PTI Faculty and our Directors practice what they preach when it comes to professional development: but when you live and breathe the method, seeking out growth opportunities is a joy! To demonstrate this point we’ve rebooted an archived blog from 2014, written by Director Frances Cahill, detailing her month of Pilates heaven working with some of the method’s elders in the spiritual home of Pilates: New York City.
Having landed back in Perth (cold and rainy but home all the same) from New York City only just a couple of days ago, my experiences in the home of Pilates are still very much fresh in my mind and my body. Leading up to my big trip with my husband, Andrew, I knew that as a Pilates devotee (ok, so truthfully my obsession goes far further than those words allow for) that it would be complete sacrilege for me not to seek out the Pilates gurus in NYC that I have worshipped from afar.
So, anxious not to miss out on some face-to-face, or should I say body-to-body, time with my Pilates celebs I booked my private sessions months in advance with Blossom Leilani-Crawford, Brooke Siler and Deb Lessen.
My first appointment was with Blossom at her studio, Bridge Pilates in DUMBO Brooklyn and by this time I had been travelling already for three weeks through Hawaii, San Fransisco, Yosemite, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Washing DC. That’s a whole lot of flying, eating, drinking, walking and driving – with no Pilates (gasp in horror) and my body was a little twisted, to say the least. Having already worked a little with Blossom at the Pilates Alliance Conference last year in Sydney, I already knew just how brilliant she was.
Her studio (which by the way was bloody hard to find, as I discovered are all the best Pilates studio in NYC – because lets face it, they don’t need a flashing sign out the front, people like me literally hunt them down and they could really teach out of a cave for all we care) was such a living memoir to the history of Pilates and more particularly to Kathy Grant, Blossom’s late mentor and it felt warm and full of personality.
I had arrived early and Blossom excitedly gave me ‘the tour’ of her studio (it’s only one room-space is at a premium over there of course). She showed me photos of Joseph Pilates at his 80th birthday party with all the Pilates community surrounding him and other photos of him not available to the public, which I felt so lucky to see.
She then went through her apparatus, some of which was original, and pointed out Joseph’s original design features that we don’t see all the time now in the modern productions. My session was an hour and a half (how was I going to survive?!) but it passed in an absolute flash. Andrew stayed and watched, which wasn’t the original plan, but while we were working out Blossom had him measure up and trace the blueprints for all sorts of fabulous DIY small props that she swore by so we could take it back to home and replicate them.
This generosity of sharing was so kind and I am beyond excited to start enlisting the handy males in my life (Ray, let’s chat soon my friend) to knock these up for us!
My session with Blossom started on the Cadillac and then later in we did some ladder barrel and Reformer work. So those of you that know me well, know that my natural body state would pretty much love to just be a stiff plank of wood if I didn’t coax some movement into it. She knew exactly how to bring the best out of my body straight away and her intuition when it comes to teaching is something that I am supremely jealous of! We concentrated a lot on ankle and feet placement whilst on the Reformer (hello back of legs and butt!) but also on thoracic extension, rotation and full spinal articulation which was just what I needed.
Next day was a visit to see Brooke Siler at re:AB Pilates in Noho. Feeling the full effects of Blossom’s touch the day before, I climbed the very steep stairs to the studio wincing as I went. I have all of Brooke’s books so I was in major geeky Pilates celeb mode when I met her (sorry for just gaping at you like a fish at first Brooke). The studio was a little bigger this time and was full of lovely Pilates equipment (surely that extra Tower can fit in my suitcase?). Brooke was mentored by Romana Kryzanowska and it was so interesting to be able to compare her style to Blossom’s Kathy Grant influences.
We worked on the Reformer and then also did a little Armchair, ladder barrel and guillotine (yes – it’s a piece of quite traditional Pilates equipment). The session was smooth and flowing like a dance with amazing transitions between exercises that meant we did not stop and I was drenched in a pool of my own sweat (you weren’t eating were you?) even after the first leg and footwork. The equipment was Gratz brand and the resistance feels a little different to what I’m used to. It has a lovely solidity to it that really makes you work deeply as the springs don’t do it for you.
Brooke encouraged me to settle into neutral pelvis in a slightly softer way and I felt really great for it so that’s definitely something I’m going to bring into my teaching. We also concentrated a lot on the shoulder and upper body placement with an emphasis on shoulder extension and by the time I left I felt like my head was back on top of my shoulders which gave me great relief!
Day three, my final Pilates session in NYC with Deb Lessen and by this stage I am not going to lie, I was SORE. Turns out that Deb is the Pilates whisperer and she just has that way of manoeuvring you through your session so that it feels effortless and light but hard and challenging all in equal measure. In her own words, ‘I believe in heavy’, Deb prefers using fairly strong resistance to help implement change in the body and the way she used it with me felt in no way brutish of forceful but very specific and targeted. The apparatus were all pieces that she had designed and had made and the dimensions and resistance felt fantastic.
Like the other two gurus, she picked up the subtle imbalances in my body straight away and then expertly set about unravelling me. We did side lying mat work in the warm up to fire my lateral stabilisers and this made all the difference to how I moved through the rest of session. She encouraged me to open the front bottom ribs a little by breathing into them more and support myself from work in the upper back which felt lovely. Deb was mentored by Carola Trier and again, to experience the differences in style is what working with these second generation teachers is all about.
Deb’s studio is in Soho (I have also dubbed this area, shopping Mecca) inside her house! A little section of her lounge, right next to her kitchen is where she teaches her clients and it’s a beautiful setup. Again, I was in Pilates nerd mode upon meeting her but she is just so LOVELY that I had a strange urge just to hug her all the time (don’t worry, I resisted until the end so she didn’t think I was too much of a stalker and ahem, perhaps I was just missing my own mother by then?).
My body now feels amazing after these three sessions and I am so inspired to bring all that I learned back to the PFI team, our eager students and most importantly our much-loved clients.
Student instructors and teachers (or even any especially interested clients!) one of the major reasons I am writing this blog (other than the fact that it’s currently 3.30am and I’m wide awake with jet lag) is because I strongly believe in the importance of understanding the Pilates lineage and history and it’s something you should take the time to become familiar with. Here are a couple of great links (this one and this one) that I highly recommend that you take a read of if it’s not something you have already got firmly under your belt.
I’m so happy to back home with my PFI family and I encourage anyone making the trip to NYC to seek out some great Pilates which you are there. Hey, at the very least it will help you with stamina levels as you navigate Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Saks, Neiman Marcus, Barney’s… you get the drift.