Few conditions are more common for Pilates students than knee and hip problems—and few solutions are more effective than Pilates exercises. Here are two successful stories of client transformation.
Virginia Nicholas, MA, RN, is the founder of Pilates Core Integration and owner of Moving Breath Pilates in Tempe, Arizona. She was a professional modern dancer and is also a registered nurse who has worked in cardiac care as well as emergency-room and intensive care. “I have seen Pilates create remarkable physical transformations, first in my own life as a professional dancer and an elite athlete, and now in the lives of my clients,” she says. “I think it’s because Pilates is a whole-body exercise where the body and mind work in synchronization. You’re never just exercising a single body part—every exercise engages the whole body, mind and breath. Also, clients become intensely focused because the movements require all their attention, and since we do 10 or fewer repetitions of each exercise and the goal is to do them as perfectly as possible, their minds can’t wander.”
A Life Filled With Pain
One of Nicholas’s “transformed” clients is Mary Wilson, who came to Nicholas with knee, hip and back pain so severe that she couldn’t climb stairs and had stopped grocery shopping entirely, fearing that she wouldn’t be able to get back to the car without her body giving out. The pain had developed after a knee surgery some years earlier and was getting worse. “I could hardly walk,” says Wilson. “It just hurt too much. My life was filled with pain, and I didn’t want to take medication. It was frustrating. I’m not 80 years old—I’m 61! I didn’t know that Pilates would take care of it. I was just desperate and grasping at straws. Two friends told me Pilates was good for pain, so I started to go twice a week and it was a life changer. Now I can walk totally without pain. I can do household tasks and get up easily from chairs without limping or being stiff. The change has been incredible.”
Wilson says Pilates is increasing her strength and her body awareness. “I’m learning how all the body parts are interrelated, and I’m finding out how to correct problems such as overcompensation. Pilates is helping me to walk correctly, and it has really done a number on my spine! I walk so much straighter now. I can feel my spine aligned. When I walk down a hallway, I can feel my core leading instead of my head. It has made a big difference to my posture. It’s a phenomenal feeling!”
Pre- and Post-Surgery Healing
Andra Good is another of Nicholas’s clients who came to her with back and hip challenges. “I was having significant hip and back pain when I went to Virginia, and she started me on private sessions two to three times a week,” says Good. “Almost immediately I noticed a huge difference in how my body was feeling. My joints still hurt, but I was feeling significant relief in my back and pelvis.”
At about that time, Good made a surprising discovery through an X-ray: As a child, she’d had Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, which occurs when the ball of the thighbone in the hip doesn’t get enough blood, causing deformation of the bone.
“I was shocked. It’s a childhood disease that went undiagnosed, so my bone had deformed. I needed a total hip replacement. But I was very confident that my body would heal, because I had developed such body awareness from Pilates. I had received an education in anatomy and movement, so I felt encouraged that I would get back to typical movement quickly. Sure enough, I was back in the Pilate studio at 3 weeks post-op. I had been prescribed physical therapy, but I believe it was the Pilates that made the difference. I was back doing normal Pilates routines at 3 months post-op, and it has just gotten better. Because of Pilates I was able to go into surgery strong and come out strong, too.”
Good’s body had compensated for the hip deformity, so her left leg was considerably longer than her right. “I worked with Virginia to strengthen the muscles in one leg and lengthen the other, and now I’m completely even,” she says. Good is so enthusiastic about the benefits she’s experienced from her Pilates program that she has begun teacher training and hopes to teach Pilates herself one day.
Says Nicholas, “Pilates is so much more than a series of exercises. It gives clients an opportunity to develop an awareness of their body and biomechanics. They learn to pay attention to the whole body, not just the knee or hip where they might have pain. They don’t have a chance to get bored with repetition. It’s a transformational process because the mind and the body are engaged and working together.”
Do you have client transformations to share with other instructors? We look forward to hearing from you!