Michele Carini (45)lived in The Netherlands for a while with her Dutch husband and kids in the city Leiden. In that city she taught Pilates at a Gym (Wellness Center Vlietlijn). Marjolein van Sonsbeek, Editor-in-chief of Pilatesglossy, was her client for a while in that time. Michele’s studio is CorSano Pilates in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
When and why did you start practicing Pilates?
I started training in the Pilates method in 1996 with Jennifer Stacey, second-generation teacher and founder of Peak Performance Pilates. She was working out of a small ballet studio in San Francisco, California. My former university roommate, Tracy, was the first person to mention Pilates to me as a potential form of rehabilitative therapy. We were both living and working in New York City at the time: she a Broadway dancer and I a pharmaceutical marketing executive who sat behind a desk during the day and ran circles around Central Park morning and night. When I finished the 1995 NYC Marathon with neck pain and radiating symptoms to my right hand, Tracy suggested that I look into Pilates, which she called the “dancer’s choice” for rehabilitation. My symptoms subsided just enough for me to ignore them, and so I put off trying Pilates because it wasn’t mainstream – it was difficult getting an appointment for a private session and just seemed too dancer-oriented. A few months later I moved to San Francisco. My mother sent me a Los Angeles Times article describing Pilates as exercise with “cardiovascular benefit in addition to strengthening and toning effects.” The “cardiovascular benefit” they referred to concerned breath control and body awareness. Upon arrival in San Francisco, I decided to investigate whether Pilates would address my needs as a runner who tended to ignore her neck and shoulder pain. It worked.
Where did you receive your Pilates education(s)?
I was fortunate enough to have several highly skilled mentors over the course of my STOTT PILATES® education, including Lead Instructor Trainers Michaela Bimbi-Dresp in Münich and Daniella Mallach in Tel Aviv, and Master Instructor Trainers John Garey in Los Angeles and Stefania Della Pia in Toronto, Canada. Do you participate in workshops on a regular basis? If yes, what was your latest? What workshop inspired you the most? Yes! I regularly participate in continuing education workshops to stay current with the latest research and techniques relevant to teaching movement and working with special populations. Of course workshops are also an excellent way to boost creativity in programming workouts, network with colleagues and study methods that complement Pilates. The last workshops that I completed were from the Merrithew Health & Fitness Total Barre™ program. Total Barre™ integrates elements of STOTT PILATES®, dance, cardio and strength training into workouts emphasizing correct biomechanics to increase strength, flexibility, stamina and dynamic stability. It’s difficult to say which workshop inspired me most – I’ve taken close to 100 of them – but Total Barre™ was one of the more inspiring workshops I’ve taken because it taught me how to choreograph workouts to music and also gave me buckets of new ideas for teaching standing, functional movement to all types of clients – even those who have never worn a tutu! I also recently completed The MELT Method® Hand & Foot 2-day workshop, which inspired me to complete the instructor-training certification and begin integrating MELT hands-off bodywork into my group and one-on-one client programing.
What made you decide to make Pilates your profession?
Even though I started practicing Pilates in 1996, and obtained my first teacher’s certification in 2005, I didn’t decide to make it my profession until 2007. I had spent 13 years building a career in the global pharmaceutical marketing industry, but was ready for a change after I became a new mother. I was living in Leiden at the time and was a member of Wellness Center Vlietlijn. One day a gorgeous, strong woman by the name of Corinne Voermans started a Pilates group class. When Corrine was absent and eventually announced that she was moving abroad, there were simply no replacement Pilates teachers available. That’s when I thought it might be interesting to get certified and teach Pilates mat classes as a “hobby” until I had time to start my next career. To my great surprise, certifying and teaching as a STOTT PILATES® Matwork™ instructor was more challenging and exciting than I thought possible. I started teaching group classes and private clients at Vlietlijn and at re-balance Pilates Studio in The Hague. Some of the clients required modifications that were beyond my scope of knowledge at the time, so I decided to complete a 50-hour STOTT PILATES® Injuries and Special Populations course to expand my skillset further. This led to more coursework, more certification exams, and my hunger to learn more grew along with my client base and experience. When I realized that the learning never stopped and that I could motivate even the most reluctant non-exerciser to start moving, I knew that I had found the “next challenge” and would make Pilates my profession.
Do you own a studio or multiple studios?
My husband and I own a 90 square meter studio located in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa. The studio is an annex of our 150-year old Victorian wood farmhouse, and is the only part of the house with level floors! The studio is outfitted with two V2Max™ Plus Reformers, a Ladder Barrel, Stability Chair, Ped-O-Pull and every barrel, box and Jumpboard accessory you might need. To start my new studio in Ottawa I invested approximately Euro15K in new equipment, but I had brought a Cadillac, Chair and and some smaller equipment with me from The Netherlands.
What Pilates apparatus is your favorite and why?
The V2Max Plus Reformer is hands-down my favorite! The tower transforms the traditional Reformer into a Cadillac, which saves space in my studio without sacrificing programming options. The really amazing feature of the V2Max Plus is the adjustable rope and pulley system. This system allows hundreds of new exercises and modifications that aren’t possible with traditional Reformers. Not only can I program more standing and multi-planar movements, but I also can alter angles of tension so that different muscle groups are emphasized or challenged based on an individual client’s needs. What is your favorite brand of apparatus (Gratz, Peak Pilates, Balanced Body, Stott Pilates or other)? I’m trained on STOTT PILATES® equipment and teach teachers on this equipment, so I am biased toward this brand for obvious reasons. That having been said, I have taught in studios using Balanced Body equipment, and have taken several lessons myself on Gratz and Fletcher Pilates reformers. I prefer the gorgeous wood of those machines to the STOTT PILATES apparatus, but the adaptability of the STOTT PILATES equipment makes programming and adjustments so much easier that I have to go for functionality over aesthetics.
What is your purpose in giving workshops?
Workshops give me the opportunity to help my colleagues and clients grow in their Pilates practice and problem-solve in new ways. My role as Instructor Trainer is to deliver the material in a way that is focused, clear, and relevant to the participant’s own situation. Even when a workshop is primarily lecture-oriented, such as “Programming for Postural Issues” or “Group Reformer Classes: Teaching Skills & Programming Choices”, you have to get your students involved and help them relate the content that they’re experiencing to their specific needs and interests. Did you solve body issues or do you keep them under control with Pilates? I always ask my clients about their fitness goals. Most of them want to improve posture and vitality. No one wants to stay the same or use Pilates just for maintenance. I think this is human nature: if we’re going to invest in ourselves, then we want to see improvements; not support the status quo. So yes, I try to resolve postural imbalances and other physical issues that can be barriers to good health.
Do you have a target audience?
My studio marketing targets everybody: men, women and teenagers of all ages and abilities. The majority of my clients, however, are women between age 40 and 65 years old. On average I teach about 20 hours of privates, semi-privates and group classes weekly. My focus is on privates, and the demand is high and consistent for customized one-on-one training using the Pilates equipment.
Who is your favorite person that you would love to teach Pilates?
It would be an interesting challenge to teach Joseph Pilates himself! I would love to know what he thinks of a contemporary approach to the method he created so long ago.
In Europe there are more female Pilates trainers than male. How is that in Canada?
The statistics are the same in Canada and the USA. What is your opinion about the future of Pilates? I believe that Pilates is here to stay, but will continue evolving and adapting based on new research, fitness trends and the aging baby-boomer population. The original repertoire will remain the foundation of the work, but adaptations will evolve to accommodate new science, such as what we’re learning about the role of stimulating the body’s connective tissue system; as well as, incorporating more functional movements that support daily living.
What is your own vision of Pilates?
My vision of Pilates is of an exercise method that truly supports daily living and quality of life.
Do you cooperate with other Pilates instructors?
I believe that there are enough clients out there for all good instructors, and that we should share our experiences and clients when possible. If a client could benefit from multiple sessions weekly, but I am unable to work with them that frequently, then I refer to another instructor whom I trust. We become part of the client’s wellness team and collaborate on the client’s program and progress. They aren’t necessarily STOTT PILATES® colleagues, but they all have breadth of experience working with a variety of client types, solid functional anatomy knowledge and a solid education in the Pilates system. Ultimately, we all learn from each other and it’s not just the client who benefits from this type of collaborative approach!
Which Pilates word you rather not use?
Most “Pilates words” are fine as long as the person on the receiving end knows what they mean. We as teachers cannot assume that our clients know the “what”, “why” and “how” of Pilates words unless our teaching consistently and continually reinforces the theory and practical application of the words we use. “Pilates stance” is one term that is probably easier to understand because a teacher can easily demonstrate it. Anatomically, “Pilates stance” refers to a slight lateral rotation of the hips where the legs turn outward leaving the heels together and toes apart. This position is meant to help clients think of bringing their sit bones and inner thighs together to give more support through the body’s mid-line. In practice, however, “Pilates stance” often reinforces many of our clients’ natural tendencies to ‘butt-grip’, or habitually overuse the posterior pelvic floor muscles and external hip rotators. This overuse of the “Pilates stance” muscles can compress the sacroiliac joints, restrict leg movement and create instability in the low back. While “Pilates stance” can be an extremely useful working position to strengthen the lateral rotators of the legs and medial hamstrings, it should not be over-emphasized at the expense of more functional positions that promote optimal biomechanics and dynamic stability for daily living. I would like to see the leg position of “Pilates parallel” used as the new “Pilates stance” because even dancers need balanced musculature to avoid injury!
Did you change things about your teaching or would you like to?
Over the years my teaching has become less rote and recipe-like. I understand what the body needs to ensure a balanced workout and can more easily and quickly alter my programming choices based on the client or clients I have in front of me. Variety is the spice of life, but you need a solid foundation for a successful experience.
What is the biggest insight Pilates gave you?
The most valuable insight Pilates has given me is definitely that “less is more.” I’ve learned that I don’t have to workout to the point of pain and exhaustion to achieve results, and that a strong exterior body does not necessary equate to a body that functions well.
What is your opinion about the classical, authentic Pilates and the contemporary approach?
A good teacher should be teaching Pilates as safely and effectively as possible. Whether the approach is “classical” or “contemporary” isn’t important if the teacher doesn’t know what he or she is doing. Lindsay and Moira Merrithew, along with a team of physical therapists, sports medicine and fitness professionals, have spent over two decades refining the STOTT PILATES® method and equipment line. STOTT PILATES is considered to be a “contemporary approach” because it has refined the original method to include modern principles of exercise science and rehabilitation – making it one of the safest and most effective methods available.
Who is your biggest example and whom would you love to meet (again) in the Pilates field?
Since I completed some of my core STOTT PILATES certification coursework in Toronto and have attended Instructor Trainer Community of Excellence™ Conferences, I’ve had the privilege of taking classes and receiving instruction from Moira Merrithew. I would love to experience more of Moira’s teaching. She’s smooth on the DVD’s, but in person she’s motivating, insightful, funny and so beautiful to watch in motion. You want to drink it all in!
Do you see familiarities with Pilates over the world e.g. Europe, Asia, Australia?
I’ve trained and taken lessons across Europe, North America and Israel, and I frequently communicate with colleagues in Asia. I think that there are more similarities than differences in how Pilates is taught — and received by clients – than there are differences. Yet, having taught five years in The Netherlands and now four years in Canada, I find the North American market generally more interested in a fusion approach to the work. They are looking for workouts that “give them a bit of everything” that they love: athletic conditioning and core conditioning, dance movement, muscle lengthening and cardio. I find that Europeans tend to be a bit purer in their approach to Pilates although this could change based on market factors such as increased competition and the popularity of fitness trends.
If you are traveling abroad for Pilates, what would be your goals?
If I’m going to invest in Pilates education or lessons abroad, then I’m looking to learn something new that hopefully I can’t learn in my own backyard. While living and teaching in Leiden, I traveled to Wiesbaden, Germany for the Balanced Body “Pilates on Tour” conference. My primary goal was to take functional anatomy workshops with Erik Franklin – I had read his books on the use of imagery to create better movement, and wanted to meet this inventive person and experience his approach first hand. I also wanted to experience being taught by Elizabeth Larkham of Balanced Body – a leader in the field who was evolving the classical Pilates repertoire considerably based on Tom Myers’ “Anatomy Trains” model of fascial lines. It’s important to get out of your own educational “box” and learn how colleagues from other schools are working and teaching. It’s usually rich learning experience where you can have some “ah ha” moments. That having been said, sometimes taking Pilates lessons or workshops abroad helps you realize that you’re already doing a really good job and actually know more than you thought you did. Either way you grow as a teacher.
What is the funniest thing you have ever experienced with Pilates?
When a Dutch group class participant approached me after my first-ever class and in perfect English asked me, “Michele, I loved the class, but please tell me, what are ‘the abs?’” It was then and there that I decided to learn how to teach Pilates in Dutch!
You met Lolita San Miguel, an “Elder”, how was that for you?
I took a workshop with Lolita San Miguel in 2006 and had the opportunity to meet her in a small group after class. I remember being so impressed with her powerful stature as a woman of 71 years. She was also a picky teacher – she wasn’t going to accept less than your best effort and she encouraged everyone to find more precision and control in each movement. Ms. San Miguel spoke about Pilates as a movement system that you have to work to understand in your own body before you can teach it to others, and she encouraged us to keep working at it!
Do you have a favorite story about Joe or Clara or somebody else?
I love the late Ron Fletcher’s story about origins of his Fletcher Towelwork®. He comically explains how frustrated he was trying to get a class of women align their bodies standing in front of a mirror with their arms extended overhead. He said it was like working with a group of ragdolls with the most difficult thing being the women’s shoulders. All of the “180 designs” they were making with their bodies were “all wrong” and he lamented that their shoulders and arms were the most challenging parts seemingly out of the women’s conscious control. Finally he grabbed some studio towels that happened to be lying about, twisted them lengthwise, and handed them to the clients with stern instructions to lift their arms and align their bodies. And viola, it finally worked! You can watch his video on YouTube – it’s precious.
Do you expect to keep on practicing Pilates and keep on giving classes?
Why would I stop? At this point, only a catastrophic event would stop me from practicing and teaching Pilates! My dream would be to have Pilates covered under government and other major insurance programs so that more people can get out of pain and improve their quality of life through Pilates.
Are you available for bookings in the Netherlands?
Can you tell us something about your conditions and the things you want to offer? STOTT PILATES® Instructor Trainers (IT’s) are available to teach certification courses and CEC workshops in The Netherlands. I’ll be in The Hague this spring teaching the Stability Chair and Intermediate Reformer courses, and will likely give some Master Classes while I’m there. Any studio or person can host a course or workshop and request that I, or one of my colleagues, teach it. Arrangements can be made with the Full Solutions team at Merrithew Health & Fitness in Toronto. I should mention that Jolanda Hoefnagel, owner of K’dans Studio in The Hague, also is a certified STOTT PILATES® IT. K’dans is an upcoming STOTT PILATES Licensed Training Center for the Netherlands in 2014, so workshops and courses can eventually be organized locally through Jolanda.