Interview with Los Angeles Pilates Instructor Sandy Shimoda

How did you become a Pilates instructor?

Well, maybe it was inevitable.  Pilates fascinated me from the start.  I was intrigued by the strength and mobility it gave me, and the way it relieved the physical strain my body endured from performing on stage eight shows per week.  It was immediately clear that it would take time and discipline to really learn Pilates, and since I couldn’t afford the time then, I tucked the idea of teaching somewhere deep in the back of my mind.

During the time that I was performing, I was exposed to a lot of ideas about work and personal life.  What I learned was that depending on the country, the culture, and the career, the balance between the two varied.  Can you imagine that not every culture values working overtime, weekends, and when you are sick?  In fact, when I was working in Europe, I was granted two weeks of additional vacation because I had performances on the weekend – a total of 6 weeks per year!  

When I moved back to the States, that little idea that I had tucked in the back of my mind came to the forefront.  After nearly 15 years of being on stage, I was ready to follow my fascination with Pilates. Teaching offered me a chance to indulge my love of movement, be of service to others, and to keep the work/personal balance that I had enjoyed while working abroad.  I love teaching Pilates and am continually amazed at the way it transforms people physically, mentally and emotionally.

Why do you love Pilates?

There are so many reasons to love Pilates, don’t you think?  I would say that I am in a committed relationship with Pilates.  We see other people, but I can’t think of ever being without it.  Pilates helps me balance and care for my body, keeps me strong and flexible, and conditions me to do all the other activities that I love.  Some of my favorite indulgences are hiking, swimming, yoga, dancing, and trying random activities such as surfing and bowling.

What are a couple of your favorite Pilates exercises and why?

My favorite exercise seems to change as new parts of my body open up or get stronger.  Right now I love the freedom and strength I feel when doing the jack knife on the high mat.  By the time I get to that exercise in the mat workout, my back is warmed up and my body is craving an energetic burst of movement.  The jack knife is the reward for all the work that precedes it!

I also love the head stands on the reformer.  As a woman with a delicate upper body, the head stands help build strength in my upper back and teach me to connect my head to my upper spine.  The gentle pressure on the crown of my head  clears my over active mind and relieves my neck tension.  Right now I am enjoying the challenge of strengthening the muscles around my rib cage so that I can gain greater control when I lift my legs into my headstand.  This girl is always up for a challenge that deepens core strength.

What is your favorite Pilates apparatus?

It’s got to be a toss up between the Spine Corrector and the Ladder Barrel.  They both have such satisfying exercises that stretch and open my spine where I am tight and uneven due to my scoliosis.  Back bends, side bends, rounding, repeat…that’s my dream date with these two pieces of apparatus.

What do you think is a common misconception about Pilates?

There are many misconceptions about Pilates, and there are varied reasons for those misconceptions.  For one, we live in a society where we are inundated with options and we can be quick to categorize or define things without looking into their unique worth and intention.  Having so many options to choose from can be overwhelming, and we are constantly sorting through them to find what works for us.  But that is a longer discussion, and it isn’t what you asked me. So let me get to the business of answering your question.

One common misconception about Pilates is that to do Pilates correctly it should “look” a certain way. Unlike a dance piece, Pilates is not something that should be “performed” for others’ entertainment. Pilates is a set of exercises given to an individual to condition and challenge their body.  As a person becomes more skilled at Pilates, they will be beautiful to watch because their body is functioning optimally, not because they are trying to look beautiful.

As teachers, we need to know the goals of the exercises so that we can bring each body to its optimal functioning. However, each one of us will have disfunction that make some exercises difficult. Pilates will balance the disfunction, bringing greater symmetry and mobility. 

Each body is so unique that we could put three bodies next to one another that are doing the same exercise optimally in their bodies, and they would not look the same.  I believe we as teachers should not guide bodies to get to a certain position, but use Pilates to build strength, flexibility, symmetry and coordination where it is lacking.

What do you like to wear when you do Pilates?

What a fun question.  When I DO Pilates I like to wear something tight fitting, that breathes and moves with me.  I usually wear leggings, ¾ leggings, or shorts depending on the weather.  Favorite pieces in my wardrobe are from Hardtail, and Lululemon.  For tops, I wear fitted camisoles, T-shirts or sports bras when it’s hot.  My faves are my Vintage Pilates tees, Tonic or Hardtail tops, and Lululemon sports bras.  Fitted clothing helps keep me honest because both my teacher and I can see exactly how my body is working in each exercise.

When I teach, I like to mix in Puma, Adidas and T-shirts with interesting shapes. When I travel I like to pick up pieces from foreign designers like Freddie, Tezenis, Sweaty Betty, Zara and Mango.

How do you incorporate Pilates into your busy schedule?

First of all, I won the jackpot over ten years ago when Jay Grimes took me on as a regular client.  We started out with weekly sessions but as my schedule started filling I needed to cut back to every other week. I never miss my lessons unless one of us is out of town.

As a studio owner, it is a huge challenge to schedule time for workouts between my lessons with Jay. Still, making time to care for my body gives me more energy and endurance at work. I make sure to schedule additional lessons with my talented teaching staff, taking private lessons and Vintage Pilates Classes (max 4 students).  Not only is this a great way to get regular workouts in, it gives me a chance to experience my teachers’ work first hand!  

Do you adhere to any diet or food philosophy to stay in shape?

Funny you should ask.  Right now I am on the last day of an Ayurvedic cleanse which I do periodically to rebalance my digestive system.  So yes, I agree with the Philosophy of Ayurveda.  I  first learned about it during my Thai Yoga Massage training with Saul David Raye.  Thai Yoga Massage came to Thailand from India, where Ayurveda was born, so the philosophies on health complement one another. I am not one to follow diets or food fads, but when Saul David Raye and Dr. James Bailey presented the idea that we each have our own constitution, my ears perked up.  Ayurveda does not present one diet or solution for all, rather it looks at the constitution of each body and presents food, exercise, treatments, meditation etc. to balance that body type.  It is a fascinating and complex system of health that I am still learning about.  If you are interested, take a look at “Perfect Health” by Deepak Chopra, or “Prakriti” by Dr. Robert Svoboda.  

I have also worked with a nutritionist and an alternative medicine doctor to look at foods and supplements that help me keep in good physical health.  My overriding philosophy on health is very much like my philosophy on Pilates – look at the individual body before you, and give it what it needs.

If you weren’t a Pilates instructor, what would you do?

That’s an easy one. I would be an interior designer, and there’s still time to make that happen. My fascination with interiors began when I was a little girl. Every time I walked into a space that touched me, I would stop and take it in.  Not only emotionally. I would stop to notice the colors, textures, materials, space, patterns, etc. I was lucky to grow up in Hawaii where tourism was its largest industry.  Millions of dollars were put into 5 star hotels and restaurants, gardens, museums and homes. When I was getting my masters degree at UH Manoa, I would often study at the Royal Hawaiian hotel, the Moana hotel or the Contemporary Museum in Makiki heights.

As a little girl, my Mom would take me shopping for fabrics for our curtains, our beddings, and the clothing she would sew for us. I could spend hours in the fabric store sorting through all of the beautiful colors and patterns. When I was a teenager, my parents remodeled their home, and my Mom took me to meet their interior designer. He was well known in Honolulu and the way he transformed our home convinced me that designers were magicians.

I went to a college preparatory school, so when I proposed my idea to go to design school, I was promptly discouraged by my counselor. I turned down my acceptance to the University of Oregon school of interior architecture, and would go on to earn a bachelors and masters of Business Administration instead. Ten years later, I returned to the Art Institute but didn’t finish my training. For now, I spend my time putting my love of interiors into my own home remodel which will be featured in a design blog sometime later this year!

Do you have any books or videos you recommend?

For what it is worth, I keep a small library of favorite films.  It includes The Princess  Bride, Billy Elliot, South Pacific, Westside Story, The Mask of Zorro and Grand Budapest Hotel.  My bookshelves are filled largely with books on design, spirituality and health.

The Pilates books I recommend are Joseph Pilates’ Return to Life, and Your Health. I also recommend Brooke Siler’s The Pilates Body. For videos on Pilates, I recommend Pilatesology.com.

What is your favorite Joe Pilates quote or story?

My favorite story is that Joe used to go running in his briefs everyday, no matter what the weather. It tickles me to imagine him running through New York City during a time when it wasn’t common practice to go out jogging, much less in a pair of briefs. Drawing this picture in my mind gives me a sense of his commitment and discipline in regard to health. 

There will never be another like Joe Pilates, and there doesn’t need to be.


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