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Pilates - the Art, the Science, and the Passion

An Interview with Rael Isacowitz

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Updated April 25, 2012

Real on Pilates Avalon

Rael on the Avalon Step Barrel

(c)2010, BASI Pilates

Rael Isacowitz is one of the great Pilates master instructors of our day. Through his teaching, writing, and DVDs he has inspired Pilates instructors and enthusiasts all over the world, myself included. I was thrilled to interview him for these pages.

Despite sharing with me that he had been working since 4:30 in the morning, and it was 5pm, Rael tirelessly answered each question with grace and passion. We talked about him and how he developed his style, along with everything from launching beginners and mentoring instructors, to men in Pilates, the specialization of Pilates, equipment, and more. I hope that you will be touched by the magic of "Rael Pilates" as you read this interview.

Who and/or what have been the biggest influences on the development of your Pilates style as you have evolved it?

I always credit Kathy Grant with being my greatest influence. I've had the pleasure of working with most the first generation teachers, but Kathy and I have had a very special connection for the past 20 years. She has been my guide and mentor in Pilates.

Also, swimming, yoga, dance instilled a tremendous passion in me for movement and art, and a reverence for the human body. I'd like to add that probably my students and clients have taught me the most.

What would you say makes Rael Pilates unique?

First and foremost I have to say the strong passion, the soul, the spirit. I've been fortunate to attract amazing people to work around me and that has furthered the passion, and it is that passion that has attracted the people I work with. It is an ongoing cycle.

Then, the approach itself is unique. It is an amalgamation of art and science. I'll expand on that later, but that's a very unique part of my style - art and science working synergistically together. There is always a sense of art in the work, and always a basis of science.

Finally, there is a tremendous focus on precision and quality. I know that many people say: Well, precision, that's one of the principles of Pilates. And it is one of the principles, but I am just not sure how seriously they take it. Maybe by nature I am an insufferable perfectionist and that is why precision is very important to me.

Joseph Pilates described his method as the complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit. But we don't hear very much about spirit. Could you expand a little bit about how you see the role of spirit in Pilates?

That is a really interesting question and a difficult one. When speaking of the body, that's an easy level to address because it's the most tangible. That is the exercise part of Pilates, but in a way, the least potent. As we go deeper we get to the mind. To me, what the mind is about is the principles - awareness, breath, balance, control, center, concentration, efficiency, flow, precision, and harmony. You cannot do this work mindlessly. It's mind/body all the time.

The spirit is the quality that we breathe into the principles. If we concentrate and perform the movements with precision it doesn't mean that it has a spirit to it. It is naturally quite mechanical - you are concentrating and going from point A to point B. The spirit is where we inject the quality, the personality, the dynamic, the color - and really, the heart. It's individual and it's certainly not a religion. When I speak of spiritual it is more the depth that I go into, and giving each movement a very distinct quality and character. That is the spirit of the work.

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