Flatiron Pilates - Amy Nelms

Flatiron Pilates - Amy Nelms on Violet Book Online (en-GB)
Flatiron Pilates - Amy Nelms on Violet Book Online (en-GB)
Pilates instructor Amy Nelms runs her 25-years strong Pilates practice out of her Manhattan studio, Flatiron Pilates, but expanded her practice to reach people around the world during the pandemic. A former schoolteacher, she believes in empowering her students to become their own best guardians of their minds and bodies – and in having a little fun by subverting the well-worn trends and tropes of the wellness industry, as her video for Violet evidences. Here, she tells us about the inspirations behind the video, and how to release our minds and bodies after a year spent in lockdown.
Olivia Gagan
Interview  Olivia Gagan

Could you tell us a little bit about the background to the film? It has a very unusual, charming look and feel, which is so unlike current fitness and wellness branding and aesthetics.

Amy Nelms: I wanted to make a Pilates video that would be different from what was out there, serve as a creative outlet for me, and at the same time, be educational and fun to watch.

I have always loved the timeless look of old films and photography, so that seemed like a perfect jumping-off point for this project. At the same time, I looked at the wellness media landscape and thought it could use a bit more fun. The idea of parodying an old, patriarchal educational film felt right.

My husband, daughter, and I were home together during the pandemic, so the project turned into a family affair. I wrote the script and enlisted my amazing client, Austria Ulloa, to act as our star. My daughter Zoe sourced vintage, wellness-oriented public domain footage, and my husband created the graphics and edited the video. The trickiest part of the whole production was the voiceover. All those educational videos from the ‘40s and ‘50s used a male voice. To really sell the parody, I felt we needed a female voiceover.

We auditioned dozens of voice actors for the job, but no one nailed that transatlantic accent we needed for this to be just right. Then a friend of mine mentioned her mother used to be in musical theatre and would be happy to give it a try. She nailed it in one take.

How did you first find Pilates, and why have you made it your specialism and focus? What are its biggest benefits?

I discovered Pilates in a little gym in the West Village around 27 years ago and was instantly hooked. The class was dynamic and fun, and I loved that I was energised afterward instead of being exhausted.

Pilates has so many benefits. It improves your flexibility, muscle strength and tone, breathing, and posture. It also teaches physical and mental control while promoting body awareness, reinforcing strong, mobile joints, and conditioning the whole body while improving balance.

How has your relationship with health and wellness changed throughout your life? Is there anything you’ve had to unlearn?

There is no truth to ‘no pain, no gain’.

What are the greatest things you’ve learnt in terms of holistically taking care of your body and health? How does that change as you age?

When you’re younger, you think you need to exercise to the point of pain and exhaustion. As you get older (and wiser), you realise you just need to work smarter, move more, stretch, and drink water.

How is modern life changing our bodies, our postures, and the way we move and hold ourselves? Are you seeing anything positive happening?

My posture changed dramatically during Covid. Working in the studio before lockdown, I was used to standing all day. Going from that to teaching virtually on my couch tightened my neck and shoulders so much that I was getting forward head posture.

Even as the world opens up again, we spend way too much time looking at screens. Endless Zooms, phones, and computer work tighten your neck, shoulders, and upper back so much that it’s hard to have good posture. It really helps to work with a foam roller, but what’s important is to stretch and strengthen your back, neck, and shoulders to alleviate forward head posture.

How is your body and mind processing this time of Covid-19 we’re living through, and this new landscape? What changes or realisations have you witnessed or noticed over the past year, as someone who works with your body and the bodies of other people?

Something positive that came from the pandemic was teaching virtually. I was suspect before I began, but the results were incredible. It seemed counterintuitive at first to teach through a screen but seeing things from that different perspective helped me make even more nuanced corrections while teaching. On the other side, clients were able to focus, concentrate, and take their Pilates practice to a different level.

On a more personal note, I enjoyed and appreciated the continued connection virtual teaching allowed me. Loneliness and isolation were real problems for so many people during the pandemic. I was fortunate to have been able to teach from home and see my amazing clients from all over the globe. Our weekly and bi-weekly virtual sessions offered me and my clients a consistent and reliable support system and helped to create a much-needed sense of normalcy and community.

What would you recommend as first steps for someone curious about Pilates?

There are so many resources available now. YouTube videos, private and group classes, books. I always suggest starting with the basics. There is an established and important order of Pilates exercises, starting with beginner, moving on to intermediate, and finally advanced. The system works best by developing skills that build on one another. You need to master the beginning exercise before moving to the next.

I like beginners to focus on developing their body awareness and work on the mind/body connection. You see better results if you are an active participant in the work instead of just going through the motions.

How can we bring better movement and body awareness into our daily lives, when we’re not necessarily doing an assigned workout or class, but simply being – working, caring for others, eating, commuting?

Simply being aware of your body really can make a difference. As you walk down the street, think of keeping your shoulders back and down and your sternum forward. Imagine your fingers are reaching to the ground. Think navel-to-spine as you’re making dinner in the kitchen. Visualise space between your neck and shoulders while you’re sitting at your desk.

Get up and move. Always pull your stomach in and up and breathe. Practice standing tall. Think of a string pulling your head to the sky as your feet reach deep to the ground. Imagine your side waist stretching and lengthening. And of course, as my video says, if you practice good posture, you will have the last laugh.


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