Half Moon Bay Review: In Fine Shape

Wednesday, October 1, 2003
— by Stacy Trevenon

Nationally known Moss Beach trainer and his wife marry Pilates and yoga in new video

Tom McCook gives wife Karen deMoor pointers on her Pilates technique in their Moss Beach homeEnjoying working out — and wanting to clobber every one of his eight brothers — stand out among childhood memories for Moss Beach resident Tom McCook.

He never did lay a hand on his brothers. But he did learn about how the human body works.

So much so that today McCook, 41, is certified in an astonishing number of fitness, movement, body therapy and coaching disciplines. He's gained national recognition as a fitness and movement specialist and teacher, and with wife Karen deMoor, just released a video blending Pilates and yoga.

"Tom has done a lot," grins deMoor, who brings fitness, business, financial and media skills to the family fitness studio, Center of Balance.

Center of Balance runs on balance: McCook does the teaching, deMoor handles finances and media relations.

"There is no reason a person has to get decrepit," insists the lithe, vibrant McCook. "You can live to a vibrant old age if you know how to take care of yourself. You have to be aware of what you need and how you feel."

The video, "Combining Pilates and Yoga for Balance," centers on two things that define McCook's life and teaching styles: fitness and balance.

The couple hope to make the video available through amazon.com and internationally through Australian sportswoman (and McCook client) Shane Gould. It sets a smooth tone at once with a beginning sequence of McCook going seamlessly through a series of Pilates movements to a soothing acoustic musical background.

Then it explains Pilates basics and goes into 45-minute "Flow" with Pilates and yoga so that it's hard to tell which is which.

"Pilates and yoga support the way our bodies are designed to move," McCook said in a statement. "In addition to helping create core strength, flexibility and better fitness, the breath-linking movements of this practice will deepen the connection between your body and mind. You'll gain more awareness, which can positively affect every area of your life."

Developed by Joseph Pilates to help rehabilitate soldiers injured in World War I, the Pilates method conditions the entire body, working from the inside out to develop core strength and flexibility, long and lean musculature, awareness and balance. Add the flexibility, focus and breathing techniques of yoga, and you have "an awareness of how to move every part of the body," McCook said. "You're more efficient and less likely to injure yourself. You want body alignment from head to toe."

And that's not just in the gym."This translates into life. How you drive, how you sit at your desk at work - there's a big carryover.

"It's an approach McCook developed over 18 years of study, education and teaching with the Mountain View-based Center of Balance, where he offers individual and group instruction in Pilates, body therapy and life coaching.

Tom McCook's DVDGrowing up on the East Coast, McCook "really enjoyed the feeling of working out, learning about the body." But he didn't like exercise. "I watched how people trained - it was awful."

He came to the West Coast in 1982, immersed himself in sports at Foothill College, and eventually taught at Gold's Gym.

In 1988 he discovered shiatsu, and soon became certified. "That was a big change in how to work with the body. More holistically.

"That set him on a path of integrating bodywork into fitness, a direction he pursued through studying at the Lomi School and Feldenkrais. In 1995, he began studying Ashtanga yoga.

He received national certification in therapeutic massage, teacher training in meridian/craniosacral therapy, and has undergone intensive focus-counseling training.

"The goal is to pay attention to what you're doing, as opposed to seeing how much you can do," he said. "It's economical, effective, fluid, more important than making muscles.

"You want to make the body smart. It's more working in than working out."

DeMoor's background, though more mental than physical, is no less dedicated than his.

A college political science major deeply interested in international development issues, she had been the national press director for Oxfam, which supports developing communities, and worked with Pesticide Action.

Now 35, deMoor practices Pilates and yoga every day and feels that "my body is healthier than ever."

So is her husband's resume. He and Center of Balance were profiled in Women's Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Self and other national magazines. He's been on the "Today Show" and "Evening Magazine."

"For the past two years he has trained Olympic Gold medal swimmers Jenny Thompson and Misty Hyman.

"This is our life," said deMoor. "It all flows. Nine to five doesn't exist. We love our life."

McCook's next goal? To bring bodywork to schoolchildren, to "improve their self-esteem and enhance the learning process."

The Center of Balance can be reached at (650) 967-6414.

San Jose Magazine - Stretching the Bounds

September / October 2000
Page 126
— by Kit Sturman

San Jose Magazine September 2000Could any other place be more results-oriented and time-driven than Silicon Valley? Produce, execute and accomplish as many tasks in the shortest amount of time possible, thank you very much.

We approach fitness the same way. And Pilates, the body-conditioning exercise routine with the hard-to-pronounce name, (pul-LAH-teez), is a multi-goal workout. To understand it, you must concentrate on you body. Inhale into your chest, ribcage and back without lifting your shoulders.

Exhale, and draw the navel toward your spine without bending through the middle of your body. Drop your shoulders away from your ears and drop your chin slightly forward. Do all that and you're already a step closer to understanding what Pilates-based exercise is all about.

The Pilates method has been around for about 80 years and its practitioners laud it for its efficiency, effectiveness and mind-body connection. Athletes and celebrities are doing it, and Pilates is gaining notoriety with the mainstream fitness community and consumer, albeit at a glacial pace.

Pilates-based conditioning simultaneously strengthens and stretches muscles using the body's own resistance in a series of fluid movements. First performed on the mat, the sequence of moves can be transferred to specifically designed equipment.

The key to Pilates is that movement and stability come from the powerhouse or core muscles of the body - the lower back, abdomen, hips and buttocks. Thus, the entire body is engaged fully in each exercise.

The combination of simultaneously stretching and strengthening along with performing few repetitions helps to develop long, lean muscles, muscular balance and improved posture.

"Most of the time we are unaware and fragmented in our approach to exercise and training,"says Tom McCook, who teaches Pilates-based exercise, yoga and resistance stretching at his Mountain View studio, Center of Balance. "People look at arm and leg movement and spend too much time exercising them as separate parts of the body."

Tom McCook training Olympic swimmer Jenny Thompson at Center of BalanceThis is something the lean, 190-pound, 6-foot-1-inch McCook says he did when he was formerly a 220-pound bodybuilder. He would add a few crunches and stretches for the body and call it a day, says McCook, who's founder and director of Center of Balance.

He hasn't lifted weights for nine years and says he's actually stronger now, thanks to Pilates. McCook says it's because when you perform Pilates, movement comes form the center of the body and you attune to what your body needs for balance.

"Pilates exercises give you the ability to become more mindful of your body," McCook says. "It's self-awareness through movement."

And it's usually performed in a quiet composed environment.

So it's more relaxing than pumping iron at a typical gym, where there are headsets, TVs and whatever else to serve as a distraction. McCook's Center of Balance, on the other hand, provides calm surroundings as meditative or New Age music plays in the background.

Some Pilates exercises look much like yoga or other traditional workouts. In order to adapt to the subtleties of technique in breathing and posture, and to learn the sequence of movements, participants begin with mat work.

A good instructor will provide direction and verbal cues to help in adapting to the nuances of a mat. For instance, you have to anchor your torso for stability while lengthening your spine and neck.

The mat series of movements then shifts to equipment and is best done worth an instructor in a one-on-one or small-group format.

Of the several pieces of equipment possible, the Universal Reformer, which resembles a single wood-frame bed with a sliding platform, is the most widely used and known. An adjustable, spring and pulley system are attached to the Reformer and provide resistance.

The teachings of Joseph H Pilates are the basis of each technique and sequence of movements on the floor and with the equipment.

Swimmers typically have lower back and shoulder injuries due to muscle imbalance, McCook says, and Pilates can help overcome that. Athletes also want an intense training that will increase their performance level without straining their joints.

Again, that's where Pilates comes into play.

McCook has worked with athletes including women from the Stanford University Swim Team. Many have worked with him to train for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Working individually with American record-holder, swimmer, Jenny Thompson and Stanford women's swim team member, Misty Hyman, McCook hones in on body awareness, energy management and troubleshoots areas of weakness.

McCook says that prior to and in between an athletes event, muscles should be in a state of relaxation. "If muscles and joints are tensed, tight and hard at rest, blood flow is inhibited, and the energy for the arms and legs won't be available when it's time to perform, McCook says.

The principle of body awareness, whether you're in competitive sports, in rehab or in a 12-hour workday, is part of functional fitness. And that's one of the reasons Pilates conditioning is gaining popularity.

Aesthetics are still important, but functional fitness is about maintaining energy throughout daily tasks, reducing stress and being injury free.

"People want more depth from their exercise program. They want it to contribute to their quality of life," McCook says. "Your entire mind-body awareness carries over to self-care and your ability to enjoy life. Pilates is a natural movement toward the right actions for your life."

The Pilates Phenomenon: Where do we go from here?

— by Mary Monroe
"Ten years ago, Pilates took the industry by storm; today, Pilates teachers and business owners answer one question: What happens next?"

This spring, CNBC reported that Pilates is the nation’s fastest-growing activity, with 8.6 million participants, up more than 450% since 2000, based on the most recent report from the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (Rovell 2010). In reality, participation may have peaked mid-decade (American Sports Data Inc. reported 10.5 million participants in 2004), but clearly Pilates has staying power. The 2010 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Trends report (see page 22) found that Pilates continues to grow while several other mind-body formats are declining. The American College of Sports Medicine ranked Pilates in its top 10 trends for 2010, along with two close cousins, core training and functional fitness.

So far, Pilates has had quite a ride in the fitness industry, but it hasn’t been without bumps. As programming gets ever more creative, Pilates advocates have raised questions of safety, adequacy of training and method authenticity—and some experts ask whether Pilates and fitness really belong together, after all.

Two Worlds Collide

“In the ’80s, people thought Pilates was some kind of training for pilots,” laughs Kathy Corey, owner of West Coast Pilates, developer of the CORE Band™ and an active leader in the Pilates community for over 30 years. “I remember when I wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times on mind-body exercise, the editor asked me if I’d lost my mind—because nobody was going to want to read about that. But Pilates had fairly steady growth until around 2000, when it just exploded.”

The rapid growth this decade surprised Corey. “I never thought Pilates would become as mainstream as it has. I always thought it would be more accepted by a select group. But I think it’s so popular because it’s very versatile—there’s something in it for everyone—and because it makes people feel better. When you have something that makes people feel better, they’re going to come back.”

Nora St. John, education program director of Balanced Body® University, believes that the popularity of Pilates may also have to do with its long-term appeal. “I have clients who have been with me for 20 years. The fact that you can keep learning is very seductive to clients.”

An increasing focus on core training, integrative exercise, mind-body fitness and functional fitness has brought the universes of fitness and Pilates together, says St. John. “For a long time, Pilates offered one thing and fitness offered something else. Now the two worlds are coming together, especially at the more advanced level, such as in personal training. You see more fitness in Pilates studios and more Pilates in fitness clubs.”

Equipment usage is another area where Pilates professionals are seeing growth and overlap with the fitness world. “Instructors, fitness professionals and Pilates enthusiasts alike are showing interest in workout routines that incorporate a combination of large and small equipment, used at the same time,” says Lindsay G. Merrithew, president, chief executive officer and co-founder of STOTT PILATES®. “With a trend towards multifunctional, multipurpose Pilates equipment, it is clear that facility owners and at-home exercisers want to use their equipment in a number of ways, without limitations.”

Of course, there can be sparks when worlds collide. “The last 10 years Pilates has been on a very fast train,” says Michael King. He has been working with the Pilates technique for more than 27 years and is the founding director of the Pilates Institute in London. His Pilates programs are taught in at least 26 countries worldwide.

“The growth has been great, but there have also been challenges,” says King. “I think what has happened is similar to what happened to fitness in the 1980s. Fitness club owners used to be fitness enthusiasts themselves, but then clubs became corporate, and big business became part of all our lives. It used to be that people who had personal experience with Pilates ran studios. Today, Pilates is often big business, and we see the market dominated by equipment companies fighting with their own branding. It reminds me of the shoe companies in the early days. They created a platform for learning, but we had to remember that it isn’t the shoe that makes a great instructor—it’s knowledge and skill.”

Pure Principles, Plus Innovation

The thorniest philosophical area in Pilates continues to be the debate between “classical” and “contemporary” Pilates. Nearly every conversation is shadowed by the question “What would (founders) Joseph and Clara think about this?”

“It’s all interpretation of what we think Joseph Pilates would do, but no one really knows, because he’s [no longer with us],” says Ton Voogt. Voogt and his longtime collaborator, Michael Fritzke, worked with famed Romana Kryzanowska for over 10 years in New York City, where they were teacher trainers for her original international Pilates certification program. They co-own ZENIRGY LLC and created the revolutionary TRIADBALL™, two DVD lines and several Pilates certification programs.

“The reality is that when you talk to ‘first-generation’ teachers, such as Romana—the ones who worked directly with Joe and Clara—they all had such different experiences. That may be one reason we get a lot of different perspectives about what authentic Pilates is,” says Voogt.

Despite the fact that Voogt and Fritzke come from a generally “classical” background, they are strong believers in innovation. They point out that Pilates was initially created for military men as a fitness discipline before it became a favorite of dancers. “Pilates is actually a really good fit for fitness; it was never meant to be just for dancers or for rehabilitation. The beauty of Pilates is that it can be adapted. We’re in favor of evolving. Just don’t call it Pilates if it goes too far. Call it Pilates-based.”

Voogt and Fritzke note that the phrase “classical Pilates” sometimes implies rigidity or a lack of open-mindedness about the method. “You never heard that term 10 years ago, and I think it gets misconstrued,” says Fritzke. “Joseph Pilates himself said, ‘I teach for the body in front of me.’ He believed in adaptation for every client.”

St. John agrees, saying, “Joseph Pilates was a serious innovator, and he innovated until the end of his life. I think he would have wanted us to keep growing.”

While innovation is welcomed even among many Pilates “purists,” straying from the basic principles of the Pilates method is not. “If you’re not teaching the principles, it’s not Pilates,” says Kevin Bowen, education director at Peak Pilates® and co-founder of the Pilates Method Alliance®. “If you know the principles well, such as working with breath and [having] a commitment to working with the body as a whole, you can carry those principles into any setting.”

Corey adds that some diversity among teachers is inevitable, no matter how “pure” your approach. “We’re like a wheel, and at the hub we have Joseph and Clara. As teachers we come from our own backgrounds and experience to create the spokes. My mentor, Kathy Grant, who worked with Joseph Pilates, told me that even if you try to teach an exercise exactly as your teacher did, with the exact breathwork and repetitions, you won’t be able to do it, because as soon as you do the exercise, it becomes your own.”

More Mind-Body Focus

Is it “real” Pilates if it’s in the gym? Some experts believe that the true mind-body essence of Pilates is simply not suited to the noisy, distracting club environment, especially in group settings. However, many believe that the determining factor is not location, but quality of instruction.

“Consumers may not have a good experience in Pilates if they don’t feel the muscle work and they completely miss the mind-body connection. They can go through the exercises like robots,” says Leslee Bender, founder of The Pilates Coach and the Bender Method. She has certi?ed thousands of Pilates trainers internationally and has produced over 25 DVDs. “Stellar instructors will have you feel everything. That comes with practice and with passion.”

Tom McCook, founder of Center of Balance, a personal trainer and a nationally recognized ?tness and movement specialist, focuses on the mind-body connection and incorporates the Franklin Method®, meditation and life coaching along with Pilates in his studio. “I think the mind-body perspective needs to be emphasized for clients, so they pay attention to the movement, center before they begin the exercise, and get the most out of what they’re about to do. Without the mind-body connection, clients can miss the maximum benefit of Pilates.”

More Comprehensive Education

Most instructors agree on two ideas: inadequate instructor training is one of the scariest issues in Pilates today, and more comprehensive education is the direction of the future.

“I think today more teachers are integrating anatomy into their training,” says McCook. “They’re spending more time on education. You have to put the hours in if you want to become a competent teacher. I tell teachers to be realistic and consider that education will take years rather than months.”

Reservations abound for “weekend trainings,” which don’t allow enough time to develop competency. However, weekend modules can provide a practical, affordable format for ongoing training.

St. John explains that modular weekend trainings are typically meant to be part of a total program of training. “We tell our teachers that you’re going to need to put in a lot of hours. We are constantly developing new education programs because we believe so strongly in the importance of comprehensive, high-quality education. Right now there’s a huge range of skill level out there, and when education is on the low end, it’s always a disaster. It can be unsafe and create negative experiences for clients. It’s the opposite of what you want to have.”

St. John and other teachers note that a shakedown of sorts may already be in progress. Unqualified teachers and studios are struggling in a challenging economy; increasingly sophisticated clients know the difference between a good instructor and a poor one.

“The marketplace does work,” says St. John. “If you care more about making money than quality, you won’t do well.”

Says Bowen, “At first it was hard to sell clubs on the idea that you need well-trained Pilates instructors, but that’s changing. There is more understanding that quality programming and instruction pay off with long-term results and profit.”

Bender is an outspoken advocate for safety and in-depth education. “Injuries are a serious concern. Many Baby Boomers can’t do the movements that are being asked of them in some of these classes. They could work up to them with careful, progressive training, but they’re not getting that in a big mat class. Teachers need to understand the biomechanics of human movement and the basics of functional fitness.”

Bender adds, “I’m not saying throw out current exercises, but evaluate them. There can be detrimental effects to the lumbar spine from [doing] flexion exercises for an extended period of time on a flat surface. We need instructors who think critically, teach rather than perform and make sure the exercise fits the client, rather than the other way around.”

More Group & Fusion Programming

Group Pilates programs, especially group equipment classes, undoubtedly cause the greatest quality and safety concerns. Some instructors feel that group sessions are simply a bad idea; others believe they hold great potential for offering Pilates benefits to a broader range of people. “The industry had to become creative to address the economy, but quality instruction is critical to safety and success in the group setting,” says Bowen.

Group, small-group and fee-based personal training in Pilates are all finding their way into the diverse fitness arena. “Large gyms, studios and community centers have been offering Pilates mat work classes for a very long time, but many found that reformer and Stability Chair™ classes were more successful as a fee-based personal training program,” says Merrithew. “Owners designate a space in their facility exclusively for private, semiprivate and small-group Pilates trainings so that fee-based exercise does not interfere with group exercise programs.”

Another growing trend is fusion exercise, which merges Pilates with other disciplines. STOTT PILATES has produced a series of DVDs titled Pilates-Infused™ Yoga, which teach a unique hybrid of yoga-specific poses while also considering the STOTT PILATES principles. Pilates is being combined with sport-specific programming and plyometric exercises as well.

One of the most creative examples of fusion in the industry may well be the combination of Pilates and indoor cycling created when Mad Dogg Athletics Inc., which developed the Spinning® program, acquired Peak Pilates last year.

“I know there’s a lot of rumors floating around about where this will lead,” says Bowen. “This is the first time integrated fitness has come together this way in the industry. The truth is that there’s a great synergy. It’s given us a chance to tap into new markets, such as places that offer Spinning but not Pilates. The interest from the Spinning community has been great, and we’re teaching Pilates fundamentals to Spinning instructors so they can become better teachers from a more holistic approach.”

Exploring New Markets

The versatility of Pilates may be its best asset for the future. Experts believe that a number of markets have yet to be fully developed, including men, older adults and teens.

STOTT PILATES has created “Specialty Tracks” to educate instructors on working with postrehab patients, athletes, the active-aging population, teens and pre/postnatal women. Reaching out to new markets can also spur innovation. In creating programming specific to rehab and postrehab clients, STOTT PILATES has developed reformers that are higher off the ground (for easier mounts and dismounts) and allow for a greater range of functional movement.

More specialization of skills is also anticipated. “Now we have Pilates in hospitals; physical therapy clinics; spas; football, rugby and tennis clubs; [and] many golf clubs,” notes King. “Pilates will become much more specialized.”

More Creative Equipment (Big and Small)

While some instructors prefer a simpler approach, the growing influence of equipment is clear. Apart from the rising popularity of working with large and small equipment at the same time, says Merrithew, there is increasing interest in offering Pilates circuit training, in which groups navigate through the studio, using all equipment options available.

“The most sought-after equipment is durable, multifunctional and fit for small spaces,” he adds. “Many health club facilities looking to break into the Pilates market cannot dedicate one room solely for Pilates exercise. But facilities can increase nondues revenue [by providing] equipment that can be stacked or rolled away when not in use.”

Creativity has also flourished in the development and use of small props. “I believe in different strokes for different folks,” says Pilates teacher and presenter Norma Shechtman, MEd, MA. “Sometimes one piece of equipment will help one person really feel the exercise, while another person needs a different type of equipment. Pilates is highly individual. I like to use everything—bands, foam rollers, magic circles, the little balls, the BOSU® Balance Trainer, tennis balls, tubing, gliders. I call it ‘Pilates With Toys.’”

Moving Into the Medical Arena

The blockbuster trend in Pilates is the move toward applications in rehabilitation, physical therapy and other medical areas. Pilates is being prescribed by doctors, and reformers are showing up in physical therapists’ offices. For physical therapists who invest in training, Pilates can present an alternative income stream with far less paperwork. For Pilates instructors, the medical community is a growing source of referrals.

“In the medical arena, Pilates has been amazingly successful,” says St. John. “Physical therapists who adopt it love the simplicity and flexibility. Therapists are often limited in the number of times they can see patients and are often restricted to treatments that address isolated parts of the body, while Pilates moves the body as a whole.”

“This is our next great area to explore,” says Corey, who works with physicians and explains the benefits of Pilates for treating arthritis, scoliosis and aging-related conditions. In a program sponsored by the pharmaceutical company Merck, Corey creates “Pilates prescription pads” that physicians can pass on to physical therapists; then she meets with the therapists and the Pilates instructors. “We’re creating a circle of events to link the patient, physician, therapist and instructor.”

The medical trend will also be a catalyst for increased professional standardization in the Pilates community. Says King, “I believe that just as with osteopathy and the chiropractic field, we will see Pilates instructors become more regulated, respected professionals, which will open the door to insurance coverage and raise the quality of practice to new levels.”

More Unity (With Diversity)

Can everybody just get along in the diverse Pilates community? Yes, say experts who see more unity than conflict in the future. “We all have one thing in common—a focus on how to help the client,” says St. John. “At Balanced Body, we want to support different programs and partner with other teacher trainers. We believe there are lots of ways to learn and teach Pilates. The big picture is what’s important.”

Says Bowen, “Sure, everyone can co-exist. We believe in quality education, above all, because you can have the best equipment in the world, but you need the quality of instruction to go with it.”

Fritzke and Voogt believe there is actually much less polarization than there once was in the Pilates community. “I think people are starting to have more respect for each other. Pilates grew so fast that there was a lot of scrambling among companies to prove themselves, but now people are becoming more comfortable with the diversity that exists.”

Pilates has been more fractious in the United States than abroad, say Fritzke and Voogt. “The history of Pilates is American, and maybe that has made us more sensitive here.”

Although the questions of certification and standardization in Pilates are still hotly debated in the United States, King notes that Pilates is government-regulated in a number of countries around the world. “When we provide training in these countries, we answer to external verifiers who make sure we maintain standards,” he says. “In Spain and the United Kingdom, we now have degree courses in Pilates offered at universities. I think this takes us in a positive direction and moves Pilates into new areas of recognition.”

“Bringing the community together is an ongoing challenge. “We have a ways to go, but the direction is toward unifying rather than judging,” say Fritzke and Voogt. “The question isn’t about what’s right or wrong, but what works best for the client.”

Corey sees greater community in the future, as well. “It’s like ice cream. Pilates would be boring if we were all the same flavor. The more styles you learn, the more people you can reach. This is about integration of mind, body and spirit—and it shouldn’t be a mean spirit. It should be the spirit of unity.”

SIDEBAR: Continuing Economic Fallout?

Pilates experts agree that economic factors will continue to play a role in the future. “The economy has affected everyone from the largest to the smallest business,” says Kevin Bowen, education director at Peak Pilates and co-founder of the Pilates Method Alliance. “We may see more Pilates in health clubs and fewer smaller studios, but people aren’t going to stop doing Pilates. We just aren’t going to see the growth rate we had for a while, with new studios opening just blocks from each other.” Overall, Pilates has held its own in a challenging economy. “We’re currently very busy,” says Tom McCook, founder of Center of Balance, a personal trainer and a nationally recognized ?tness and movement specialist. “The only thing we’ve noticed is that some of the mat classes have gotten bigger because it’s an economical way to experience Pilates. We’re in the heart of Silicon Valley. There has been some drop in income in our area, but most people don’t want to let go of what makes them feel good.” The recession has driven the growth of group classes and training sessions. “When we started our Pilates studio, the trend was just personal training; now it’s back to group,” say Katherine and Kimberly Corp, who own and operate Pilates on Fifth, in midtown Manhattan, and who founded the Pilates Academy International. “Our best year was in 2008, but then revenue decreased about 35% in 3 months. We diversified to rebound, with more group mat classes, group reformer classes, Gyrotonic® exercise classes, a ballet bar workout and other programs. Group programs brought a huge influx of clients. We also started renting out space to physical therapists, who refer patients to us.”

SIDEBAR: Pilates as Cross-Training

Experts believe Pilates is likely to become increasingly popular as a cross-training tool. “We see more athletes, performers and weekend warriors looking for Pilates as a cross-training method to complement their other fitness activities,” say Katherine and Kimberly Corp, who own and operate Pilates on Fifth, in midtown Manhattan, and who founded the Pilates Academy International. “People like that we offer a wide variety of activities at our studio, not just Pilates. No one method ‘does it all.’ Pilates is a major piece of the fitness puzzle, but it’s not the whole puzzle.” Enormous public interest in Pilates may initially have created unrealistic expectations, says Michael King, who has been working with the Pilates technique for more than 27 years and is the founding director of the Pilates Institute in London. “We have to give credit to the media for all the great coverage of Pilates, but there have also been times when I have questioned the validity of extreme claims about weight loss or cardiovascular benefits. As a fitness professional, I know lying down is not the best way to raise the heart rate—we have better, more effective fitness methods for that.”

San Francisco Chronicle - Sights on Sydney - Jenny Thompson

August 2, 2000
Jenny Thompson receiving back massages from Tom McCook

Photo Caption: Feet-on-back massages from Tom McCook, weighing in at 190 pounds, help loosen up Jenny Thompson's overworked muscles.

Mountain View Voice: Yoga Boom Hits Mountain View

January 14, 2005
— by Diana Reynolds Roome

A guide to inner peace... and flexibility, balance, strength, endurance...

Mountain View Voice"I remember way back trying not to use the word yoga -- it was too strange. Now it's everywhere," said Elise Browning Miller, founding director of California Yoga Center at the San Antonio Shopping Center.

Though yoga classes have been available locally for years, centers are now so plentiful that choosing between them and various yoga styles can be almost as hard as practicing the Rajakapotasana, or king pigeon pose. 

Energizing and calming at the same time, yoga is an ancient path to physical and mental health originating in India.

Owen Grady on Mountain View Voice 2005

"Yoga is meditation in motion," said Joseph Hentz, founder of Yoga is Youthfulness on Castro Street. "It's about the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. You learn to be present, and slowly, slowly you ... gain health and energy, and with that, a buoyancy so that you're able to deal with negatives and become more optimistic and daring."

Based on the physical disciplines of postures and breathing, yoga increases endurance, strength and flexibility. It also relieves stiffness, tones the body, reduces mental stress and leads to deep relaxation.

Though traditionally rigorous, modern American yoga can be gentle or energetic, and "can be modified for all levels," explained Ann Merlo, instructor at the California Yoga Center where the Iyengar style is taught. "It works with wherever you are."

Mental and spiritual benefits are emphasized to different degrees according to individual teachers and yoga styles. Though classes vary in style or emphasis, all the centers mentioned in this article accommodate a wide range of participants, from beginner to advanced. And teachers often adapt postures (asanas) at different levels of difficulty.

"Asana means easy, comfortable position, so finding that ease is more of a learning process than an exercise," said Julia Roberts, founder of Yoga Explorations in Sunnyvale. "It's not about getting it right but what's going on inside."

Yoga is done without shoes, and clothes should be loose and comfortable. While yoga enthusiasts take their own mats, many studios have mats to lend. Classes are usually one to one-and-a-half hours. Most teachers, especially in smaller classes, will gently adjust individual students' poses.

The following guide is designed to help in finding the yoga class best suited for your needs and goals. (Note: This guide may not cover all local classes.)

California Yoga Center

570 Showers Drive, Suite 5, Mountain View 947-9642, www.californiayoga.com The lowdown: Founded in 1980 in Palo Alto, CYC is one of the first yoga centers in the area. It has some venerable teachers, including Lolly Font, Ann Merlo, Ben Thomas and Elise Miller, both on faculty at Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco.

All classes are based on the Iyengar method, a classic form developed in India where yoga originated. It emphasizes precise alignment and inner awareness. Postures can be modified for all levels; teachers discuss poses and often work with individuals to find their best way to achieve an asana. Emphasis: How you learn is just as important as what you learn. Extras: Classes for back care and scoliosis, prenatal, and pranayama (rhythmic breathing) Nice touch: Workshops and retreats Fees: 8 classes for $112; $14-$17 for drop-in

Center of Balance

1220 Pear Avenue, Suite 1, Mountain View 967-6414, www.centerofbalance.com The lowdown: This studio was listed in "Yoga Journal's" national round-up of the best yoga studios and in "San Francisco" magazine's 2004 Best of the Bay Area.

There's a strong emphasis on physical fitness. Owner/instructor Tom McCook's customers include Olympic athletes and others who want to strengthen performance in other areas.

Beginners, pregnant women or those with injuries progress at their own pace and can benefit from private sessions. Pilates is also incorporated into most classes. Besides a yoga studio, there is a well-equipped pilates studio. Emphasis: Personal development through private and group instruction Extras: Massage, yoga store Nice touch: Juice and apples available after class Fees: 10 classes for $130, 30-day unlimited pass for $135. Student rates available. Private instruction $90-$110 per session. $18 for drop-in

Dahn Yoga Center/Brain Respiration

1776 Miramonte Ave, Mountain View 960-1717, www.DahnWorld.com The lowdown: One of 150 centers in the U.S., Dahn offers a system of exercise, breathing and meditation based on the ancient Korean healing tradition of Dahnak. It's not yoga in the Hindu tradition though it contains some similar elements.

Classes vary but include certain themes: fast, dynamic floor exercises to get the chi, or energy, flowing, stretching, and chanting. Emphasis: Opening meridian channels to increase chi Extras: Individual assessment, aura photograph, small store Nice touch: Cheerful yellow-and-green decor; circle exercises give a sense of class unity. Fees: 3-month pass for $390, no drop-ins

Yoga is Youthfulness

590 Castro Street, Mountain View 964-5277, www.yogaisyouth.com The lowdown: The core staff of 10 instructors offer classes that cover Ashtanga, Iyengar, Anusara, Vinyasa flow (synchronized breath and movement) and restorative yoga. An early morning self-paced practice known as Mysore is provided with one-on-one teacher guidance. Many teachers trained in India, and classes are taught in context of yoga's philosophical basis. Emphasis: Yoga as meditation in motion; learning to be present and focused. Extras: Yoga for kids (5-12) and post-natal yoga; workshops and retreats; YIY hikes. Nice touch: Sculptures and artwork Fees: 10 classes for $115; 1 month unlimited pass for $130, $14 drop-in or 3 classes for $20

Yoga of Los Altos

343 2nd Street, Suite 3, Los Altos 941-9642, www.yogaoflosaltos.com The lowdown: Fifteen teachers, including Tom Abrehamson, Ben Thomas, Marti Foster and Osha Hanfling, offer a wide range of approaches from introductory classes to workshops focusing on therapy for the neck and shoulders. Their styles are eclectic, but include Iyengar, Anusara and Vinyasa flow. Early-morning classes encourage personal practice in the company of others.

New classes help seniors and those with physical challenges to increase flexibility, walk, stand and sit with ease, enhance breathing and concentration, and sleep better. Emphasis: Yoga for physical and spiritual well-being Extras: Private sessions for individual problems Nice touch: Meditation session at no charge Fees: 10 classes for $120, $14 for drop-in

Yoga Explorations of Sunnyvale

822 W. Iowa Ave, Sunnyvale (408) 746-2752, www.yogaexplorations.com The lowdown: YES takes an exploratory approach to traditional asanas, helping students understand their own bodies better rather than trying to conform to an idea of how a posture should look on the outside.

Small groups, moving slowly to develop the potential of each asana, work well for anyone concerned about limitations or injury. Instruction is mostly based on the Iyengar method. Emphasis: Individual yoga exploration for all, including seniors, prenatal, children and back care. Extras: Meditation, Aikido, Aikido for kids Nice touch: Personal attention; bright upstairs studio. Fees: 10 classes for $120, $15 for drop-in


2400 Grant Road, Mountain View 969-7204, www.ymcamidpen.org The lowdown: Though its focus is on fitness, classes are based on Iyengar and Vinyasa flow and taught with full regard to the spirit of yoga.

Classes often attract a crowd in the big gym where teachers demonstrate postures, adapting them to most levels. Attention to breathing deepens postures and relaxation between poses. Yogilates classes combine yoga and pilates. Emphasis: Well-being and safe pace Extras: Props may increase intensity of workout. Nice touch: Quiet background music Fees: Free to YMCA members

Yoga for Teens

City of Mountain View Recreation, Community Center, Rengstorff Ave., Mountain View 903-6331 Tuesdays Jan. 25 to March 33, 4-5:15 p.m. Fee: 10 classes for $45 (only Mountain View residents)

These membership gyms and studios in Mountain View also offer yoga classes: Fit from the Core, 934-2673, Gold's Gym, 940-1440 The Club of Mountain View, 969-1783

South Bay Accent - The Flexibility Factor

October / November 2003

South Bay AccentThe FlexibilityFactor, a 6 page story on stress management in Silicon Valley, features photos of Center of Balance staff and Director, Tom McCook. The article interviews area Pilates & Yoga instructors, including Tom.

San Jose Mercury News - Strength and Stability

February 10, 1999
— by Phyllis Palone Sturman

Pilates exercise techniques concentrate on quality of movement

San Jose Mercury Feb 1999SANTA CLARA marketing consultant Monique Parker used the Pilates workout to rehabilitate a strained hamstring. John Klimp, a Palo Alto business owner and member of the Stanford Masters Swimmers Program, gave the method a try to improve his swim technique.

Based on the teachings of Joseph Pilates (pronounced pa-LAH-teez), this versatile workout uses the body weight for resistance, along with specific equipment, to simultaneously strengthen and lengthen the muscles. Easy on the joints, yet challenging to the muscles, dancers have used the method for decades to stay in peak condition and to rehabilitate injuries.

But the benefits from Pilates-based exercise are not just for dancers.

"Pilates improves alignment and posture and balances muscle development, which is important in injury prevention and recovery,'' says Karen Matison, owner of the Balanced Body in Menlo Park. "Developing abdominal strength and spinal stability are key elements in the process. Much focus is on using the deep layers of muscles, or core muscles, of the body to work from the inside out.''

Quality of movement (not quantity), breathing and mind/body integration also are essential components of Pilates-based movement. Because Pilates-style exercise takes concentration, you won't hear piped-in music or see exercisers with headsets on for distraction. The studio environment is quiet, the mood calm and meditative. Participants, usually a few people at a time, focus on the flow of movement on the equipment.

Strength and StabilityThe most commonly known apparatus, but not the only piece, is the Universal Reformer. The Reformer resembles a wood-frame single bed with a sliding carriage that uses an adjustable springs-and-pulley system for upper and lower body resistance. The prototype for today's apparatus and the original movements were created by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s.

A sickly child, Pilates became a professional boxer, self-defense expert and all-around fitness buff. When he was interned in England (because of his German heritage) during World War I, he shared his fitness prowess with his fellow internees. To help bedridden and deconditioned soldiers exercise, he devised resistance equipment using springs and cables attached to their beds.

In 1926, Joseph Pilates and his wife, Clara, moved to New York City, where his methods quickly became known in the dance community. Martha Graham, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins were among devotees, who used his techniques to strengthen and rehabilitate their dancers.

Movements familiar

Matison, who discovered Pilates through her interest in dance, says a typical one-hour private session begins on the mat.

"Mat work allows new clients to become familiar with the principles of the method: to develop a controlled, fluid motion, to find the center of the torso and press the sacrum into the floor, and to breathe fully into the chest while pulling the belly into the spine," she says.

During mat work, clients also learn the "vocabulary," or individual movements. Many of the movements, which may look familiar from yoga and traditional exercise routines, transfer to the apparatus. Pilates believed that a person had the technique within, and the apparatus was a way to offer support, Matison says.

After the mat exercises, a client performs leg and footwork and upper body work on the Universal Reformer. One-on-one instruction from an instructor is recommended because the Pilates-based technique is subtle and requires a client to visualize the movement.

"Pilates is conscious movement. When you visualize what muscles will do the work and hold that thought as you move through the exercise, you work efficiently and effectively from the start," she says. Matison cites the example of a person who executes 100 crunches, and often uses momentum to get through the first 80 repetitions. Then for the last 20 repetitions, the muscles are engaged to do the work.

"Performing a few (about 10) really good movements rather than pumping the muscles through numerous repetitions also contributes to the long, lean muscles that dancers need to maintain and that others want," she says.

Because Pilates-based movements are gentle and predominantly done lying down, it is a natural rehabilitation method for injured dancers and non-dancers, male or female. Mercy Sidbury, a former dancer with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, and now a dance medicine specialist in the Dance Medicine Division of the Center for Sports Medicine at Saint Francis Hospital in San Francisco, rehabilitated a dance injury using Pilates-based exercises.


"Dancers with fractures get a full workout with a cast on and stay in condition," Sidbury says. Sidbury, who liked Pilates-style exercise for its rehabilitative properties, has come to appreciate Pilates methods for its broad use and adaptability.

"In addition to non-dancers who suffer groin, hip and knee injuries, we now apply Pilates technique to a more complicated population. We've found that people who can't tolerate other forms of exercise can handle the gentle method applied in Pilates," says Sidbury.

Tom McCook, owner of Center of Balance in Mountain View, says about 25 percent of his Pilates clients are rehab referrals.

"A routine can be created for any level of rehabilitation or (athletic) training. It's a low-risk, high-benefit training regime,'' says McCook.

Matison says that although about 33 percent of her clients come to her for rehabilitation, most continue to incorporate Pilates methods into their regular workout routine because of the added benefits, such as improved posture.

No noisy gym

"Pilates has helped me correct and balance my posture — which is great because I can spend 10 hours a day at the computer plus a couple more hours driving," says Santa Clara high-tech marketing consultant Monique Parker.

An avid exerciser, Parker continued her training after she rehabilitated her hamstring. She practices Pilates twice a week in the studio plus home workouts along with yoga. She gladly forfeited the noisy, gym environment and the pounding workouts that didn't accomplish her goals.

"I've always wanted a balanced, lean look. With Pilates I've gained strength, flexibility and muscular stability in a symmetrical way," says Parker.

Symmetry and balance is an underlying theme in Pilates-style exercise. Muscle imbalance can put a person at greater risk for injury in daily activities such as lifting a child or items from the trunk of a car. Favoring one side of the body out of habit or compensation for a previous injury can hinder athletic performance and improvement.

In 1994, when John Klimp of Palo Alto asked a swim-team teammate about her improved technique and time, she credited the Pilates-based method. That was enough to get Klimp to attend Matison's studio.

"My shoulder movement and kick are more efficient, and I've gained back and hip flexibility. Overall, my posture has improved, too. Pilates teaches you to make specific adjustments and pay attention to the small muscle groups,'' Klimp says.

More than exercise

Pilates-based methods have been around for 70-plus years. Why the popularity with the mainstream exercise population now? One-time body builder McCook, who also teaches yoga at his studio, says people want workouts that benefit mind and body.

"People are bored with the big-muscle approach," says McCook. "People are now thinking more about function than simply aesthetics, and Pilates provides a stress reliever that benefits all areas of health. People learn to use their body to self-regulate stress. Pilates has more depth than just exercise.''

Phyllis Palone Sturman is a Bay Area freelance writer.

PilatesStyle Magazine - Natalie Coughlin

July/August 2012

Pilates Style July August 2012 Natalie CoughlinCoughlin is the poster girl for adding Pilates to your training regimen. “I started doing a kind of hybrid of yoga and mat Pilates as part of my team training regimen,” when she was a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley, Coughlin recalls. “I noticed that it helped me a lot in my swim training, so eight years ago, I started seeing a private instructor, Tom McCook [at Center of Balance studio in Mountain View, CA], one to two times a week.”

Every one of her Pilates sessions is different, she says. “Tom does such a great job of showing me how to apply Pilates principles in the water,” says Coughlin. “And I really enjoy it.”

Without her Pilates training, she might not have been so successful at the Beijing games. “The Olympics are such a stressful time,” she explains. “They’re emotionally stressful and they’re physically exhausting. When I first got to Beijing, I was about a week away from my first swim, and I really wasn’t feeling great in the water. So Tom gave me a 20-minute series of breathing and relaxation exercises to get me aligned before bed every night. I really think that was one of the things that got me in the right mental as well as physical state for my Olympics.”

Palo Alto Weekly - Stretch & Tone

Wednesday, January 12, 2000
Page 23
— by Sarah Heim

Stretch and Tone: An 80-year-old fitness approach makes a comeback in local gyms

Palo Alto Weekly January 2000Imagine a workout where you leave your sweatbands and headphones at home, and leave your shoes at the door. For the millions of Americans who choose to workout at gyms every day, this probably doesn't sound too familiar.

For the growing number of fitness-minded folks who have discovered the benefits of a more serene workout known as Pilates (pronounced pu-LAH-teez), the days of pumping iron in surround-sound at the gym are only fleeting memories. Now, they leave the gym relaxed, not over-stimulated.

"You should feel light and refreshed after a workout," said Tom McCook, the founder and director of Center of Balance fitness studio in Mountain View. "And you should feel more self-aware."

Exercise enthusiasts around the country are now choosing to pull out a mat rather than getting on a Stairmaster, and train using the Pilates-based exercise. The approach, developed by physical trainer Joseph Pilates in the 1920s, is making a comeback. It is an exercise regime focused on improving strength and flexibility without building bulk.

Pilates created five pieces of equipment with names like "The Reformer" and "The Cadillac," that look more like they belong in a medieval torture dungeon or Houdini's studio rather than a gym.

The Reformer resembles a flat, narrow wooden bed with a series of adjustable springs and pulleys hanging from the "headboard" at one end. Both the hands and feet can grab onto these various hanging devices when doing upper and lower body resistance exercises.

Pilates designed more than 500 exercises that can be done using these pieces of equipment. The individual exercises center of the quality of movement rather than the quantity, and emphasize breathing patterns and mind/body integration.

McCook, who was an avid weightlifter for 15 years before becoming a Pilates convert, hasn't touched a weight for seven years. For him, Pilates offers more depth than straight weight training.

People are tired of the big muscle approach to working out, he said. "[Pilates] is a much more efficient workout."

The mat-based exercises focus on the strengthening and lengthening of the body's core muscles.

"It's a safe [workout] and helps develop more physical balance," McCook said.

Exercises are done lying on the back, on the stomach, on the side, in the sitting position and in just about every position in between.

Repetitions of stretches are done on one muscle group at a time. For example, a series of repetitions may focus solely on elongating your spine and neck, while always keeping track of your breathing pattern.

Many of the stretches and movements resemble those done in yoga. The difference is that in yoga, you tend to hold a position, while in Pilates there is an emphasis on continuous, smooth movement like moving through water.

In fact, many swimmers use the workout to help build endurance and strength. McCook currently works with the Stanford Women's Swim Team three times a week and has trained Olympic swimmers like Jenny Thompson.

Although athletes and stars like Madonna and Vanessa Williams, who both do Pilates-based workouts, have helped increase the popularity of the exercises in recent years, dancers have been doing Pilates workouts for decades. . . .

According to McCook, who took two private sessions each week for five years, one-on-one training is essential. Although Pilates equipment can be purchased for the home, McCook strongly recommends training under the guidance of a professional.

"[Pilates-based exercise] is great preventative health care," McCook added.

At the same time, the exercises are also a natural rehabilitation method.

Carol Scribner began attending workouts at Center of Balance about a year ago to help correct muscle tightness and an aching lower back. She now attends classes once or twice a week. "I feel improvement and I feel stronger physically," she said. . . .

Whether male of female, young or old, athletic or just looking to tone up over the winter months, Pilates offers an alternative way to synchronize your mind and body and leave you feeling healthier and happier.

"[Pilates] is a much more refined form of exercise," McCook said. "It's an art form as well."

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