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Women Who Inspire: Pilates Teacher Niedra Gabriel

Niedra Gabriel was an 18-year-old ballet student in London when she began taking Pilates classes to get stronger, but she says her “real love affair” with Pilates didn’t begin until many years later.

At age 40, Gabriel needed to find a job after she and her husband divorced. “I lucked out to get hired to the West Coast annex of the Pilates Guild (no longer in existence). Romana Krasanovska, one of the first generation of teachers, came to train us in the classical method. I had always been ambitious physically, and her approach was incredible to me. She trained both old and young, and her approach was quite different from my early exposure. It clicked, and Pilates became a way of life and a career,” she says.

Born in Jerusalem and now 64 years old, Gabriel lives in Southern California, where she does personal coaching, holds teacher trainings, and teaches private classes. She adores exercise and says she is “always studying what is going on in the fitness industry to stimulate my own insights.”

Here, Gabriel answers a few questions about her passion for keeping the body functional as long as possible. “I believe we are designed to move, and this modern life is too sedentary,” she says.

Why do you love Pilates so much?

The method offers everything: tools to recover from injuries, training to achieve mastery if you are an athlete, and support for aging bodies. It is a way to keep balance in the muscle structure and skeleton. It allows your body to be durable in other activities, such as tennis or golf, for example. They are both one-sided sports, so eventually one arm is strong and the spine rotates one way. This will break the body down and make a person prone to injury. Balancing the weak side means the body lasts. I also love that there is a place for all states of physicality. Whether you are very feeble or at the top of your game, Pilates is for you.

How often do you do Pilates? What other forms of exercise do you do?

I work out on the Pilates machines twice a week (when I am teaching in a studio) and sometimes on the mat at home. I also have a yoga practice, do ball rolling (as I get older, I include a lot more restorative practices to balance out my body), some weight training, occasional CrossFit, a little running, modern dance classes, and MovNat, and whatever else I find interesting.

What are the main benefits of Pilates for women over 40?

Regaining spinal mobility and core integrity. Getting into your body so you can shift to feeling good from looking good. It happens naturally and is the result of making the body more alive and aligned. Pilates empowers women to be proactive about getting older and to keep enjoying their physical potential and beauty. Better posture, more stability, and graceful movements, and toned and flexible muscles means increased confidence.

Who shouldn’t do Pilates?

The way I see it, the system offers potential for all conditions, unless a person is medically advised not to exercise. A good teacher and the right program are key. Herniated disks, for example need to be stabalized, so rolling may not be appropriate at first. Neck problems can be solved or made worse by the programing and support a teacher gives in the modification of exercises.

What’s the best way to get started with Pilates?

Many peoples start with online classes. Others join group classes in a gym or Pilates studio. You should feel better after the first class, within a few classes spaced close together, you should start to notice changes. Do Pilates three times a week for swift changes.

What should we look for in a Pilates teacher?

Ideally, you need to find a good teacher who listens to you, understands your goals and concerns, and gets to know your your body. You want to feel supported and understood by her/him.

What’s the one thing you tell women who are hesitant to try it?

My questions would be What are you hesitant about? What have you heard about Pilates? They probably have some story about what they think Pilates is, what they heard, or someone else’s experience. Currently there are many studios popping up, many emulating boot camp, and although they have the machines, the workout is not Pilates in the traditional sense. I would suggest that someone who wants to give it a go but is hesitant find a teacher she likes, respects, and vibes with. Then test it out. Don’t throw the baby out with the dirty diapers. Only you can discover what is good for you — and you won’t know what that is until you have a real experience.

Give us a few words to live by.

Any Pilates is better than no Pilates!

To learn more about Neidra Gabriel, go to niedragabriel.com.

Photo: Courtesy of Neidra Gabriel

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