All posts by mongoosebw

My Time with Kathy Grant

Kathy Grant was my first Pilates teacher. If it wasn’t for her I don’t think I would have pursued a career in Pilates. So when Blossom Leilani Crawford asked me to contribute to her site “KathyGrantPilates.com” , I was thrilled to oblige. If you’d like to learn more about Kathy I would like to encourage you to visit Blossom’s site, it is filled with wonderful stories and anecdotes about Kathy. Following is my story.

WHAT MADE YOU GO TO KATHY GRANT IN THE FIRST PLACE? HOW LONG DID YOU STAY?

Like many dancers majors attending NYU, Tisch School of the Arts I was referred to Kathy to help with the multiple overuse injuries I was beginning to develop.

When I walked into her studio in 1988 she probably saw a scared, young dancer with an earnest desire to improve and a yet willfulness that was getting in her own way. My passion to become a dancer translated into me inadvertently working with a lot of tension and missing a deeper strength. After that day,  I worked with Kathy on and off for the next 10-12 years. Through this time, Kathy helped me unearth my deeper power and stay true to my movement practice.

Did KSG ever make up an exercise for you? If so, what was it? Do you still do it?

At Kathy’s studio all of us had our own set of warm ups that prepared us to move, to dance or to do Joe’s exercises. Many of these warm ups she created out of a necessity for a particular student – the dancer with the tight hip had one thing, the business women with a  painful neck had another and the older women with a bad back had yet another.

I don’t recall if my many injuries inspired an exercise made expressly for me. What  I do know is that I had an especially long pre-pilates warm up , which meant it wasn’t unusual for me to be there upwards of two hours!

Is there something in your movement practice or teaching practice that came from or evolved from a movement or an image from Kathy Grant?

The pre-pilates exercises that she taught me have morphed over the last 20 years . I too have created my own versions , both out of need and , because time has a way of changing things. I think Kathy would have wanted it that way. She recognized that nothing stays the same – each body is different and each day presents different needs.

What has stayed with me most is not so much a particular exercise but the process of working from the inside out. Kathy worked with our minds, our inner strength and our imaginations. She treated us more like actors than dancers.  Kathy insisted that we embody the movement from inside, become baby birds or a weathervane, or a wave of water or a key in a lock. She was relentless in saying “no, that’s not right” as many times as she needed to until we either burst into tears or become the “baby bird”.

And to my surprise, only when I embodied what it meant to be her image from deep inside was the movement right. The day that I expressed the spirit of a tiny helpless bird just learning to move its wings for the first time was the day I realized how transformative imagination could be and that I was capable of it – not to mention the healing power it had on my troubled and painful shoulder. 

What do you think is an important thing for people to remember about Kathy?

Although the Pilates community has made a wonderful effort to preserve Kathy’s work, sometimes I think her process defied codification. I am not sure anyone can really know her exercises unless they worked closely with her.

How do you think Kathy would feel about the current atmosphere of
the Pilates world?

Kathy used to warn us about the unmindful way of doing Pilates. In her words she would say, “ Don’t slam the door shut. If you keep slamming the door shut , its eventually going to break.” That was her way of describing how some studios taught Pilates, always slamming the door. She was advising us to take care of our bodies, to listen to them.

Kathy’s packaging was sometimes harsh but her messaging was often something soft and tender. There was love and understanding at the core of her work.

If you could ask Kathy one more question, or say one more thing to her, what would it be?

Thank you for teaching me how to dig deep- really deep, to stretch my imagination and for inspiring my life long career.


How do you think Kathy would want to be remembered today? Or what do you think Kathy Grant’s legacy is?

I think Kathy was proud that she launched so many careers in Pilates, helped so many dancers prolong their professions, and reached a wide diversity of people.

Her legacy is in her out-of –the-box thinking, adapting exercises for the needs at hand and using the mind to change the body. She was way ahead of her time!

Virtual Private Pilates- Taking it Virtual

Virtual Private Pilates – Taking it Virtual

By Heather Dubin

We’re all a little off these days. And for good reason. Covid-19, the global pandemic of our lifetime, has us on edge. The fear of the unknown, manifesting as an invisible entity that causes serious physical harm, or even death, is almost too much to bear. This silent and rapid spreader has New York City and the rest of the world “sheltering-in-place” or staying at home to help bring the virus to its knees. While here in the city we can go outside for a walk, and a much-needed glimpse of anything other than our own apartment, making that escape from our building is harrowing. The mindfulness, or rather paranoia, to not touch the banister, or an elevator button, or the entry way door handle on the way out is unnerving. And a trip of bravery to the grocery store can be considered taking your life in your hands — even if you’re wearing plastic gloves and a mask.

But there is something you can do in the safety of your own home that will bring you some relief and a bit of normalcy, along with a neutral spine! While private sessions at our sweet studio in Soho are on hiatus, the lovely and talented instructors at Mongoose Bodyworks can meet you online for virtual private Pilates. The intimacy of our studio space has fostered many long-term friendships and working relationships, formed from weekly sessions, where we focus together to create better body awareness, strength, and flexibility. For the foreseeable future, we can continue with the progress we’ve made in the studio, and maintain our Pilates bodies, by simply taking it online. The innovative genius of Joseph Pilates’ exercises, and all the extras our instructors have to offer, clearly translates to fun, well-crafted, and individualized virtual private Pilates sessions. Also, constructive movement at home is essential to manage stress, strengthens immunity, and keeps us sane.

This morning, after taking a virtual Pilates class, I noticed that I could breathe so much easier. And I felt more connected. For the past few weeks, too many of us have probably been holding our breath, without even realizing it. Pilates syncs our breath with movements, big or small, and grounds us. The instructors at Mongoose Bodyworks are uniquely qualified to provide you with sessions that will get you breathing. We also specialize in working with a variety of clientele, and have extensive experience with back issues, arthritis, and rehabbing injuries. New clients are welcome to our Mongoose family, and we are so excited to flex our muscles with virtual private Pilates. From using cans, to wine bottles, to stacked books, we can improvise with household items to make you sweat. Getting back to the basics has only honed our skills. 

Two weeks ago, a client taking virtual private Pilates thanked me for giving her something to look forward to on Fridays. Unbeknownst to her, I felt the same way. We need consistency, familiarity, and togetherness in this time, when the safest thing we can do for ourselves and others, is to be apart. By partaking in virtual private Pilates, we have the opportunity to connect, to move, and to breathe, until we can be together again — pandemic-free.

To learn more about virtual Private Pilates and stay connected during the covid-19 pandemic contact us at info@mongoosebw.com

Mongoose Bodyworks is a boutique Pilates studio in soho NYC that focuses on delivering customized private sessions designed for your exact needs. Heather Dubin is a Pilates Instructor at Mongoose Bodyworks and a freelance writer in NYC.

FASCIA and pilates

Fascia: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How We Use It in Pilates

WHAT IS FASCIA?

Fascia is a fibrous type of connective tissue in the human body that preserves physical shape by enclosing discrete elements such as organs and muscles. It exists throughout the entire body. In fact, the deepest layer encloses every single cell!

FASCIA CREATES FORM IN THE HUMAN BODY

Fascia can be found throughout the muscle tissue, encasing bands of muscle and enveloping the entire muscle and its tendon. It also exists directly underneath the skin, functioning like a final envelope around the entire body. In other words, fascia creates both separation of body parts and unity of the whole body.  Without fascia, our body wouldn’t be able to hold its shape. We’d slide off our skeletons!

FASCIA AND MOVEMENT

Healthy fascia allows the muscles, organs, nerves, and blood vessels to slide along each other, essentially allowing the body to move without falling apart. To effectively fulfill this role, fascia needs to be both structural and mobile. It needs movement to stay hydrated and flexible. In the absence of movement, fascia becomes dry, hard, and stiff. It then begins to inhibit movement. Lack of movement creates more lack of movement, and the cycle continues! Fascia can also become rigid from injury, years of moving inefficiently, and not moving enough.

Recognizing the presence of fascia and understanding its role in the body are essential in the practice of Pilates. Through the use of soft rollers and balls, fluid full-body movement, and kinetic imagery, fascia can be softened and hydrated so it can function at its best.

MYO-FASCIAL MERIDIANS

Fascia, along with muscle, creates long myofascial bands that can be traced from head to foot. This concept is very important to movement educators as we use these vertical meridians to assess alignment and identify imbalances.

For example, the underneath of your foot (plantar fascia) can promote flexibility up the posterior myofascial chain to the low back and sometimes even to the head and face. If you’ve tried rolling the bottom of your foot on a pinky ball, you may have observed this holistic effect.

Additionally, movement educators use the knowledge of myofascial lines to create movement cues that engage the entire body, giving the students a sense of physical wholeness. For example, when instructing a side bend, a student may be asked to sense the stretch not just through the ribs and waist but also from the edge of the foot all the way to the back of the palm. This kind of attention builds full-body awareness and can “rewire” mind-body connections to improve functional coordination.

Learning about fascia helps us to understand that the body doesn’t only work as a mechanical set of levers and pulleys. The biomechanical body can be a useful construct, but a more inclusive model takes into account the holistic unifying force of fascia.

Maintaining healthy fascia is important and easy. You just have to move fully every day and practice mind-body techniques such as Pilates to exercise your proprioception and kinesthetic awareness. 

To learn more about Fascia and how to optimize your movement potential contact us at info@mongoosebw.com

Mongoose Bodyworks is a boutique Pilates studio in soho NYC that focuses on delivering customized private sessions designed for your exact needs.

Halle Clarke NCPT is a 2nd generation master teacher having studied  closely with two of the great NYC protégés of Joseph Pilates: Kathy Grant and Romana Krysanowska. Halle opened Mongoose Bodyworks, a boutique Pilates Studio in New York City in 1999 .

As well as training in Pilates Halle has pursued studies in ideokensiology, anatomy , biomechanics, muscle energy technique, trigger point therapy ,neuromuscular re-patterning, Alexander technique, The Feldenkrais Method, Polartity therapy and Cranio-Sacral Therapy. She has additional certifications from the PMA-CPT and ACE. Halle integrates all of her extensive studies of the body into her work as a New York based Pilates Instructor and Teacher Trainer.

She has been conducting Pilates Teacher Trainings for Balanced Body since 2006 both in New York and around the country. Halle has taught Master Pilates classes nationally and internationally, including at The PMA Conference and Mind Body Expo.

Breathing for Core Optimization and Wellbeing

Dear Readers,

Later this year I will be teaching a course for Pilates instructors about breathing. It’s not uncommon to develop less than optimal breathing habits that become obstacles to alignment and wellbeing.  To supplement my materials,  I thought  I’d ask the expert advise of Physical Therapist Elizabeth Shah from Thrive PT to answer a few questions about the benefits of breathing. I also thought it would be of interest to our studio clients!

Halle: Hi!  When we decided to have a conversation, we talked about many areas of professional overlap.  There’s lots of crossover between what you and I do!

Elizabeth: That’s right.  Ultimately, both PTs and Pilates instructors spend a fair amount of time doing movement analysis.  We’re both trying to enable multi-dimensional, pain free movement. 

Halle: In the spirit of that crossover, I have some questions for you that I thought might relate to both of our client populations.   Specifically, let’s talk about breathing.  How do you think about breathing as it relates to your patients?  It’s a natural and automatic process, so is it something that you have to instruct?

Elizabeth: Good question!  The short answer is “YES,”  I do talk to my patients about how they breathe.  There are two lenses from which I frame the discussion.  The first is straight up mechanical.  Breathing effects the how we engage the abdominal and pelvic muscles, and understanding the relationship between the muscles and breath is helpful in the initial stages of core training.

Halle: Can you expand on that?

Elizabeth:  Absolutely.  When we inhale, the diaphragm shortens and moves down into the abdominal cavity.  The pelvic floor and the abdominal muscles would tend to relax and descend at this time too.  Exhalation is opposite.  As we blow out, the diaphragm ascends and the pelvic floor muscles lift and shorten.  So, from a practical perspective, it’s easier teach someone how to lift and contract their pelvic floor on an exhalation.  I use this mechanical paradigm all the time with my post-partum moms, persons with diastasis recti, persons with back pain, etc.  Basically, people who I’m teaching to re-engage their “core.”  I’d imagine you have clients that fit that bill, too.

(Barker 2016)

Halle: Of course.  Do you always coordinate your client’s abdominal or pelvic floor contraction with the exhalation?

Elizabeth:  Not necessarily.  I find it to be a great learning tool and I often start there, and then as therapy progresses we move and breathe in all different patterns.

Halle: That’s true for Pilates as well. I also find that once the client has mastered the engagement on the exhalation they can then use the breath in a variety of ways throughout the session. You mentioned that you look at breathing from two lenses.  What’s the other one?

Elizabeth: I use breathing as a tool to help my patient’s quiet their nervous system down.  It is common, at least in the PT world, to see patients who are in chronic pain.  With that often comes anxiety and fear around making the pain worse.  How do we breathe when we’re afraid?

Halle: We take short, shallow breaths.

Elizabeth:  Right.  We don’t breathe fully into our lungs, our respiratory rate gets faster, and we sometimes even use our neck muscles as we breathe.  This type of breathing pattern signals to the body that we’re under threat, and our musculature responds to that signal.  It’s flight or fight!  This heightened state of arousal, sometimes called upregulation, makes sense when we are trying to score a goal or run from a bear but is not so helpful when trying to relax and rehabilitate sore and overworked musculature.  This is, in part, how fear or anxiety can actually make pain worse. 

Halle:  Are there certain patient groups where you see this systemic upregulation?

Elizabeth: Yes…my mind starts churning in this direction any time a patient has had chronic pain (especially in the neck, pelvis, or jaw) or a lot a fear associated with movement.   I cue in to people who describe their pain as worse when they’re stressed, who grind their teeth, and who use language like “clenching” to describe their muscles.  In the pelvic floor world we also see this with patients with urinary urgency. 

Halle: Those are great tips! I’ll keep an eye out for those symptoms. Sometimes stress isn’t on the surface and it’s good to know some signs when my clients might be internalizing their emotions.

Elizabeth: And as for Pilates clients, this is New York City!  I’d imagine a lot of your clients are generally high functioning, striving, and stressed out people. 

Halle: That’s true!  Are you saying we should all move to the beach?

Elizabeth:  (Laughs) No, but I do think there’s incredible therapeutic value to working towards nervous system downregulation.  In other words, the act of quieting our bodies, slowing our exhalations, and breathing into the whole of the ribcage (instead of just into the upper ribs) dampens the flight or fight response and is a tool for muscle and mind relaxation!  From a pain perspective, this is really helpful.  From a movement and exercise perspective, muscles that move (as opposed to muscles held in shortened or “tensed” position) tend to be stronger and more efficient.  It allows people to move with more freedom.

Halle: Mindful breathing as a mechanism to enable quality movement.

Elizabeth: Exactly.

 References:

  1. Barker, V. 2016, The ‘Core Breath,’ accessed July 2019, www.vanessabarker.com