The Healing Power of Pilates

Pilates can heal your body, as this instructor found after learning she had a devastating heart condition.

By Brooke Siler

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When I first found Pilates, I was moonlighting as a sales manager and trainer at a tiny gym in Manhattan while taking post-grad freelancing courses in the hopes of becoming a writer. Already in tip-top shape, I was humbled—and appalled—at my inability to master the method.

It was challenging on both mental and physical levels, and yet completely accessible at the same time. There was something to this mysterious method, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it. Within two months of my first lesson I was on the doorstep of the grandam herself, Romana Kryzanowska. Having trained under Joseph Pilates, the creator of the Pilates method, for close to 30 years, and already in her mid-70s on our meeting, Romana had inherited Joe's studio and his passion for teaching. She considered it her duty to carry on the art and science of Pilates, and did so until her dying day. I spent the next decade under Romana's extraordinary tutelage and still thank my lucky stars for having the good sense to follow my intuition, which led me there.

With a father in the medical field and a mother suffering from multiple sclerosis, I knew health problems ran in my family. But when my brother experienced a sudden aortic dissection on the ski slopes of Colorado while in his mid-30s, my mother, brother, and I learned that we all had something called Loeys-Dietz syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that can lead to aortic aneurisms and is often fatal. My doctors had warned me against having children given the increased blood pressure and strain on the heart from pregnancy and delivery, but I took the arrogant risk and had two beautiful boys anyway. Pilates made me feel confident and in control, and both pregnancies were a relative cinch.

Later in life, I made the decision to undergo a preventative surgery to repair my ailing aortic tissue. I was 41 and strong and knew that the time to move forward was before the syndrome caused an emergency. I prepared for the surgery with daily Pilates sessions that I took down from their usual athletic, heart-pumping, rhythm to a slow, smooth meditative practice. My ability to use my Pilates body knowledge to stay connected—literally—to myself is one that I credit with keeping me together all these years. I am able to keep the common detrimental symptoms of the disorder—mainly hyper-mobility, scoliosis, and cervical instability—at bay with the strength and alignment Pilates offers as a normal benefit of its teachings.

Post-surgery, I'm back to my normal sweat-producing pace. The apparatus workouts offer me the ability to work with bone-building resistance while respecting my blood pressure, spine, and organ placement. Since much of Pilates is done in positions designed to reduce the negative effects of gravity on internal structure, I can tone up and bulletproof myself in one shot. I'm one of many thousands of students of this method who stay healthy, strong, and balanced with Pilates. When asked who and what Pilates was specifically good for, my teacher would put on her best German-accented Joe Pilates voice and say, "Pilates ees gud for da body!" and indeed, "ees gud"!

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