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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 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 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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Posted by on Jan 11, 2014 in Featured, Pilates, Reviews, Workshops | 0 comments

London Workshop with Rachel Taylor Segal

London Workshop with Rachel Taylor Segal

Hidden away in Clapham, close to Clapham Common Tube station in a mews is Pepilates. On the second floor of this building is a bright & beautiful fully equipped Pilates studio.
I am here to take part in a workshop presented by Rachel Taylor Segal, The Advanced Pilates Work, whose work I have admired since coming across her on Pilates Anytime. Rachel served her apprenticeship with Romana Kryzanowska in the original Pilates studio, New York. With the help of Romana and her sister Amy Taylor Alpers, she then founded the Pilates Center Teacher Training Program which was the first of its kind in the industry.
I attend on the day of the advanced reformer/chair/mat level 4/5. Later I will be interviewing Rachel so I introduce myself to her, she is very welcoming and friendly.
I have been to many workshops over the years and on occasion I find that there’s a fair amount of filling in time. No so here, the workshop itself it quite intense, no chit chat, just straight on with it. Rachel is clearly passionate and incredibly knowledgeable and she has a way of truly engaging you and you find yourself totally absorbed. Other than lunch, there are only short toilet breaks as there was an awful lot of work to go through and no detail was spared or overlooked and the devil really is in the detail and she has some fabulous cues that just hit the button. She also talks to us about the art of teaching and how to look after ourselves as well as our clients.

The workshop itself was very intense for the teachers demonstrating, believe when I say there was nothing weak about the work; You may think you’ve worked to an advanced level before it was incredibly tough stuff and when you see bodies work like this that you truly appreciate the Pilates method and how it develops uniformly balanced bodies.
At the end of the day Rachel arranged for us the see the recently completed film “ A Movement of Movement’. The perfect end to the day. If you want to view the trailer, see below.

Thank you to Lorna, Charlie and Lucinda and all those at Pepilates, for providing some lovely snacks for us to nibble on throughout the day and evening and also for the sparkly drinks to sip whilst watching the film.
Any regrets? Yes, that I didn’t attend the entire week!

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Posted by on Oct 29, 2013 in Featured, Pilates, Reviews, Social, Workshops | 0 comments

Conventional Wisdom – Thoughts on the Classical Pilates Convention

Conventional Wisdom – Thoughts on the Classical Pilates Convention

Windsor, 27-29 Sep 2013

It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached the Classical Pilates Convention.  My Pilates teacher training had included the classical repertoire as a sort of kernel of the method, from which all manner of shoots had subsequently grown.  I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as a teacher of “classical Pilates”.  However I did want to know more of this seemingly austere area – a bit like a child of liberal parents wondering what it would be like to be brought up by Puritans.

My attempts thus far had been a little disheartening.  At one previous classical Pilates workshop I had attended, the teacher had taken a very dim view of any variations (“distortions”) of the original exercises which, to that teacher’s mind, were most definitely not what “Mr Pilates” had intended.  The overwhelming impression I had was that it was not for us mere mortals to dare to interpret or modify the work of such a genius.  So here I was again, this time signing up for a weekend of Classical Pilates, like an agnostic going to Lourdes in order to “give it another a try”.  Would I be converted, brainwashed or rejected as an unbeliever?

I needn’t have worried.  The leading presenter of the event was Jay Grimes, one of the few remaining people who can say they were trained by Joe (and it was “Joe”, by the way.  Jay was a wonderful source of anecdotes and personal memories, so if he says it was always “Joe”, and not “Joseph” or “Mr Pilates”, that’s good enough for me).  Avuncular and eminently quotable, Jay was a goldmine for students of Pilates history.  Fascinating to hear, for example, that the original studio had no booking system – clients just turned up when they wanted!  And that Joe never taught regular matwork classes (those famous filmed examples at Jacob’s Pillow were one-offs).  At the studio, clients worked with the equipment – matwork was the homework!  That’s not to say that Jay dwelt in the past.  For him, and through him, the classical Pilates tradition is living and breathing.  Though not in quite the way many modern Pilates teachers think, apparently.  “Pilates is not all about breathing!” Jay repeatedly told us.  “Only a few exercises are about breathing.  For the others, you breathe as though you were walking down the street.”

I attended the Classical Mat workshop that opened the convention.  Consisting of an initial run-through of the mat sequence, a breakdown of the exercises and concluding with a full mat class, this was 5 hours of concentrated hard work.  Jay offered tips and cues for most of the exercises in the classical mat, all liberally illustrated with anecdotes, examples and opinions.  A master of concision, Jay had an admirably clear and simple approach to teaching.  When asked how to teach The Hundred to a beginner, his reply (“just pump your arms”) obviously startled the questioner, who started to wonder out loud about stabilising and use of the pelvic floor.  Jay was dismissive of such contemporary concerns.  “That’s all BS!” and “Too much pick, pick, picking!” (Jay’s opinion on the fashion for over-correcting in much modern teaching) became oft-repeated mantras.  “There’s so much ‘correcting’.  Everyone has to start.  Just move!  And get better.  How do you get better?  By moving!”

The other workshops on Classical Reformer and Cadillac that I attended developed the same themes.  There was plenty of advice for teachers.  “Never, ever, ever correct the Footwork” came as a bit of a surprise to me. It made a bit more sense when I remembered that Footwork is the very first exercise in a Classical Reformer class.  Apparently Jay uses that time, when the client is just settling down, to observe how their body is moving and to plan what to do in the exercises that follow.  Jay’s wonderfully simple approach showed up throughout the sessions.  “What makes a good teacher?  Learning to keep your eyes open, your mouth shut and knowing which exercises to give.”

Despite my “evolved Pilates” background and training, I warmed to Jay and his co-presenters.  Obviously passionate about the method, they clearly feel that Classical Pilates is the most direct, efficient route to achieving the physical fitness aims of Pilates.  But still there was a lingering doubt in my mind: this all sounds great for people who are already moderately fit and well, but what about the people who aren’t?  Today’s public are encouraged to believe that anyone can do Pilates, so what about people who turn up at studios after a lifetime spent avoiding exercise, or with serious conditions such as MS or Parkinson’s?  When asked about how to approach teaching someone with a herniated disc (for example), Jay was – as always – clear on the matter: follow the advice of the medical professionals.  As Pilates teachers we are not qualified to diagnose, so Jay does what the person’s doctor (or surgeon, physiotherapist, or whatever) recommends and avoids what they say to avoid.  I think we would all agree that to be sensible advice but it does beg other questions.

Jay is quite clear that “Joe’s studio was not a hospital ward.  It was a gym!  People grunted, sweated, worked”.  He also remembered that “Joe never modified exercises”.  In Jay’s words: “Don’t change the exercise, change the body”.  So where does that leave teachers who do modify exercises in order to allow the less able to attempt them?  Does the well-intentioned desire to adapt in order to allow everyone to benefit necessarily dilute the Pilates method to a point where it becomes unrecognisable?  Towards the end of the final session I attended, Jay acknowledged (with genuine warmth and generosity, I felt) that many non-Classical teachers do good work and really help people.  “I just wish they wouldn’t call it Pilates”, he said.


Thank you to Amy Kellow of Everybody Pilates for letting us use images from the convention :) and for inviting us to attend the initial day to enjoy the fabulous atmosphere, great presenters and beautiful surroundings that made this convention such a success!

Thank you to Charles for producing such thorough and entertaining review.

Monika at


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