Aliyah Hardy, owner of Pilates Center of Rockville, Md., gave up her 10-year engineering career and transformed her life in 2007, when she put her house on the market and moved from Northern Virginia to Boulder, Col., to become a certified Pilates instructor through The Pilates Center.
Today, Hardy has opened shop, and now she is using her knowledge and skills to transform her clients’ lives as well through her center's private and duet classes and breast cancer survivors’ Pink Ribbon Program.
Unlike weight lifting, Pilates builds long, lean muscles. Hardy says working with dead weights tends to bulk up the muscle in very specific areas such as the biceps or quads. “Our equipment uses spring tension, pulleys, and leather straps," she said. "The movement of the springs and the resistance against the springs makes muscles long and lean. It’s very mechanical regarding how it works, but the spring resistance really goes through all your muscles and strengthens your core, if you teach it properly.”
Speaking of teaching, Pilates Center of Rockville’s instructors have comprehensive knowledge and experience. Hardy says, “Regardless of what movement issues someone’s having, whether it’s pain, weakness, the core’s weak, they just don’t feel great, or the spine is stiff—that’s what we specialize in.
“We are Pilates teachers, but to me that means we are movement specialists.”
Pilates Center of Rockville allows Pilates instructors to participate in continuing education workshops. “We have master Pilates teachers come and do workshops, experts who have been teaching for decades, and were taught directly by Joe Pilates,” Hardy said. “A lot of Pilates teachers, including mine, are members of an organization called Pilates Method Alliance; therefore, we have to do continuation training to receive credit and keep our certification.”
As for the participants, new clients can get a feel for Pilates by purchasing the center’s “Intro to Pilates Package,” which provides three private Pilates lessons. Clients who take private lessons at Pilates Center of Rockville will also receive a physical assessment, which will help them and their certified instructors focus on the fitness goals and discover areas of the body that may need improvement. The assessment also helps instructors customize the client’s workout. “You need to know why they are there, so you can help them get what they want to get out of the experience,” Hardy said.
The center also offers duet classes that accommodate experience levels (from beginner to advanced), including mat, pole, reformer, and chair classes. Clients can also take classes that rotate through the three different pieces of equipment from week to week. Mat classes are limited to 10-12 students per class, and equipment classes are limited to four students. All classes are 55 minutes in length. The small class sizes allow the teachers to pay special attention to their client’s postures.
The center’s Pink Ribbon Program is specialized for breast cancer survivors. “We are trained by a woman who is a former breast cancer survivor,” Hardy said. “She’s a Pilates teacher. She was so surprised when she went through the whole treatment process to find out that most hospitals do not have a formal rehabilitation program.”
Pilates Center of Rockville starts its breast cancer survivors out slowly, so the work tends to be gentler. Their session will normally last for about 30 minutes. Hardy says, “They (breast cancer survivors) don’t start off with equipment, we can progress to using equipment, but we may start off with mat work, using balls, bands, to help open up and free the body.” Moreover, "when someone is treated for breast cancer, most of the time it’s just exhausting for them to get up and get out," she said.
Breast cancer survivors often experience chest and shoulder tightness or tightness at the surgery site, post surgery. Sometimes, doctors use tissue from your abdomen (called the TRAM flap or transverse rectus abdominis muscle flap) for the breast reconstruction. That muscle is such a key part of the stability of your spine, Hardy said. “If someone comes into the center after surgery and really didn't do a lot of work to build up their core, we need to do something more to make up for that deficit.”
Joy Adler, 73, Bethesda, has been taking Pilates instruction for nearly 10 years and has attended Pilates Center of Rockville since its inception. She first read about Pilates 15 to 20 years ago, while trying to find the appropriate exercise for her chronic back issues. She also missed taking dance and exercise classes. “At the time, it was difficult to find Pilates instruction locally. One small studio in Congressional Center offered it. Eventually, American Dance Institute (ADI) offered it,” she said.
Adler met Hardy at the American Dance Institute. However, the institute decided to end its Pilates program to focus solely on dance and theatre. So Hardy, at the time the interim director of American Dance Institute's Pilates program, decided to open up her own studio in 2011. Her clients from ADI followed her to Pilates Center of Rockville.
Mary Jane Alexander, 83, Potomac, says her figure skating coach recommended Pilates to her years ago to help improve her performance on the ice. “I began Pilates classes at another studio about 15 years ago, and loved it from the start,” she said. “I like Pilates because I always feel better and stronger after a class.”
“Working with Aliyah has added a whole other dimension to my Pilates workouts. Aliyah takes the exercises to a deeper level than I have experienced at other studios. She is able to target my weak areas,” Alexander said. “I have learned a great deal about my body, while strengthening my core and improving my posture.”
Pat Kagan, 70, Potomac, heard about Pilates through a friend. “I was already an avid exerciser and attended aerobics classes four times a week, plus doing the treadmill at home. Two years ago, I contracted necrotizing fasciitis … I was on life support for almost a month and nearly died. When I came out of hospital, I was terribly weak and emaciated. “
Kagan called Pilates Center of Rockville and spoke to one of the instructors. “Nikki answered the phone when I called, and I ended up doing private sessions with her for a year. She was so knowledgeable about the body and so sympathetic to my unique deficiencies that I felt at last I'd found exactly what I needed to overcome my extreme weakness.”
Jane Hoddinott, 52, Rockville, says Pilates improved her strength, posture and balance, and protects her body more effectively, whether she is lifting objects or exercising.
"I feel that it emphasizes all the muscles in your body, rather than just a few,” Hoddinott said. “All of the teachers and classes are terrific, but I particularly enjoy Aliyah's class, as it provides me with an opportunity to challenge myself and work toward the next level. The classes at Pilates Center of Rockville are small, and the teachers are so knowledgeable. I have problems with my shoulder, which is managed completely by Pilates.
"If I ever have another injury, I would treat it by going to Pilates at this studio rather than attending physiotherapy,” she added.
Pilates Center of Rockville is located at 5751-D Fishers Lane, next to the Twinbrook Metro (Red line). For more information on Pilates Center of Rockville, call (301) 770-3340, email firstname.lastname@example.org/, visit the center's online website at www.pilatescenterofrockville.com, or Facebook page.