Jon Hawkins (42) of Free Range Pilates has his studio near to Hampstead in North London in the UK. Pilates is something that is never going to stop fascinating him.
When and why did you start practicing Pilates?
I spent five years studying to be an osteopath and on graduating felt that there was a huge gap in my knowledge regarding safe and effective exercise to give my patients in order to aid their recovery. Another osteopath who had graduated a year before me was going through the instructor training programme with Polestar Pilates and gave me some free lessons in order to practice his teaching. I was immediately hooked. Not only was the equipment supportive, helping you to find the right connections in your body, so perfect for the injured clients recovery it was also damn hard! My first experience of the Wunda chair was the Going Up Front exercise and I can remember not actually being able to get the pedal to move. I think many of us have a love/hate relationship with the chair, we’re fine now but it was a rocky start! After promising myself that following my very gruelling academic and clinical exams to gain my osteopathy qualification that I was not going to sit another exam for a very long time I signed up for the Polestar Pilates Rehabilitation Instructor course.
After gaining my certification with Polestar I went on to work in a few studios with varying styles, both clinical and (don’t hate me) fitness Pilates. Now I have opened my own home studio and I’m free to practice exactly how I want. I’m heavily influenced by taking more and more further education with first and second generation teachers. Having a more contemporary qualification I’m interested in re-certifying soon with a classical course. I feel for me it’s important to know Pilates as Mr Pilates himself practiced it. I had many incorrect preconceptions about what classical Pilates was that I picked up along the way from people who clearly had no idea themselves. Disclaimer, this was not from my Polestar instructors
Do you participate in workshops on a regular basis?
I consider myself a baby in the Pilates world. You never stop learning and there is always someone out there who has more to share and luckily for us all is generous enough to share what they know. The most inspiring workshop for me has been the Kathy Grant Heritage Training® that I took with Cara Reeser this year. I could go on for pages about how wonderful this course was! The aim is to build a community that lasts beyond the duration of the course to carry on the work that Kathy Grant created in order to help her students. This was primarily to enable them to dance. Kathy came to Mr Pilates as an injured dancer and herself healed many dancers. Like Mr Pilates she was fascinated by movement and developed exercises and visualisations that get you through the roadblocks in your body. These skills can then all be transferred into the Pilates exercises we know so well. This results in an ease and flow of movement, especially in some of the more challenging exercises. The group is small, just sixteen of us and we worked together for eight days and then had a couple of months break before meeting up recently for a further eight days. After the break the difference in everyone’s movement, the way they held their bodies and their teaching was staggering.
Though there is no substitute for real interaction in a workshop I am also an avid user of virtual Pilates studio subscription sites. I had a great day studying in person with Kathi Ross-Nash this year but have also spent many, many hours reviewing her workshops and classes online! The great thing about Social Media is the opportunity it gives us to connect with others who share our passion for Pilates, so if there is something I need clarified Kathi is just a Facebook message away. Though I can not afford to go to all the conferences I would like to I can at least get a flavour of all the wonderful teachers who are out there.
What made you decide to make Pilates your profession?
For me it felt like a more natural fit than osteopathy and I’m still trying to work out what is the perfect balance of the two in my working life. I have to say it really fires me up every day I am going to be teaching, I get so excited! Another instructor friend (We have never met but are Facebook buds, the wonders of the internet!) posted the other day that she had to deal with a very negative and draining client. However, she posted that she was thankful for this as it really is a rare occurrence and that the rest of her time teaching is a total delight with wonderful clients who know she is there to help them and really appreciate it. This struck a chord with me as I know far too many people who’s work life is unrelenting stress and dealing with negative people all day every day. We get to do something that makes a huge difference to the quality of people’s lives and that is very special.
Do you own a studio?
I have a home studio that is one of the spare bedrooms in my flat. After working in noisy and crowded studios it really is a little piece of heaven for me. I do miss the buzz and interaction of a studio but for now I get my fix of that by going to them as a client. I’m very near to Hampstead in North London in a lovely tree lined road. The flat is in the roof of the property so there are some challenging moments trying to move around the apparatus without banging my head. I’ve been open for seven months now and only bumped my head once which isn’t bad!
I have a Balanced Body Centerline Reformer with a tower attachment and Centerline Wunda Chair. Both pieces were designed by the Taylor sisters of The Pilates Center in conjunction with Balanced Body and have used dimensions taken from pieces of equipment that Joseph Pilates built himself. Many of the exercises feel much better on them, they just seem to fit. I did invest in a set of wheels for the reformer that Peak Pilates produced that completely change the feel of the how the reformer moves and what connections you make in order to do the exercises. I went into this in quite some detail on my blog. I also built my own Pedi Pole. I figured I already had the handles and springs and was more than capable of attaching a pole to a piece of wood! It has been a very popular piece of equipment, especially with clients who previously over used their upper shoulder muscles on any arm work.
What did you have to invest (people, time, money) to get your studio running?
Being a small studio I only had to invest some savings in the equipment I needed. If anyone is thinking of setting up a similar operation I would strongly encourage them to go for it. The freedom of working from home is liberating. Next year we may remodel our flat which means eventually my studio will move to a larger room. At this point I will decide whether to purchase a larger variety of equipment for my privates (Oh Ladder Barrel how I have missed you!) or purchase another Chair and Wall Tower in order to offer duets. The great thing is the business can grow with me when it is ready and if I have a quiet week I just have to worry about paying the mortgage and not the mortgage plus studio rental.
What is your favorite brand of apparatus (Gratz, Peak Pilates, Balanced Body, Stott Pilates, Basi, Basil or other)?
I love my Balanced Body pieces, I find them really aesthetically pleasing as well as great to work out on, after a couple of tweaks to the reformer! I have also really enjoyed working on the Gratz equipment in other studios and hope over time to purchase a few pieces. There are now more options in the UK now as small scale equipment producers are appearing. Also, there’s nothing like proudly working out on equipment you built yourself!
What Pilates apparatus is your favourite and why?
It has to be the Cadillac for its ability to allow you to defy gravity. There’s nothing like the look of joy and often surprise on a client’s face when they try out the flying leg springs series the first time.
What Pilates exercise is your favorite and why?
All the variations of bridging on various pieces of apparatus. It can tell you a lot about how a client moves and inform your next exercise. You can use different variations to work on flexibility, mobility or strength or stamina. It’s one of my go to exercises.
Do you experience difficulties keeping your clients because of the current economic crisis?
I’ve been lucky enough to start my business when the economy is not in such a poor state. I think there is also a shift in mental attitudes where clients are willing to spend more on maintaining their health and see it as a worthy investment, rather than having to spend money when things go wrong.
Did you solve your own body issues or do you keep them under control with Pilates?
Its always a work in progress. As a teacher I can tend to obsess about perfection and nerd out on things that others probably wouldn’t even notice or be bothered by. After working hard this year my slight kyphosis is improving and my knock knees are also showing improvement. Again obsessing with details but above all its how Pilates makes me feel that makes me practice it every day. You just feel amazing and I can’t get enough of that!
Do you have a target audience?
As an osteopath I like to work with people who are recovering from back injuries or who have chronic pain. It’s really rewarding to see these clients progress. I also love working with expectant and new mothers. The body goes through such changes during these periods, it can be a physical and emotional roller coaster and it’s a real privilege to offer support at this time.
How many lessons do you teach each week?
As my business is young I tend to see about ten to fourteen privates a week and I’m starting to see clients refer friends which always helps.
Who is your favorite person that you would love to teach a Pilatesclass?
I have to say Adele. Probably because I can imagine her being a nightmare chatty client who wouldn’t keep quiet but the whole experience would be so funny. On a serious note she has been criticised for her body which is unfair when she is clearly taken steps to live a healthier lifestyle than when she became famous in her late teens and I’m sure exercise has been a big part of that. As we all know Pilates is brilliant for the health of our organs as well as our muscles and I’d love to help to keep that voice in tip top shape for us all to enjoy!
In the Netherlands there are more female Pilates trainers than male. How is that in your country and more specific in your area?
I am quite used to being the occasional male in most workshops though you do see more and more of us. I think it does work against me from a safety point of view for new clients, especially as I have a home studio but that is one of the reasons I’m grateful for my regular clients recommending their friends and family. On a lighter note one studio I worked in had the usual ratio of probably 90% female clients. One day the lunchtime class was all male and the instructor could not switch off her autopilot and kept calling the group ladies. The guys had a good sense of humour about it.
What is your own vision of Pilates?
I attended a lecture with Dr Brent Anderson of Polestar Pilates last year where he stated that in the USA he predicted in the next ten years health insurance companies will likely be less happy to reimburse their policy holders for more hands on approaches to their ailments and will be more willing to fund active approaches such as Pilates. This is something I would love to see. Pilates boomed at a time when there was a growing interest in exercise and to a certain extent the aesthetic of how it made you look. Now though we still all want to look good there is also a focus on our health and making the investment for our own continuing good health. I see so many people that I think Pilates will help but they may not even consider it or may not be able to afford lessons. I’d love to see it become available for more people.
I’d love to see more guys doing Pilates. I think the increasing visibility of male instructors helps this and I certainly repost any Social Media images and stories of male sportsmen doing Pilates. Men are probably just as influenced by what what celebrities are doing but they are probably more comfortable saying they are trying something out because a sportsman is doing it!
Pilates is something that is never going to stop fascinating me. I feel more passionate about this amazing system than when I started to explore it seven years ago and I look forward to feeding and growing that passion every day!
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