How Romana Kryzanowska Taught Me To Modify, Adjust And Reinvent The System For Every Body
On a summer weekday morning in 1994, I was making my way up the elevator to the 6th floor at 50 W. 57th street, proceeding on my path to become a Pilates teacher under the tutelage of Romana Kryzanowska. It wasn’t my dream to teach Pilates or to open a studio. I simply needed a job that would help me pay for school while pursuing my degree and eventually my license as a Physical Therapist.
On that day, like so many others, I had specific notes about my clients. I was nervous as always teaching while Romana was there since eyes were always on you.
My notes read:
“Christine – make sure to stretch.”
“Sandy – long limbs – moves briskly.”
“Mr. Glick – don’t overcorrect.”
My notes weren’t really mine. They were excerpts from Romana’s advice and suggestions coupled with my observations from watching her teach these specific clients.
On that morning, my stress was primarily centered on one question: How would I deliver multiple completely different sessions from start to finish to address each individual’s needs? I wasn’t sure I would remember all the options. The myriad variations, modifications, and customizations I had observed didn’t always appear to follow a formula.
As a form of self-soothing, I wrote down some of her catchphrases to remind myself that whatever situation presented, her guidelines were the guardrails.
The three catchphrases were:
“Teach to the body.”
“Correct the most important thing.”
“Do everything they can and nothing that they can’t.”
I’ve leaned on those phrases for decades. But a few years later, they took on new meaning when I was finished with my studies in Physical Therapy and had time to dust off my manual and notes to see if my old observations still held when coupled with my new knowledge.
Surprisingly, or not, these simple mantras were not only still relevant, but they also took on startling clarity and a more academic application than I imagined.
“Teach to the body” was Romana’s first rule. Obviously, Joe was keen on inventing content and fixing humans. His work relied entirely on crafting solutions for physical problems or physical issues as they came up.
From a P.T. perspective, you would never simply impose a list of moves on a client without first ascertaining what was needed. The concept of teaching to the body demands that practitioners remain open and responsive to reactions and variabilities across the spectrum of students.
A Pilates workout that operates from a list without any opportunity to customize will fall short. The words teach to the body were synonymous with one of my favorite teacher training phrases – “respond, don’t recite.” A good therapist, instructor, or wellness practitioner should always adhere to this concept.
“Correct the most important thing” was quite possibly the advice I heard Romana give the most. From a Pilates perspective, it’s clear as day. Fix the most significant issue. The one that is impacting all the other moves, and you’ll see the most extensive results.
Seen through the lens of a Physical Therapist, this is a vital piece of client programming. There is an order of operations in the rehabilitation world. We typically restore range of motion first, then move on to strength, stability, and higher function elements like speed.
The last phrase on my list, to “do everything a client could, and nothing they couldn’t,” was one of those pearls of wisdom that took me years to fully express in my own teaching. I misunderstood for years that this was the “workaround” plan whereby we could simply avoid the injuries, weaknesses, and limitations.
Reflecting on that day, I realized that Romana had indeed given me all the tools I needed to support my clients, whatever their bodies required. Romana taught us through her intuition and experience. Still, her guidelines translate across the Pilates boundaries and help us all be the very best teachers we can be.