The Pilates Body with Brooke Siler

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Event Date: 06/07/2000.

Personal trainer, fitness instructor and author Brooke Siler will discuss her views on the Pilates body conditioning techniques.

The opinions expressed by Ms. Siler are hers and hers alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live's Mind and Body Auditorium. Today we are discussing The Pilates Body with Brooke Siler.

Brooke Siler is a personal trainer, a certified Pilates instructor, the co-owner of the successful re:AB Studio in New York City, and the personal trainer of a number of celebrities. As the youngest of six athletic children, including four brothers, and the daughter of an Olympic-level athlete, she was constantly encouraged to develop her physical skills. Siler has spent over 600 hours under the tutelage of Romana Kryzanowska, a prot?g? of Joseph Pilates for more than 30 years, and has since gained her own reputation as a respected teacher in the field. She is the author of The Pilates Body: The Ultimate Guide to Strengthening, Lengthening and Toning your Body--Without Machines.

Brooke, welcome to WebMD Live. How did Pilates begin?

Siler: Pilates himself was born in Germany. And he began creating a method for himself because he was a sick child with asthma and rickets and, in order to do the things he wanted to do, he needed to strengthen his body. He began to study the human form and how it moves. He even studied animals and the way they moved their bodies. And, in that way, his interest in the body's movement became greater and he was able to develop a series or a system of movements that strengthen the circulatory system, the cardiovascular system in terms of breathing, and the muscular tonality and stretch. And the combination served to strengthen him to the point where he was able to become a gymnast and acrobat and boxer and skier and swimmer. He became a true athlete in every sense of the word. And this was all due to the system of exercise he developed. Later on, he was interned during the war and began to teach this method of mat or floor work to fellow internees. Going further, he worked in a hospital during the war with non-ambulatory patients who didn't have the muscular strength to do his system and so he took bed springs from the hospital beds and attached them to the bed frames and thus was able to work with the patients' limbs that weren't able to move on their own. By moving them, he was able to create a form of movement in which their circulation could be improved. He and the doctors noticed improvements in the patients and this was the beginning of his apparatus design. Many people associate Pilates with big apparatus, but the foundation was the mat work, which is what The Pilates Body is based on.

Moderator: In America, this started in the dance community many decades ago. How did that happen?

Siler: When Pilates immigrated here in 1925, his studio happened to be in the same building as the rehearsal space for Ballanchine. And Ballanchine began to bring his dancers, injured dancers as well, to Joe Pilates. And it became a forum for dancers to go to gain more strength in their bodies, because dance is a very strenuous activity. Joseph Pilates' system worked in conjunction with the movements that dancers were used to. However, with the added resistance and control they were able to make their dance moves safer by working within their joints and strengthening the muscles around their joints so there was less injury. However, Joseph Pilates himself catered more to acrobats and anyone willing to learn, actually. He was a big proponent of teaching his method to any and all who were willing to be there with him.

Moderator: Tell us about Romana Kryzanowska. Who was she?

Siler: Romana began training with Pilates. She was a Ballanchine dancer. He brought her to Joseph with an ankle injury in 1941. Romana began to train in the original Pilates studio under Joe for about four years, training extensively and they became very close. He began to teach her his method. And, over the years she began teaching with him and under him and he used her as his prot?g?. She stayed training in total about 30 years. She never stopped teaching even though she moved out of the country. When she moved back to New York, she trained under him again and ended up taking charge of the original Pilates studio after his death and worked with his wife. Romana has since been at it about another 30 years after that, so about 60 years total. She still teaches every day, and travels around the world and teaches and carries on this method, and makes sure that it stays as pure as it was when she learned it. This is very difficult because many who learned under Joe began to teach other people the way they'd been taught for their own bodies which isn't necessarily the way to teach everyone. Romana learned from Joseph how to break down each movement so it could be taught to each individual. That's the difference. Many who didn't stay with their training tend to teach slower or more therapeutically than originally Joe had planned. Essentially, what Romana likes to reiterate is that Joseph Pilates wanted Pilates to be for the normal, healthy body and when people have injuries they, instead of focusing on their injury as you might do in physical therapy, you focus on your strengths around the injury, so you're not a product of your injuries, you're a normal, healthy body with an injury. That's a very important idea, especially in a society that is so based on almost becoming victims of the medical community, or we tend to look outside of ourselves and take advice about ourselves that we actually have control over. Pilates is very much about autonomy and responsibility for your own well being. Autonomy, meaning when you came to Pilates, you were a student. It was not a system that was meant to make you dependent upon a trainer or a piece of equipment. It was meant for you to use to strengthen your body so you'd be better able to perform your daily activities and sports. And it became a foundation for anything else you were doing. I think that's important because people tend to think that if you learn Pilates, then that's all you do. But it's meant to be a foundation and most people find that after learning Pilates, it provides them with everything they need so they don't choose to do anything else and that's fine too. However, Pilates was a very active man and wanted all people to be active and efficient in their activities. And, that was the foundation of Pilates.