Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Instructors at The Pilates Studio Part II: Kay Cowperthwait

When I think of Kay, so many things come to mind…Iron Lady, Hockey Player, Mom, Friend, but none of these words describe the essence that is Kay, the essence that makes me shout, “KKKKAAAAYYYY!” whenever she walks through the door. 

I met Kay four years ago. (I can only remember that because her son is four and he was four months old when I met Kay)  She became my client after giving birth to Tate (her son).  Tate became our mascot at the Studio for a while.  He would come into the studio with Kay and sit and watch, and then later crawl around, and then later run jump and throw balls!   What fun it was to watch Kay learn Pilates and bare witness to a wonderful caring mother.   It was also fun to make Kay work hard.  She is so strong and such an accomplished athlete, that I was able to teach a lot of work that was more complicated and challenging.  It was great to explore with Kay this other side of Pilates.  To explore how Pilates can be rehabilitative, but also how Pilates can be an excellent and challenging cross training method for the most accomplished athletes.

During this time, I was also able to hear Kay talk about her own personal training clients.  I got to hear the care with which she worked.  I found in Kay a kindred spirit that approached fitness the way that I did.  And now four years later…Almost five actually, I get to work with Kay.  I get to hear her teach at the studio.  I get to hear her frame corrections positively always being aware of the person that is getting the corrections.  I get to hear Kay’s genuine interest in her clients as people.  She hears and values each story that a client says.  She listens with wonder and amazement at all of the diversity in the valley.  

Kay also brings her knowledge of athletics into the Studio.  She can train golfers, tri-athletes, hockey players, soccer players, or any other athlete.  She can relate to the mindset, she understands what is necessary in the game and can improve performance.  The Pilates Studio is lucky to have Kay, and her family as part of our community.  If you ever get a chance to ask her about Tate, or Sophie, you will hear the wonderful way that she understands her children, and then you can imagine how she might put that understanding into her work with her clients.  She sees people for who they are without an agenda, and creates workouts that are perfect for their bodies and their goals.

If you have any interest in setting up a private session with Kay, please contact The Pilates Studio we’d be happy to make the appointment!

Read about Kay here!  On Wednesdays you can find her on the ice in Greenfield, MA!!!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Instructors at The Pilates Studio: Part I Suzanne Mente

At The Pilates Studio we have six fabulous teachers, and recently I have had the honor and pleasure to write a recommendation letter for one of them.  After six months of working to write essays for this blog I was amazed at how easy it was to write this recommendation.  The words flowed off my fingers and as I finished the letter a realization came to me: The teachers at The Pilates Studio Rock!  It’s a plain and simple fact.   They are amazing beings that love movement.  Their varied backgrounds bring nuances to their teaching.  The clientele at The Pilates Studio are lucky to have every single one of them. 

Consider this the beginning of a series; let’s call it the AMAZING FANTABULOUS TEACHERS of THE PILATES STUDIO.  To begin the series I will use my letter of recommendation for our fabulous instructor Suzanne Mente.

To Whom It May Concern:

 My name is Katrina Hawley and I co-own The Pilates Studio in Hadley and am adjunct faculty at the University of Hartford in the Hartt School’s Dance Division.  I have known Suzanne for the past ten years as client, friend and student, and I have seen her coach both dressage riders and Pilates Students.

I met Suzanne Mente about ten years ago when she was first developing the Dressage team at the University of Massachusetts.  I was her Pilates Instructor.  At this time I was amazed by her curiosity to learn a new movement methodology, but more importantly her uncanny ability to synthesize the information and then apply it to her expertise in Dressage riding.  We would get in discussions about muscle imbalances and how to address them, but more importantly how to address them in a riding session.   We then began to create a collaborative relationship.  I would meet her at the University of Massachusetts Equine Center, and do a postural assessment on her students, and then I would give my two cents about muscular imbalances and Suzanne would then translate my two cents to the rider.  I always remember being in awe of someone who is so efficient in her instruction and along with this efficiency able to create an environment that is safe for both rider and animal.  It is a skill that I admire.  Imagining the dangers of riding makes me feel like it is a safer world when Suzanne is working with equestrians.

UMass Dressage team coach by Suzanne Mente
Over the years Suzanne and I have developed a friendship that is based on a common passion for learning and discussion.  I remember so many evenings that we have spoken about students and I have learned so much from her natural ability to work with older adolescents.  She can take a group of young women and create a collaborative team in which every personality has a voice.  Through her coaching style she facilitates friendships and camaraderie as opposed to competition and gossip.  She empowers young women to be better and stronger and caring.  She carries a passion towards the power in female friendships and she creates a team environment that is conducive to learning and development.

In the most recent years, I have been able to get to know Suzanne as a student.  I have trained her as a pilates instructor and am honored to employ her at The Pilates Studio.  Suzanne is a fastidious student.  She is excited by the new direction and opportunities that are coming to her.  …


Katrina Hawley
Co-owner The Pilates Studio
Adjunct Faculty at The University of Hartford.

It was an honor to write this letter and it is an honor to publish on the blog of The Pilates Studio!  Suzanne Mente is a wonderful friendly addition to the staff at The Pilates Studio.  If you have any questions for Suzanne about Pilates and riding, or would like to set up an Introductory package with Suzanne, please contact The Pilates Studio for more information. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Zumba and Pilates can coexist!

Last week I wrote about the New York Times…This week I am writing about the Hampshire Gazette.  When we work towards finding health and balance, we need all the help we can get.  This means that we have to ask the newspapers and media to be a part of our support!  I sent the following to the editor of the Hampshire Gazette and I wanted to share it here as well. 

I was recently appalled at the New York Times over their article "yoga is wrecking your body" I was infuriated not because the article was poorly written but because it was presented in a sensationalist fashion that created fear in those that have practiced yoga and found benefit. This article even staged pictures with the cast of a broadway show attempting yoga poses that no yoga instructor would callously give to a new student. It was sensationalist and did no justice to what could be a fabulous discussion. I expect more from the New York Times. 

I also expect more from the Hampshire Gazette.  On Tuesday January 17th, 2012. The Hampshire Gazette published an article entitled, "Zumba is in, Pilates is out." once again pitting fitness practices against each other without awareness of what is actually being said. It showed little depth in the reporting and undermines and belittles a movement in which people are making healthier choices. Pilates and Zumba are completely different practices. That can coexist in any fitness life, and pitting them against each other shows little knowledge about either practice.

I was also frustrated with the article because it made light of the struggle people have to make changes in their lives. Every New Years people joke about getting fit for the month of January, and then "falling off the wagon." What if instead of expecting failure we support any person at anytime that finds movement towards health. What if we celebrated those choices and the plethora of choices we have in this valley!

I love the Hampshire Gazette and the way it represents our wonderful community. Maybe that is why I am so disappointed in this article. I imagine an article entitled "Getting healthy in the New Year" this article that I see in my minds eye explores the many different resources in the valley for health and awareness describing the different benefits without comparing or creating a false hierarchy. This article would allow the people of this great valley to make healthy choices without belittling or increasing the chance of failure! I challenge you Hampshire Gazette please be the local paper I want you to be!

Katrina Hawley
Co-owner of The Pilates Studio

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Yoga and The New York Times

You might think that I am in heaven.  I own a Pilates Studio, and the New York Times just published an article called, “How Yoga can Wreck Your Body.”  It’s a Pilates Studio’s dream, all of the people who were under the impression that yoga was good for you are going to flock to Pilates classes.  The age old turf war is over…Pilates has won…Let me be clear, sarcasm was intended…In fact I hope that the words above are dripping with thick gooey sarcasm.

I am as frustrated with the article in the New York Times as any Yoga teacher out there, and its not because the article doesn’t have some good ideas.  My problem comes with the fear the article is meant to inspire.  The title of the article is catchy, but inflammatory.  And the New York Times purports itself to be better than that!!!! (which makes me even more furious!) Then along with the title of the article is the photo, which includes Broadway’s Godspell cast “trying” to do advanced yoga poses.  At this point the reader, is going to read an article about how dangerous yoga is with an image of three costumed people making fun of an ancient practice…

The unfortunate thing about this presentation is that in everybody’s busy lives, the title of the article, the photo and the first paragraph may be all that a person reads, and thanks to the New York Times the message is not good…Well I have read the full article, and I do appreciate some of the points it made.  But I think that Yoga is getting blamed for a bigger problem…And injuries can happen in any activity that is not completed with awareness and care. 

The article talks about a certain outward looking yoga practice. A practice in which people are constantly striving for bigger and better poses…To me this is not a problem with Yoga, it is a problem with us.  We are such an accomplishment-oriented world, and yoga is a practice that is intended for internal exploration.  What if writing an article about internal motivations for movement as opposed to accomplishment oriented fitness.  Its not catchy, its not sensationalist, but it is the problem.  How do we measure success?  Is it in an aware practice that involves listening to the messages that our body is giving us? Or, does it include checking off asanas one by one until we have completed them all?  I know many yoga teachers that I am proud to call colleagues and I don’t think any of them would go for the checklist. 

This article does an injustice.  Its presentation is inflammatory and tells the wrong story.  But I guess like all media of the day, the article has done its job…I can’t tell you how many people have mentioned the article to me this week.  The New York Times has its ratings…Oh wait it’s a newspaper…HMMMM    

I've been on my soapbox in this blog...Let me know what you think.  Feel free to send an email, and I am happy to respond

Katrina Hawley

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pilates Frequently ASKED Questions.

On our website we have a Frequently asked Questions page.  I’ve written part of it and read the rest of it, and I feel like it covers the basics.  But for fun, I thought I might offer a challenge to some friends on facebook.  Actually it was more like begging!  My exact words were…”Ask me something about Pilates please pretty please!”  And the response to my shameless begging was fantastic!  I thank everyone who has responded for breaking the Pilates blog writer’s block.

Drum roll please!!!!
Question #1 comes from my wonderful Sister who loves to give a challenge!  She not only asks a question about pilates but puts forth a grammatical challenge as well!  I LOVE HER!  And not even sarcastically I really do like grammatical challenges.

What is the very most important thing to know about Pilates in 1 sentence?....and not a run-on sentence either.

Pilates is more than abdominal work, and a pilates class is a full body workout that balances the core with movement in the limbs.

I would explain further but my sister won’t let me! And to Renee that was a compound sentence not a run-on sentence.  In previous posts I have pontificated further about the benefits of pilates. In one post I speak about how Pilates balances the strength between muscles of core, and in another one I give some explanation of the muscles of the core.

Question #2  presents what could be an exciting adventure.  Pilates with a language barrier on a new piece of apparatus.

I'm going to my first Pilates class in German next week. I don't speak German by the way. So.... this should be either really good or really bad! I've never done a reformer class so I have no idea what I'm getting into. Any words of wisdom for the reformer?

The reformer is piece of apparatus designed by Joseph Pilates, and a reformer class creates a full body workout on this piece of equipment.  If your previous experience is with Mat Pilates and this is a reformer class then your abdominals and back muscles are well prepared.  However, your arms and legs may be a little surprised by the resistance of the springs on the reformer.  I would be sure to listen to your body.  Exercises on the reformer should not cause an ache in the low back.  If this is the feeling that occurs then check in with your breath and make sure that you are exhaling on the work and elongating your axis whenever possible.  Core strength implies simply strength, but I prefer to follow Polestar Pilates principle of axial elongation and core control.  Core strength is not as effective without axial elongation and vice versa.  When in doubt, when the instructor is speaking in german and you don’t know what he or she is saying, simply think how can I make my torso longer?  How can I lengthen the distance between the ribs and the hips?  How long is my neck?  These should make the adventure you’re about to take survivable and fun! 

Question #3 Is from my dear friend who saw right through my ploy!!!  He asked the perfect question!
Katrina, is Pilates a fun and healthy way to achieve my new year's resolution of improving my fitness?"

My answer is absolutely!  For the person who “hates to exercise” Pilates is exercise while laying down.  For the person who “wants to get in shape” after a period of less exercise, Pilates is a great way to introduce gentle movement to the body.  For the person that wants to “work really hard,” the pilates apparatus helps to increase strength in different relationships to gravity with spring resistance and proprioceptive challenges.  So how can Pilates be perfect for anyone who wants to improve his/her fitness?  Well Pilates is a system of exercise that is designed to be malleable to meet someone’s needs.  A person who has fitness goals will be able to address those goals specifically as opposed to generally.  Pilates is for everyone!  Really it is!        

Question #4 A great question.  About Pilates and parents
Is Pilates effective for a man the age of 70? (My dad has back issues)

The initial answer is Yes!!!! I want to answer this question specifically for back pain.  Pilates uses great progressions for rehabilitation of low back pain.  At first a Pilates student will work to stabilize the movement of the back while strengthening other parts of the body.  Often to take the pressure off of the back so that the inflammation can be relieved, a student will be laying supine (on the back) doing exercises that isolate the movement of the arms and legs to give the back a break.  After this step it might happen that some gentle movement is introduced to the back muscles so that these myofascial configurations can begin to learn healthy and efficient movement.  From here then a student begins to challenge himself with proprioceptive challenges that trick the new movement patterns and create neural pathways that make them happen, and finally integrating the new movement patterns into daily life.  This is a process that empowers the student to learn how to take care of the back!  YAY!  And I have to give credit where credit is due and say that I just very loosely summarized the four stages of rehabilitation by Porterfield and DeRosa, and I learned these in the Polestar Pilates Rehabilitation Program.

Beyond that, this is your dad and he may be under the impression that pilates is only for women…For the record lets remember that Joseph Pilates was a man, a boxer in fact, and then read this previous post where I talk about pilates and men.

Question #5 and Question #6 I have combined these questions because they both address the very frequently asked “What is the difference between Pilates and Yoga
What benefits does Pilates have over Yoga? And Is there an effective way to integrate Pilates and Yoga into one fitness practice?

It’s funny when I gave myself this little facebook challenge I knew I would get these questions and I always feel remiss in answering them.  To explain this I have to explain a pet peeve…Snap judgements.  These are the kind of judgements that are made when a person has a snippet of knowledge about a very broad subject and then that person postulates a comparative analysis as if an expert on both sides. This happens all of the time and it makes me CRAZY!!! Thus, when someone asks me to compare pilates to yoga, I know a little bit about yoga and a whole hell of a lot about pilates so my analysis is most certainly biased and incomplete.  So my answer/non-answer to this question is look for a practitioner that you connect with, find the kind of class that makes you feel comfortable, and personally I find that I connect with practitioners that are open to the power of modalities other than their own.  I guess it is openness rather than defensiveness.  Where the curiosity in the power of movement becomes the bigger picture rather than a schoolyard fight of whose modality is better than whose!  And really movement is movement and if it feels good great!

I also found the following link.

This link is a really great article written by someone who has practiced both pilates and yoga.  She speaks about Yoga having an eastern philosophical base and Pilates having a western philosophical base.  It seems to me that she has more of a yogic background than pilates, but she does come from the mindset that it doesn’t have to be just one.  There is no rule in this world that if you practice yoga you can’t practice pilates and if you practice pilates you can’t practice yoga, or for that matter that if you start a movement practice with a yoga asana that you can’t continue the practice with an exercise that has pilates heritage.  I only cringed at one sentence at the end of the article in which she says, “Generally speaking when it comes to Pilates and yoga, I think it's fair to say yoga is more about how it makes you feel while Pilates is about how you look.”   I take issue with this statement, and I suppose anybody that knows me can figure out why!

Question #7
How does Pilates compare with strength training?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strength_training.  According to this Wikipedia article, which is one definition of strength training, pilates is a kind of strength training.  Especially when you are working on the apparatus equipment.  Your body is moving against the force of spring resistance thus building strength.  However, when I am working with a person on the pilates equipment, strength training is one of many goals we might be working together to accomplish.  The new movement in strength training modalities (of which pilates is one of many) is to practice and then accomplish full body movements that involve multiple muscle groups across several moving joints.  Gone are the days of the simple bicep curl isolations.  Pilates is not alone in this movement.  There are many strength training modalities that are working on functional strength as opposed to isolated large muscle fiber contraction.   

Question #8 I love this question because it tells a story and that makes it very easy to answer!

Does it do any good to do a 15 min routine? Is it better than not doing anything? Should an out of shape, inexperienced beginner try to do something every day or less often? I usually play tennis 1-3 times a week, so am looking for something to help me with that. I am 43 and starting to feel my age with more and more aches and pains starting to creep up, as well as just feeling blah lately.

To answer the first question any movement is better than no movement.  A fifteen-minute routine is a great way to start. Furthermore if a person can only fit in one hamstring stretch a day.  That is one more hamstrings stretch than he or she was doing before.  Success comes in small manageable steps.  Secondly, a person who plays tennis 1-3 times a week is not out of shape.  Tennis is a full body sport that requires movement and lots of it.  To protect your body from the aches or pains that can be caused by a great and rigorous tennis match I would have your first baby step be a side lying series.  I have included a couple of videos below.  

Phew that was fun!!!  What if there are more questions out there?  Click here and send them in!  I'm happy to answer them.

Katrina Hawley
C.M.A. R.S.M.E
Co- owner of The Pilates Studio

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In Memoriam to Alexandra Dawson

 There is no word for Goodbye
By Mary Tallmountain

Sokoya, I said, looking through
            the net of wrinkles into
            wise black pools
            of her eyes

What do you say in Athabaskan
            when you leave each other?
            What is the word
            for goodbye?

A shade of feeling rippled
            the wind-tanned skin.
            Ah, nothing, she said,
            watching the river flash.

She looked at me close.
            We just say, Tlaa.  That means,
            See you.
            We never leave each other.
            When does your mouth
            say good bye to your heart?

She touched me light
            as a bluebell
            You forget when you leave us;
            you’re so small then.
            We don’t use that word.

We always think you’re coming back,
            but if you don’t,
            we’ll see you someplace else.
            You understand.
            There is no word for goodbye.

I first read this poem when I was seventeen years old in an English composition course, and over these last eighteen years, I have lugged the thick and heavy anthology for this course from apartment to apartment and bookshelf to bookshelf because I love the poem that much.  However, I am very lucky in my life to have little reason to think of it….The internet and technology have provided the means to keep us virtually connected to everyone…except in…

This past weekend the Hadley community lost a very special friend.  Alexandra Dawson was the epitome of a woman ahead of her time.  She went to Law school before women went to law school.  She started fighting for the environment before people started fighting for the environment.  Because of Alexandra, the town of Hadley has 3000 acres of preserved land.  Because of Alexandra, Massachusetts has legislation that preserves wetlands.  Because of Alexandra many people have been inspired to move and fight for what they believe in, and her work will live on in the great many that she inspired.

In my relationship with Alexandra, her modesty only let me know very small snippets of her vast accomplishments, but I knew of her brilliance because of the way she thought about the body.  I witnessed her problem solving skills, and her rare ability to look outside the normal realm of perception. I witnessed her determination and perseverance.  She would ask me questions during a session that reversed many of my own views.  Every facet of Alexandra's life was about democracy.  She would listen, contemplate, and be sure to let me know if she agreed or disagreed.  She was fierce, and gentle.  She was passionate, and funny.  She was nurturing, and bold.  Alexandra has left a mark on my life, just like she has left a mark on many others.   When I heard of her passing, I thought of this poem because I am not ready to say goodbye to Alexandra…so I will say Tlaa and remember all that she taught me!