My Path to Pilates
The last year I’ve integrated more yoga into my routine, doing 1-3 classes regularly per week. I’ve embraced vinyasa flow, power yoga, hatha yoga. I think I’m about 5 years past when it was “white hot” – you know the days I’m talking about. When classes were filled with 60 people, all the movie stars with their kabala bracelets, and people boasted about the amount of sweat they shed from a recent Bikram class. Yup, I’m generally one a bit late to trends.
Given this little fact, it should be no surprise that I’ve been one of the stragglers to jump on the pilates wagon. I have a number of friends who regularly do pilates; some of them 2-3 times a week. I never really understood the hype. Maybe it is those torture-looking devices (I’ve since learned their proper name is “Reformer) or that a private session is generally between $75 and $100 an hour. I don’t even belong to a gym anymore, and with my variety of interests, I find it hard to commit to a single activity, let alone one that requires me to shell out a substantial amount of moola per session. It might also have something to do with the fact that the last time I did pilates was when I was living in Chile. Imagine trying to understand an instructor’s commands about isolating your pelvis and abdominal muscles in Spanish when you’re not completely fluent? If you think that image is funny, don’t even get me started on doing Step classes in Spanish – Vuelta!
Let’s refocus back to the topic at hand though: Pilates. And not just any form of pilates; one-on-one focused sessions. I can say now with utmost confidence that I am a believer. My buddy Lauren recently introduced me to her good friend, Robyn, owner of Body Equations in Nob Hill. Lauren and I went to a regular mat pilates class at the studio. I remembered some of the exercises from Chilean pilates and even (gasp!) the Windsor pilates CD I had in college. However, I have to say, after an hour class, I was not sweating. My muscles were not hurting. I did not feel like I was strengthening anything really. I found myself thinking – is this it? But…I also was 99% sure that I was doing the entire class incorrectly – and let me say that I’ve since validated that suspicion. I think I went in with a bit of bravado, considering, “okay, how hard can this be? How different is this from my vinyasa flow or hatha yoga classes?” Let me tell you…very different.
After the class I talked to Robyn and we decided I should come back for a one-on-one hour session so I could really get the full experience. We set up a date for the following week. By the way, it ended up being about an hour and a half when said and done – Robyn does not rush and is thorough in her sessions.
Body Equations is centrally-located on Hyde and Pine, just down from the Nob Hill Grille (which I hear has fantastic brunch on Sundays). Parking is surprisingly not too bad, although I also have historically good parking karma, so don’t quote me on that. If you get there at 6PM or later you can park in some of the metered spots nearby. The studio is simple and multi-leveled, with three main rooms. The entire location has wide open glass windows, so I hope you’re not shy since passer-byers can see in. The mat pilates is done on the top level, equipped with wooden floors and full mirrors that extend the entire length of the wall – this is good for checking your form. The bottom right room houses a couple Reformer machines from Body Balance. The upstairs room is a bit more private and includes a contraption known as the “Cadillac.” There are also a variety of other tools that aide in sessions and strengthening exercises. Amenities include a private changing room, free Aeromats for mat pilates classes, and water to keep you hydrated through the workout.
Vibe & Inspiration
Before we get into the details, let’s discuss the overall vibe, personality and inspiration of Body Equations. The first time I went, I arrived a bit early and had a chance to wait and watch a couple other one-on-one sessions. The clientele was varied, there were younger people my age (late twenties), a woman in her mid forties or fifties and an older gentleman who I’d estimate at 65. Each of these different individuals looked focused, concentrating and pushing themselves to his/her own personal limit. The diverse client base speaks to the studio’s slogan: “Unique solutions for unique bodies.” When I spoke with Robyn about the inspiration behind Body Equations, her answer echoed not just the slogan, but also her experience with treating injuries.
Every body is different and you can’t always go “by the book.” Two people may have the same injury but need to do different exercises to rehab it. Or an area on your body that is giving you pain might really stem from poor alignment or a past injury of another body part.
This answer resonated with me, having experienced multiple injuries from running, dancing, snowboarding, many of which still affect me today. The one piece of information I’ve learned after spending thousands of dollars on physical therapy, doctors’ visits and MRIs is that an injury’s touch can go well-beyond what is initially anticipated if the source is not understood and treated comprehensively.
Another note about the clientele – everyone seemed to be smiling and enjoying themselves (as much as you can enjoy a pelvic tilt), which I think speaks to the laid-back and welcoming nature of Robyn and her staff. I witnessed the unintimidating nature of Body Equations, which is no accident. Robyn explained how she wanted to “develop a space where people were comfortable trying new things and going back to the drawing board if it didn’t work.”
Grace and Strength as a Foundation
Robyn’s training is extensive. She is a dancer by trade, majoring in Dance at Roger Williams for Dance and Performance. Pilates was a required part of the curriculum and that is where her passion was first incited. I was particularly excited about this experience as I was a dancer in high school and suffered my current hamstring tear/strain injury doing a hip hop class in the Mission. I knew that given Robyn’s training she would be able to understand and hopefully customize a session geared towards that injury.
After Robyn graduated, she pursued dance in Boston and for 3 ½ years studied Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian art form that incorporates dance, martial arts and music. She landed in San Francisco a bit later, and earned her certification in pilates. Robyn has taught at multiple studios in the city, and through that experience, discovered her knack for teaching and passion for learning about bodies. When she pulled the trigger on her own studio 2 years ago, several of her clients followed her.
Body Equations is well-respected in the pilates community, with regular instructional and training programs conducted at the facilities. Robyn is also an athlete. This past weekend she joined us for the Kaiser Half Marathon in preparation for her first Half Ironman, which she plans to take down later this year. Given this breadth of experience with different sports, she understands how important it is to customize a session to each person’s individual needs, goals and problems. Beyond all this though, I feel it necessary to touch on Robyn’s presence. The easiest way to describe her would be calm, light-hearted and caring. Right off the bat you can see her way with people. She instantly makes you feel comfortable, never patronizes you for your (or in this case my) lack of pilates knowledge. She asks pertinent questions about your athletic and medical history, and often times before I tell her what problem is bothering my body, she has already deciphered it from simple observation and adjustment.
Our one-on-one began with her asking me to slowly bend over and touch my toes. I did this probably 2-3 times and without any touch or adjustment (Body Equations is generally very hands-on, which I am all for!). When I stood up she commented on my hips’ uneven rotation, that I leaned on a certain part of my foot more than the other, and that the way I was bending over was straining my hamstrings. Let me tell you that every one of those deductions was true – as validated by my sports medicine doctor AND physical therapist – I over-rotate my hips, thus straining my already injured hamstring and I’ve had cases of plantar fasciitis. All this and she had not even laid a finger on me yet. The session had just begun and I was already impressed.
Next I had a 15-20 minute session on the Cadillac. The Cadillac is a cushioned table about waist-high with rectangular metal bars on the borders that extend upwards towards the ceiling. Straps and spring-like hand grips hang from all different sides of the Cadillac. The first exercise we did was to have me lie down and work on my pelvic tilt (which I’ve learned is much harder to do than anticipated). After I’d gotten the pelvic tilt we worked on using my core muscles to raise my body up slightly, while also pushing down on the springy hand grip. Let me tell you that I’ve never thought so much about so many different small muscles in my body. I was supposed to strengthen my core, tilt my pelvis, keep my shoulders back and down all while not straining my neck or activating my glutes. It’s harder than it looks, or in this case, reads. Yet, through it all Robyn was encouraging. We moved on to a hanging strap for my legs to work on Bridge exercises. This exercise was especially important for me because it activated my recovering hamstrings, which my body naturally tries to compensate for by using the glutes. Robyn knew to look out for this and helped me feel the difference between using my glutes, or releasing my pelvis and using my hamstrings to lift. When I’d finished the session on the Cadillac I felt like I’d just done a concentrated upper and core workout, followed by maybe a quick climb. Not bad for the first 15-20 minutes.
Next up was the Reformer. The Reformer is the torture device I was lovingly referring to earlier. It sits about 1-2 feet off the ground and has a shuttle characteristic (you can slide up and down) with straps attached to its sides. I have used a Reformer before at different physical therapy offices, but this was a wholly different experience. For one of the exercises, Robyn placed a large square pad on top of the sliders. I hoisted my stomach on top of this pad, had all fours down on the Reformer and rested my knees against what would regularly be the shoulder pads. Robyn then instructed me to use my abs to move this beast. I literally laughed at loud when she said this. I’m a runner/dancer/hiker so my legs can go forever; yet my lower core is pretty darn weak. Nevertheless, I concentrated all my energies into my abs, while trying to still keep my body in the proper position (thank goodness Robyn is there adjusting you the whole time), and moved that darn thing! Booyah! Okay, maybe the first time I moved it about an inch. But slowly it was as though some muscle deep in my core, that had probably been hibernating the last year or two, reawakened and I moved that shuttle with more determination. There may or may not have been a couple cheers.
The session did not stop there though. Robyn had a few other exercises up her sleeves. I tested my upper and lower body strength in one that required me to flip on my stomach and lift my upper body off the Reformer, while moving the whole machine with my arms, keeping my legs lifted and pinned together. I’m far from having a six-pack, or as it’s referred to on the Jersey Shore, “The Situation,” but I think with focused pilates and yoga I could be on my way to a two-pack or mini-situation.
I’ve thrown a lot of images at you, but what I hope to convey is that pilates teaches you use your body more efficiently, not just your larger muscles, which are easier to isolate, but those smaller important muscles that are often neglected or even forgotten. It also helps to develop a flexible spine, which is crucial to posture alignment and aides with injury prevention. I’ve made considerable financial investment going to an array of chiropractors, acupuncturists, physical therapists, and sports medicine doctors. Honestly, I think pilates may be the missing piece to being injury-free. At the end of the session, I felt like I’d just given my body a massive strengthening workout. My body felt leaner, tighter, and elongated. And my hamstrings? For the next day I did not feel my usual persistent tightness. That was enough proof for me to decide to buy a 5 pack of one-on-one sessions.
That brings us to the final piece of information: Price. As I mentioned before, pilates is a more expensive exercise option than your traditional gym membership. However, Body Equations has competitive prices and offers a few great. One-on-one sessions are $75 for an hour. You can also purchase the Starter pack for $200, which includes 5 one-on-one sessions. If you have a friend interested in doing pilates and wanted to save a few bucks, you might want to opt for the semi-private sessions, which cost $55 a person. Mat classes are $15 for drop-in, or you can get a 10-pack for $120.
Tao of Pao Deal for You!
For any of you interested in checking out Body Equations, Robyn will be offering a special through end of March 2010 for all SF Tao of Pao readers! Just tell her that you heard about the studio through this site and you can receive 10% off a 5-pack Starter package ($25 savings) or 5% off a mat class!
So would I recommend Body Equations? Absolutely. If you’ve never done pilates before, or have only done mat pilates, I HIGHLY recommend investing in at least one focused session with Robyn. She’ll work you out, adjust your position so you’re doing it correctly and really help re-engage your body and muscles. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention one of the best parts. After a tough workout, there is nothing I enjoy more than a good stretch. Robyn assists with your stretch, gently pushing down on your muscles to really get you into it. I felt refreshed and enlivened after my workout and look forward to the next one. No doubt – Pao Wow for this Pao Fit pilates spot.