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The ShapeShift Pilates Story

A Somewhat Chronological Story of My Personal Journey

by Nancy Coleman

I Discovered Pilates:  1987

In 1987, long before the Pilates trend hit the mainstream, I saw the vision of what Pilates could be in the future.  It’s almost like the spirit of Joseph Pilates came upon me and showed me the genius of his work and that I, a non-dancer, could assist in bringing his work to public awareness.  Most, not all, teachers at the time were ballet dancers or former ballet dancers.  What I saw was the physical-psychological connection with the Pilates work, the impact that guided-exercise can have on someone’s psyche, their attitude about life, their desire to change if they’re stuck in a rut, maybe exercise could assist in their recovery from a trauma, a surgery, a loss, a death or recovery from a depression.  I shared my vision with some of my teachers at the time and they were a little perplexed, though supportive.  This perspective was not the norm.

My Intent To Find Pilates: 1984

I remember when I was studying for my Masters Degree in Spiritual Psychology in 1984, a student whom I was counseling was upset and called me.  I recommended she go for a walk for about 30 minutes and give me a call back.  She called me after her walk and said she felt so much better and while walking got the answer to her problem.  Not only that, she felt uplifted and less depressed by taking a simple walk.  The reason why I knew to tell her to take a walk was because I exercised to regain balance when I needed it.  Exercise was a big part of my healing process.  My philosophy was, “If you move your body your life will change.”

While going for my Masters, I simultaneously got Certified in Reichian Emotional Release Bodywork, 1984.  This training helped me become very comfortable with the deep emotion we hold inside and fear to express.  I practiced for a short time but found it too intense for me personally.  My quest continued to find a way to work with the body-mind-emotions in a more gentle yet profound way.

Why Pilates, Not Therapy?

A question that I’ve been asked so many times is why didn’t I continue on to get my license to become a therapist.  The answer?  I wanted to be able to have a friendship with my clients; I wanted to make a difference in their lives and be able to openly be myself with them; I didn’t want the formality of a traditional therapist-client relationship.  I have always leaned toward alternative modalities though I received great value from my traditional education.

My Trip To China – 1987

My movement arts were a combination of swimming, running and martial arts.  I studied martial arts for about five years, including Shaolin Kung Fu, Tai Chi, and Chinese Kempo Karate.  We were required as students to study and test on not just the physical arts but the philosophy and energetic training that was traditionally practiced in the Taoist traditions.  As a part of the program, I studied Taoist philosophy, history, Chi Kung, codes of conduct and ethics, Taoist Yoga and Tui Na acupressure.

I loved the Tui Na acupressure as I was working as a masseuse to pay for college and grad school.  My martial arts school offered us a unique opportunity to study in China for six weeks.  We studied Tui Na acupressure massage as exchange students at the Shanghai College of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  It was a life-changing experience.  While there, we not only learned the Tui Na but worked in the hospital along side the Doctors practicing hands-on healing and acupuncture.  We went to the Chi Kung Research Institute where they do surgeries with no anesthesia.  We visited herbal companies who bottle their remedies and send them to Chinatowns and herb shops all over the world.

Upon returning, from the education I received, I created the Head and Neck Release which I practice on clients and teach to Pilates teachers and massage practitioners.

My Prayer is Answered:  1987

Upon returning from China, I took my first Pilates class and loved it.  Having been on the search for the methodology that would allow me to combine the healing arts I loved so much with physical movement, when I took my very first Pilates lesson, I knew I had found what I was looking for.  Was I excited?  I was ecstatic.

Pilates Trademark Dispute:  Overturned October 20, 2000 with the help of Ken Endelman, Balanced Body, Inc.

From 1987 to October 19, 2000, for 13 years, by law, I was unable to use the  name “Pilates”.  There was a trademark held on the name.  The original name of my studio was ShapeShift Studio, no Pilates.  We had to use statements like, “Based on the teachings of Joseph H. Pilates,” which was quite a mouthful.  Studios were getting sued who used the term Pilates in there advertising or in their name.  In 1996, Ken Endelman, Owner of Balanced Body, Inc., the largest (and the Best) distributor of Pilates equipment was sued for using the Pilates name.  After four years, a court battle and thousands of dollars of expense, the court overturned the case and declared the name “Pilates” generic similar to “Yoga” where it is a description of a method not a product.

We consider Ken Endelman a hero in the Pilates world!  He fought for the rights of all of us and I still appreciate him daily.

Apprenticeship vs. Certification: My Understanding of Our Lineage

In the “old days”, there were no Pilates Certifications.  I had to seek out teachers to train with.  Our studies were considered Apprenticeships where a teacher would personally sanction a student to teach when they were ready.  Teachers were “first generation”  or Master Teachers, those who studied with Joseph Pilates himself.  “Second generation” were those who studied with his direct apprentices.  Third generation are those of us who studied with first and second generation teachers of Joseph Pilates.

(I hope I’m accurate in my description below as it’s like figuring out a family genealogy with all the branches and connections.)

I studied with Carol Monaco (2nd generation), Jillian Hessel (2nd generation), Carolyn Sue Albin (3rd generation), Ron Fletcher (1st generation), Eve Gentry (1st generation), Romana Kryzanowska (several workshops) (1st generation), Mary Bowen (1st generation), respectively.  The core of my training was with Jillian Hessel, consisting of two years of intense, personal guidance in the fundamentals and advanced Pilates protocols.  Mary Bowen, who I studied with on my visits to Connecticut to see my family, offered me something very special in our training together; she is a therapist and holds a similar vision to mine, that Pilates is a healing art.  I have great love for each one of my teachers.

In 1991, I was grandfathered in as a Founding Member and Certified Instructor of what was originally called The Pilates Institute, then renamed The PhysicalMind Institute during the Pilates Trademark dispute.

But Nobody Knows What Pilates Is

Now here’s the ironic twist to my story.  In the ’80’s, very few people had even heard of Pilates.  When I shared what I did for a living, people would ask, “What’s that?”  At family gatherings they would say, “You do what again?”  I can’t even count how many free lessons I gave to try and get people to realize what Pilates was and the benefits it could bring them.  In spite of that, I carried on.

ShapeShift Gets It’s Name:  A Double-Meaning: 1989

We have a wonderful name that seems very clear ShapeShift — “shift your shape” with Pilates and Gyrotonic.  But there’s a little bit more behind the meaning than meets the eye.  No, it’s not the Shapeshifter who was a character on Star Trek.  In 1989, I participated in a year-long program in Native American Shamanism.  During this time, I learned about the medicine people; the ones who lived on the outside of town overseeing the well-being of the village. They sat in prayer for the people and could sense any imbalances occurring within the tribe.  If healing was needed, during the night, in connection with the Great Spirit, the medicine person would change shape, travel out of their body, and heal people, restoring balance to the person and the village.

ShapeShift became a symbol for me of the healing I believe can take place through caring, community, connecting and love.  My intent has always been that people who come to the studio will restore balance and enhance their lives.

Partnership

When I first opened my Pilates practice in ’87, my husband (now former husband and precious friend), Brian Coleman,  believed in the vision and supported it whole-heartedly.  Brian assisted me as my business partner and was the “low bidder” on helping build out my studios in different locations.  Brian continues as my business partner, financial investor and advisor to this day.  I am in deep gratitude to him.  ShapeShift Pilates would not exist as it is today without him.  In January 2010, when ShapeShift got the opportunity to move across the street to our current ground-level location, Brian was the primary investor.  I also had the support of a number of clients who bought substantial packages of lessons providing me with the funds to make the move during challenging economic times.  I am humbled by their love, support and generosity.

Davis and A Second Location: 1992-’93

Now returning to the journey… In 1992, I became pregnant so I had to hire my first teacher.  I knew at that point I wouldn’t be able to run my studio by myself.  Our son Davis was born in July, 1993.  I remember feeling how miraculous it was when others loved him so much.  I feel the same way about the teachers and office staff I hired for my studio.  I love when they are loved by the clients, when they’re appreciated for their talents and cared for because of the difference they make in people’s lives.

Open New Studio in South Bay, 1993 and Home-Studio 1994

In 1993, six months pregnant, I had one location in Mar Vista and opened a second location in the South Bay.  I was the first Pilates studio in the South Bay.  Shortly after giving birth to Davis, we moved to the South Bay and I opened up a third location out of my home.

1994 – Gyrotonic

In 1994, I went through Gyrotonic Training.  I loved the complimentary aspects of how Pilates and Gyrotonic worked together yet were different.  Gyrotonic is based on swimming, yoga and dance movements allowing for more range of motion, circular movements and trunk rotation.  I love the differences and how the two systems each complement the benefits of the other.  I find it of great benefit to have Gyrotonic as an option for the way a client may need to work on a particular day.

1994 – The Studio, CoolDrool and Glamour Magazine – Another Creative Endeavor

Davis was six months old.  I had taken him to his Pediatrician, Dr. Jay Gordon.  Davis had started teething and Dr. Gordon told me to keep his chest dry from the drooling so he wouldn’t get a bronchial infection or cold.  I went home and I tried those little bibs on him and it just wasn’t right.  I looked across the room and saw a bandana.  I thought, “that would look much cooler than one of those bibs.”  So I made a pattern, I sewed up the bandana and put a piece of velcro on it.  The next week, Glamour Magazine contacted me to come and do a story on my studio in Mar Vista.  I told the babysitter to meet me at the studio so she could care for him while Glamour Magazine interviewed me.  They arrived, she was late.  I had to set my panic aside.  We chatted as I held him and the interviewer asked me, “What is that around your son’s neck?”  I said, “That’s my invention called the CoolDrool.”  She said, “Forget Pilates!  Let’s do a story on the CoolDrool.  The editor of Glamour just had a baby, she’s going to love this!”  I said, “Okay, great.”  The article ran in the September 1994 issue.  CoolDrools sold exclusively from the article for about two years but I had no way to follow up with any marketing.  If I had been an internet user at the time, if there had been a Facebook, I would still be in business today.  I had to make a choice where I was going to put my energy so I shifted my full attention to ShapeShift. I still have inventory after trying to revive CoolDrool in 2000.

Three Locations Become One: 1995

After realizing I had taken on too much as a new Mom, I closed my Mar Vista, Hermosa Beach and Home-Studio locations and moved to the Riviera Village on Catalina where we were located until January, 2010.

Jim and Charlotte Hume: 1999 – Opened Palos Verdes location

In 1996, Jim and Charlotte Hume came into my life as clients.  What a blessing this was.  A friendship developed between us, our families became close and we decided to open up a second location in Palos Verdes.  I told them I had a full plate already and they were willing to run the studio completely.  We opened in 1999.  Jim, who is like a brother to me, mentored me in the business/life wisdom he had developed over the years.  One of his favorite quotes to me was, “Things change every day, be prepared.”  As time went by, because the Hume’s were basically running the business 100 percent, Brian and I decided to turn the studio over to the Hume’s.  To say it was an outstanding business experience is an understatement.  We are the best of friends to this day.

Spinning – 1997

For the year of 1997, we had Spinning at the studio.  Spinning was a brand new exercise system at the time.  I felt it would be perfect to have a cardio workout along with Pilates and Gyrotonic.  Spinning brought a wonderful energy to the studio, good teachers and, of course, many people got into excellent shape. The problem was the profit margin was too low and I had to let it go.  I will be forever grateful to Charles Evans for bringing his specialness to Spinning.

January 2010: Our new street-level location

After 15 years in the same location, we moved across the street to our current location at 1848 S. Elena, Suite K, Redondo Beach.  It’s a beautiful location overlooking a garden courtyard.  We have wonderful neighbors, all holistic healing businesses.

At the time of the move, I thought it would a great idea to keep the old space in order to create a Community Center across from the studio.  For a year we had Yoga, Pilates Mat, personal training, healing and Mommy and me classes.  After a year, my good friend Karin Fogerty took over the space for her school.  It was good for me to, again, simplify.

My ShapeShift Philosphy

My work is a calling.  The day-to-day operation isn’t always easy, but I run the business of the studio because I love the people and the arts we teach.  I have created a blessing for myself. I’ve also had to dig deep and grow as a person in order to face, and overcome, the challenges that running a business has brought to me.  I believe in God, I pray, I take classes in many different arts to enhance my teaching and to help me stay balanced and focused while overcoming my fears. I  may experience a little pain when something goes wrong but I use the experience to open my heart wider and learn.  I am constantly growing and digging deeper to be in Truth and Love.  I ask for help if I need it and I have great family, friends and business associates that believe in me.  I have asked myself how I have even made it all these years with all the challenges and my answer is this: I was called to the work I do by a force greater than myself and without it I wouldn’t make it.  My strength comes from my relationship with God.

At ShapeShift Pilates we’re like a family.  We get close to our clients, we want them to have the best experience possible, we’re open to feedback if they need something different or new and our hearts are open to what they need.

Friendship

One of the most surprising things I have experienced over the years is when people come to the studio and create friendships – lifelong friendships between staff and clients, and clients with one another. Some who initially met as partners in a session are now going away on vacation together with their families, becoming golf-partners, best friends, AA sponsors, walking buddies and business partners (us and the Hume’s).  Who would have thought?  My opening up a business has brought so much love into the lives of so many.  It humbles me.  I never expected to fall in love with so many people.

My Business Philosophy

Besides my intuition and a background in psychology, I have my life philosophy to guide me.  I know that my business is no different than my other relationships.  Fairness with agreements, negotiating disagreements, meeting expectations and working through financial issues are no different in my business than in my personal life.  I absolutely disagree with the motto, “Business is business.”  What that says is the business is creating a barrier between itself and the customer, eliminating the possibility of an intimate consideration of the circumstances under discussion.  My staff and I are open to seeing all circumstances through the client’s eyes: that consideration is always given along with any policy. We are, first and foremost, human.

Staff Acknowledgement

I want to thank my friend Parisa Hadjimehdi for eleven years of Personal Assistance and Office Management.  She helps keep me balanced and runs the business as if it were her own.  I also want to thank all my teachers (see all their names under “Instructors”) for their integrity, caring and love for the clients.  I appreciate how we all work together in such an easy-going way.  I love our non-competetive, caring environment.  I’d like to thank my sister Sue and brother Paul for taking care of my family back east.  I thank Brian and Davis Coleman for their unconditional love and support.

How To Find A Studio/Teacher

I believe in non-competition.  If you’re interested in finding a Pilates studio that is right for you, I recommend you visit the studios in your area.  Go to the studio where you feel most comfortable, where you feel most yourself and most of all where you really like the instructor.  If you’re not a match with your instructor, I recommend changing teachers within the same studio or finding a new one.  If you think you don’t like Pilates or Gyrotonic, give it a second chance with another teacher or studio.  Don’t miss out on an art that will change your life because you didn’t like your instructor.  I always say that the art gets expressed through the individual’s personality so find the right person and environment for You.

We would love to have you come by so we can meet you in person.  A reduced-rate introductory session is a great, affordable way to experience what we have to offer first hand.   You will come to ShapeShift Pilates if you’re drawn here.  We would love it if you find us a match for you.

Pilates Trends:  What Does The Future Hold?

There are many new trends in the way Pilates is taught.  I do believe that new innovations come along that can enhance the original intent of an art.  I look at them as natural outgrowths of how we build on a great system to make it even better.  I have experienced some of those classes so I would know what they were like.  They can be a great workout but it’s really only flavors of what the original Pilates method is.

At ShapeShift, our choice is to teach closer to the traditional form based on the original Pilates method.  My very first teacher, Carol Monaco, asked me to take a vow when she sanctioned me to teach.  She said, “Will you carry on the Pilates method as it was originally intended?”  And my answer was, “Yes, I will.”  The core essence of what that vow means can still be found in the way we teach. We guide our students into their Pilates’ practice and have them learn the fundamentals and their execution in order to build a solid foundation before putting them into a large class.  We teach people how to safely and consciously work with their own conditions while understanding the grass-roots principles.

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