Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Jul 15, 2015 in Featured, Interviews, Pilates, Workshops, Workshops and Further Education | 0 comments

Shari Berkowitz & The Vertical Workshop

Shari Berkowitz & The Vertical Workshop

We caught up with the pioneering and inspirational Pilates teacher Shari Berkowitz whilst she was here in London. We were keen to discover what made The Vertical Workshop programme unique and so successful, and how Shari’s approach to teaching differed from more conventional approaches.

We began by asking Shari how she decided on the unusual name ‘The Vertical Workshop’. The reason, Shari explained, came from a practical source in that she was originally based in a medically zoned building in Beverly Hills which, for multiple reasons, precluded her from using the word ‘Pilates’ in her workshop title. At this stage Shari had to think out of the box to come up with an original title. Shari has never been the sort of person to experiment with lots of different Pilates techniques and approaches which she had always termed a ‘horizontal approach’ to teaching, instead preferring to ‘dig deeper and deeper’ into particular techniques. This approach she had always labelled ‘vertical’ which then got her thinking perhaps the term ‘vertical’ could also be seen as a metaphor for life, as in ‘staying upright or vertical in one’s life’. Thus the name ‘The Vertical Workshop’ was born.

Vertical workshop logoSo what exactly does The Vertical Workshop do? Shari is quick to point out that The Vertical Workshop is not longer a static brick and mortar studio, but the studio is now in effect the whole world. She travels extensively around the globe offering regular workshops, but also something considerably different. She offers one and a half year continuing education programmes in Pilates. These are punctuated with intensive three day seminars every four months, each one based in a different global location. The workshop then continues for another four months via intensive instruction online with students using a radical, new app. Shari also punctuates this with a monthly video conference for students to benefit from her knowledge and wisdom.

One of the things that makes Shari’s approach so different from other approaches to Pilates is that she refuses to see herself as the ‘font of all knowledge’. She explains that everyone can learn from other people and their experiences and knowledge is there to be shared. She goes on to say that she feels that continuing education in Pilates has become extremely disparate these days and this has made the whole area very confusing for many people. As a consequence a lot of people find it difficult to know how to apply the knowledge that they may have learned. This has become Shari’s rallying cry – how to apply and use the knowledge gained from studies in productive and constructive ways.

Given what she had told us, we were intrigued to find out how Shari first became interested in Pilates and continuing education. We discovered her route was an extremely unusual one. As a child and a teenager Shari had a deep passion for Physics and how the mechanical world functioned. At the same time she had a parallel passion for musical theatre, something she had an extremely successful career in. Sadly, however, Shari suffered a devastating accident whilst on stage which left her paralysed for some considerable time. It was at this stage, as she was slowly recovering through physical therapy, that Shari began to notice that bio physics and mechanical physics were two entirely separate things. Shari’s accident, however, had left her with a lot of questions which no one seemed able to answer and thus from here Shari became absolutely fascinated with how the human body functions and how we can better understand this process.

Does Shari have any tips for teachers based in continuing education? It turns out that she has many. Firstly, she says, ‘actually practice Pilates’ – it is amazing, she continues, how many teachers don’t actually practice themselves. Secondly, experience as many different styles as you can and don’t become restricted to one or two styles, in other words keep your mind open. By the same token you should also take workshops with as many different people as you can thereby further expanding your own knowledge. Perhaps most importantly, however, the goal of The Vertical Workshops is to develop critical thinking rather than adopting a blind acceptance approach to what you have been told – step outside of Pilates sometimes and read other materials. This way you will develop a much more rounded sense of self and this will feed back productively and constructively into your Pilates. Finally, Shari stresses once again the need to share your knowledge with others, especially those who are also learning to think critically.Shari teaching 2

What about the Shari Berkowitz outside of the classroom? Shari explains she is deeply in love with her boyfriend Joe who is a self-taught musician who has inspired her for many years. They live together in an idyllic spot just outside of Manhattan with Joe’s daughter from a previous marriage.

Shari’s approach to continuing education in Pilates may be very different to many other, more conventional, approaches, but as we found from the passion with which Shari speaks about her work and the techniques that she uses, it is safe to say that it stands at forefront of the field today and represents the future for education into Pilates.

Read More

Posted by on Mar 5, 2015 in Featured, Interviews, Pilates, Social, Workshops and Further Education | 0 comments

Pilates on Tour – The Beginning

Pilates on Tour – The Beginning

with Nora St. John and Al Harrison of Balanced Body


Interviewers: Sharon Thompson (ST), Monica Zarebska (MZ)

Respondents: Nora St. John (NSJ), Al Harrison (AH)

While enjoying yet another fabulous year at Pilates on Tour, back in April 2014, we caught up with Nora and Al to find out more how Pilates on Tour came to be.

ST: We would love to know how, and why, you started this great event?

NSJ: Pilates on Tour came out off a conference I was already doing with a colleague from Body Mind Spirit in 2002. At the time that was the really big Pilates conference in the U.S.  One day I had this idea of wanting to bring all my favourite teachers together.  So no big venue, no big numbers – just teachers. I mentioned this idea to this gal, who has a conference production background and told her this at lunch on Saturday and she came on Sunday and said I have the Santa Clara Convention Center booked for a year from now!

NSJ: She told me – It’s ten rooms, 750 people, and I was like…really?…okay…So then I was off and running with programming Pilates conferences and because they really, hadn’t happened before I just called up all my friends and said: Okay so you teach Mat and you teach this and you teach that and would you like to teach? It was also thanks to Al, my husband here, he put together a database to manage registration.

Al put together this database and figured out how to register 750 people for different classes from all over the world. And at that point I’d known Kenny (Endleman) from Balanced Body since I began teaching Pilates in 1989 in San Francisco, so I called him and said “I have an idea to do this big conference and can you bring a whole load of Pilates equipment for us”? …and he was foolish enough to say yes! Neither of us had done anything like this before.

We agreed to have Balanced Body as the exclusive equipment supplier, it made a lot of sense and they were willing to do it. They were also close as San Francisco and Sacramento are only two hours apart. We did this for 3 years and then for a variety of reason we didn’t continue with that project. Al and I then came up with a business plan for Pilates on Tour and take a conference all over the country (and world).

NSJ: In fact I called up Kenny and said I just want to let you know I’m done with Body Mind and Spirit, I’m not going to do that anymore and he said, which is very unlike Kenny ‘What’s next?’ And I said well I have this other idea…..

Then we started Pilates on Tour in 2004. The first event was San Francisco in July and then we did New York and Los Angeles that same year. We did eight the next year…

MZ: So you are the mother and father of Pilates on Tour? 🙂

NSJ: We are. Yes, it’s fantastic actually. Then I think the first international event we did was…Rome? Or was it Hong Kong? So yes, although we’re a US company we sell in different countries also because, of course, Pilates is big everywhere. I’m not going to say we sell a lot in those countries but we sell something in a lot of countries…

Al Harrison: We have had people asking us for years to bring the event to ‘them’. Everywhere in the world. But sometimes it’s hard to bring it to them, you can see all the equipment we have in use here at this event ( London 2014) and that would have to be shipped somewhere. We also have to store it and get it in and out of venues. So we need to go to places where it’s possible to do that. So for that first event we had a really great distributer in Rome who said they could support us. And we need that support because ofthe language barrier. Customer service, for example, is really important and we can’t do that without translation.

MZ: How do you find the dynamics of the event from one place to another – is it different doing it in the States to doing it in Europe – do you have to adjust it a little bit?

NSJ: You know it’s oddly not that different. I’ve travelled all over with Pilates and teachers are kind of the same everywhere. They are always curious, interested in the body, always interested in new stuff. I mean they always love Pilates on Tour because we bring equipment, so it’s not just a Mat conference which many of them now are. So they really get to play and they really get to be on a Reformer, Cadillac and Chair. Of course we certainly notice little differences so, for example, in Asia generally, they learn in a different way in which they’re interested in being part of things, you find very dedicated students who learn absolutely everything you say and commit it to memory. Very studious. It’s a very different learning style.

AH: The ratio of male to female students in Asia is also higher than in other places. There are always a lot more men doing Pilates than compared to somewhere like the UK. We also notice that in other countries, for instance, we go to Turkey in Istanbul there are also a lot of men, they make up something like 30% of our event.

ST: That surprises me.

AH: Well Pilates is considered a guy thing there. That’s an example of some of the kinds of changes we notice. The other thing that is interesting is, especially when we come somewhere for the first time, there is a certain energy about the event. Then we come the second time and the energy is very different, the first time everyone is trying to figure out who’s who and what’s where, then they show up the second time and they’re already best friends. This means that the atmosphere kind of softens up each time we visit a place again.

Nora explains that the Tour gives a teacher an opportunity to consider what they love, whether it be one to one training, group training, they get the opportunity to explore an element that they may not have thought about before. She says it can take some years of teaching to find what you truly love..

MZ: If someone trains with you do they then need to follow the ‘franchise mothership’?

NSJ: No. We have our particular approach because we’re Balanced Body, but all of our students can take contuing education anywhere they want. They could take it with STOTT, Body Control, Michael King… with Pro Star with an osteopath college or whatever.

MZ: That’s an interesting approach. Often, if you take up teacher training with certain schools you have to follow that particular format but you allow for that bit of freedom and independence of thinking …

NSJ: I think that’s important and that’s how I trained.

MZ: If someone wants to become a teacher trainer for Balanced Body – how does that work?

NSJ:  Pilates is our foundation basic programme, we also have CoreAlign which is a three module programme, MOTR which is a two day programme and Bohdi suspension system and Barre which are also two day programmes. Then there is Anatomy in Three Dimensions – so we have all those that we teach. To get to a Faculty position, people generally come to us but sometimes we approach them. Myself, or one of my closest colleagues and master instructors, will then teach them how to teach it to students. So they do repertoire, they do teaching practice, we do a lot of a lot of teaching drills, they do presentations which we then critique them on. The focus is always teaching the craft of Pilates but also teaching the principles behind it. I always look for people who are not just regular teachers but educators.

Nora tells us a bit about her history and that she started at St Frances Hospital in 1988 as a client and then she started teaching.  It was very much a medical environment and Pilates was very new on the West Coast and she taught to the body in front of her.

NSJ  I started with Romana, studied with Carola , and with Eve Gentry quite a bit, Alan Herdman, and a man named Jean Claude West who is a Californian – We started Pilates the traditional way with all those elders and other people but we also basically did what we needed to do in the studio. I personally learned that Pilates is a very modifiable system which is the principles of good movement. So, for example, if I was going to get somebody’s core to activate but they couldn’t flex their spine, or lift their head, or flex their knees – how was I going to do that? It was a learning process with no manuals. You would go to the seminars and you would make crazy drawings and you hope remembered everything.That’s pretty much how it was at that time. I trained by just working with a million clients for a million years and trying to make Pilates work for them and make their move pattern better within a Pilates environment. It wasn’t learning in a particularly dogmatic fashion and that wasn’t and isn’t, my style.

ST: Tell us a little bit more about Al and Nora… We’ve  heard all about the Pilates and now we want to hear about you, a skeleton in the cupboard perhaps?

AH: I think I picked the wrong table to lunch on!

NSJ: Well here we go… I’m cranky when I’m not in public, most people thing I’m the calmest person in the world because they only see me in public. So this is like my secret, my public face is one way and those I work with closely and who know me see another side.

ST: I think we’re all a bit like that aren’t we?

AH: She’s not actually…she’s always good. (all laugh). I love to bicycle and Ken Endelaman I do a big charity ride each year for the Lymphoma and Leukemia Foundation.

MZ: Do have a hobby or different activity that you do together?

NSJ: We cook. I love to cook and also I love being outside actually. More, I think, than most Pilates instructors. It seems many would prefer the five star hotel to the camping experience and I’m kind of a camper. I love being outside. Al and I, we walked the El Camino de Santiago 500 miles across the north of Spain for our 50th Birthdays.

ST: How long did that take?

NSJ: About 35 days…it’s like 12 – 18 miles a day.

AH: 800 km, 500 miles…

MZ: That’s amazing!

ST: So what’s the next thing? Is there something else in the pipeline?

AH: There’s no magical products. If you look at our strategy, we’ve got Pilates and then we’ve added things like CoreAlign we’ve added things like MOTR and Bodhi. But what’s really cool is that we’re adding them all in with a Pilates sensibility so it’s not like we just need a rope system. For example there’s things you can do on a suspension system that you can’t do on a Pilates machine and if you approach the suspension system with a Pilates sensibility you’re doing the same work your just using a different tool and it’s not like you now need to think just suspension, you’re not thinking Suspension, your just thinking about the principles. So we’ve been adding things in that support and grow Pilates and over time we’ll add more things. There isn’t a huge next step at this point.

NSJ: We’re more interested in absorbing what we have, and where we are, at this moment to be quite honest with you.

ST: We can see that the events are definitely getting bigger and bigger with more people each year which is great! Will you definitely be coming back to the UK next year?

AH: Yeah!

ST: Excellent! We look forward to seeing you.

To register for Pilates on Tour 2015 click on the image below:


Read More

Posted by on Aug 12, 2013 in Anatomy & Physiology, Featured, Pilates, Workshops and Further Education | 0 comments

Pilates4Amputees – A Unique Challenge

Pilates4Amputees – A Unique Challenge

The amputee client has many unique challenges in order to move in a functional and rewarding way.  They have the practical issues of asymmetry, altered lever arms, altered muscle origins and insertions, stump care, the huge challenge of prosthetic function to learn and adjust to.  Added to this is the nervous system changes and challenges of altered body perception, new neural patterns, phantom symptoms such as pain or other various “false” or “altered “ neural messages.

The unprepared mind of the traumatic amputation or the semi prepared mind of the elective amputation make a difference to the client’s mindset and how they adjust and take part in movement re-education.

That’s why these clients are such a rewarding group to work with as a movement teacher. They stretch you and your practice, mentally and practically, which in turn enhances your movement, and psychological skills, positively enhancing all other aspects of your teaching.

Whilst all movement disciplines have plenty to offer any client, Pilates is a wonderful movement teacher for the amputee. I have been rehabilitating amputees on and off since the early 80s when I looked after the injured from the Falklands and Ireland. While I have recently seen so many more from recent conflicts and we have wonderful new medical and prosthetic technology, one thing remains constant. Excellent movement re-education is the crucial key to successful function.

Due mainly to cardiovascular disease, in recent years the statistics for amputation, carried out on the civilian population, shows a both arising number and a younger group. These are all potential clients for the Pilates community who can offer a wonderful road to improved life through better movement.

The Pilates4Amputees workshop sprung out of people asking for help with the amputees who were coming into their studios. The workshop is designed to give relevant information on the main issues and type of amputation.  Furthermore it looks at the prevalent movement problems and uses adaptions to the Pilates repertoire to allow teachers to have confidence in giving the amputee client a fruitful and amazing Pilates experience. The most recent workshop had some amputees clients volunteer to come along and be practiced on which also passed on the clients’ perspective. It was great to see the workshop participants being made to feel at ease discussing stump care and the practical issues about being an amputee in the Pilates environment.

As a physiotherapist who trained a long time ago with springs and ropes and pulleys!! I have always had a firm exercise background. It took me a while to “get” Pilates when I first trained in the 90s.  Opposition and the whole Pilates ethos make it more than just a bunch of exercises. That is why I know that Pilates offers a unique opportunity to all to move better and reap the “feel” better rewards that come with that. Recent initiatives have seen wounded servicemen being exposed to pilates also in growing numbers. This programme supplements some of these initiatives.

The next workshop is being held at Alan Herdman’s studio in Canary Wharf on September 21/22, 2013.  Contact –

Read More

Posted by on Aug 3, 2013 in Becoming a Teacher, Business & Education, Featured, Pilates, Workshops and Further Education | 0 comments

A Little Less Trying: Notes on Language in Client Interaction

A Little Less Trying: Notes on Language in Client Interaction

No matter how many times he has seen it before, my husband will sit glued to a Star Wars re-run on television, completely and blissfully absorbed.

Cup of tea in hand, I joined him on the sofa at a pivotal moment in young Luke Skywalker’s journey towards becoming a Jedi knight.  When given the task of raising his ship from the murky depths of a swamp by Yoda, Luke shrugs and says, “I’ll try”, and Yoda sharply corrects him, with “No! Do.  Or do not.  There is no try.

Language is a source of constant fascination for me, and this video clip highlighted something that I frequently pick up from clients.  Many of them “try” to do this, “try” not to do that, and generally “try” really hard.  Some will use the word “try” or “trying” several times in one sentence without realising it as they explain their situation to me.

The same language emerges from therapists, sports trainers and coaches, without them even realising: the very same “Try to …” or “Try not to …”.  It is so insidious that it slips out before we can catch it.

What is this all about?

On the one hand, we have phrases like “he’s not a tryer” or “she didn’t even try”.  Nobody wants to be that person! By “trying”, we feel that we demonstrate our worth, that we’ll have a go, make the effort, do our best.  However, this often ramps up our muscle tension and suddenly we are getting in our own way.  With success eluding us, we try harder.  The harder we try, the more blocked we become.

For effective force production and fluent movement, we are aiming for effort-less. I have seen people fail to push, pull or lift loads which are well within their capabilities simply because they are trying so hard.  When this self-generated hand brake is removed with a change of focus, they suddenly find strength or speed that they didn’t know they had.

Of course, on hearing this, there are people who then “try to relax” or “try to be effortless”.  How likely is success?

On the other hand, by saying to a client “Try to …”, we rob them of conviction.  We’re communicating that we’re not sure that they can do it, so they aren’t sure either.  A tiny seed of doubt is sown…

Nike wasn’t far wrong when they coined the phrase “just do it”.  When communicating with a client, I’ll tend towards “this is what we are about to do”.  If it doesn’t pan out perfectly, they may hear, “that was reallyinteresting, what did you notice?” followed by “with that in mind, let’s do it again and see what we find out this time”, or perhaps, “I wonder what would happen if..”.  It’s amazing how often the nudge into self-awareness elicits change without the person even realising it. The outcome changes without “trying”!

Approach the task with conviction.   Remove the seed of doubt.  Do.

This week, notice how much “trying” pops into the language of your interactions.  Play with alternatives — it may make a big difference to some clients!

Read More

Posted by on May 19, 2013 in Pilates, Reviews, Workshops, Workshops and Further Education | 0 comments

Pilates Made Simple

Pilates Made Simple

I went along to Pilates in Motion for a workshop, Pilates Made Simple, delivered by Mike Perry. The studio  – a lovely space hidden behind Pitshanger Lane in Ealing – downstairs is the fully equipped studio and upstairs a space for Matwork classes.

73986_161298927242066_4403500_n-300x201Mike Perry is a great fan of the Crossfit exercise method.  He is greatly influenced by Kelly Starrett and is clearly passionate about this method of exercise.  He sees Pilates as the beginning of exercise rather than the end and feels strongly that Crossfit will take you to the next level as Pilates can only do so much on its own. I have to agree that over the last few years of attending many workshops and training at various studios, I see that sometimes we don’t work our clients hard enough to ensure they have the strength they need to guard against injury. I firmly believe you must get the right balance of stability, flexibility, etc but not be frightened by adding strength to that list. Well, there is no shortage of it here.

Definition of Crossfit:

Crossfit uses constantly varied, functional movements in a workout scenario performed at high intensity. We believe in training inclusive fitness, which would develop all the following abilities equally:

  • Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance
  • Stamina
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Power
  • Speed
  • Coordination
  • Agility
  • Balance
  • Accuracy

This workshop is designed to make your Pilates teaching easier by adding some basic rules to movement and, also to develop ways of addressing dysfunctional movement.  He is not one for using muscle names to cue preferring to describe movement direction instead.

During the workshop, Mike talked about the order of load, bio-mechanical principles and how to apply them to our Pilates practice. We worked through some of the exercises and he showed us how to apply these rules.  Toward the end of the workshop he showed us some interesting and new ways of using small hard balls to release tension and myofascial tissue on various places on the body. My favourite was using the ball to release shoulder tension, I’ve done this several times since and we each received one of these small balls to take home!

Mikes’ workshop ‘Pilates made Simple’ is being repeated on June 15th at 1.30pm.  For more information or to book please contact Mike Perry, if you want to read Mike’s blogs you’ll find them here


Read More

Posted by on Apr 27, 2013 in Reviews, Workshops, Workshops and Further Education | 0 comments

Pilates on Tour 2013

Pilates on Tour 2013

Balanced Body certainly know how to put on a show.  I went along to the reception on Friday to mingle with other Pilates teachers and the organisers of the event.  It really is a unique gathering as the teachers that attend are from all different schools of training and around 30 different countries. This is unusual in itself, as we Pilates teachers tend to stick with our training bodies to a greater or lesser degree and therefore bump into the same people at the workshops and conferences that we attend.  Being a teacher can also be a bit of a solitary occupation unless you work in a studio with other teachers, so it’s a great social event.

For the benefit those of that don’t know Balanced Body is a company that manufactures and supplies Pilates equipment and they also have their own education programme. They are based in the US and take their tour all over the world.  Pilates on Tour 2013 in London is the 3rd one in the UK but the 58th in the world.

Pilates on Tour is probably the biggest Pilates conference in the UK and they bring the lot with them, equipment and teachers. There are many fantastic workshops to choose from over the weekend and some pre conference workshops too  where you can get get more specialised training, for example, Core Align with Portia Page.  Highly respected teachers present a great variety of workshops from both the UK and USA. Its great chance to get pick up hints & tips and new ideas.

The Balanced Body crew are a generous bunch and there are a few freebees up for grabs, DVDs, Mats, bags & pens.  At the reception, snacks and soft drinks, wine & beer were all available.  You can also buy equipment as a discounted rate as well as books and DVD’s.

For information about future tours please click on the link.

Read More