Welcome to the latest in this series where we get to know more about our Instagramming friends. If you haven’t already, be sure to meet some of the other creative souls with whom we’ve been collaborating recently.
We came into contact with Ellie, owner of Brighton Pilates, through her Instagram, @brighton_pilates. Not a big meat eater, she knew she needed to incorporate more protein into her diet, and wondered about collagen. She began to use our bovine powder, which she adds to a daily smoothie. Not only have her energy levels increased, but she is sure her skin is a lot more hydrated and healthy-looking as well (although, to be fair, she has always had good skin).
Are you a Pilates devotee? Fascinated at the idea of giving it a go? Never really understood what it was? Find out more here and get to know Ellie along the way!
Rapid-fire questions with Ellie
What is the most common question you are asked when someone finds out you’re a pilates instructor?
What’s the difference between pilates and yoga? (editor’s note - read on to find out the answer!)
What is your favourite pilates exercise?
The short spine massage on the reformer, because it opens your back and feels gorgeous.
What is the problem area you must work on for your own body?
My hamstrings are super lazy and my shoulders roll forward, so I am constantly trying to address this. I have to do a lot of work to maintain strength in my upper back.
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You’re originally a dancer. Who is your favourite dancer?
The African-American dancer Alvin Ailey and in particular his piece, Sinnerman. I loved it so much and got into it so much at uni. In fact, it’s been awhile. I should watch it again…
What age is your oldest student?
I am teaching an 87-year old lady who moves like she’s 60. Prior to coming to me, she was going to a big mat group workout at a gym. However, she wanted something more one-on-one. She moves beautifully. I think she comes to me because she wants to keep moving like she is, irrespective of ageing.
What about the youngest student?
I have a 24-year old student who used to come to my HIT classes, but since lockdown she has been seeing me virtually. She comes to tone and strengthen, but also her job is largely desk-based so we do a lot of shoulder and neck release.
Is there anyone you would like to train?
Apparently Adele lives near me in Brighton? I would love to train her. She seems fun. Jessica Ennis-Hill would also be great. It’s always interesting to work with people who really know their bodies, and whose muscles you can clearly see working.
Is there anywhere you would like to do a pilates class but haven’t?
Anywhere? I would love to go to New York City and LA and train with really top teachers who have an original line to Joseph Pilates. To seek out the pilates elders. Joseph had a studio in NYC - that’s the heart and home of this movement.
Keen to find out more about Ellie? Read on…
Dancing towards destiny
As a child, life for Brighton Pilates owner Ellie was all about dance. Initially ballet, jazz and tap, but then later contemporary. She had a hypermobile body - her ligaments were long and flexible, but not very strong. Her teacher at the time was studying to be a pilates instructor, not something very common twenty years ago. Ellie’s physique made her prime time guinea pig material, and so the teacher incorporated Ellie into her studies. Initially, Ellie’s mum would take her to the extra class each week, but she also soon took a shining to this new form of exercise, and enrolled as well. It soon became a mother/daughter bonding activity; something Ellie looks back on fondly.
Fast forward to university, where Ellie was studying dance.
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By this time, she’d had to give up the pilates lessons; they were too expensive for a uni student budget. As her dissertation approached, Ellie heard that her tutor was a pilates instructor. She immediately identified an opportunity to incorporate pilates into her dissertation, and effectively get lessons for free. Clever. Her theme centred around how pilates affects dancers. For six weeks she studied the impacts of an exact training programme on one means dancing group, and one dancing group also incorporating pilates into their routine. The results were remarkable. Not only did they astound her tutor, they convinced Ellie that this was the ultimate answer to well-being. Her career wasn’t going to be in dance.
It was 2008, and Ellie was going to become a pilates instructor.
What exactly is pilates?
It’s a sequence of exercises designed by German physical trainer Joseph Pilates. They take cues from other forms of activity such as yoga, gymnastics and boxing, but they are formulated in a specific order. It helps to strengthen muscles that are weak, and lengthen muscles that are strong. Ultimately, it is about low-impact movement and core strength designed to improve strength, alignment and flexibility. Although the method itself has not changed since inception, these days there are more contemporary and more hybrid classes that might say they are pilates, but are actually quite different.
At Brighton Pilates, Ellie teaches the more classical approach. As part of her student training, she studied at Body Control Pilates in London and upon graduation, immediately set up her own studio. That foundational learning at Body Control was more contemporary, which really suited her at the time. However, almost a decade later, Ellie felt she was missing a key component; something fundamental to pilates. She returned to study and this time to a classical approach. She completely re-trained herself. She now believes the original method is where the true magic lies, through which the most noticeable and positive differences in the body will be made.
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What’s the magic? How and who does pilates help?
At Brighton Pilates, Ellie sees the full spectrum. Some come because they want to reconnect with their bodies. Others because they want to retrain and correct movement patterns. Top athletes might want to improve their strength, their stance, or a movement that will enhance their technique and help them achieve their sporting goals. Others again might come because they’ve had some kind of accident, ailment or illness, and they need to re-teach their body, or help it recover.
Pilates and pregnancy
Being a pilates instructor doesn’t make you a superhero during pregnancy.
There’s no doubt your core is given the best possible foundations from which to recover postnatally, but it doesn’t make you bullet-proof. When she fell pregnant, Ellie knew she was not immune to the fact that growing a child was going to change her body. She was so grateful for the experience and so delighted to be pregnant that she just embraced it all. Ellie decided to learn from her new body, and not punish it for becoming challenged by something that previously might have been simple or straightforward. She saw the whole process as a lesson, a journey, and she was thrilled to be on it.
Six weeks after giving birth to her baby daughter, Ellie returned to the reformer.
She makes a point here of cautioning against a return to this kind of exercise unless overseen by a professional. Sometimes when parts of our body undergo major trauma, we subconsciously block them out. Ellie was mindful not to do this, and saw a return to exercise as a direct connection back into her body. It also gave her an appreciation for some of her students and the situations that prompt them to come to her classes. Despite all those years of training, Ellie’s postnatal stomach felt like an empty bag and her pelvic floor was ‘shot’. She immediately understood how some of her clients felt when they arrived with no prior core training or serious engagement.
A typical day in the life of a pilates instructor
Things have changed since lockdown. These days, Ellie is up and in her studio before 6am, ready for two back-to-back sessions with her students. It’s then down to the beach to teach a class at Yellow Wave, a sports venue. People here participate in person as well as virtually online. Following a breakfast break, Ellie then heads back to the studio for more teaching. Most days, this will take her through to early afternoon, when she picks up her daughter from care and spends the rest of the day with her. Fridays, however, she will be at the studio and work right through to the end of the day.
A few years ago, Ellie had to meet a new student in hospital as opposed to the studio. In his 40s and with diabetes, the gentleman had suffered a stroke and could not walk. At first, their exercises comprised him trying to get skittles into a cup. It was challenging. Brushing his own teeth was out of the question. He progressed, until eventually - and with assistance - he could come to the studio. Ellie would remove his shoes and the work would begin. They would move slowly - maybe four exercises in an hour - and he would exert himself the whole time. It was a real workout.
Ellie remembers when he first took to the reformers. When you have control of the springs and the machine moves fluidly, you have begun to master the technique. Initially, the springs were so erratic and out of control that at times this client’s legs would fly off and out. Over time, the springs settled down. She could see in his face when he saw the progress he was making. It was a slow process, but so incredibly rewarding.
More recently, Ellie worked with an elite runner. She’d been shocked to learn that he had never undertaken any prior core training. His 5km race time was “crazy good”, but he wanted better. He was very connected to his body, but his lower back needed lengthening and his hip range was limited. They did about ten sessions. He shaved 13 seconds off his Personal Best race time. At that level, in that event, 13 seconds is truly remarkable.
Those years ago at uni, Ellie knew pilates was going to be life-changing for her. She just didn’t realise at the time how much it was going to help her positively impact so many around her.
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