My Story (Susanna Foustok Founder of PURE Pilates)

The journey of becoming a Pilates teacher, a good Pilates teacher, is very long and often frustrating. When I first started studying the method, I had no idea that it would become my life, my passion and my happiness. But it wasn’t an easy road and it took almost a decade for me to get there. With little knowledge then on the differences of what is called the “classical” and the “contemporary” Pilates, I chose to study with a school that was well known around the world but belonged to the latter category. Several years after studying, certifying, teaching this “modern” style of Pilates, I became bored and disillusioned. I felt like I was missing something.

By luck I had a lesson with a teacher that was highly trained in the traditional method and my life changed. I realised to my huge disappointment that what had been missing all along was Pilates! The essence of the work that Joseph Pilates had been developing all his life. What I had been studying all those years wasn’t his work, his method, but a modified, diluted version of it. It had been adapted to make it more commercial, more suitable for bigger groups, for videos, for certification programs, while changing the method along the way.  People that hadn’t understood the work themselves had changed Joe’s work to “improve” it.

After experiencing the original method, the true work of Joe Pilates, I knew I had to get as close to the origin as I could get. I wasn’t going to waste any more time on learning something that was called Pilates but was not the work of late Joe Pilates! I needed to get to the heart of true Pilates, contrology, as Joe called it. It took some time and on my journey I found many amazing classical teachers but it wasn’t until I met Jay Grimes, a man who was there in Joe’s studio for many years, that I felt that I found home … my Pilates home. Everything started to make sense, and there was no longer any confusion … only hard sweaty workouts. With my new mentor, I felt like I was learning Joes’s incredible work in its pure form without ballet, physio or foam rollers. And although I felt that I had finally arrived to the right place, I also knew that my journey was never going to end … I was always going to be on this path of discovery and learning. That’s how amazing true Pilates is … it is a never ending journey of self discovery.

The Birth of PURE

Naming the studio was easy. I wanted the name to reflect directly the concept behind it which was to deliver people authentic Pilates in the purest form possible. So much of the Pilates people encounter all over the world is unfortunately not Pilates, the work of Joe Pilates. In fact, it is quite difficult to find studios even in major cities that teach the original work. Learning to teach the method takes years… you won’t find a good Pilates teacher in every corner. Also the studio needs to have all the pieces of equipment that Joe Pilates invented and there are a lot of them! Reformer, cadillac, spine corrector, ladder barrel, wunda chair, electric chair, pedi pull, quillotine, foot corrector, baby chair, neck stretcher, toe name a few. Each piece of apparatus has its purpose, a job to do, to change bodies. The more I felt the magic of the method in my own body, the more evident it became to me that I needed to share it with as many people as I could. People need Pilates..authentic Pilates..because it works!

PURE was born from this desire to share Joe’s amazing work, his brilliance. People who knew him called him “the genius of the body”, and it is so true as every day I get to witness how his method works magic in my students no matter what the issues are. That is the reason that I haven’t got bored with my job, and I continue to be excited about it and how it changes peoples bodies for the better.

We want PURE to be your new Pilates home, a comfortable and welcoming place where you can come and feel the magic yourself.

Corrective exercise, not just exercise…

I have the pleasure of owning an original copy of the Readers’ Digest from 1934. In this old publication, Joseph Pilates shared a lot of wisdom in an article called Cutting a Fine Figure, wisdom that I feel is still overlooked by the present society.
Joseph Pilates said: “Sports are wonderful for the constitution generally but they are off little value for correcting what’s wrong with you and there’s something wrong with almost everyone. “Corrective exercise” is the only way to build a beautiful, strong, youthful body.”

In my 12 years of teaching, I have never seen a perfect body. We ALL  have asymmetries in our bodies. We ALL need corrective exercise. A lot of people do sports regularly yet they get injured, suffer from pain or or still have protruding  stomachs, weak backs and cranky knees. The asymmetries slowly takes a toll on the body especially if we do exercise that is repetitious. Without corrective exercise, we keep getting stronger where we are strong and weaker we were are weak. The body is very clever. Without us even being aware, it will take the easiest route to execute a movement. Strong muscles take over the work of the dormant ones, increasing the imbalances instead of developing the body uniformly. In order for us to wake up those sleeping muscles and restore balance, we need to exercise mindfully. This is why some people call Pilates mind body exercise. Its not that we meditating when moving but just concentrating bloody hard! That is why there is not music in Pilates! Nor should there be group classes of 10 people with the teacher telling them all the same thing. Each and evert body is different and needs to work on different issues. This is what makes Pilates so interesting for an intelligent  teacher but also very confusing for the less experienced one.

In the article, Joe goes on describing the roll up, the second exercise in the mat repertoire. It starts by lengthening the whole spine on the mat, then rolling up smoothly so that every part of the spine is moving. As you roll forward into sitting, you increase the spine stretch by pulling your stomach in an up further before you roll the spine back down to the mat. Joe believed that this restores the spine’s mobility and and corrects any excessive curves it may have.

All the exercises that Joe developed have a specific purpose and when done correctly and frequently enough, they supple the spine and strengthen the centre. The key however is to execute the movement correctly using the right muscles, and this is where having a good teacher is invaluable. She/he can identify what muscles are overworking and which ones are weak, and guide you through a workout that will create symmetry and balance in your body. You need to get your dose of corrective exercise so that you can lead a healthy, active and balanced life!

Confused on what is the best way to DO Pilates?

Since the opening of PURE, I have been lucky to have so many lovely clients from different backgrounds. Some of them have done Pilates before in different studios or fitness centres, and for some it is a completely new experience. Many of them seem to be confused on how Pilates should be done and rightfully so. Most studios and gyms offer groups classes of 8 or more where the teacher instructs all the clients on the same things. The teacher spends the majority of his/her time on telling people what to do, when to do it and how to do it, leaving very little time if any to observe how the clients move and how to correct them individually. I call this generic teaching, something we try to stay away from at the studio, as you are teaching people only on the surface, giving cues that apply to all of them. But Pilates doesn’t work like that, it is corrective exercise as Joe Pilates called it and it should be individual to every person.

Ideally Pilates should be done privately or in small groups where the client does the routine that he/she has learned in the private lessons. For Pilates to do its magic, the teacher must be able to choose the correct exercises for every person.This brings me to the second source of confusion, levels. I have people coming to me telling me that they are level 2 or intermediate or something that classifies their practise. But quoting my mentor Jay Grimes; “There are no levels in Pilates, only suitable exercises”. Each person will progress through the Pilates repertoire at different speed. People come with such different mindsets and expectations,I find that the progress of the client is often not related to their physical strength but to their ability to concentrate and take instruction. You need to be able to think less with your head and more with your body, concentrate on how the body feels when it moves.

Right, so my advice on the best way to DO Pilates is to get as many privates where you can learn your routine of exercises that are specifically for you. You can then also do it in group setting. In our studio, we call these classes PURE class, where you do your own individualised workout with other people at the same time. This is how Joe’s studio worked. For some people this is initially a hard concept but well worth the effort. You will be responsible for learning your own workout so that the teacher can use her time doing what she is supposed to do, observe how you move and guide you through the workout. As Joseph’s protege Romana used to say; “I can’t correct you if you are not moving”. So learn your exercises, get moving and let Pilates do its magic!

Pilates for horses

Apart from Pilates, my passion has always been horse riding. I have been riding since I was 6 years old and currently compete in Advanced level in dressage. For me dressage is like Pilates for horses, we have the same goals, to stretch the back, to make the spine flexible, to engage the hindquarters and make the horse carry himself better using his stomach and buttocks.

Before I started Pilates, I never really thought about it like that. Your teacher would keep saying that the horse is not “through” and you really didn’t understand what that meant. You were always looking for a feeling but sometimes I was so hard to grasp. Well, now I truly understand what my trainer was talking about as I have felt it in my own body in Pilates. When I do for example spine stretch forward, an exercise where we deeply round the back, it is so clearly felt, but only if you know how to engage your seat, and your thighs and lift the stomach in and up. The action of scooping your stomach against the back to lift and lengthen it while your buttocks pull the lower back down under you, is truly a magical feeling. It’s being “through the back”. I think every horse rider should feel that! It will also make you understand the concept of “long and low” when we stretch the horse in the beginning and end of the session. Again, it is not about letting the horse stretch down and drag himself around with heavy front legs, but to create a true stretch through the whole length of the horses back. This can only be achieved if the horse will lift up his stomach muscles and propel himself with his hindquarters. The same applies to collecting. I see so many riders happily thinking that their horse in on an outline with his neck jammed in and back hollow. Boy do they have it all wrong!

Collection starts where long and low ended, starting to be able to pick up that supply spine and asking the horse to increase the weight on his hind legs and lightening his front. For this, he needs first of all a supple spine, and secondly strong stomach. Very few riders think about the horses abs!! But this is their powerhouse just like for us when we do Pilates. You see its all the same! Pilates is dressage for humans and dressage is Pilates for horses when done correctly. If you want to improve your riding, first make sure you have a powerhouse. How otherwise is the horse expected to find his?