Los Angeles Reader
June 1993, page 17
A New Twist on the Tried and True Method
by Mari Florence and Shelly Madsen
After the eighties fitness craze turned good health into big business, gyms began popping up all over. Most offered a variation on the bone-rattling aerobic-workout-in-a-sardine-tin-with-high-decibels-icky-music.
In the nineties, people are looking for a, forgive the term, kinder, gentler way to work their bodies, and not spend a lot of time doing it. Most people just don't have time to go to the gym.
Some have turned to the convenience of video workouts, which can be effective if you do them regularly. But many popular videos (like supermodel Cindy Crawford's Shape Your Body) stress enthusiasm or fashion over technique. And that can be hard on a body.
With studies showing that three out of five adults experience significant back pain in the course of their lives, it makes sense to choose a workout that strengthens the back while conditioning the body.
Miles away from any conventional gym, figuratively, is The Well-Tempered Workout*. The lush serenity of a West Hollywood garden pied-à-terre houses the open, friendly studio belonging to Jillian Hessel. Hessel's workout is based on the philosophy of Joseph Pilates, a fitness reformer of the 1920's. The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning incorporates stretching and breathing exercises with corresponding strength sequences. Hessel adds yoga — and dance — inspired cardiovascular elements, providing clients with a total-body workout.
Hessel herself is the best testament to what her workout can do. With the long, lean limbs of a dancer, her agility gives her an ethereal quality. When her career as a professional dancer was interrupted by a back injury thirteen years ago, a friend recommended the Pilates Method.
"Joe Pilates was an innovator, who believed that Americans were becoming too sedentary, too dependent on modern technology" says Hessel. Thus, Pilates created a system that would motivate, stimulate, and challenge the mental and physical states, facilitating total health. He was a man ahead of his time.
Hessel is also a visionary of sorts. For many clients — for whom too many years of the jumps and grind of aerobic dance, running, or other impact exercised has taken its toll — Hessel's workout has become a life-style.
Forty-six-year-old Arthur Spivak has been supplementing his ongoing exercise routine with The Well-Tempered Workout once a week for the past year, after he developed a lower back problem. "Jillian is very clear and educated in terms of the human body," says Spivak. "The workout proceeds in a very benevolent way, starting with stretching and building upon each exercise."
Hessel's clients are mostly women, with some couples, and men who tend to shy away from the bulked-up look of weightlifting. Hessel insists on an evaluation for each new client, in which she can detect any physical limitations. Then she looks at posture. "Good posture is essential to the method," says Hessel, "because the other steps build from it."
The fundamental work of Pilates is done on the mat. This allows students to take exercises with them wherever they go, not trapping them in a gym.
The work concentrates on small, deliberate movements, and a thorough, controlled breathing pattern. The breathing involves a series of three short breaths through the nose on the inhale, and three strong breaths through the mouth on the exhale. Because the breathing oxygenates the body, it is of utmost importance.
Hessel, who has been certified by the Pilates Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico, teaches other instructors the Method "so they can keep the spirit of it," she says. "I borrowed a lot from yoga and dance for my own workout, but the philosophy is fully Pilates."
Because matwork is fundamental in Pilates — a concept often dismissed or lost by other exercise practitioners — Hessel keeps it at the core of The Well-Tempered Workout. Matwork also prepares the client for the more advanced Universal Reformer.
The Universal Reformer — which sounds more like an action-adventure file starring Steven Seagal than the brilliant equipment that it is — was created in Pilates's New York gym to challenge some of his advanced clients and extend his Method. "The Universal Reformer seems to appeal to the men," says Hessel, "because we can perform an extensive amount of upper body work with springs and rubber bands." One of the three Reformers in Hessel's studio, a big metal contraption, is an original from Pilates's own studio. "It's an exercise system that anyone, regardless of age or ability, can integrate into their lives," says Hessel.
Joan Goldhammer, a seventy-year-old woman who studied ballet until a foot condition interrupted her, has been working out at The Well-Tempered Workout three times a week for almost three years, and says it is a key to her healthy longevity. "The trainer you work with is the key to your success," says Goldhammer. "Jillian has an intuitive grasp on what your body needs and wants."
The Well-Tempered Workout has been growing steadily since opening in March 1988. Thirty to thirty-five regular students attend two to three times per week, and fifteen others attend group matwork classes. "The classes really ballooned this year," says Hessel.
Why? Charlene Alan, who has been training at The Well-Tempered Workout for about a year, says, "I love the environment of the studio. I wouldn't feel comfortable working out in a big window right on the street." Goldhammer underscores this: "They are lovely people, really dedicated. It's a wonderful place."