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Expert Advice: Finding the Right Pilates Instructor

I asked Tara Bridger for her insights about finding a Pilates teacher. Tara is a certified Pilates instructor and an expert in the method taught by Romana Kryzanowska, a protégé of Joseph Pilates. This is what she had to say: Because the title Pilates can be used to describe any type of exercise that incorporates some aspect of the original Pilates method, you’ll want to take the time to find a legitimate, effective, and safe studio with reputable instructors.

The original method designed and taught by Joseph Pilates is practiced today at studios that trained under the Romana’s Pilates Method or Authentic Pilates Method. Joseph Pilates chose Romana Kryzanowska to carry on his legacy before he died in 1967. Today Romana is in her 80s and still teaching throughout the country. She continues to be the foundation of his method. It’s taught by instructors who either trained directly under Romana or under one of her direct Pilates descendants. Many branches of Pilates have altered or diffused the original system and have implemented new exercises and techniques that are not technically Pilates. The original method and its followers subscribe to a very high standard of practice.

On a more personal level, you want to find an atmosphere you feel comfortable in and an instructor whose personality and approach work best with you. Do you prefer a private setting where no other clients are present? Or are you more comfortable when others are exercising around you?

Some studios are larger and can accommodate many private sessions at once, while others offer a more spalike environment. Do you prefer a man or a woman? A softer, gentler, encouraging voice? Or someone with a tougher “coach” quality who is ready to push you when you need it? Finding the best instructor for you is a trial-and-error process. I recom mend trying a few different people at first. Also, it may be beneficial to work with more than one person on an ongoing basis to gain different perspectives. Everyone has a different eye, even though all should be teaching the same technique. You’ll know when you’re with the right person. Trust your instincts!

Look beyond just the mat classes. Understand that to fully benefit from Pilates you should practice the entire system, which involves the equipment (Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, etc.) as well as the mat. Be wary of studios that offer group classes on the equipment, especially the Reformer.

Pilates cannot be taught safely on the Reformer in groups of more than three people. A larger class size means the system has been greatly modified from its original form to be taught in groups.

It is important to have some one-on-one instruction and experience with the whole system before diving into a large class setting—both for safety reasons and for the effectiveness of the workout. Large classes combine people with different levels of strength and various body types and limitations.

If you are not in a financial position to take private lessons on an ongoing basis, either invest in a series of 5 to 10 private sessions and then proceed into classes (and brush up with a private lesson about once a month), or look into duets or trios, which still offer individual attention for considerably less money.

Be sure your instructor follows strict safety guidelines. The Pilates system should always be taught by an instructor who adheres to the “safety first” policy. If the equipment is misused or a client is worked beyond his or her strength level, injuries can occur.

If you have concerns about whether or not a studio or instructor is appropriate, you can always contact the two studios in New York that train instructors under the original Pilates method: True Pilates (212-757-0724) or the New York Pilates Studio (212-245-8367) to see what affiliations they have in your city.

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