Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pilates and Beyond by Jennifer Kries

Another guest blogger.   Enjoy
When Mel asked me to write a guest blog on her site, I couldn’t help but marvel at the wonder that Pilates has been in my life to date; forget about the myriad benefits it has provided to myself and millions of others since its debut back at the turn of the last century, but how about the following example, this “water wheel of life” connectivity it has orchestrated around me as long as I have been doing it: Mel is the student of two shining stars in my immediate Pilates stellium: Senior Pilates Teacher, Jan Tirony-Johnson, the owner of my affiliate Mid-West Training Center, Pilates Midwest, and Lynn Descamp, Jan’s “right-hand” an exceptional and dedicated Pilates instructor in her own right. This is what I love about Pilates- the incredible, inevitable legacy that continues in the lives of all of the people it touches, and the way that it can bring people together, who ordinarily would have never had the opportunity to meet, let alone grow and evolve together. And this holds especially true for me in Michigan with Jan and the extraordinary studio community that she has created. I am honored to call her a true and dear friend, as well as an esteemed colleague, and have only the deepest affection and highest regard for her “team,” Lynn, Charisse, and Ashley, among others.

Thank you Mel, for asking me to contribute to your wonderful online forum and to help spread the word about the magic that is Pilates, but most especially, for giving me this opportunity to share just how much your teachers mean to me, and how grateful I am that Pilates helped me to open the door to these incredibly meaningful relationships with the special ladies you work with in Petoskey.

I first discovered Pilates at age thirteen with one of Joseph Pilates’ protégées, the late Eve Gentry at the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York City in what they then called a “Contrology Class,”--- the name Joseph Pilates gave to the technique he developed. Long before anyone knew what it was, we aspiring dancers used Pilates as a secret weapon to strengthen our abdominals and our bodies, so that we could jump higher, turn faster and move with greater precision and grace. I practiced Pilates throughout my professional dance career and it kept me inspired, injury free and powerful!

Pilates had been such an effective and profound mind-body tool, that I felt compelled to share it with the public. After getting certified in the early 90’s, with another one of Joseph Pilates “Master Inheritors,” Romana Kryzanowska, and becoming one of the privileged few “2nd Generation” Pilates Master Instructors, I introduced the Pilates “Mat class” to gym facilities in New York and watched the excitement build … people would have one taste of it and they would be immediately hooked. Even after one class, they felt taller, more energized, more capable and more alive.

I was thrilled to be able to influence the lives of the people in my classes in New York, but I wanted to share this incredible secret with as many people as possible. Serendipitously, one of my loyal students was in video production and said, ”Jennifer, you really should share this with the masses! Let me help you …” In 1998 I premiered the first ever Pilates video under “The Method” title, and just look at Pilates now.

Pilates is a non-impact, non weight-bearing system of physical conditioning that focuses on body placement and increasing awareness of the body’s capabilities and untapped resources. Pilates changes bodies. It makes them fitter, stronger and more attractive. It slims the muscles and makes them longer; it develops sleekness rather than bulk. It turns the abdomen and lower back into a firm, central support for a newly supple and graceful body.

Born near Dusseldorf, Germany in 1880, Joseph Pilates suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever as a child. His determination and drive to overcome those ailments led to his study of Eastern and Western forms of exercise, including yoga and ancient Greek and Roman regimens. By the time he was fourteen, Pilates had worked so hard at bodybuilding that he was able to pose for anatomical charts and had become a diver, skier and gymnast. When World War I broke out, he was an intern for a year in Lancaster, England, along with other German nationals. While in the camp, he taught his fellow internees the physical fitness program he had developed, and boasted that they would emerge stronger than they were before imprisonment. Those who followed his program resisted the influenza epidemic that swept the nation and killed thousands. He also encountered people who were disabled as a result of wartime injuries, diseases, and incarceration, and began devising machines using the springs from old hospital beds to help in their rehabilitation. These machines were the prototypes of the equipment used in Pilates studios today. 

Pilates believed that the “attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind, fully capable of naturally and efficiently performing daily tasks with spontaneous zest and ease” should be the objective for people of all ages and fitness levels.

Pilates’ six principles: concentration, control, centering, breath, flow and precision enable the practitioner to learn to move with maximum efficiency while minimizing stress on the body. You are able to access new levels in your body and create a deeper, more complete feeling of fitness, energy and vitality that remains with you days after your workout.

Pilates exercises make people more aware of their bodies. It helps to improve alignment and breathing and increases efficiency of movement. The focus is on the center of the body---the “powerhouse,” or the “corset muscles,” also known as the stabilizing core muscles of the torso, which support the spine. The rectus abdominus, the central abdominal muscle, running from sternum to pubic bone works in tandem with the transverse abdominus, the deepest of the abdominal muscles, wrapping around the trunk horizontally, acting like a "corset" when engaged. Other muscles that are important in providing good stability in the trunk, are the erector spinae, that run on either side of the spine, the quadratus lumborum and multifidus muscles in the low back, and the intrinsic muscles of the pelvic floor. The active collaboration of these major muscle groups creates a solid cylinder around the central spine, helping to prevent “shearing” or eroding forces from being applied to the vertebrae, ligaments and discs that evolve as a result of repetitive trauma, habitual patterns of movement that are unconscious and unproductive for the body-mind.

My favorite Pilates exercises are those that I learned first as a young dancer and they are also the very exercises that I feature in my DVDs, both those for the exercising public, my New Body! Pilates Series and those geared more towards the teacher trainee, or professional-track Pilates student, as well as certified teachers, my Pilates Method Master Trainer Series, which coincidentally, was filmed at Jan Tirony Johnson’s studio in Petoskey … They are the exercises from the original, classical mat workout developed by Joseph Pilates, a series that focuses on the abdominal center, the muscles of the torso, as well as breathing patterns for each exercise, teaching you how to direct energy to those targeted areas while relaxing the rest of the body. In all of my DVDs, one learns and immediately experiences what Pilates called “economy of movement.” Because you do the fewest number of repetitions with the greatest precision and control, you get the most out of your efforts, and your focus and determination grow exponentially.

On a spiritual level, the workout is concerned with the process itself. You learn to focus on the present moment and the movement itself rather than the outcome. This is a workout, a regime similar to yoga that promotes consciousness and facilitates evolution and self-transformation.

The subtle magic of Pilates is that the work grows as you do. You rise to higher and higher levels as your self-awareness and experience deepen. As you gain insight and as your actual physical strength increases, the work refines and redefines itself. 

Pilates is a unique, refreshing approach that sees our physical activity as a way to restore total oneness with ourselves and create harmony with our body, mind and spirit; under this notion, exercise becomes the means to experiencing a personal potential greater than the physical skills themselves. Every movement emanates from the center, which is also our emotional core, and the exercises truly help to "center" you. When you learn the advantage of paying attention to the energy, flow and rhythms in your exercises and see how pushing or forcing is counterproductive, you begin to apply this notion to the rest of your life. When you center your attention in the moment and act in harmony with time, you experience inner peace and fulfillment. By staying in the present, you can do less, yet gain more; paradoxically, you create more personal power and energy enabling you to have a greater influence over the outcome both in your sessions and long after you leave the studio.
My love of Pilates began long before its era of popularity and has served as a pillar of strength for me in all aspects of my professional athletic and artistic life, enlivening my spirit, conditioning my body, reinforcing my self-esteem and overall feeling of peace and well-being. I continue to be amazed and delighted every time I teach a class, or I take one, just how simple, yet powerfully transformational “The Method” truly is, and how its effects grace the body mind and spirit with a gift you give yourself, and one that catalyzes profound changes in one’s being. How appropriate now, during this season of giving to consider such a wondrous thing, that the gift we give ourselves doesn’t stop with us, but goes well beyond us to touch the lives of each person we come in contact with ... 

Pilates and other mind-body-spirit modalities center and balance us, making us more aware of ourselves and what makes us feel good, so that we then have greater reserves to share those good feelings with others, reminding us of what is truly important in life, like seeing someone smile as a result of our single act of kindness that reflects right back into our hearts. Pilates, very simply, makes us into healthier, kinder, more generous, more connected, conscious people and makes the world a better place.

Jennifer Kries

Dancer, choreographer, yoga devotee, author, lifestyle expert and Pilates master teacher, Jennifer Kries is an unparalleled innovator in the realm of alternative health and fitness. First to bring Pilates to the masses, her award-winning videos and DVDs, The Method Series, Jennifer Kries’s Pilates Method and Fox/Fit TV’s, The Method Show, revolutionized the fitness community, paving the way for the current wave of enthusiasm for Pilates mind-body exercise. 

One of the country’s preeminent Pilates master teachers, she is responsible for launching many of today’s most respected professionals who teach either traditional Pilates or The Method, her trademark mind-body synthesis: Pilates, yoga, and dance. She is the founder of New York’s, Balance Pilates, Yoga, and Dance, Hot Body Cool Mind—The Studio in Philadelphia, Artistic Director and Founder of Contemporary Dance Theatre New York and most recently, creator and producer of yet two other ground-breaking DVD series, Jennifer Kries’ Pilates Method Master Trainer Series and Hot Body Cool Mind: The Life Force Power Workout!
Her approach to fitness and wellness is unsurpassed. Jennifer brings unmatched clarity and an extraordinary perspective to her teaching. She has inspired countless readers, practitioners, graduates of her programs, and viewers alike to embrace her all-encompassing philosophy of movement, art, health, life and energy. Through her inspiring work, she helps people transform far more than their bodies, enabling them to tap into a reserve of power never before experienced. Her attention to detail, superb teaching style, artistry, and knowledge of Eastern healing techniques, anatomy and energy dynamics makes her one of the most highly sought-after mind-body teachers in the world today.
For more information on Jennifer and her Pilates and other fitness DVDs, visit her website:

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