Interview with celebrity Pilates trainer Brooke Siler
Pilates trainer Brooke Siler is the founder of the celeb-favourite New York studio re:AB Pilates, author of the New York Times bestselling book The Pilates Body, and was named one of the top pursued trainers by Vogue magazine.
Mum-of-two Brooke’s list of clients reads like a celeb Who’s Who: Kate Moss, Amber Valetta, Madonna, Zooey Deschanel, Liv Tyler, Lauren Hutton, Kirsten Dunst, Rachel Weisz, Dustin Hoffman, Stella Tennant, Maura Tierney, Sarah Ferguson, Ainsley Harriott… the list goes on and on!
Today she has relocated to the South Coast of the UK with her family to start an exciting new chapter in her life. She shares her story so far with us.
When did you first discover Pilates, and why do you love it?
I was moonlighting as a personal trainer at a small fitness studio in 1994 while attending continuing education courses toward a degree in writing.
One day Pilates equipment arrived at the studio. I had never seen such equipment or heard of Pilates and was immediately taken by its intelligence and creativity. I was humbled by how challenging it was for someone as supposedly strong as I was.
What I soon learned was that my intrinsic core muscles were much weaker than my extrinsic ones. I had been relying on training superficial muscle in a segregated fashion (i.e. arms, legs, back, bum…) and never experiencing the myriad benefits of initiating from the core – or ‘powerhouse’ as it is termed in Pilates – and working outward; much akin to the power of a microwave.
By working from this whole-body perspective I transformed into a lithe, alacritous, empowered version of my former self. It was miraculous. I was hooked!
When did you train and who trained you?
After three months of classes and equipment sessions I was referred to the grande dame of Pilates, Romana Kryzanowska. Romana had been Joseph Pilates’ protégée for nearly thirty years prior to his passing in 1967. She’d been teaching Pilates for more than 50 years and was in her early 70s at the time of our first meeting.
I fell in love with her immediately. She was tough, tender and and tenacious, with a twinkle in her eye and an intuitive wisdom that was second to none. I spent the next two years glued to her side and after opening my studio, re:AB Pilates in 1997 I continued to study with Romana for another eight years.
How did you get started as a trainer?
Coming from a very athletic family of mostly men, I grew up sporty and tom-boyish, and by the time the gym-culture came around I was early on the bandwagon.
I joined my first gym, with my father, when I was only 15. The equipment variety kept my active mind entertained and as an asthmatic, the cardio component was an asset. I trained, on and off, right through university though with no real consistency, and even ended up dating a personal trainer. (A great incentive to getting to gym more regularly!)
After university I befriended the owner of the NYC fitness studio where I discovered Pilates (or it discovered me) and owing to the fact that he was an exercise physiologist, I learned proper training techniques and started to take fitness more seriously.
Before Pilates came along for me I was training clients on standard gym equipment and realising there was a coach inside of me itching to get out. And, though I liked training people and the idea that one could shape musculature, in particular my genetically deflated bum, I never for one moment considered physical training more than a hobby.
In my mind I was a highly educated, ambitious, go-getter bound for glory as a successful writer. As fate would have it, my Pilates training led me to that exact position.
Where was your first studio?
I threw out my sofa and coffee table and began training people on gigantic Pilates equipment squeezed into the 300sf living room of my first apartment in NYC’s Greenwich Village. I called the studio Precision Physiques, but if you try and say that 10 times fast you will quickly understand why it didn’t stick.
And how did you grow from there to re:AB?
Being born and raised in New York City it is almost inevitable that you will “know people who know people”. As it so happened, I had worked at Elle magazine for a while and I knew people. I started training friends who were models or in the fashion industry in general.
That led to editors hearing about me and, as Pilates was seen as an upcoming trend in the 90’s, the media attention began.
But it wasn’t until Vogue wrote a few lines on Pilates, and included me and my living room studio, that the real business grew. I partnered with my friend, a top model at the time, and re:AB Pilates was born.
re:AB attracted a host of models and celebrities. What was the secret to your success?
Definitively it was word-of-mouth about who I was training, and my famous and fashion and media-connected partner, that garnered all the celeb attention. We never had to advertise the studio since the media did it for us.
That said, the level of teaching at re:AB was always bar-none and I was fiercely protective of keeping the Pilates training authentic and result-oriented. Since celebrities are quick to refer other celebrities to places where they are getting what they want and feel safe, re:AB was a perfect fit.
What’s been the proudest moment in your career?
Every moment when I receive a letter, message or text from someone who credits me, my teaching or my products for changing their life for the better feels like the proudest moment. I am beyond grateful that my career is chock-full of proudest moments.
If I had to pick one, I would point to the day I sat down with Romana, over a couple of Tequila-sunrises, and showed her the completed and bound copy of the Pilates Body (dedicated to her), and basked in the following moments of her pride and approval.
Since my father had passed away the very month I met Romana I felt the sense of achieving the oft-elusive parental approval – and it was glorious.
What inspired you to write your first book, the best-selling Pilates Body?
I found that, while I mysteriously seemed to understand everything Romana was imparting about the depth and breadth of Pilates, many of the students and apprentices around me did not seem as fortunate.
As a physical science and art Pilates has its own language made up of visual, kinaesthetic, tactile, auditory and intuitive components. When I realised my interpretation of what Romana was saying seemed to make sense to others, I had found a place where I might be able to help make understanding Pilates more efficient for a greater audience.
I began writing notes with the vaguest idea of a book in mind when I received a phone call from a literary agent who had read seen me in the media and asking whether I would consider writing a book on Pilates. The rest, they say, is history!
What are you doing now – and what is your vision for the future?
After running re:AB for a whopping 17 years(!), which is like dog years in NYC, and Precision Physiques for a year before that, and being in my 22nd year of teaching… I simply need to stop for a minute, recharge and refocus.
The glory of teaching something that you love so passionately is like a drug, and while the high is intoxicating, all that external focus can be depleting.
Having started teaching Pilates at age 26 and coming up on 48 this year, my priorities have shifted. My two beautiful boys will not be boys much longer and my opportunity to be involved in their schooling and day-to-day routine is limited.
All the stars (and my eager-to-return-home British husband) aligned to allow me the opportunity to uproot my life from the over-stimulated streets of New York City to the calm coast of the UK. My intention is replenish my artist’s soul, to live and laugh and play as often as possible, to rejoice in my dream of having a real home (as opposed to a city apartment) and allow the rest to unfold organically.
I brought absolutely all of my authentic Pilates equipment with me from the States and I am thrilled and beyond blessed to have a multitude of teaching opportunities being presented to me almost weekly… but the question for me is not what’s “next”, but what’s “right now”.
And what are your top Pilates tips?
Since Pilates is really a methodology of movement it truly requires a teacher who is knowledgable in Joe’s movement philosophy.
I am sad to say that much of what is taught today, particularly in group classes, in no way resembles Joe’s original work or intent so I will offer some very general physical Pilates tips for daily life but also want to include, for your ruminating pleasure, some quotes from the man himself that are much more revealing and pertinent to life in general.
If you are interested in really understanding Pilates I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of Return to Life through Contrology by Joseph Pilates himself. It has his original exercise photos, instructions and philosophy. Beware any teacher who has not read it so often it is a tattered, highlighted mess.
Simple physical Pilates tips you can try immediately:
- Keep your knee and elbow joints “soft” (unlocked) when weight-bearing. (for example, don’t lock your knees when standing. I promise you won’t fall down.)
- When engaged in any dynamic movement (including walking), draw your navel toward your spine and then actively lift it (muscularly) to create a long, corseted waist. This supports and protects your low back and allows breath movement to take place in the rib cage rather than the belly. (Imagine trying to zip up tight jeans, but don’t hold your breath.)
- Injury and pain is most often a result of imbalance in the body’s musculature. Become aware of any poor, imbalanced postural habits you have and work daily to correct them. For example, do you stand on one leg often? Do you cross the same leg over the other consistently? Do you slouch constantly when sitting? Do you roll in or out on your feet? etc.
And since Pilates is also a philosophical blueprint for getting the most from your life, direct from Joe’s mind to yours, these quotes are taken from Joseph H Pilates’ books Return to Life through Contrology and Your Health:
- Physical fitness is the first requisite to happiness.
- If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.
- Ideally our muscles should obey our will.
- Practically all human ailments are directly traceable to wrong habits which can only be corrected through the immediate adoption of (natural, normal) right habits.
- Physical fitness can neither be achieved by wishful thinking nor outright purchase.
- Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our very life depends on it…Above all else, learn to breathe correctly.
Have questions? Reach out and ask! I am mostly available on my Facebook page Brooke Siler Pilates, but you can also allow follow me on Twitter. You can also find all of my Pilates products on Amazon. These include:
- The Women’s Health Big Book of Pilates, 2014
- Element: Pilates Weight Loss for Beginners, 2009
- Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge, 2005
- The Pilates Body Kit: Interactive fitness (CD kit with flashcards), 2003
- The Pilates Body, 2000
To find recommended teachers of the authentic Pilates method in your area, search the Classical Pilates international teacher directory.