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Posted by on Jun 2, 2016 in Anatomy & Physiology, Featured, Pilates, Workshops | 0 comments

Scoliosis – How can Pilates help?

Scoliosis – How can Pilates help?


by Mary Thornton BSc Hons MCSP HCPC

When you get a new enquiry from a client with scoliosis, does it fill you with dread or excitement? Personally, I love the thought of assessing a new client with a scoliosis. As with many other conditions, you never know how the individual will present and what challenges lie ahead.

A scoliosis is a side ways curve of the spine with rotation of the vertebral bodies. It can occur anywhere along the spine and even present as two specific curves. There are many reasons why someone might present with a curvature of the spine: a difference in leg length, a hemi-pelvis to spinal degeneration or even a neuromuscular condition, but the most common curve you will probably see in the studio is a idiopathic scoliosis. This means the cause of the curve is unknown. It generally first appears during puberty and can progress rapidly during this period then generally slows down as the body reaches skeletal maturity.

The medical profession determines the severity of a curve using what is referred to as a Cobb angle. The Cobb angle is measured by looking at the end points of the curve and the angle formed from the intersection of these two lines and a curve greater then 10 degrees is deemed a scoliosis.

On physical examination the client may present with:

  • Rib hump
  • Elevated / winging scapula
  • Pelvic or torso shift
  • Decreased lung expansion
  • Leg length discrepancy

The management of a scoliosis varies depending on the severity of curve, pain and probably location in which they live. Generally surgeons do not intervene unless the curve is greater then 45 – 50 degrees and in the first instance they are generally referred for Physiotherapy, or fitted with a back brace. Traditional fixed braces like the Boston are rigid restrictive devices that are difficult for the client to use but there is a new wave of dynamic braces that are proving very effective and more user friendly.theclinicalpilatesstudio

As a movement therapist, there are many things we can do to help manage the scoliotic spine. While we must not be under the illusion that we can make a curved spine straight, we can certainly help manage the muscular imbalances that occur.

We must also be very aware of the psychological effect of the scoliosis on the client. Though outwardly they may seem ok with their diagnosis, their self esteem and body image can be effected. Avoid the use of negative words and limit the use of mirrors during sessions. Although mirrors give feedback about where the client is in space and can aid the develop of new motor patterns, be sensitive to their reaction. With a little sensitivity, we cannot only help the individual develop a better understanding of balance within their bodies, but also enhance self esteem.

As a teacher, it is easy to get to bogged down by terminology, but with a few basic assessment rules, it can be easy to devise a safe and beneficial exercise regime. However, like all pathologies, to really benefit from Pilates the client initially needs to be seen on an individual basis to determine their specific needs and teach them how to adapt in a group situation.

So the next time someone mentions they have a scoliosis, start to be inspired by the challenges that lay ahead. With a little research and insight, you can make big changes to their life.

To learn more about how to plan a Pilates programme for scoliosis come along to one of Mary’s workshops, advertised on Facebook or contact directly at

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Posted by on Nov 11, 2015 in Pilates, Reviews | 0 comments

The Missing Link

The Missing Link

The Missing Link – Shari Berkowitz and the Pilates Teacher Intensives.

You know when you feel there is something you are missing, something you know will be simple and a golden bullet, but you just can’t quite make it simple enough to see it or feel it. This has been my experience of teaching Pilates, very frustrating and actually stressful . The kind of underlying stress that you can’t name.

I’ve been a client and a teacher in the Pilates world for around seven and a half years.  I always thought Pilates was amazing and knew it had many many answers to modern maladies that effect us as modern humans. Still I remained unsatisfied that it was truly focused deep enough on the most important thing, ‘structure ‘.

There is a phrase used in osteopathy, which covers this “Structure governs form, form governs structure”.  As a life long martial artist I had the good fortune to be taught by a very astute Wing Chun teacher, who taught me that all the fancy looking and flamboyant moves in that field were only good if they could be used to break the opponent’s structure.  Pilates teachers, as would be healers of musculoskeletal dysfunction could learn some thing from this approach, obviously in reverse. I have been a real seeker of this disturbing missing link, what I thought was a great system of beautiful form but with little understanding of modern thought on functional structure.  I don’t get into the classical vs. modern debate, although without classical you don’t have the experience of seeing the overall idea and genius of Mr. Pilates work .  I have explored in depth the linages of Kathy Grant and Eve Gentry with some fantastic teachers like Cara Reeser , Blossom Leilani Crawford , Deb Kolwey and Michelle Larsson. I love the work in those systems and I use it daily but I still felt there was a link missing. What was it you ask ? Well in quantum physics there is a thing called Superstring theory that links all of existence together . That was it, how do I link everything together and how do I find that?

Well of course the answer was Facebook.  A friend posted a piece from Shari Berkowitz.  I had heard of her but knew nothing about her .  The piece was about not ‘Squeezing sitz bones together” . I posted to Shari that it was about time someone with clout said that this was, at best lazy ineffective cueing, at worse potentially harmful to the body . Thus a friendship was started and I was invited by this lovely lady for coffee when she was in London . Now this is a world famous teacher who had time to share on a busy weekend teaching with someone she didn’t know . That alone impressed me so I signed up for the course –  not even knowing what it was about . It wasn’t cheap either but I trusted my gut feeling and boy am I glad.

I have to this date (October 2015) completed two of the series of five seminars called Pilates Teacher Intensives. Each seminar is 3 days long, with homework as an option. It’s been transformational in my understanding of the body from a viewpoint of modern biomechanics. Shari’s research clearly shows the chains of events that makes the body either work or not work.  What is that you say, what secret does she have?   It’s called science. The work is based around how the body needs to function by using the lowest abdominals to engage the small muscles of the lumbar area . Why? To enable a change in and around the use of the Thoracolumbar Fascia (TLF). With all of the upper and lower body feeding though this amazing structure we can use it to help the body release holding patterns and even de-rotate the pelvis.

Now this was a big one for me as I have significant damage and rotations due to ankle and knee injuries.  I had tried everything I could to spot train and strengthen those areas , inner leg –outer hip etc . Nothing worked but with this new work doing The Hundred felt like I was using a foot corrector.

That was it I was hooked! Having just finished the second weekend of the training I wanted to share how clear and well thought out Shari’s work is . It is classical with the only remit being does this anatomically work? Isn’t this what we all should be asking when performing or teaching  Pilates?  My feeling is that we have bought into either too much medical input and then don’t move bodies  or we stick dogmatically to what our teachers (who mean well) say.  How much of this is hearsay or rote learning that is justified by that lovely catch all “let the system work”.

I’m very aware that this is a personal statement but I have seen a lot of this kind of teaching and it doesn’t provide credibility to our profession. Since I have done the Vertical Workshop training I have had so much positive feedback from clients who’s bodies feel released and much more comfortable.  Mostly because they are working from a more integrated structure they look taller, wider and freer around the shoulders. No one teacher has all the answers and it’s all a great journey but I just wanted to share what a thoroughly interesting and fresh take on the Pilates this has been.  The whole system has been examined and thought about, structure foremost down to how to teach the first second or third repetition of an exercise has been thought of and reconsidered . No fuss no fluff straight up like a good single malt.

Like a single malt it will take time to mature in my teaching but I feel like I have shifted my understanding of Pilates enormously already. I cannot say thank you enough to Shari  or recommend her enough. Try at least the first weekend, just to feel your feet wobble on shaky ground that will make you curious for more . Enjoy.

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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.

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Posted by on May 6, 2015 in Business & Education, Featured, Pilates, Reviews, Social | 0 comments

Pilates on Tour 2015

Pilates on Tour 2015

Pilatestree had the pleasure of being invited to Balanced Body, Pilates on Tour in London again this year and as usual on offer were great workshops hosted by some fabulous teachers. You can’t be everywhere but I managed to see a few favourites but sorry not to have been able to get to every workshop on offer.

Suzanne Scott presented a workshop on ‘Pilates for  High Performance’. I’ve been a fan of Suzanne ever since I began my training where she often delivered lectures to us, or more scarily was an examiner in our final exams! Since then, I’ve attended several of her workshops but this was the best. She talked about, and showed us the roles strength, flexibility, power and endurance play for the athlete, and how we as Pilates teachers can facilitate this. The workshop was clearly and concisely presented with the perfect amount of demonstration and explanation and even though aimed at high performing athletes, I was still able to take parts of this and apply them to my classes this week. I also managed to get an interview with Suzanne, so watch this space!

Elizabeth Larkham presented a workshop on ‘Balancing the slings in the Pilates studio’ … Fabulously inventive as ever, Elizabeth delivered some gorgeous exercises on the reformer, Cadillac and chair and she did some amazing work for the neck using the stability sling. Following the principles of fascia training and with the latest research, she presented a balanced programme of exercises that were applicable to combat the effects of modern living i,e phones, computers etc.

This year, for the first time, I also managed to do a workshop with Chrissy Romani -Ruby and who I’ve just added to my favourites list. Her back background is physiotherapy and her workshop was, ‘The Gluteals and the link to lower back pain’. Back pain is so prevalent in our ever more sedentary society that this was a really useful look at the latest research and how we can use these finds in the Pilates environment. Needless to say, we all knew where our Gluteals were by the end of the workshop. I very much look forward to working with Chrissy again and picked up some  fabulous functional exercises both on the mat and the reformer to add to the repertoire. I used some of these exercises today – not sure my clients will thank me tomorrow but they will in the long term!

Thank you to Ken Endelman, Nora and Al Harrison, Dave Littman and all of the Pilates on Tour team for another great tour and being such good hosts. See you next year!

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Posted by on Apr 8, 2015 in Featured, Pilates, Reviews, Workshops | 0 comments

Workshop Review – Blossom Leilani Crawford

Workshop Review – Blossom Leilani Crawford

I have taken a workshop with Blossom Leilani Crawford from Bridge Pilates before and was really excited to hear that Pilates Nation were hosting her for a further series. For those of you who may not know Blossom was Pilates Elder Kathy Grant’s teaching assistant at NYU for ten years and continued to assist her at various conventions after graduating NYU in 1997 until Kathy’s passing in 2010. Blossom was also certified by Romana Kryzanowska and so has a diverse range of influences on her work.

The workshop I attended was all about the Wunda Chair, in Joseph Pilates’s words: “Purposefully designed to pleasantly “correct” your present deplorable physical condition.” Those were different times!

Before the workshop kicked off Blossom shared with us some inspiring pictures of Kathy Grant beautifully performing Mr Pilates’s work probably in her late sixties to early seventies. There were also a very clear set of photos of Mr Pilates performing the Wunda Chair repertoire. Thus the scene was set with clear nods to the origin of the exercises we were about to explore.

We started off with some alignment work to prepare us for Pumping or Footwork on the chair. Kathy Grant was well known for her love of this piece of apparatus and the use of balls as props to aid proper alignment. With the addition of balls under our heels and a keen eye from Blossom tweaking my heel alignment a couple of millimetres chains of muscles suddenly switched on, began demanding my attention and we hadn’t even moved the damn pedal yet! It was very obvious which muscles have not been contributing to these full body exercises for me.

This was a theme we kept returning to in the workshop and the balls kept making a re-appearance, often shifting the focus of the exercise to bring attention to an arm or hand that was not reaching it’s full potential.

Some rules were playfully bent which allowed the exercises to get deeper into our bodies and establish more connections. The workshop was a great reminder of just how challenging Pilates can be when we give it our full attention in the hands of a skilled teacher. Sometimes there were squeaks being emitted that were not coming from the chair’s hinges! No matter how gruelling the work got the atmosphere was one of fun with smiles all round.

I always think the test of a workshop is what my clients think of their subsequent lessons. The feedback has been great with many lightbulb moments we have been able to take to other exercises and apparatus, widening of the eye and comments such as, “Oh my God, that was head to toe!”I’m also taking the lessons learned into every day life and movement. I can hear Blossom’s voice in my head adjusting my alignment and can feel my inner thighs no longer shirking their contribution as I walk and take the stairs.I’m looking forward to her next visit already.

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Posted by on May 8, 2014 in Pilates, Reviews, Social, Workshops | 0 comments

Balanced Body Pilates on Tour 2014

Balanced Body Pilates on Tour 2014

balanced-body-logo-100904For the third year in the row PilatesTree attended Balanced Body Pilates on Tour, London.  This was the 67th PoT and 4th in the UK.  PoT is a great opportunity for teachers from many different countries and different schools to interact, mingle, play and work together and to expand our knowledge. Teachers from more than 37 different countries attended this year.  PoT is here for 5 days, the first two days are dedicated to teacher training in Core Align, Balanced Body Barre, MOTR and Pilates for a healthy back.  Friday, Saturday and Sunday are a variety of workshops presented by very well respected teachers from all over the world.

This years presenters included:

Valentin, MS; Pilates Body By ValentIn

Shari Berkowitz; The Vertical Workshop

Madeline Black; Passing the Torch Mentor; Studio M Pilates

Blossom Leilani Crawford; Owner, Bridge Pilates

Tom McCook; Passing the Torch Mentor; Center of Balance,

Portia Page; Balanced Body faculty

Joy Puleo; Body Wise StudIo

Erika Quest; Studio Q Pilates Conditioning

Chrissy Romani-Ruby PT; PHI Pilates

Lolita San Miguel, Passing the Torch Mentor; Pilates y Mas

Suzanne Scott; The Scott Studio

Anna Maria Vitali; Balanced Body faculty

Each day began with a morning class at 7.30am taught by one of the presenters or another specially invited teacher, this was followed by a delicious breakfast and chat.  There are two 3 hour sessions of workshops 9am – 12 noon and 2pm – 5 pm.  In between there was a good break for a lovely lunch, a spot of shopping, mini workshops and a quick talk and lottery draw from Nora St Jones, co-creator of PoT.

The mini workshops are a chance to try out pieces of equipment such as the MOTR and Core Align among others.

Friday evening, PoT hosted a free reception with drinks and nibbles. This is an opportunity to meet new friends, catch up with old friends and meet the creators & crew of Pilates on Tour including Nora St Jones, Al Harrison, Ken Endelman, Dave Littman (see interview last year).

PoT bring all the equipment with them including, Reformers, Cadillacs, Wunda chairs, Pilates arcs, Sitting Boxes, Orbits, Core Aligns, accessories, fascia release balls, Franklin balls, springs, foot correctors, pads, foam rollers. It takes an awful lot of organising but they have it down to a fine art.   Teachers also have the opportunity to buy some of the large equipment which is a special show price.

What do you get for you money other than the workshops? Morning workout, US style, super breakfast and lunch, endless coffees, teas, soft drinks and cakes, a thick BB mat, pen and a welcome pack, Ken’s history talk on Saturday after the workshops. You can gather many of your yearly requirement of CPD points too, all in one 5 day period.

Thank you to all the presenters and crew members who gave us their time (too many to mention individually) we hope to catch up with those we didn’t manage to talk to next year.

Thank you to Ken and Dave for facilitating our visit this and we look forward to the 5th Pilates on Tour in London, April 2015!


Coming up soon:-

Workshop with Lolita San Miguel

Interview with Shari Berkowitz

Interview with Nora and Al

Interview with Suzanne Scott (the only UK presenter)

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