My Body

Brooke Siler on Pilates Consciousness and Slowing Down

Brooke Siler is the founder of re:AB Pilates and the author of The Pilates Body and Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge.

I was working at a very small gym in the West Village back in '91, and one day a woman brought the Pilates equipment into the front space of this gym, and I got to watch her training there. I couldn’t afford the private sessions, so I started taking the mat classes, and I couldn’t do them. And I thought, what? I was very fit, what was there I couldn’t do? I’ve always loved the gym. I have four brothers. I was very athletic. I was shocked that I was not flexible enough and strong enough from my core to really perform the moves well. That to me was frustrating and exciting at the same time. It was really just a matter of minutes before I decided I had to know everything about this.

I felt a huge difference between being a fit gym rat, and when I really got into Pilates. Not only did my body change, the feeling within my body changed. There was a spring in my step. I felt very in control. It had a very martial arts feeling to me. I became the master of my domain. I believe there's a true mind/body element in Pilates, but it's not what is commonly associated with that term. People tend to think New Age, and they think yoga, and going deep inside yourself and finding your breath and your heart — all wonderful qualities in a yoga class. Joseph Pilates meant mind over body. It’s your will that controls your body. He was German, so it’s a much more Germanic take. Concentration is the first element in Pilates. It’s not meditative by any means, but I have found when you get in a great groove in Pilates, it takes you into yourself and out of yourself. You're very focused. It’s a progressive system, so you’re learinging a type of choreogrpahy that does stay with you. It’s just this beautiful state that’s like dancing. It does allow you to find your mind in new and different ways. But it’s not a Zen thing. 

I came from a personal training background, and again I have to mention that I have four older brothers, and my father was a track and field superstar, so I come from a very male background in terms of how I see fitness. My style was more hardcore, and that’s what I love about Pilates — it gave me grace. I’m six feet tall. When I was doing all the hardcore gym workouts, I was bulking up, and I felt big. When I switched to Pilates which had a very flowing rhythm to it, there’s a certain grace that comes with that that I had never experienced lifting weights. I started to feel what grace felt like, walking in a certain way, holding your body in a certain way. Now, I have been asked many times if I am a dancer. I think it’s just about body awareness. 

Everything has shifted dramatically for me because in October, I had open heart surgery. I have a connective tissue disorder that I found out about 10 years ago. I have two young kids, and I went in and decided to preemptively take care of things. It’s been an amazing experience. I’ve had to slow down. Getting ready for the surgery, I took my Pilates routine and brought it back to the breath. I would, everyday, run through the whole intermediate or advanced mat work, with all my focus on the breath and precision. I’m used to rushing — I’m a New York City girl — and to bring it to the place where it was still so taxing, and I was sweating, but it was slow... It was an incredibly eye opening experience for me. I know me: Eventually I’ll be back at a fast pace, but I do have to be careful because I’m not supposed to be doing anything that gets my heart rate up too high. It’s all about balance for me. Most people are trying to find that in life, and I just got a little extra help.  Right now I’m in a much more thoughtful, considered state. It’s great, I feel like I’m kind of exploring it. I’m really enjoying it and trying to find a little more peace within it. 

Brooke Siler


I've been doing Pilates (mostly mat) for more than three years now.  I started after I had lost weight mainly by running, but noticed that while my legs were strong, my midsection seemed flabby.  The first time I went, I was sore the next day along the entire front of my torso, from my chest to my hips, and from side to side.  However -- and this is an important point -- my back was not sore AT ALL.  At all.

I think that is one of the best things about Pilates.  Most people start for the same reason I did -- for a flat stomach.  But the exercises work your abs (and I define abs pretty broadly) without straining your back.  And strong abs are essential to having a strong back.

One thing I will say -- having done yoga, I now see that a number of the Pilates moves are somewhat ripped off from yoga (for example, the hundreds is a variation of navasana or boat post).  I think what Pilates has done is taken those exercises and really made them core-focused, and put them all together, rather than as a portion of a routine, which is more what yoga does.  So I think there is definitely a place for both. 

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