Gaiam Lifestyle magazine
2003 Premiere Issue, pages 36 ff.
Beaming In to Pilates
A Q&A with Jillian Hessel, whose B.E.A.M. method helps make Pilates easy for just about anyone.
Why is it a challenge for some people to get started with Pilates?
A lot of Pilates tapes look so rigid — they seem to say, "It has to be this way," or "This is the way Pilates is taught." And you often hear that you've got to be fit to start Pilates.
Pilates does assume a certain amount of flexibility in the spine, lower back and hips that a lot of us don't have these days. But I began Pilates because of a back injury; I was not capable of performing classic Pilates. I think a lot of my B.E.A.M. techniques and beginner moves stem from that. If I had gone to the kind of teacher who insisted I begin with breathing 100s and rollups, I don't think I would have been able to do it. At the least, I don't think I would have gotten stronger. I would have just kind of superficially performed the movements and not really understood where the breathing and the abdominal control came from. Ultimately, Pilates wouldn't have helped me.
Fortunately, my teacher saw my problem. I was very out of alignment. My muscles were extremely imbalanced. She began with breathing. So she really gave me the foundation of the B.E.A.M. fundamentals many years ago because I wasn't capable of doing classical Pilates at that time.
How does your B.E.A.M. method make Pilates
more accessible for all skill levels?
I created B.E.A.M. as a way to understand Pilates. Once you get into the classic work, there's not a lot of time to go into detail about the underpinnings.
I've evolved the B.E.A.M. techniques over time, just through observing how my clients need it to deepen their understanding and execution of Pilates. For example, I came up with a way to do Corkscrew at a very elementary level. This is nice because then when you're at a more advanced level, you already know the breathing pattern and the essentials of the movement. Then you're going to start moving bigger as your core gets stronger. I often add cycles of breathing incrementally for a beginner. As you get more advanced, you move more quickly with less breathing as the control is stronger in the body.
How did you come up with the B.E.A.M. acronym?
B.E.A.M. stands for breathe, energize, align and move. Classic Pilates actually has six precepts, which also include balance and coordination, and flowing movement. I've simplified it for the new millennium with B.E.A.M.
I'm also a Trekkie; I like Star Trek and I like the idea of beaming in to the body. But B.E.A.M. is a great acronym for exactly what it is we do.
How is B.E.A.M. used in Pilates for Beginners?
I tried to create a workout for someone who isn't able to do a classic Pilates workout and needs to modify the movements to their situation or skill level. But I did this with a middle level of difficulty. It works for both beginners and those who want a challenging workout.
B.E.A.M. helps the program apply to two different levels of beginners. It can be for a beginner who's completely out of shape, who's never begun anything. And it can also be for someone who's new to Pilates. My experience is that everyone benefits from B.E.A.M. fundamentals — from having the breathing, the energy, the alignment and the movement explained a little more in depth before they go into Joseph Pilates' classic exercises.
I want Pilates for Beginners to be an inspiration for people. I want to encourage people to be creative, explore their own bodies and find the workout level that's right for them. It should be hard because, yes, it's a mind-body discipline. But you should feel great afterward. It should be fun.
How does Pilates compare to other forms of exercise?
People who don't do Pilates, even if they've never heard of it, could really use it because we're becoming more and more sedentary and out of shape as a society. We need to work on breathing. We need to get our energy level up. We need to have that zest for movement in our lives, and we tend to forget — sitting at a computer, talking on the phone, sitting in a car for long periods of time — that man is an active animal.
What's unique about Pilates that you don't get from running or taking an aerobics class is the particular mind-body connection with the breathing and the attention to alignment. We must balance all the muscles in the body so there's even muscular development. You don't get overbuilt in one area; you just look great all over.
Since it's a mind-body discipline, the gift of Pilates is that you look at yourself each day and do the best workout you can for your body, given how you feel and what your energy level is.
There's also no endpoint in Pilates. I just studied with a mentor of mine who's 81; he's been teaching Pilates for over 50 years. He's a testament to the fact that Pilates is a very balanced approach that can take you through a lifetime.
Sidebar: Inside the B.E.A.M. Method
Jillian explains her
Breathe :: Energize :: Align :: Move
approach to Pilates.
This is the most fundamental and distinctive trait in Pilates. The way we use the breath is different from yoga, and it's different from dance. The breathing in Pilates is very stylized, because breathing is what sets the rhythm of the movement — and Pilates is all about movement. It's not about holding poses. It's about flowing gracefully from one part of the movement to the next. So we need to know whether there's a dynamic attack to the breath or a slow sustained attack. Joe Pilates himself used to say, "In with the air and out with the air" and talk about the lungs being the place where we could purge the body of impurities.
Energy is the life source of everything. So we want to project energy in Pilates. This is a mind-body technique I use on two levels: vigorous breathing to bring up the energy level of the body, and energize as a visualization of sending energy from the core center out so there's a fully present sense of the movement.
To project energy is exciting; it makes a movement more purposeful. The way some people do aerobics, flinging themselves around and not being fully present or projecting energy...I call it monkey see, monkey do. It's much more exciting to watch a roomful of people who are fully present and thinking about what they're doing. It feels better. You're putting your mind together with your body and your breath, and you're moving.
Alignment is so key in Pilates. Because of the need for mental focus, we don't do a ton of repetitions of any of the exercises. If we're doing only 5 to 10 reps of a movement, we have to be in perfect alignment so that the muscles are working in a balanced fashion and we're not stressing the body.
Move is self-evident because Pilates isn't poses — it's exercise. It's about movement. It's about being in your body in a graceful, flowing way. Not just in the exercises but in everything you do. Movement is life.