Amber ZuckswertEpic Living

Pilates Power

Poor postureBy Amber Zuckswert 

Do you struggle with back pain and poor posture? Do you look down at your belly and wonder where your abs went? Are your neck and shoulders tense from too much computer work? Do you want to build balanced strength and flexibility while preventing overuse injuries? If you answered yes to any of these questions then the Pilates method is for you. Now I know what you must be thinking, “yep I’ve heard of pilates. It’s like yoga right?”… or…. “It’s only for soccer moms and flexible ballerinas.”  I’ve heard it all before, but I’m here to set the record straight with a brief history of the method and it’s primary principles. Plus, my own personal experience over the last 8 years of practicing and teaching the method full-time. By the end of this article you’ll be sitting taller, I promise. 

The Pilates method of body conditioning is a unique system of stretching and strengthening exercises developed over ninety years ago by Joseph H. Pilates. It strengthens and tones muscles from head to toe, improves posture, increases flexibility, challenges balance, and unites body and mind through breath, focus and precise efficient movement. Instead of isolating muscles and working each area of the body individually, Pilates integrates the entire body into each exercise. The poor physical condition many of us are in today comes from the imbalance of engaging in complicated, inefficient exercises that isolate certain body parts, while neglecting others. Mindlessly lifting weight in the gym is a prime example. 

Couple sloppy imbalanced exercise and a no-pain no-gain attitude and you are asking for overuse injuries. When all of the muscles work together to support an aligned bone structure our movement becomes much more efficient and effortless. For example, we strengthen the smaller muscle groups, like the deep abdominals, pelvic floor and inner/outer thighs, to support the larger power houses, like the quadriceps and glutes, to build a balanced support system for the low back. This is just one of my formulas for banishing low back pain for life. I’m sure you’re wondering what genius created this philosophy. Here’s a little fun history lesson. 

Joseph Pilates began developing his exercise system in Germany in the early 1900’s. Plagued by asthma and rickets as a child, Pilates’ method sprang from his determination to strengthen his frail body. He called his method “The Art of Contrology,” or muscle control, to highlight his unique approach of using the mind to master the muscles. During the First World War he served as an orderly in a hospital where he began rehabilitating downed soldiers. He went on to train military men and boxers with his method before landing state side and opening his first official Pilates Studio in New York City in 1926. Since it’s introduction to American culture Pilates has maintained a steady and devout following. It has been the secret conditioning and rehabilitation method of dancers, and performers since his doors opened. In recent years it has been discovered by professional athletes, celebrities and models who say they owe their strong, lithe, pain free bodies to the Pilates Method. 

core-exercises-for-men“Your are only as young as your spine is flexible,” Joseph so famously wrote in his best selling book, Return To Life, published in 1945. This legendary manuel outlines the 8 principles of the method, the entire mat series, and how it can be used safely every day to help you reawaken the mind and revitalize your spirit. I highly recommend everyone purchase a copy to reference daily. 

My personal transformation and mad love affair with Pilates began in college in my rigorous Dance BA program in San Francisco. After a life time of extensive dance training, competitions and performing I suffered from extremely painful stress fractures in my low back, achilles and hip tendonitis, along with a twisted pelvis. My parents put me in classical ballet at the ripe age of 3 years old where I then began learning the movement patterns that would shape my body for the rest of my life. Back then my teachers weren’t educated in the importance of proper alignment and muscle control for ultimate efficiency and joint longevity. As you can imagine, 18 years of extreme agility without proper form and cross training did a number on my joints and ligaments. 

At age 13 I was seeing the chiropractor twice a week and in physical therapy. Both proved pointless. I just assumed I was going to have to deal with back pain my entire life, especially if i wanted to dance professionally beyond college.  But, after two weeks of daily pilates mat training I was astonished to wake up pain free, standing taller, and moving with more ease and power. From that moment moving forward I knew I needed to study and master the technique and share it with every dancer and non-dancer alike. I didn’t want anyone to suffer in pain with no solution as I had for so many years. I felt empowered by my newfound self awareness and knowledge. I couldn’t believe no one had told me sooner! 

I went on to attain comprehensive certification in Pilates mat and all apparatus in the renowned Ron Fletcher Program of Study and began teaching the method to private clients and groups along side my professional dance career. I owe the last 8 years of injury free performing and international teaching to Joseph Pilates. I’ve also witnessed countless profound transformations over the years. From professional dancers and athletes, to back surgery recovery patients, to pre and post natal moms, I’ve seen the power of Pilates radically shift my clients bodies, minds and spirits. 

The true beauty of Pilates is that once you understand the core of its philosophy, its movements can be translated into any format. Many people use the essence of the exercises to enhance other activities and sports. But whether you’re an athlete or a coach potato, young and limber or old and inflexible, the Pilates method can and does change the way you relate to your own body and the way you carry it in the world. What you put into it is what you’ll receive. We are all born with the power to take control over our own well being. Remember that with the power of your mind you can bring anything to light. Your dedication to yourself is what ultimately makes it possible. 

All it takes is showing up to your mat, doing your best with breath and leaving the rest. 

AmberAmber Zuckswert is the Founder of The Center for Epic Living in Manuel Antonio. She’s an international recognized pilates and yoga instructor, professional contemporary dancer, and holistic nutritionist from San Francisco, CA. Amber loves nothing more than empowering others to create their most epic self mind, body and spirit. Pop into her next Pilates mat class or workshop at her studio: or online at All levels welcome and encouraged to join.