I came to Pilates, literally, by accident. In 2014 while heli-skiing in Canada, I fractured my tibia after skiing into a crevasse. What followed was years of intense post-surgical rehabilitation on my right leg. My rehab trainer, whom I got to know well, suggested that I had other body issues which may need attention and he suggested I try Pilates.
I knew nothing of Pilates other than it was an exercise regime which utilised unusual equipment. Discussing it with my eldest daughter, who had done Pilates, I heard the name Natalia Savenko for the first time. My daughter recommended Natalia who fortunately instructed at Dynamic Pilates in Pittwater Road at Manly, a short walk from my house.
I signed up, not knowing exactly what to expect. I chose a private instructor rather than group classes as I wanted a custom tailored exercise regime which could accommodate my age, lack of experience and injuries. Like all people my age – post 50 – who take up a new sport or exercise, I approached this challenge with fear and some dread. I found in Natalia and Dynamic Pilates, a dedicated, professional approach to what is really a health science based on human biomechanics.
I started slow. Natalia showed great insight by designing the most appropriate program for a new client’s goals, age and physical condition. While I’m fairly fit, I brought to Pilates significant injuries not only a fractured tibia, but also a severe neck injury which left me with an impaired left arm and a history of lower back trouble through years of equestrian sport.
To my surprise, Natalia designed a program that could cope with all my requirements and set me on the path of gradually learning the discipline. As I accomplished one level of Pilates, she then introduced me slowly to the next. This process has been going for two years and is continuing. I go to Pilates twice a week. I have found it a most interesting experience and I have never gone close to hurting myself. It has also been fun and never a chore. I look forward to it.
The key to the Dynamic Pilates approach is ultramodern equipment and highly trained staff. Natalia is personally motivated to be at the top of her craft and I have watched her practice with other instructors. She takes this science seriously and is always trying to improve.
However, that is to no avail if the teacher cannot teach.
To be effective, in any form of biomechanical or athletic activity, the instructor has to be, first and foremost, a good teacher. Over a period of almost 50 years of continuous snow skiing, I have had coaching all over the world. Some has been good, but most has been indifferent. Many athletes, including many ski instructors, while they are brilliant at their sport, sometimes struggle to teach it to others, particularly in a group environment. They cannot communicate and mostly have no idea of the difficulties a novice is experiencing in trying to master a difficult sport. In Natalia, Dynamic Pilates has not only a highly professional instructor but an insightful teacher. This is especially evident in the one-on-one program which has suited me better than a class environment as it has allowed me to progress more quickly.
Can anyone do Pilates? Based on my experience, yes. Does it matter if you have not done biomechanical exercises like Pilates before? No. Does it matter if you are not athletic or you have no history in sport? Not as long as you have a good instructor and you take it slowly and persevere. Like any sport learned as an adult perseverance is critical. Does it matter how old you are? Given my experience, I would say no.
A surprising aspect of Pilates is the rhythmical nature of the exercise. Like skiing and swimming, breathing is critical to establishing the Pilates rhythm. I did not realise rhythmical breathing was so important in Pilates exercises until emphasised by Natalia; I now use it religiously when skiing or swimming. I find it calming and helpful.
Pilates helped me achieve one of the great challenges of my life. On the John Muir Trail in 2019, after a year of Pilates, I undertook an unsupported hike through the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, crossing ten passes higher than 10,000 feet. I was at altitude for 28 days carrying a backpack. This culminated in a climb of Mount Whitney at 15,000 feet. I did it easily by applying the Pilates breathing techniques I learnt in the Dynamic Pilates studio in Manly. I had no trouble with the altitude or with hypoxia, unlike many of the other climbers who were much younger than me. I put this down to Natalia’s insistence on correct breathing for all Pilates exercises.
Pilates is extremely portable and I had no difficulty transferring it from Pittwater Road in Manly to the highest peaks in the continental United States.
I have no hesitation in recommending Dynamic Pilates and its instructors. It has been a wonderful journey for me and has helped me in so many other activities.
Kieran Kelly (August 2020)