How can Pilates help clients make critical transitions in their lives? For this issue, we talked to Pilates instructors and their clients about how Pilates training has helped them through times of change.
Staying Strong to Beat Cancer
“My client Stacie, now 39, started Pilates when we’d just opened the studio in 2005. It’s been quite a journey. She did Pilates with us before, during and after her first two pregnancies, and then she was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with her third child. She had a complete mastectomy on her right side and began chemotherapy before she gave birth—quite a challenge. But maintaining her Pilates program has helped maintain her lean muscle mass and strength throughout chemotherapy and has also helped keep her energy level up. She did Pilates twice a week through her chemotherapy, which is unheard of! Because of her strong foundation in Pilates, she has maintained her fitness level during her cancer treatment.
“I worked on range of motion in her shoulder, back and chest, and I also worked on building strength in the pectoralis and anterior deltoids. She had a healthy birth, a C-section. Now her baby, Lena, comes to the studio with her. She came back to Pilates 8 weeks after Lena was born. Stacie is the kind of person who never complains. It’s just incredible how she’s handled it all. She’s absolutely inspiring and makes you feel that anything is possible with positive thinking.”
—Lizbeth Garcia, owner, Tilcia Studios, San Diego
“I hold Pilates very dear to my heart. I did Pilates through all my pregnancies. For my second pregnancy, I did Pilates the day before I delivered. Pilates and pregnancy go hand in hand. Labor can be so beautiful if you’re strong and in shape. I had my body back in 4–6 weeks.
“When I was diagnosed with an aggressive but treatable cancer when I was 7 months pregnant, I had a mastectomy within the week. The diagnosis was a complete shock. I’ve been healthy my whole life. I’ve run half-marathons. I love living a healthy life.
So I did Pilates 3 weeks after my mastectomy. I couldn’t wait to get back. The surgery left my right side pretty weak, and I had a lot of nerve discomfort. My surgeon couldn’t believe how quickly I healed under my arm and got my range of motion back.
“My doctor said that they tell people to exercise through chemotherapy but no one does. Because of Pilates, I tolerated the chemo exceptionally well. In fact, I was getting stronger during the chemo treatments, which is amazing since chemo weakens muscle. I think Pilates should be covered by health insurance. So many women have mastectomies but don’t even think about how Pilates could help.”
—Stacie Buechel, 39, client
Staying Young Beyond 70
“I didn’t discover Pilates until I was 50. I wasn’t passionate about any form of exercise until I found Pilates and became a teacher. I like working with mature clients—I can relate to them. I’ve been working with my client Bob, who is a 72-year-old retired judge, for almost a year. He was physically and mentally very active, but in the beginning he would almost fall off the reformer because he couldn’t stabilize his torso. The challenge was to shift his whole focus to the subtleties of Pilates. Now he understands how to initiate movement from the core, stay focused, and move with control while breathing with his core. Pilates has improved Bob’s mental focus and concentration, enabling him to let go of stress.
“Bob’s a student of life; he’s always seeking new information and asking questions. It’s wonderful to teach someone like that, who’s very open, dedicated and consistent. Bob comes twice a week unless he’s traveling. He started out with private sessions and moved into semiprivate group classes with 2–4 people. It’s such a joy to see his dramatic progress. One of the things that attracted me to Pilates—coming to this later in life—is knowing that Pilates can help us age gracefully. I see the amazing progress of my mature clients and think, ‘I want to be like that when I’m 70.’”
—Karen Wagner, instructor, Tilcia Studios
“Even at 72, I consider myself young and vigorous, but I was starting to feel stiff, inflexible and out of shape. I had back pain, and it took me 5 minutes to unwrap when I got up in the morning. I’d been working out with a personal trainer, but I realized that weightlifting wasn’t what I needed. When I started Pilates, I took to it like a fish to water. Pretty soon all the things I was complaining about started to change. Now I get up in the morning and feel fine—no aches and pains, no back pain. My psoas muscle used to spasm, and it even put me on the floor a couple of times. Now that’s just gone.
“I have greatly improved my flexibility and range of motion, and my strength has increased. Now I’m aware of how I use my core. When I started Pilates, I could only reach my midshins when I bent over; now I can put my knuckles on the ground. I’d never been able to touch the ground, even when I was young. My balance is much better; I used to get tired walking on my sailboat, and now it doesn’t bother me at all. Because of all that, I have a lot more confidence. I recently went hiking on rugged terrain in Big Sur. I was scrambling down mountains and boulder-hopping with no problem at all.
“I think Pilates needs to be marketed more to seniors and to men. You see all these good-looking young people doing Pilates, which is great, but those who might benefit the most are people like me. My message for men is that the idea that Pilates is just for girls and that men need to grunt and groan when exercising is just silly.”
—Bob O’Neill, client
Breathing is one of the Pilates principles and a foundation for movement. Lateral breathing focuses on expanding the rib cage laterally “while maintaining a consistent...