Hi Erika, thanks for sitting down with me today to discuss your journey with Polestar. I’m glad we’re both American, because I think we’ll understand each other!
Let’s start with your first experiences with Pilates. How long has it been in your life?
Erika: I’ve been practicing pilates since about 2006.
I had my first experience on the Pilates apparatus whilst visiting my university sorority sisters who lived in California. I went out to visit them for a few days and they were practicing Pilates regularly with a woman who had a studio set up in her garage. I went out there and had my first hour session in a semi-private space. It was so amazing having a play on this jungle gym world, and then feeling the benefits after.
Was that what got you interested in doing Pilates more? Did it lead into doing your own classes?
Erika: Afterwards, there was an ebb and flow of Pilates in my life. One-to-ones were too expensive for me to afford regularly in university, so it came into my life through these in-between moments. Coming and then disappearing. When I moved to the UK, I came across a class I could attend regularly whilst studying for my Fine Art Masters.
I immediately felt the benefits with my posture – then physically, emotionally, mentally; the whole picture. I started training to better understand myself after that.
Can you tell me more about how your Pilates practice integrates with your art practice?
Erika: It’s a big idea – how Pilates and art relate and interchange. My practice as an artist is about expression, relating to the world. I think about how to absorb information and how to respond to it. Ultimately I strive to provide an exchange with someone else.
Pilates is a lot like that, but the medium is the body, rather than an object or material. I imagine the body is the canvas. As I started to delve into Pilates more deeply, I thought more and more about how I express myself with my body. And then that had an immediate effect on my art practice. I began thinking about how I express myself and my body in printmaking and drawing. It was an immediate relationship, a real gut feeling.
Art for me has always been instinctual. My body wanted to have a better relationship with me. It wasn’t until I regularly practiced Pilates that I found a mediator to explore myself within that realm of physicality, in the context of my art practice.
I know you’ve done other kinds of physical training or conditioning before. What was different about Pilates?
Erika: My background with athletics started with competitive sports. I played competitive volleyball in my teenage years and through university. It is a completely different kind of participation. I didn’t do dance (as much as I might have imagined myself to be a dancer in my mind!). I did yoga, which gave me something to explore. But I’ve always been most invested and interested in detail – small moments. I wasn’t getting on well with the big classes so characteristic of yoga.
It had always been about group activities for me before then, and I felt myself get lost in wanting to absorb technique. When I started having have one-to-ones with Pilates, I thought, “wow, this is for me. It’s not about anyone else.” Pilates is about how I relate to others and how I can explore and digest information. The fact that Pilates focuses so much on the individual was revolutionary for me.
You’ve talked about the relationship between your art practice and doing Pilates. I’m interested in the part of your story when you decided to become a Pilates practitioner as well as an artist. What first inspired you to take it seriously as a journey?
Erika: When I finished my masters at the Slade there was a break where I did creative workshop training and design, and was looking at ways to commercialise my artwork. It just didn’t feel right. Artwork has always been an emotional and spiritual practice, and for me has been about something bigger than a monetary value. I couldn’t bridge the two together.
At the same time, I started doing more and more mat Pilates classes as a participant. Like a LOT of them. And my husband and family were like, “Well, if you’re doing a lot of Pilates, why don’t you explore what’s there? Is there training you can do? “ It was a lightbulb moment. I didn’t even think it was possible because I didn’t come from a dance background, or anything that was about moving gracefully. But then I went for it.
I contacted Moss Pilates studio (Polestar Pilates UK HQ) and talked to Carl Moss for the first time. He was like, “Yes, yes, just come by.” I remember being so scared when I was invited to my first advanced practitioner group club mat class. I was all nerves, feeling like, “these are all Pilates instructors and I’m not. Can I even be here? Am I allowed?” By the end, I absolutely loved it, and everyone was really kind. It felt like a really natural progression, where immediately afterwards I signed up for the practitioner training course. I could tell that I would find more balance in my life and that this journey could help me stabilise.
I went from a place where something wasn’t right with commercialising my art and into training for Pilates. It’s to the point now where – post-training and doing other training and certification – that I feel like I have a real instinctual balance and confidence I was missing before. Now I’ve been able to come back to my artwork.
I understand that through Pilates you found this sense of grounding. At one point you referred to your ‘fight or flight’ mechanism being tempered by Pilates. How did that happen?
Erika: For myself and through my movement exploration with mentors and peers, the common thread between all of it was breath. It is quite a simple idea: breathe while you move, breathe between talking. I simply had never realised how much I wasn’t breathing. That, in itself helped stabilise so many things internally: from physical movement to communication and exchanges with others.
I spent so much of my life working fast, doing so much and putting so much energy and passion into things, it became exhausting. In the process of this over-exertion, I became emotionally and physically fatigued. Through Pilates I had this revelation, “I can have my legs over my head, an arm over here, doing this over there, and talking, and breathing!” That’s a lot of coordination. I can also take all those things away and I end up back to the same thing: the breath. It has helped regulate my actions and life.
So how did you decide to train with Polestar, of all the options out there?
Erika: I looked at other places, but Polestar was the most professional and to me seemed ahead of the curve. Polestar itself is phenomenal. The education is not textbook “read this, learn it, regurgitate”. They pride a real experience in the reading and comprehension. The classes are about sharing and internalising the learning, growing from people around you.
The first person I met at Polestar was Lisa Stredwick. She is kind and definitive, she rocks up and hands it to you. I appreciated her honesty first and foremost. And then I started realising that everyone at Polestar seemed to share an ethos of honesty, communication, and connecting with other people. There was such a variety of people coming through the door. I was impressed, and it felt very special that Polestar could accommodate so many different individuals.
So when you first started training and just got dumped into a class… what was that process like? Going from the first class and then starting the certification?
Erika: For me, arriving to the class and immediately wanting more, got me excited and got me enrolled. I had no idea what to expect. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be very good. But quickly learned not to make that judgement.
From that first class, it was like finding M & Ms on the ground, picking them up one at a time. It was like discovering these treats of information & knowledge. There were some things I wasn’t ready for, or didn’t want to approach in the moment, and Polestar completely accommodated me. I was given the tools and access to the right people, so that when I was ready for those bits of learning, I could go back and pick up those yellow M & Ms.
It sounds like you were quite busy, and that the course-work was demanding. What kind of advice would you give to someone hoping to fit Pilates training into their life schedule?
Erika: I teach five regular weekly classes, and then I’m on several cover lists which means I get a lot of calls and texts to sub in for other teachers.
I know it varies for each person – commitments to a career that’s already happening, or a family or hobbies or sports. Then you want to introduce Pilates training. I think if we look at what’s already being juggled, Pilates can’t really just get thrown on top of the pile. That would probably be really unsettling. So it’s a question of fitting it in.
Like most training, Polestar courses have requirements, checklists, required hours. I would suggest that anyone really keep the bigger picture in mind. By evaluating the long-term investment maybe you start to understand what’s flexible in your life. Maybe it’s the people around you that can help you make adjustments. Nothing’s permanent and everything takes time. So maybe that’s a way that Pilates can start to take hold in your life – through small substitutions and negotiations.
In your experience, what were the most difficult or challenging things about starting as a practitioner? What really kept you up at night?
Erika: There were definitely things that kept me up at night. Being in London, that kept me up at night. Taking on a new career, and a new industry! And an industry that is relatively new to the world. The level at which Polestar preps people, after the certification, it’s so above and beyond a certification. The maturity, sophistication, gentleness. It is so multifaceted it can make you wonder, “how does that fit into the rest of the world?”
Then I had moments of like, “OK How do I get a class? What do I gotta do to get a class?! Who do I know?” In those moments I would look at my directory in my head. I calmed myself down by realising I had a home base at Moss Pilates. I thought about who could help me with their experiences about how they did it. And I started talking to people in the network, the first people I had met.
At first I thought maybe I could cover some group classes. It was stressful without many opportunities on the table. But I slowly started to work my way though the weeds. Then I started to get recommendations, and got a reputation for providing a positive experience. That really helped the anxiety levels go down. Opportunities arose!
What was it like when you started teaching Pilates to other people?
Erika: It was really exciting. I was so enthusiastic. I had this exposure to this brilliant world and I wanted to share it. At first it was also overwhelming: it felt like there was so much learning to fit into a small period of time. Sharing that experience with others, I realised that everyone has their own limits and everyone learns differently. Polestar taught me that on a different level, that all kinds of learning styles are relevant and unique. It gave me tools and thinking for how to best serve people who learn differently.
When I first began it was about empathy for the person I was working with and sharing information with. Helping them move their body and watching how they related to things. But then I needed to have empathy for myself as well, realising I’m just human and don’t know it all. But it took me a while to accept it, that I couldn’t (and didn’t need to) have all the answers.
What are the most rewarding things that come out of working with others?
Erika: There’s the moment of being able to support a space for another, seeing that they can relish and enjoy the emotion or the motion of the body. It is incredibly rewarding to support that and to realise it’s so dynamic for myself as well. Not only am I helping & supporting others, I’m also helping and supporting myself, and actively participating and learning.
What are the biggest challenges teaching people?
Erika: Pace. For me it’s all about pace. I said earlier that I’m a sprinter and I like to go really fast. That’s how I do things, but that’s not how everyone else does things! It’s really about learning how to match pace. Like cyclists or race car drivers, how they get behind and catch the slipstream and move with each other, it was challenging to learn how to do that. I had to recognise my own pace, not just that of the people I work with. Then I’m actually on my own cycle here too and if I can regulate myself, I start to notice even more about how they’re moving and their pace. Soon it becomes a marriage of movement and a relationship.
It’s difficult to learn that and took me a while. It is not just like flipping a coin and off we go! It’s like ok, how do you hold the coin, how do I hold the coin? Can we swap? Can you catch? Haha!
And to wrap up, what’s the most exciting place you’ve had a personal Pilates moment?
Erika: It would probably be driving cars, specifically high performance cars on the Nurburgring. It’s in a seated position, and then there’s throttle and give. The hands are on the wheel, but they’re also with the wheel. It’s like the Pilates apparatus; because the car is an apparatus and it’s working within the environment. That’s been the most thrilling.
Because of my training with Polestar I recognise ‘oh, that’s my pelvis that sits in my seat. That’s my foot connected to my thigh and it feeds into me sitting up right’. It makes the experience safer, but also so much more enjoyable. Drive fast!
This is the second in a series of interviews with Polestar Pilates practitioners in London and beyond, conducted and edited by Polestar UK.