, back and hip flexors.


When we refer to “hip flexors” we are generally referring to 4 muscles:  rectus femoris, tensor fasciae latae, psoas and iliacus.  Rectus femoris is part of the quadriceps.  It is the only quadricep that crosses over both the the hip and knee joint.  When the leg is straight and the hip is flexed, rectus femoris is in a shortened position, thusly in a weakened state for hip flexion.  (Remember this point…it will become vital in a moment.)  Tensor fascia latae is primarly a thigh abductor as well as a medial rotator of the femur.  Via the iliotibial band, it aides in stabilizing the condoyles of the femur/knee stabilization.

So…rectus femoris and tensor fasciae latae aide in hip flexion, but only aide…it must be psoas and iliacus that do the majority of the effort.  Or…maybe there is more!

Psaos major is a  hip flexor.  However, its primary action is most likely lumbar stabilization.  So, it only assists in hip flexion.  It’s origin is at the coastal processes of all 5 lumbar vertebrae.  It’s insertion, joined with iliacus, is the lesser trochanter.  In general, we determine the function of a muscles by the direction of the muscle fibers and then see what happens when we stabilize the origin and bring the the insertion towards it.  With Psoas major, we see that the femur moves in the direction of the lumbar.  The hip flexes.  The same goes for iliacus who originates on the anterior face of the ilium and inserts along with psoas major (and minor if it is present and, apparently, only is present in 50% of the population) in the lesser trochanter. Together, the psoas major and iliacus are called the iliopsoas group.

OK…enough of the anatomy lesson.  Let’s do something with it.

Your client is doing the Roll Up.  Her legs are popping up during the difficult action of bringing her torso up and forward over her legs.  What’s happening?  Well, we want her abdmoninals to bring her torso to her legs.  Her Primary Powerhouse.  Which abdmoninal muscle does much of the effort in this action?  Rectus abdominis (with the grand assistance of the obliques).  It flexes the torso bringing the spine towards the femur.  However, when it is weak and asked to perform this action, instead, the femur comes to the spine…with the hip flexors/iliopsoas!  The exact same thing happens with Neck Pull.

But what about  Teaser?  Well, it’s actually the exact same action as the Roll Up; however, there is the greater challenge of balance because the legs are uplifted in a 45 degree angle.  With that, the entire set of hip flexors (rectus femoris, tensor faciae latae, psoas and iliacus) are fully engaged.  The abdominals and back muscles have to do their share of work to bring the torso to the legs.  However…most people are weak in their abdominals and backs so they “hang” in their back and hip flexors (lower back slumps and legs start to drop straining both back and hip flexors).  We tell them “use more abdominals, less leg!  Get out of your hip flexors!”…and they can’t!  Of course they can’t!  They’re not strong enough.  They’re hip flexors are stressed to the max already trying just to hold their straight legs up against gravity.  They can’t actually bring the torso to the legs, too.  In fact, they can never do that!  That’s the abdominals’ job.  So…the cramping begins.  Frustration abounds with client and teacher!

To begin, you have to work to strengthen your clients’ abdominals more than you have been before you even attempt any exercise where you’re challenging the strength of them like Teaser or even the Roll Up.  How?  By doing Half Roll Down until they are really strong in the abdominals, lifted and supple in the lumbar.  That might be a long time.  And that’s just fine.  In fact, that’s great!  This is a foundational exercise.  That means that it is the essence of countless other exercises in Pilates.  Working on and honoring the action of it is vital.  Take your time with it.  Don’t dismiss this exercise.

Next, you have to concentrate more on that lift of the abdominals and lumbar.  “Scoop your abdominals in and up to lift your lower back bones” is the phrase I use all of the time.  You’ve got to understand what does what and not teach a lie/myth.  The transverse abdominus (deepest abdominal muscle) aides in supporting and stabilizing the lumbar.  First engage the transverse abdominus, then keep it engaged and lift the lumbar with your back muscles.  This can and must happen in every exercise.  This is the action that must begin every exercise, must be maintained during every exercise and must continue through the conclusion of every exercise.

Then, when your client does get to the Roll Up, you work to make sure your client is bringing her torso to her legs, rather than legs to torso; strengthening her abdominals rather than wrenching her hip flexors.   Why not reach the legs back into the mat so they don’t come up…that will strengthen the buttocks and hamstrings in their effort to stabilize the legs…so that the abdominals can be efficient.   Concentrate on this and your client will strengthen marvelously.

When Teaser becomes an option, essentially, your client ought to already, quite naturally, be “out of her hip flexors” and into her abdominals with a lifted spine.  However, if that grip in hip flexors happens, here’s what you do:

1 – One-Legged Teaser – Again, concentrate on the action of the abdominals and spine.  Abdominals in and up, tailbone and sacrum curling towards the supportive foot, lumbar spine lifting.  All of those actions must be strong and take on full concentration.

2 – Teaser – If your client is still struggling with Teaser feeling strain in her hip flexors, with both legs extended, soften/bend the knees a bit.  Remember that if rectus femoris is weak, it doesn’t have enough strengthen to both flex the hip and extend the knee.  With slightly bent knees, the rectus femoris is only doing hip flexion (not knee extension as well) and there is likely enough strength.  Then  your client can keep legs up and deepen her abdominals and lift her lumbar spine more!  So…”get out of your hip flexors” not really the truth.  I believe that we actually  need your client to get “into” her hip flexors a bit more (meaning use all of them fully) so that she can get into her abdmoninals and back muscles a lot a lot a lot more!


But…of course…that’s not all.  You see…rectus femoris, psoas, illiacus and tensor fascia latae are not the only hip flexors and this is where the problem really is.  What about all of the adductors not to mention gracillis, sartorius.  You see…they are hip flexors, too.  All muscles have primary actions and secondary or tertiary or more actions.  In fact, all muscles work all of the time for one thing or another.  Simply hugging heals together engages these other muscles…and that slight bend of knees with a little bit of external rotation is sartorius.  Once you get into all of the hip flexors…strenghthen them all…then it couldn’t be easier to do any of those exercises.

Well, that was a long-winded way of saying that when you’re client is feeling her hip flexors in an exercise, that means she needs to be cued into her abdominals to lift her spine more so that there is more balance between abdominals, back muscles and hip flexors and to hug her heels together or hug the mat if the legs are apart or hug the air if there is no mat.  Get into all hip flexors, abdominals and back!

Be patient as a teacher.  Make sure your goal is to understand your clients’ imbalances and then restore balance.  The goal is not to do the ideal version of an exercise or to get advanced or to do Teaser.  The goal is help your client become more balanced of body and mind using movement.  We happen to be working with Pilates/Contrology.  And if we’re going to teach using these phrases, then we’d better understand what they really mean and use them well…use them better, even!  “Get out of your hip flexors” is simply not enough.  There must be more to it!  Clearly, there is!

I thank Alex for asking about this cue!

Enjoy your teaching!  Please reach out and comment on this post and/or ask me to discuss some other subject!  I wish to write on subjects that you want to understand in Pilates.  Please let me know what you’d like to learn!  Thank you for giving me the forum for it!

March 19, 2010 at 3:02 am 68 comments

Improvisation in Pilates

Improvisation in Pilates

Whatever could a Classical Pilates fanatic mean by the title “Improvisation in Pilates”? Isn’t Classical Pilates by definition the strict adherence to the exercises and order of exercises created by Joseph Pilates? Isn’t Improvisation by definition unplanned and creative expression? How could these two words go together?

It is an absolute misnomer that Classical Pilates is not improvisational. Great Classical Pilates teaching and practice is completely improvisational. All art and life, not to mention artful life, relies on a framework and vocabulary by which it can be interpreted and understood. When we think of improvisation, we often think of music. The jazz musician creates music on his instrument or instruments of choice based on what he is feeling in the moment; what the space, audience (which can be many or none) and day means to him. But he is working in a tonal framework with instruments that make sound in a space that we recognize. He is still a human making sound with an instrument in a space. This improvisation works within a structure and has a vocabulary. A fine artist may have no preconceived notion of what she will put on the canvas before the brush hits it, but there she is with canvas, easel (or none) and tool to deliver medium (perhaps a brush and paint or maybe a leaf and berry juice)…she is still working in a visual medium not matter how spur of the moment. This improvisation works within a structure and has a vocabulary.

Here we are in the world of Pilates. Is it that different from the world of music or art? We have a structure and vocabulary within which we work. We go to a physical space, we have clients who want joyful exercise, a teacher prepared to train, apparatus as our tools or instruments and the method of Classical Pilates. The method of Classical Pilates has a set group of exercises on a set group of apparatus. Even the reformer and mat work have set orders of exercises, but we face the beautiful ability and opportunity for improvisation every second of the session (let alone our entire lives).

First, you…the teacher. You come to each day with new experiences and feelings. Your approach to each moment of each day is never the same as any other. It’s not possible to have same-ness. It doesn’t exist. If you remove the idea of “identical” from your lexicon, you’ll see quite clearly that “identical” days, exercises, experiences don’t exist. So, your approach to every moment of life is an improvisation. I should hope, too, that you are practicing Pilates on yourself, too. With that practice comes your personal growth within this method. Every bit of growth you experience you share with your clients. (There’s my ubiquitous plug for going and taking sessions, continuing education and doing a lot of self-practice!!!)

Then, your client. Your client comes to the session with any number of new variables each day. One day he is energized, the very next day he is sick. One day her back aches, the very next day her back is fine, but her elbow is sore. One day she is present and mindful, the very next day she is distracted and disconnected. Your approach to your client is based on who your client is that day. I mean the same exact person is very different from day to day.

With that, you teach many different clients each day. No two clients are the same. Even in a semi-private session or group class, while you are teaching the same exercise to multiple people, no two people do it exactly the same way. No two clients even interpret your words in the same way.

With both you and your clients, you have to improvise constantly. Based on what you and they bring to the day, you must adjust what you say and how you say it…even in the seeming confines of The Classical Method of Pilates. That means that while you might teach the same exercises, maybe you have to pick a different modification or variation based on your clients’ needs for the day. Maybe, today, you choose to quite your tone for the session because your client has been sick and has low energy. Maybe you give one verbal cue that doesn’t work. You’ve got to think on your feet and give a different verbal cue or an image or go hands-on instead. That’s improvisation! You’ll find that the wonderful image you gave to one client for Spine Stretch Forward absolutely does not work for another client! You improvise and pick another and another until you find that one that does work!

You don’t reinvent the method to find creativity! You work within the construct and create! You bring out your personality and work with yourself, the client, the way of the day…of the moment. That means, yes, yes, you start the mat work with The Hundred every single time! It’s up to you to find the beautiful newness in the moment! That means the technique of the exercise stays the same, but with who you are today and who the client is today, you create the cues and teach in the moment!

Life is improvisation! The Classical Method of Pilates gives us an ingenious framework within which to improvise. If you can see the art in life all around you, then you can be creative anywhere no matter what the structure!

Look at each session as an opportunity for free expression. Use the vocabulary of Classical Pilates to express the moment! Improvise!

****If you have any comments, please share them here! If you have a topic that you’d like me to blog about, I would be thrilled to do so! Again, comment here or write to me directly at and let me know what you’d like to discuss! Enjoy!!!!!!****

October 29, 2009 at 9:40 pm 7 comments

Heart Starter

Heart Starter

 Are you a Pilates Teacher or Personal Trainer or Yoga Instructor or human being who works around other human beings? And are you CPR and AED certified? If you’re one of those beings I mention in the first sentence, then you must consider the value of being CPR and AED certified. Please.

We take so many things for granted in Life. That is a beautiful privilege. People seem so strong; able to live through incredible traumas. Then sometimes people seem so fragile; the unexpected twist can change everything. In order to survive each day well without being nervous that every move we make might be the end of our days, we must compartmentalize the fragility of Life and live strongly. We must. However, if we are truly wise, we prepare ourselves for Trouble especially when we step in Trouble’s path many times a day.

If you are a Pilates Teacher, Personal Trainer, Yoga Instructor or human being who works around other human beings, then learn how to manually pump a heart (CPR) and re-start a heart (AED). If you are a trainer of any sort, then you must keep a defibrillator in your studio or gym.

Your client, Mr. Green, is 70 years old. He plays golf, swims and you think he is in generally good health. However, when he does more strenuous exercises (Pilates: The Hundred, The Abdominal Series) you notice he gets red in the face. Hmmm…you cue him with breath because you recognize this strain and that he’s not exhaling. Mr. Green had angioplasty 10 years ago and didn’t even think to mention it to you because it was so long ago. Don’t you think you need to know CPR and AED?

Your client, Mrs. Rogers, is 76 years old. She has emphysema, heart disease, diabetes, a chronically sore lower back and depression.  Don’t you think you need to know CPR and AED?

What exactly is CPR and AED?

 CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation):  This is the technique to manually pump oxygenated blood through a body whose heart and lungs have stopped. You manually pump the heart and breathe into the person until the paramedics come. You cannot start a heart that has stopped this way. If the person suddenly pops up awake and alive while you’re administering CPR, then that person didn’t actually need CPR. Lucky! You cannot actually restart a heart without an appropriate electric shock.

AED (Automated External Defibrillator) Training:   This is the technique of combining CPR and electric shock to a stopped heart. With a proper portable defibrillator, you can check to see if your client/patient’s heart has actually stopped and administer the appropriate electric shock as well as CPR. It’s incredible! And…your responsibility.

In both cases, with CPR and AED, you absolutely must call 911 and get the paramedics to come to you immediately. Still, wouldn’t it be great for you to both be able to manually pump a heart and start a heart if ever needed?

I pray you will never need to use your CPR and AED skills. I pray you will never have to use your defibrillator, but you must have one.

Did you know that by law in Los Angeles, you must have a defibrillator in your studio or gym? BY LAW. Yes, they are expensive, but do you know what’s more expensive? Not being able to save a person’s life in your studio or gym.

You don’t own your own fitness facility? You’re renting space or an independent contractor or employee? Great! Get your training in CPR and AED! And strongly encourage the studio or gym owner to get their portable defibrillator! Remember: It’s the law!

I believe that absolutely everyone ought to be properly trained in CPR and AED. Everyone. Why should it only be doctors, nurses, paramedic, firemen, policemen (and Pilates Teachers, Personal Trainers and Yoga Instructors). Will there always be one of these fellows around when one is needed? Have you noticed as you go through the airport there are defibrillators in compartments in the walls just like fire extinguishers nowadays. Wherever there are people, there are hearts. Those hearts need to be cared for in so many ways.

Please get your certification and get it renewed appropriately and make sure your fitness facility has a portably defibrillator!

Here are a few resources for your certification and purchasing of defibrillators:

American Red Cross:

American Heart Association:

Philips Automatic External Defibrillator:

***As always:  If you would like to make a comment, please do so!  If you have a request of a topic you would like me to write about, please let me know!  Thank you for reading!  Enjoy!***

August 17, 2009 at 3:15 am 8 comments

Entropy has no place in Pilates


Dictionary: en·tro·py   (ĕntrə-pē)

 (Symbol S) For a closed thermodynamic system, a quantitative measure of the amount of thermal energy not available to do work.

  1. A measure of the disorder or randomness in a closed system.
  2. A measure of the loss of information in a transmitted message.
  3. The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity.
  4. Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.

Here is my quest.  (I hope you will join me on the journey):

I recognize that in the transmission of information, a lot of information is lost.  Remember the old telephone game?  You’d sit around the table with 10 of your little 5-year-old friends at the birthday party and one person would start off with a sentence.  Each little 5-year-old would whisper that sentence in to the next person’s ear and pass it around the table.  By the time it got back to the first person…the sentence was completely different.  Information was lost, changed…this is entropy. 

So…we teach Pilates.  We pass information from one person to another.  We must have the least amount of lost information as possible.  We must not lose information or mutate it.  We need to have the least amount of entropy as possible. 

Why?  Because what Joseph Pilates created was ideal.  We’re to use and adapt it for the individual in front of us, but it’s his Method that worked.  When you start putting your own versions of exercises and orders of exercises in to the workout; when you start to use your less than appropriate apparatus and less than brilliant tools in to the studio, then you lose the integrity of what makes Pilates/Contrology work. 

Look…I’m a pretty creative person.  I write poetry and essays (and blogs, apparently), I paint on big canvases and small, I play the piano, I design and make jewelry, I make my own clothing (wow…I do a lot) and more…so I’m not saying don’t be creative…just use it appropriately!  Be creative in other venues.  Be creative with the use of your personality when you teach; with the sound of your voice (but always use Joseph Pilates’ rhythms!), with the metaphors and images you use, but don’t go creating your own exercises and call it “Pilates”.  Then that means that you have to make sure that you’re teaching and transmitting the appropriate information with the least amount of entropy!

So, what do you do?  You guessed it!  You study with the most educated teachers you can.  And if you’re the educator…keep studying and stay true.

I got an e-mail from a teacher the other day who wants to study with me.  It was lovely.  I asked her if she is already trained classically.  She didn’t know.  That’s a problem.  You need to know what it is that you’re teaching.  And not just because your teacher told you so, but because you’ve done some searching.  You’ve read Joseph Pilates’ books, you’ve seen his film (on video), you’ve spoken to and worked with the most classical teachers who are educated in these ways and directly from Joseph Pilates himself. 

Let entropy happen where entropy does: 

1 – When you have a glass of ice water in a hot room, the water warms up and the air around it cools down, condensation occurs and beads of water form on the glass.  Energy is lost in this seeming transmission of heat.  Energy is lost in the energy it takes to heat the water and glass and cool the air and water in the air.  Entropy.

2 – The amount of energy Southern California Edison pumps out to light one little light bulb in your house is faaaaaaaaaaaaar more than actually reaches your cute little bedside lamp.  The loss of energy in resistance and transmission…entropy.

3 – You are told that you need to show up at 7:30 p.m. sharp, but you were very busy when that information was relayed to you, you show up at 8:30 p.m. and are sure you’re correct.  That loss of information (that got you in trouble)…entropy.

Let’s have entropy where entropy belongs.  It has no place in Pilates.


****Please, oh, please, comment on this and all other blogs if you wish!  I’d love to have active conversations and not just a monologue!  And, as always, if you have a topic you’d like me to blog about…please let me know!****

June 26, 2009 at 9:01 pm 13 comments

Taking the Mystery Out of Pilates

Movement Designed to Make You Feel Better

By Shari Berkowitz

You’ve heard a lot about Pilates.  Everyone is doing Pilates.  Every corner has some place that advertises “Pilates”.  It’s become as catchy as “Green” and “Eco-Friendly”.  If you say you’ve got Pilates, then you’ve got a business.

Pilates, Pilates, Pilates! You sort of wish everyone would stop talking about it!   What is Pilates?!
Well, I hope this article dispels the uncomfortable mystery behind Pilates. I hope you’ll have a better understanding of what Pilates is and what it isn’t and if it’s right for you.

Pilates is a workout. It’s a method of movement designed to make people healthier. It’s as simple as that. It was created by a man named Joseph Hubertus Pilates. Mr. Pilates created about 500-600 exercises and a concept of movement and life that work together to exercise the entire body and mind with the ultimate goal of a high quality of life. It’s a workout that can apply to any-body meaning that with the proper instruction it can be done by young, old, fit, injured… any-body. It ought to be a strong workout at the particular client’s level that focuses on abdominal strength/core strength first along with strong concentration/mindful intent. Sounds great!

When Mr. Pilates was alive, he didn’t call it “Pilates”. He called his method “Contrology”. It’s the art, science and study of control. That doesn’t mean he’s encouraging “control freaks”, but, rather, encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves.
How often have you said or heard someone say, “My body is hurting me!” or “why won’t my stomach leave me alone?” or “my back is ruining my life!” This is called dissociation (a fantastic defense mechanism where a person separates processes that are usually connected). Disconnecting the mind and the body. Common and kind of dangerous. There is no separating the mind from the body. They are one, but, shamefully, humans disconnect more often than they connect.
So, Mr. Pilates created a physical and mental workout that crafts a connected and balanced body and mind. Nice!

His exercises, in a specific order and progression, on apparatus designed to support this method, with mindful intent, under educated instruction, creates the desired result of long, lean muscles with balanced strength, stretch and flexibility. The exercises create a healthy spine, strong immune system and increased mental capability.

This must be very complicated, then? No. It’s not complicated. It’s very simple. That doesn’t mean it is easy, but it is simple… if… one follows what Mr. Pilates created…to the letter.

Mr. Pilates was a genius. His life’s work was studying the human body and mind. A genius spending an entire lifetime (remember he lived until 87 years old) on one fascinating subject. He got very far with it. His work is unparalleled. Nothing compares with it. His lab was not in a university or government facility like Einstein’s, rather he worked in a studio space in an old building on 8th Avenue between 55th and 56th Streets in New York City.

You might wonder if everyone who is teaching “Pilates” is teaching what this genius man created. That is an interesting and controversial query. The answer is that most people are not teaching what Mr. Pilates created. Most people are teaching variations of Contrology and calling it Pilates. That’s actually OK. Contrology was so brilliant that anything even slightly resembling it can be of value. Now, I am a classicist. I will not lie to you Reader. I teach only “Classical Pilates”, the exercises and intent of Joseph Pilates. I do not teach anything that steps outside of what he created unless it is a tool to be used for a brief period of time to simply get a client to “get into” one of the classical exercises. I believe that the only work that ought to be called “Pilates” is work that Mr. Pilates created himself. That is my stance, but I am fully aware that a lot of what is on the market hardly resembles what Mr. Pilates created and people still call it “Pilates”. What about that? I’ll say, if it’s movement that makes people feel better and doesn’t hurt anyone then why not let it exist? Personally, I wish that it would not be called “Pilates” if it’s not Joseph Pilates’ exercises with order and intent. However, I do not make the decisions in this world and am certain that this debate will continue for many lifetimes. So, I will support healthy exercise as long as we all have the same underlying intention: Great health for our clients with critical understanding

How do you know what you’re getting, then? Is what you find down your street Pilates or a variation on Pilates. In my heart of hearts, I believe it both matters and doesn’t matter. It’s just important that you know what you’re getting and that the teachers who teach actually know what they are teaching. Many well-intentioned teachers have no idea that they are not teaching anything remotely related to what Mr. Pilates created. Again, that doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it misinformed and misrepresented. Still, if it works and you don’t get hurt, then great.

So how do you take the mystery out of Pilates? You ask questions. You ask at the studio that you’re interested in studying with. You say something like, “I am aware that there are many versions of Pilates these days. What style of Pilates do you teach here?” And what’s truly important: you must be keenly aware of what you’re looking to get out of Pilates. The onus is on you, The Consumer. Mr. Pilates stated that with his Method of Contrology you would find the following: “In 10 sessions you will feel the difference. In 20 sessions you will see the difference. And in 30 sessions you will have a brand new body.” So, now that you know what Pilates is and you know what Mr. Pilates’ intention was, then you can pair that up with what you’re looking to get out of Pilates and know what you ought to feel and see in 10, 20, 30 sessions. Oh, and you must know that his intention was that you practice this a minimum of 3 times a week. So dive in to it and let us know how it goes!

About the author: Shari Berkowitz is the Power Pilates Director of West Coast Education and Teacher Trainer.  She owns The Vertical Workshop Pilates studio in Beverly Hills, CA.  She comes to Pilates after having had a successful career in NY musical theater.  Shari had a 100% recovery from a traumatic accident (during a performance) where she herniated 3 disks in her neck that brought on a longer than desired spell of paralysis in her left arm and shoulder from it.  After a year of physical therapy, she was given 30 minutes of classical Pilates and fell passionately in love with it! Shari teaches at her studio as well as studios and conferences all over the world.   In her “free time”, she designs jewelry for her line and writes a Pilates blog that is directed to Pilates teachers at  You’ll find more great information at

June 6, 2009 at 12:00 pm 5 comments

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