did you do your homework?

September 8, 2009

I recently received a wonderful compliment from a client of mine. A few years ago, her husband took lessons with me for almost a year. He loved his Pilates workouts and would have continued them had it not been for the relocation of my studio. (The distance made it difficult with his busy work schedule.) Recently my client noticed that her husband had been getting up in the morning and going into their spare room. After a couple days, she decided to ask him what he was doing. It turns out that even after a few years of not doing Pilates, he remembered enough to continue his own practice and he was doing so a few mornings a week. Now she joins him on those mornings, and together they are filling in the blanks when their memories fail and helping each other feel better on a regular basis with Pilates. I could not be more proud. As Gidget would exclaim, “This is the ultimate!”

I’ve always encouraged my clients to do their homework. Despite my frequent queries, I’ve come to learn that a home-based practice emerges naturally. Just as Pilates works from the inside out on a physical level, it does so on many other levels as well. A practice can begin with just one or two stretches that feel especially good and eventually evolves into a whole routine. Sometimes it is a conscious choice and other times it just happens without the person even realizing it. Regardless of how or why, it does seem to happen frequently. Once a person really begins to understand the work, it becomes a regular part of his or her life. And that is the ultimate goal.

Jay Grimes has made this point to me at least once and I tend to harken back to it as a guiding principle in my daily work of sharing the Pilates method with my various clients: Joe Pilates’ end goal was for his clients to do their mat series three times per week at home. Homework (the work on the mat) was always assigned in the Pilates studio.

This is why I call matwork the Alpha and Omega of Pilates. If a person can do matwork, fine. They don’t really need the support and guidance of apparatus to help their body operate correctly. On the other hand, for the more typical (mortal) client, the apparatus is a very necessary tool to help build the Pilates body and aspire to reach that gold standard of only needing a quick routine on the floor three times per week.

To be honest, most of us will never reach that goal. Still, a little time on the floor with our instructors’ voices ringing in our ears would not undermine the effort. And boy, would we feel better!


A True Pilates Timeline

August 19, 2009

Tom in the studio with Romana

Tom in the studio with Romana

By Tom Gesimondo

As owners of True Pilates NY, my wife Carol and I are considered by so many people in the industry as dyed-in-the-wool Pilates people. But unlike some of you “Pilates babies” out there, we came to the game a little later in life. Here’s our Pilates timeline.

One night, watching TV well past our bedtime, Carol and I see an ad for a Mari-Winsor-endorsed product. I turn my slouched shoulders to my wife and say, “Hey, honey, let’s try that.” But I have Carol order it, because I like to keep my record of never having bought a product directly from an infomercial clean. Of course, this is probably the 25th time Carol has played middleperson to my search for late-night-infomercial nirvana.

We start to work out at home. One day, we mention the word Pilates to one of the owners of the radio station we were working for at the time (in our previous life, before my midlife crisis landed us with a loud thump in the Pilates world). “Oh my god!” the boss says. “Do you know who’s next door to you? Romana! The Romana! You have to go to Drago’s and take a lesson with her!” So Carol and I go next door and book a Pilates private. I don’t get put with Romana, I get her granddaughter Daria, and Carol is booked with Cynthia Shipley. We immediately love the experience. In fact, we become Pilates snobs, but good snobs (wink.) When we let the cat out of the bag to friends of ours and they tell us that they do Pilates, too, we say, “Yeah, but do you do Romana’s Pilates?” Friends tolerate us with knowing smiles, but our passion is fueled by each lesson.

A few years later, radio is slumping (though my shoulders are rising), and a casual comment in the studio about the state of broadcast prompts the owner of Drago’s to tell me, “You know, Tom, you should consider buying this place.” And the next thing you know, Carol and I are having a meeting in the lobby of the Parker-Meridien hotel, where Drago and I negotiate the deal without lawyers. But this being the Pilates world, even though Drago and I reached an agreement, the deal can’t close until Romana and her family give their approval. Let me tell you, this isn’t the way deals are done on Wall Street. No lawyers, no book-size contracts: just some honest talk, a dinner, a handshake, a hug, a toast and Romana offering an endorsement with her famous words, “love all around.”

I begin my dream job (this is a job?), and Carol remains at the radio station for financial stability. Just one little problem with that plan: Carol has to deal with me being obnoxiously happy every day while she is still going through tough changes at her job. A year later, she joins me at Drago’s, and we change the name to True Pilates NY. Six months later, our son Bill leaves his job at MTV to join us as well. (Full disclosure: Bill always says MTV, but I do need to point out periodically that he was technically working for the Country Music Network, a division of MTV.) Today, it’s truly a family business: Tom, Carol and Bill along with Romana, Sari and Daria.

After years of running the studio, suddenly we find ourselves taking on another challenge, as True Pilates NY is beginning to handle the day-to-day operations for Romana’s Pilates. We are so lucky to work closely with this family and be touched by the work daily. We are proud to be able to help them do more of what they were born to do: lead, teach and touch thousands. Oh, and p.s.: I’m also working toward my own teacher certification while we do all of this. So if you come into the studio on West 57th Street and see the middle-aged man with the happy face moving at 100 mph, you’ll understand some of the “why.” And I will get through the apprenticeship as well—provided I don’t fall victim to the three-ring rule. What is the three-ring rule? That’s a story for the next time. So stay tuned and remember, with all the proper respect to Romana, “love all around.”

Hot Air Balloons, More Pilates and the Dress of My Dreams

August 12, 2009

By Kristin McGee

Dear friends,

I am thrilled to announce that I just found the dress of my dreams. I can’t give away too many details because Tim, my fabulously supportive fiancé, reads all my blogs, helps me with my Facebook posting, and runs and manages my PR more or less whenever he has any free time. He is a computer whiz! He just finished his summer internship here in New York. We’ve had an incredible time living together in my tiny apartment. I’ll be so sad to see him leave in a few weeks. He has one more year of business school, and then we’ll get married in December. Once he finishes his last semester in the spring, we’ll take our honeymoon. We haven’t decided where yet, so I’ll probably ask you to help with suggestions. (So if you any some great honeymoon tips, let me know.)-1

I just can’t believe how lucky I am. I went to the store whose dresses I had seen in certain brides’ magazines and always loved the most. The dresses are from Barcelona, http://www.pronovias.com, and Carmel, who helped me, was beyond awesome. I found a gorgeous veil to go with the dress, and I will make sure to send out pictures after my big day.

I’m glad I held off on the dress at the Italian dress store. As much as I loved it, it didn’t make me cry when I put it on (I always heard that was the criterion). And guess what: I literally had tears in my eyes today when I stood in front of the mirror. Carmel was hilarious…she kept asking how I got my body and I said it was Pilates. She is going to come take a class of mine now.

Speaking of classes, I taught a wild class last weekend at a Hot Air Balloon festival in New Jersey. Tim came with me, and we took our first-ever hot-air balloon ride in the Darth Vader balloon! Tim was beside himself being the Star Wars fan that he is. My teaching leads me on some of the greatest adventures, and I am so thankful to have a fiancé who will support me along the way.

Thanks to all of you for your support, for your comments and for following me on the greatest adventure of my life. I always love to hear from you! I’ll have another “Pilates Bridezilla” installment for you soon, so stay tuned!

Working Out and Dressing Up

July 28, 2009

By Kristin McGee

I have the coolest students. I am so lucky to teach Pilates all over the city and meet and work with such amazing people. Just last week after I taught my class at the Soho Equinox, I started chatting with a student from Australia. Naturally the conversation came around to the fact that I’M GETTING MARRIED IN FIVE MONTHS! And it just so happens that she is also recently engaged and she had a wonderful lead on some beautiful dresses and gave me the link: http://www.rembo-styling.com. As we kept talking, we also discovered that my wedding date is on her birthday! We couldn’t believe it. Her wedding is in April so she has bit more time to pick out her perfect dress.

After a private session, I taught on the Upper East Side a few days later, I passed by a wedding gown store called Atelier Aimee, on Park Avenue. The dresses in the window were stunning and I had to ring the bell and walk inside just for a peek. I know these dresses are way beyond my budget, but I thought I’d at least ask what one of my favorites came in at.

This is E28 from Eve of Milady, which a student recommended to me.

This is E28 from Eve of Milady, which a student recommended to me.

The lovely clerk, Marni, said it was about $6,000. Wow! Six grand is a lot of money, but for handmade dresses from Italy that are one of a kind, it wasn’t as terrible as I was expecting. I told her my wedding date, though, and she nearly fainted. She said brides who are getting married in December 2010 have already bought their dresses and that I should get a move on. I am going back in for an appointment next week to try on some of the dresses. If nothing else, I’ll have an idea of my perfect fantasy dress and maybe I can have someone make it for me here in the States or hit the lotto and buy a gown at http://www.aimeeusa.com. If I happen to really want something from there (and can take out a loan), then I have to decide, like, yesterday in order for them to have it made.
Once I posted my first blog, one of my favorite long-distance students who does my DVDs and who I connected with via internet, emailed me immediately and gave me a link to her favorite wedding designer: http://www.eveofmiladybridals.com. She also said E28 would be an incredible dress for me. I almost cried when I received her email because of her incredible support for me and the fact that she is helping me out even though we’ve never ever met in person. I feel like she is my sister in a sense.

In my familial birth order, I am the middle girl between two boys, and I have to admit as much as I love having my hair and makeup done for photo shoots, I am quite the tomboy. I run around the city in workout gear all day long and usually wear my hair back in a ponytail. I live for the weeks when I’m camping with my dad (we did two weeks white-water rafting on the Grand Canyon last summer). Don’t be horrified, but I can go for days without washing my hair and live in the same T- shirt and flannel and rinse my undies in the nearest river. But that’s when I’m camping. Right now, I have to focus and to find the dress of my dreams. (Oh, am I obsessing?) I am too practical, and I’ve given up dress shopping for work or my own workouts and classes to become a better and better teacher.

I have five months now before the big day. It’s time to really pretend I’m a princess and I need to pamper myself a bit more (something that’s actually hard for me to do). I need all the help I can get. I appreciate the advice I’ve had so far from my students and friends, and I have a few pseudo-sisters in Manhattan who are waiting for me to pick a day to go to Kleinfelds so they can help me try on dresses. I will keep you posted and I’ll try and bring my digital camera with me so you can vote on or help me decide on the ideal dress. Or send me your suggestions! Post your comments here and I will get them—and respond to every one of you. Thanks for sharing in this journey!

The Pilates Bridezilla Speaks!

July 22, 2009
Tim and I

Tim and I

By Kristin McGee

I never would have imagined I’d meet the man of my dreams while teaching Pilates. In April 2007, I was in Sun Valley, Idaho (the ski town near where I grew up), for Easter weekend and to do some spring skiing. It just so happened one of my East Coast clients has a home there as well, and she asked if I could do some yoga and Pilates privates with her apres-ski.

In the middle of our second session, Teresa jumps up and screams out, “Tim O’Shea! I said, “Tim O’huh?” I thought maybe the ab series had got her delirious or something. She says again, “Tim O’Shea. He was just here in Sun Valley skiing for a month. He is perfect for you, and you are perfect for him. You have to meet him. He will love you. I am calling him right now.”

Before I even knew what was happening, I got a phone call later that evening from Tim, who said his best friend’s mother had left a voicemail on his home fax machine phone (which he hasn’t had a call on in ages) instructing him to call me. He was as nonplussed as I was, but we both were very intrigued by the entire scenario. Tim was living in Boston, and he said he’d come to New York and take me out when I came back from Idaho.

He came in on a Monday evening, and we went to dinner at The Spotted Pig (thank goodness I’m not a vegetarian) in the far West Village of New York and talked the entire evening. The next time he came in to the city, he took me to Raoul’s (the best steak frites in all of NY….once again, thank goodness I’m not a vegetarian), and he kissed me good-night that evening. Well, the rest is history (at least, among the McGees and O’Sheas). We continued long-distance dating—lots of fung wah $15 bus rides from NY to Boston and vice versa—and just this past December while we were both out skiing in Sun Valley, he popped the question on the chairlift of all places.

Pilates led me to Tim in a roundabout way, but I think Pilates has and always will continue to keep leading me back to myself and my true center. It keeps me grounded, focused, centered, lengthened, lighter, stronger, more confident and constantly aiming for a deeper understanding of myself—and of life. I’m counting on Pilates to not only get me in tiptop physical shape. Goodness knows I need a scooped-in belly, nice posture, lifted derriere and toned arms for whichever dress I end up choosing…I’ll need all of your help with that, so please send me suggestions and leads I know I can also count on Pilates to keep me calm, cool and collected to deal with whatever comes my way as I get ready for my big day. [Editor’s note: Kristin: if you got married TODAY you’d have the perfect Pilates bod!]

We’ve set the date, December 19, 2009, in Sun Valley (of course), and we’ll be getting married in the clubhouse of the-brand new Golf Lodge, which has breathtaking views of Mt. Baldy. After the ceremony, everyone will be shuttled over to the River Run Lodge at the base of the mountain, where we’ll have our reception. I’m excited for you to help me along, and I’ll share with you all the details of my Pilates practice, dress hunting, invitation sending and beauty regime. I’ll do my best to maintain the Pilates contrology and not actually turn into Bridezilla. So far so good. Tim cannot get over how relaxed I am as a bride to be. Of course, only time will tell.


Kristin McGee—soon to be O’Shea

Exercise Inspiration

July 22, 2009

By Shari Berkowitz

Your Facebook status update says, “I just have no inspiration to work out. Can’t I just sit on the couch and have more chocolate instead?” The truth is that it’s ok to sit on the couch with more chocolate if…if you are a regular exerciser. If you’re not, though, you’ve got to get off the couch and get into a class!

How do you get inspiration if you’re not naturally inspired? Well, first you need to find value in it—in exercise itself. Which I believe means you have to find value in you.

Whoa: a big subject! You’ve got to find value in yourself to get up and make yourself exercise. Time was, once, that we all hunted and gathered, ran after the kids, cleaned the cave and escaped the saber-toothed tiger. Exercise was a part of everyday life. But today that’s not the case at all. The hunting and gathering is done on the farm by equipment, the nanny’s with the kids who are sitting behind their X-Box, the maid is cleaning with a vacuum, and the saber-toothed tiger is long gone. So we’ve got to make time for exercise, make time for ourselves—and do it as though it and you are important.

One hundred percent of our body and mind was designed to make us move or fuel that movement. That’s right: 100 percent. That little part of your mind that helps you cognitively think is there so you can think better and move away faster from that saber-toothed tiger. Once you realize that you were born to move, it might become easier to get out and do that for at least an hour a day (and when you’re doing Pilates, it’s only 55 minutes).

Here’s a tip that always works for me: schedule your workouts. Put it in your day planner and keep your schedule. If you’re not good at keeping these appointments, then you’ve got to have someone else on the other end waiting for you. Book a workout with a trainer, or, if that’s not in the budget, schedule it with a friend so you will work out together. Make sure you’re accountable for that hour—accountable to your friend and to yourself.

Remember: Working out isn’t punishment. It’s a gift you give yourself. You’re giving yourself the gift of good health. Think about all the negative things you say to yourself each day; why not do this one thing that is positive all around? You’ll feel great about yourself, your endorphins will be flowing which will make you feel incredible and you’ll look better…it’s positive all around.

An important thing to get good at is setting attainable goals. If you’re not used to exercising, start slowly. How about adding one Pilates session to your weekly routine for a month? Then, on the second month, congratulate yourself by giving yourself the gift of a second Pilates session a week. Eventually bump it up to three sessions a week. They don’t have to all be private sessions: why not a private, a semi-private and a mat class? Feeling so good in your body might naturally inspire to you to start walking more: at first maybe 20 minutes, then 30, then 40 at a time twice a week. This is a fantastic exercise schedule. I bet you can do this for yourself. What a gift!

Then the day will come—in the not-so-distant future—when you no longer want to sit on the couch and have more chocolate… There is no guilt, there is no embarrassment on Facebook. Instead, you write a status update that says, “I’ve been exercising like never before. And now I want some extra chocolate…and I’m gonna have it because I’ve earned it!”

Putting the work back in your workout

July 20, 2009

By Kathryn Ross-Nash

A few days ago I was teaching a group of clients who had been students for many years. Instead of suffering through the Hundred…they looked comfortable. COMFORTABLE IN THE HUNDRED! That’s when I realized that they had gotten so strong that the goal position was no longer enough to challenge them; they would have to learn to create the challenge within their own bodies.

The Pilates method is based on creating oppositional forces in the body radiating from a strong center. This means the work is never-ending if you know how to create these opposing forces. Obviously we could spend hours (months!) discussing how to do that, correctly and efficiently, in great detail. But in a nutshell, here are four ways to create opposing forces:

1. Squeeze the juice out of an exercise: As you move through flexion and extension (the basis of the work), push the limits of the movement. For example, in Double-Leg Stretch, as you extend, reach as far as you can between your fingers and toes, make the waist and long and strong as possible. Then, when you bring the arms and legs in, make the ball as small as possible.

2.Pick a principle: Each time you teach, pick one of the six fundamental principles to be the focus of thworkout. You’ll be amazed at what happens. For example, the workout changes when you focus on fluidity instead of precision. The dynamics change when you concentrate on breath or centering (that all comes from the powerhouse). The challenge is different when you bring your full concentration (awareness to everything you are doing) to the work and when you focus on the control over the body and do not allow gravity or momentum to take over. Different Principle: different workout; different muscular response, full benefit of the work!

3. Mix it up: Change the rhythm of your work. For example, on the Single-Leg Stretch, play with the counts. Hold each position 4 counts 2 times, 3 counts 2 times, 1 count 2 times.

4. Alter your attention: Always engage your powerhouse first and align your box second: but then what? Some days focus on keeping the waist long in all your exercises, other days focus on using your bottom or engaging the back of your legs. The possibilities are endless.

Above all else, keep the work in your workout! That is how after 26 years of practice and 18 years of teaching I have never had a moment of boredom in the studio.