This is a monthly series featuring a student, teacher, and/or business owner committed to wellness in a positive, forward-thinking capacity. March 2023’s profile is Iowa City area Pilates instructor Rachel Piper.
Title: Pilates instructor and Owner, Size Diverse Pilates Teaching Training Program
Teaching credentials: Classically Trained Comprehensive Pilates Instructor, NCPT; Pilates Masters student; Teacher Trainer/Mentor; Workshop Facilitator; Yin Yoga Certified
Q&A with Rachel Piper
What’s a non-Pilates fun fact about you?
I absolutely love Star Wars and tattoos.
How did you get introduced to Pilates?
I did a DVD way back in college, but didn’t think it was for me because I practiced yoga (I did Sun Salutations every day through college). Fast forward about two decades and I found an intro session at the local studio while I was researching yoga studios. Never underestimate the local mamas groups, because if I hadn’t been in one and asked about yoga studios – I wouldn’t have realized Rivercity Pilates was only a couple miles from my house and that I passed it every day to work. I still think it’s insane that I’d been driving past it every day for 5 years without knowing it was there. It’s the hidden gem that changed my whole life.
What’s a favorite pose and why?
I love the Short Box series on the Reformer. I call it “the everything series” because you hit each of the five body shapes within the series and it helps you so much with your mat work. In Yin, it’s so hard for me to pick. I love the combo of supported fish and butterfly.
What would you say to someone who tried Pilates once, but was frustrated about not being able to do all the poses?
I think people have an impression that it’s just a whole bunch of crunches for 50 minutes (raising my hand because that’s what I thought), but that’s absolutely not the case. It’s a full body workout that can be done no matter what your current exercise level or body size. I add this here because I’m a plus-size person who has been practicing in this plus-size body the whole time I’ve been doing Pilates. It truly is for everyone. I hadn’t had a regular fitness practice in over a decade when I started Pilates.
Pilates is meant to challenge us mentally and physically. But there are so many ways to use variations to help you build strength and flexibility quickly. And I see in clients how quickly their bodies adapt and become stronger just by coming to the studio consistently one or two times a week. I also like to mention that the longer I do Pilates, the more challenging it can be because I continuously learn how to connect more to my body. I think the practice is fascinating and has made me stronger than I’ve ever been in my life. You also have your whole life to connect to your practice 🙂
Where do you teach and what classes do you offer? How are those classes different?
I teach at Rivercity Pilates. I currently teach a mat group session and two equipment group sessions, plus a regular private session. Group is based on the mat order and we use lots of props and variations to build strength and flexibility. I like to call my sessions a bit exploratory. I want clients to explore the exercises in their bodies to see where they find connections, because it’s different for each person. Then they can take that connection home with them and practice for a week. Equipment sessions can range between the Reformer, Tower, or Chair…or sometimes a mix of equipment. The equipment supports the matwork and can further help people build strength, flexibility, and balance. Plus it helps them find connections that we can relate to the mat exercises. Sometimes the equipment can look daunting, but I like to say that it’s another prop for the matwork.
I run a Pilates Teacher Training Program through my business, Size Diverse Pilates. These are virtual and in-studio at Rivercity Pilates. The program is for anyone who wants a deeper dive into Pilates no matter how long they’ve been practicing. It’s an inclusive and safe place to learn and practice.
I also teach for OnlinePilatesClasses.com. I’m one of five teachers on the platform. The membership options range from just mat to mat + reformer to mat + all equipment. We have weekly 30-min themed classes for mat and reformer and we also have monthly 50-min themed classes for mat and all the equipment. The teachers all work on a cycle, so my classes come up about every other month I would say. We also have membership perks for workshops and other things.
I also made a workshop released at the end of last year for Fusion Pilates EDU to help teachers teach more diverse bodies (plus-size bodies). It’s called Size Diverse Pilates. I related Reformer exercises to the Cadillac and mat so teachers could see the connections between the work and have the tools they need to help clients find connections in the exercises.
Which class(es) do you recommend for someone with little to no Pilates experience?
I love recommending a minimum of one private session for those starting Pilates. I know it was completely foreign to me when I started. So the one-on-one I had was a huge help and put my mind at ease to join sessions. After that either our mat or equipment group sessions are perfect for anyone. The teachers at Rivercity are amazing at being able to make great sessions for all levels! I have some great videos for beginners and for those who are practicing in larger bodies on my YouTube Channel. Rivercity (also) has a ton of great classes on their YouTube Channel along with some mat tutorials. I’m a huge nerd (and love that about myself), and watched Carey (RCP Owner and Instructor) on YouTube when first starting to understand the mat exercises better.
Why are students are drawn to your classes?
I’m an analytical thinker and I like to know why I’m doing something or what it is doing for me. When I teach I add little tidbits in my sessions about why we are doing something and what other exercises are related. It’s nothing overpowering, but I add little intellectual nuggets along the way to help them make connections. It’s one of the reasons I love teaching smaller classes and teaching private sessions. I can give each person a little something that will help them with their personal practice.
The longer you work with me, the more you realize what I’m doing (laughs). I love it when a client says “I practiced that thing you said. Can you take a look and give me another suggestion?” This is everything to me! It shows me they are connecting to their practice, which is going to have so many benefits mentally and physically.
What is a favorite “student transformation” story?
I see my students connecting continuously, which is amazing and I am so proud of them and all their work. Speaking generically, I love helping people who don’t think they have a place in the fitness world. Because there is a place for everyone and everyone can DO something in Pilates. There are over 500 exercises and a ton of ways to support the work.
The fact is: We are NOT teaching Pilates, really. None of us are. We are teaching PEOPLE. Anyone could pop on YT or pop in a DVD or get on an app. When people come to us, they need something other than “the exercises”. They need to be seen, and they need someone to support them on their journey. This is why we are here. We, as teachers, are here to help people. To listen and give them what they need.
What are some upcoming events we can look forward to at your studio?
I am looking forward to the next round of Teacher Training I’m giving. It starts in about a month! I’m also really excited about reorganizing the Mat Manual I have for teacher training, and making it into a book/manual that can be purchased by anyone!!!
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