In October of 2011, I was one of a small group of Pilates instructors honored with an invitation to train for a day with Lolita San Miguel. In the Pilates world, this would be equated to a Business School graduate being invited to dine with Bill Gates! Lolita holds the distinction of being one of the only two known practitioners to have been officially certified by Joseph and Clara Pilates, and she has been awarded degrees by the State University of New York to teach the Pilates Method. Lolita has also been certified by Polestar Pilates Education and was awarded a Gold Certificate by the Pilates Method Alliance. She is one of the four “Distinguished Elders” of the Pilates Method Alliance.
The day began with Lolita relaying her history with Pilates, and she was able to give first-hand account to the instructors and additional observers of what it was like to train under Mr. Pilates. When a client walked in to Joe’s studio in New York, he would hand Clara $5, which she slipped into the pocket of her nurses uniform, and then take a seat to wait. It was like a barber shop; there were no appointments, and a client might wait a few minutes or a few hours for his session to being. Joseph was German and had a very impatient and demanding demeanor. In contrast, his wife Clara was soft and kind, and often scurried behind Joseph to wipe the tears of his disheartened clients. He would tell them “Now you won’t be bored. You have something to practice!” in his heavy German accent.
The most interesting points that Lolita made to the group were that most of the exercises which are currently taught and executed in “Pilates stance,” were actually taught in parallel leg by Joseph. It was Joe’s apprentice, Romana, who actually modified the exercise and insisted on the change when she taught. There are several schools of Pilates which focus on the breath – when to inhale and when to exhale. Joe apparently never focused on that at all. If a client asked him how he should breath, he would grimace and say “just breath.” Joe was also very depressed late in his life. He understood that his method of exercise was 50 years ahead of its time, but he worried that it would never “catch on,” and that people would not experience its life-changing benefits. If he were alive today, I do believe he would be happy to know that his work was not in vain.
Lolita taught the instructors a mat class which focused on the fundamentals of Pilates and Joe’s intent for the exercise (great to hear first hand!) and a class on the reformer, where she taught variations to the classical reformer exercises. She is 77 years old and can still do it – ALL! A perfect testament that if you stick with movement, movement will stick with you. It was a wonderful experience to absorb the wisdom and knowledge of a woman who learned from the man himself – a once in a life time experience which I was honored to receive!