Pilates Style magazine
May/June 2006, pp. 36-37
Back pain took Jillian Hessel from aching to "beaming"
by Randye Hoder
How she found Pilates:
A dancer since age 12, Jillian Hessel had long been plagued with back pain so severe, she would numb it with cortisone shots. "I thought everyone who was a top athlete or dancer just lived with pain," she says. Then she took one of those "classic slip-on-a-banana-peel falls" while dancing with the Geneva Ballet in Switzerland. An X-ray revealed that she had double curvature of the spine. Soon after moving to New York in the late 1970s and joining Ballet Hispanico, a fellow dancer in the company, who also suffered from back problems, convinced Hessel to try out her gym. She found herself "in a windowless room with all this strange equipment." It was there, in the studio of Kathleen Stanford Grant, one of only two teachers certified by Joseph Pilates, that her life's course was changed.
How she was influenced by her teachers:
I am an amalgam of everything I've learned from dance, yoga and Pilates.
"Kathy Grant's work with me was transformational," Hessel says. Grant taught her the importance of focusing on her foundation, of linking movement to breath and of understanding the mind-body relationship. Grant also sent Hessel, who was out of work and in need of a job, to the studio of Carola Trier, another elder. There she apprenticed and taught for several years. She worked for Trier in the morning and then worked out with Grant in the afternoon. "Kathy got me centered and Carola got me strong," she says. Years later, when Hessel moved to Los Angeles, she taught at the Ron Fletcher Studio in Hollywood. Fletcher, another direct disciple of Joseph Pilates, had been a principal dancer with Martha Graham and incorporated his dance background into his Pilates practice. He is a proponent of "percussive breathing," a form of loud, intense breathing that emphasizes full exhalation. From all her teachers, 50-year-old Hessel says, she "learned that there was no one way of doing Pilates."
Creating the B.E.A.M. Technique:
Hessel created the B.E.A.M. Technique, which stands for Breathe, Energize, Align and Move, as a way to help her clients understand the basic principals of Pilates. The technique is designed to help connect the mind to the body and the breath to movement. "The technique encourages students to work from the inside out," Hessel explains. "You have to breathe right in order to focus your energy, and you have to be aligned properly in order to get the most out of the movement."
How her method has evolved:
Hessel says she developed her philosophy from being injured, from being in touch with her own body, from teaching and from studying with others. "I am an amalgam of everything I've learned from dance, yoga and Pilates," Hessel says. "The best training is teaching and working with different bodies every day. You learn to be flexible, because each person is so different mentally, physically and emotionally."
Favorite thing about Pilates:
"Doing Pilates is a vacation from the rest of your life," Hessel says. "We are always multi-tasking, talking on the phone, driving, juggling our work and our families. When you are doing Pilates — if you are doing it right — you can't think about other things. You have to be totally focused on the breath and the movement. You have to keep it pure. It is the hardest thing and the best thing about Pilates."
Advice to practitioners of Pilates:
"Educate yourself," Hessel says. "Ask teachers how long they've been teaching, how many hours a week they teach and who they've studied with." She also advises "trying different teachers so you can get a feel for what different people do." Though she still thinks one-on-one training is best, she has softened her attitude about other ways of learning Pilates. "Years ago I would have said you can't learn Pilates from a tape or a mat class," Hessel says. Now she says, if practitioners choose wisely, "they can learn a lot from the DVDs, videos and books that are out there." The bottom line: "Mix it up. Try different things."
Claim to fame:
Jillian Hessel studied with three elders — teachers who learned directly from Joseph Pilates. Known as a "teacher's teacher," she relishes training other Pilates instructors as a way to pass on this historical connection and because, "I don't want my take on it to be lost."
Born in Tarrytown, New York, Jillian has lived in Los Angeles since 1986.
Pilates Basics (Rodale, 2003)