Rhea Corona of Pilates by Rhea helps us illustrate and explain how the therapeutic theory of disciplined movement pioneered by Joseph Pilates can help transform your physical well-being.
BY: Cuyler Gibbons
PHOTOS: Fernando Cerda
“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.” – Joseph Pilates
Joseph Pilates and his wife Clara opened their first fitness center in New York City in 1929. Pilates had been a sickly child who, through a devotion to healthful living, became an accomplished diver, gymnast and skier. A German living in England, he was interned on the Isle of Man during WWI. While there he worked as an orderly in a hospital caring for injured soldiers, some very seriously so and unable to walk. It was in this environment that Pilates began to formalize his method, even incorporating ad hoc apparatus he developed there using bed springs and other available materials, which were the precursor to the resistance apparatus he developed for use later in his practice, and which remain a key component of Pilates as it’s practiced today.
A “whole-body” method, Pilates relies on a number of linked, fluid movements, usually performed in series, and executed with precision and control. As you progress, the movements and control required can become increasingly intense, but Pilates is less about “working harder” and more about the practice of thoughtful, precise movements and breathing, the results of which work to strengthen and integrate the complimentary functioning of the muscles throughout your entire body. As Joseph Pilates said, “True flexibility can only be achieved when all muscles are uniformly developed.”
I met Rhea Corona in her open, light filled live/work loft space in South Pasadena. She is bright-eyed, and smiling broadly, and carries her lithe frame with the grace of a cat. (Her cat demonstrates with a nifty traverse of the narrow second floor railing.) Her studio comprises the upper floor of her airy, sleek yet comfortable loft. Pilates apparatus line one wall, with ample floor space available for mat work.
Corona, a former dancer and musical theater performer, came to Pilates when she saw a chiropractor early in her career. The joint cracker told her that her core was weak and needed work. As Corona says, “I was totally offended. ‘I was a 21-year-old dancer with a 6-pack,’ I thought.” Since its beginnings in America, the therapeutic effects of Pilates have been particularly attractive to dancers, and many greats from George Balanchine to Martha Graham were devotes of Pilates and his method. Corona, intrigued by Pilates flexible, personally tailored approach began taking classes. Despite having just finished a year long dance scholarship, Corona found that her core was indeed significantly challenged and strengthened by the routines.
With experience teaching youth dance classes, Corona felt teaching Pilates
was a way to bring all her passions and experiences to help people get well. From the beginning, Corona was attracted to the therapeutic elements of the discipline more than as a simple fitness platform. It was in this context that she felt she could establish the necessary one-on-one connection and truly help people.
Today, through her business “Pilates by Rhea,” Corona is successfully helping athletes get stronger and the injured get better everyday in her South Pasadena loft.
Classes are individual, semi-private, or trios and are available by appointment. We interrupted her busy class schedule recently to get a primer on the Pilates basics. You can practice the poses Corona illustrates here, pretty much anywhere you have a flat space for your mat, and the time and inclination to “gain the mastery of your mind over complete control of your body” as Joseph Pilates intended.
A – ROLLDOWN: sit up nice and tall, reach to your knees, with your feet extended in front of you. Feet and hips and knees equal width apart. Pull the shoulder blades together and drop your shoulders away from your ears. Curl the tail under and slowly, one vertebra at time, roll down flat onto your back.
Sensei caution: This is particularly challenging when you have a tight back, tight hamstrings, and not a strong core.
B – FORWARD BEND: lean forward palms face up, let your head act as an anchor. Stretch through your lower back. Next, Lift your head, keeping your back flat, place your hands on your shins, or grab your feet if you can reach them. Key tip: “Keep your neck ’long’, don’t wear your shoulders as earrings,” says Rhea.
C- TWIST: reach your arms out in front of you as if you embracing a big ball, with your fingertips touching. On the in-hail, twist to one side as far as you can without sinking in the low back. Then on the exhale come back to the center. Then inhale, sitting up tall, twisting to the other side, then exhale and return to center.
D – SWIMMING – Lay flat on your stomach, with arms reaching forward, legs reaching back, with your head aligned with your spine (not looking up). Suspend both arms and legs, keeping them up while concentrating on using your core, then alternate opposite arms and legs in an up and down motion.
E-DOUBLE LEG STRETCH – Lay flat on your back. If you have neck issues you can place a pillow or ball behind your head for support. Begin holding your knees into your chest. This is your inhale. On the exhale take your arms straight back 45 degrees, and your legs out, at 45 degrees. Next move into Single leg stretch by alternating legs one leg at 45 degrees while pulling the opposite knee to your chest.
F- TABLE TOP – On hands and knees with knees and hips the same width, and hands right under your shoulders. Keep your spine straight. Your head should be an extension of the spine. Shrug the shoulders back, pull in your core muscles then reach out with one hand, while extending the opposite leg back. Keep everything aligned with your spine, drop your chin, don’t look up. Stay in one long line. Bring everything down, and repeat on the other side.
G – THE 100’s is the most traditional of Pilates core exercise. Start with your back on the mat, Your legs go to chair position while your hands reach to the sky so you look like a dead bug, inhale here, then exhale, tuck the chin in, flatten the tummy and extend your legs up at a 45 degree angle. Then, counting, pretend you are pressing down plungers with each hand until you get to 100. If you have a tight lower back you can take your legs back to chair position. If you have a tender neck take the head back to the mat. With both modifications continue pumping the arms and breathing with your counts.