FOR ERIKA BLOOM, PILATES IS MORE THAN EXERCISE - IT’S MEDICINE
ERIKA BLOOM - PILATES GURU
There are a few things I believe most of us want in life. First, to be loved, accepted and ‘seen’. Pretty sure that’s just about everybody. The other, at least personally, is to feel good. Meaning, I want to have energy to get through my days, to have a generally sunny mood, and when my clothes fit the way I like them to, that’s pretty awesome. I do not want to feel tired by noon, or be too weak to take that afternoon jog, or feel tense and anxious for sometimes no reason at all.
I’m excited for you all to read my conversation with Erika Bloom because I think she’s found an incredibly effective formula for healthy living. Through Pilates both she and her clients have literally HEALED. And for Erika, her holistic lifestyle extends far from the reformer. She’s never been on Facebook and doesn’t have Instagram on her phone. She won’t gossip or even watch TV (much). Her aura is relaxed, joyful, and non-judgmental - and contagious! Meet: Erika. XX
You are a business owner. You are a Pilates instructor. You are a wellness expert. You are all of these amazing things but before all of this, you were a dancer.
Yeah I started out as a ballet dancer. With that, came all of the typical ballet dancer such as self-emotional hostility about my body and a lot of eating issues. I then had a pretty serious injury. I had a lack of movement and feeling in my left leg that they thought was coming from my hip. Through exploring a lot of different alternative therapies, we found out it was an alignment issue in my back that was fixed quite naturally and holistically. It was kind of my first introduction to this deeper alignment work.
Then I got a scholarship, moved to New York and got injured again. I hurt a disc in my back and really wanted to keep dancing. Here I was in New York with all these great minds of bodywork and started learning again and exploring different types of Pilates, the Alexander technique and Feldenkrais and Rolfing, and I healed. I went to Cunningham and trained with Merce Cunningham which was an amazing experience and started dancing with different modern dance companies that were doing Cunningham technique. I then had a 10-year career performing professionally as a modern dancer.
Wow! How did that dancing career transition into you wanting to own and operate Erika Bloom Pilates?
It was never something that I planned. I just found that I was learning about the body through trying to heal myself. I was healing myself from these physical injuries, but I was also healing myself from other health issues that were related to the eating issues around dancers.
I would not eat enough coming up into performances and then eat badly after performances. There was a lot of all-or-nothing going on, both with stress levels and with diet. I had an autoimmune condition. I started to have problems from that. I started to have cysts on my ovaries and migraines and digestive issues and nutrient absorption problems. I was just sort of sick all the time. I was asking myself, “How can I change my food to heal, and how can I make my movement more consistent and less stressful to heal, and how can I use movement to change the structure of my body in a way where it functions where I don't get injured as a dancer?” So, with that exploration as a dancer, I found it so fascinating and so amazing. I couldn't get enough of learning. Any time I had off in the summer from the dance company, I would do a certification and I'd go study with a new master. I'd go to India and do some yoga or I'd learn about a different approach to nutrition. There was a certain point when I was talking to people that were not in the dance world. Seeing that they were suffering from similar things and thinking, I realized this shouldn't be something that's only accessible to us.
I wanted to create a home to help people that were on that same cycle that I was on, which was going to a doctor and not getting a solution and not knowing what to try, and how to coordinate it.
It sounds like Pilates for you is literally a lifesaving extension of what you do and how it's served you in healing. There's the physical, but then there's so much more. Mind and body, health and wellness, the diet and how important that is. It's really all interwoven. There's not one without the other.
Exactly. It's all interwoven. I think people have this idea of yoga as a lifestyle and as a philosophy, and Pilates is just as much a lifestyle, holistic philosophy. The idea is that the way that we hold ourselves and the way that we move affects the alignment of our body. It affects the function of our joints and it also affects the fascial system which is the connective tissue that's going all through our body. That connective tissue goes into our organs. It goes around ourselves and into the nuclei of our cells. So, the way that we hold our bodies, the way we move our bodies, the way we hold tension in our bodies, actually affects the functionality of our body all the way through.
I was going to ask, "Why Pilates?" but that's it. For anyone who doesn't understand it, it's much, much deeper than just the physical. It's literally preventative health.
It's much deeper. It's preventative. You know, if you think about children, they move well. They move naturally. They move in a healthy way. They eat the amount that they need to stay at the size that they need to be. They wouldn't choose to keep their body in a posture that hurts them. As we age, we lose our body's natural function. We stop breathing. We start adapting to modern life and rounding too much in our backs and sending our head forward and compressing.
What Pilates is doing is restoring our body's function. It's not this magic that heals because it's a movement that's going to change something. It's just getting your body back to where it should be because our body wants to be in that place. It knows. It functions that way because of the way that physics rules joint function.
If we do movements that educate our body to refine that alignment so that we can breathe and make space, then we can have the space in our organs for them to function well. We have space for our blood to flow through and our limbs to flow through and heal every part of our body. We're healing ourselves through movement.
Your clients say you have this gift, this like x-ray vision, where you can look at somebody's body and immediately inherently see what's off or what needs to be tweaked or what you need to work on immediately. Do you feel like you have that?
Yeah, I do. I try not to judge, but I can recognize someone by what their sacrum looks like more than what their face looks like.
At the beginning of doing this I was watching how people walked all the time but now it isn't about trying to be perfect. Yes, there's a way to learn through practice and through a really deep knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics, where organs are, and where the bones are and what the fascia's doing. We have a program for all of our instructors that they go through to learn how to read bodies and do assessments like that.
What was your overall vision for your company? I mean, you've sustained yourself for decades. You're global. What did you set out to do?
What's really been something that I'm so grateful for is that when I started out, there was no boutique fitness movement. We were really connected with doctors in New York whose patients weren't getting better. They had chronic pain and they weren't getting better. We started working with people that wanted to exercise, and also heal. The initial building of my first studio was just about connecting each day one-on-one with a client and then that client referring somebody. Then I would take the information that I knew and pass it on to a new teacher and train them, and have clients for them. It really grew very organically just based on what I felt the clients wanted. I never thought, “What does the market want? What does the public want?” I thought, “How do we take really the truth of what the body needs and this particular person in front of me, and just continue to be able to give that in a bigger and bigger way?”
As I was doing that, building a studio, this boutique fitness craze came in, and I decided to ignore it. That craze created more people that said, "Gosh, this is actually stressing my body out. This is putting me into adrenal fatigue. I'm breaking bones. I'm tearing things." So we actually started to build more of a clientele of people that wanted to stay healthy. Then that population that was going to those studios started to age. They said, "Now, what do I do?" We grew just by being exactly who we were without having to think about it. The studio openings happened through having a client who would think, "But, I go to the Hamptons a lot," or, "I'm moving to Greenwich," or, "I want to be able to vacation in Turks and Caicos, but I can't be without you guys for so many months. What do I do?" We would refer to other places and it wasn't really getting them what they needed. So I said, "I want everyone to get better. Let's open in these places." So, we opened in Hamptons, Greenwich, Turks, and LA for that reason.
How many employees do you have now or how many people work for you under the Erika Bloom umbrella?
I think that we have 40 full-time instructors that are employees. They all do our training.
How fulfilling is it for you to see transformations of people and see them come in the door, broken almost, and then putting them back together? What does that feel like?
It's really amazing. Every day I love my job. We do thousands of private sessions at the New York studio where I'm mostly based. People now say, "Why are you still teaching?" I say, "Well, it's the opposite." Like, when we got big enough where I could just teach again, that was the day that I felt like I'd made it.
I want to be with clients seeing them get better. I like, of course, a client that comes in and has a certain type of pain or injury and has found no hope for years and we are able to figure out what's going on and make it better. I also like somebody that just has realized that they don't need to be beating themselves up to be fit. You can look amazing. You can be skinny and strong and toned and still take care of your body. Exercise should not be adding to our stress. It should be alleviating our stress.
It's funny you bring that up because I was thinking about the definition of fitness and I feel like with the masses there’s this idea of run, run, run. Treadmill, treadmill. Lifting weights and all that. Is there a place for all of that within our fitness regime or do you think it’s ultimately doing more damage to people?
I think for most people it is doing damage, but I think that anything that gets people moving is good, because our big issue in this country is being too sedentary, right? For most people doing more is what they need, so we don't want to take away from that. There are some bodies where they really are designed to be working that hard or what is hard for them is different for another person, but for most people they should be doing a movement that’s not stressing their joints, it's not tearing things, and it’s not disrupting their hormones.
A lot of women doing things like CrossFit or too much running or spinning or crash dieting are really disrupting hormones. They're disrupting their biome. They're affecting cortisol, and that will actually make you more tired and more hungry, and hold onto weight more. They're creating these cycles with all this aggressive exercise that is making them less healthy and less fit instead of more fit.
I also think there's this idea that exercise is for making you strong, but then you're going to get hurt and then you go to these other things to fix yourself. I see people piecemeal it out thinking, “I'm going to kill myself. Everything always hurts. That means I'll work out and then I'll go to my massage therapist,” but that is not how our bodies work.
Wild stuff. So, you have two kids. How do you inspire them to be healthy? I'm sure much of it is by example and seeing how you live your life and what you put in your body and all of that, but kids can be tricky. They can resist. Mine, an example of that. Anything you can share with us about getting that done at home?
I think it is entirely by example. Especially as working moms, a lot of us go off and do yoga and eat our healthy lunch at work, and then come home and watch television and eat cookies with the kids. That doesn't show them how to live a healthy lifestyle. My kids and I cook together. This morning we made chia pudding— they take raw goat's milk, put the chia seeds in, and then we cut up the strawberries and talk about why it's so delicious and healthy for you.
Somedays they might not want it, or think some of the things you cook are wacky, but if you're excited, involving them, and treating them like intelligent human beings, they're going to get excited about it. I also make sure our activities together are moving activities as often as possible. If we need to go somewhere, we try to walk. Or, if we have a day where we want to have fun together, we will plan for football on the beach or a swim or hike. That helps me too, because I work a lot and do Pilates every day. I get to move while I'm at work, which is really lucky, but I am still a working mom and don't want to leave my kids to exercise. I want to share it with them.
As a mother yourself, you make it a point to help other mothers live their healthiest lives.
Yes, our postpartum program is really close to my heart. When I had my son, I had some pelvic floor tearing and I had a diastasis, which I felt like people didn’t talk about. You have a baby, and people say, "Oh, you have to be so happy. The baby's healthy, that's great." Even the doctor says, "Well, the baby's healthy and you’re fine, so good-bye." Which is, of course, the most important thing. But we have to take care of ourselves as well. Some postpartum issues can affect our health for the rest of our lives. Diastasis and pelvic floor issues can contribute to prolapse, which is very common, as well as incontinence, digestive issues, respiratory issues, and problems with stress management with cortisol clearing. We really want to put healing for these things into our daily practices, and make sure that we're not doing things that were fine before we had children, but could be harmful now. Women can also have other kinds of problems from labor, like tailbone discomfort or sacral misalignment, so we have a program that addresses all of these things. We can coordinate with your pelvic floor PT or your postpartum PT to help with these issues. They are all fixable with some simple self-care.
I read in an interview that you said that you eliminate most unproductive distractions from your life. No TV or drinking or gossiping, which I love. Why?
Yeah. It's really important. I have an amazing staff that does my Instagram for me, so please still check out my Instagram that I engage with them about in person. They physically show me the photos and talk the text to me and that's how I do my Instagram. I'm not on Instagram. I make sure I don't even have the app on my phone. I've never been on Facebook. I don't online shop unless it's like a quick stuff for the kids in the grocery when I'm on the subway because it is both the light from the technology and also the time suck, but it's more that when we're looking at things like that, it's creating anxiety because it's saying, "Here's something that you're not achieving," and then you're getting a cortisol shot. Even if we're not coveting what we're looking at, even if it's something wonderful that maybe we should get, it's still related into the ego in a way that doesn't let us be present. To keep stress low, I think that's super important.
Then, I also have to say, if I'm going to be really whole and present with my clients, and really whole and present with my kids, maybe that's all that I have the time for. We have this idea now that we should all be meditating 20 minutes twice a day, every day, which is wonderful if you're doing it. That's great. It's virtually impossible for most people but what I find the goal of meditation is to be extremely present with our feelings, not to eliminate them, not to kind of hypnotize yourself with a mantra and locking yourself in a closet for 20 minutes, twice a day. It's to really say, "Here's where I am today. Here's how I'm feeling and I'm going to acknowledge that so that I know where my reactions are coming from and how I can react in a less stressful way or less reactive way." When we're doing things like watching television or drinking or gossiping, we're actually disconnecting ourselves from being present in those feelings, which doesn't mean we can't have fun. It doesn't mean we can't like sometimes watch a show and go out with girlfriends, but it's about knowing why you're choosing those things and making sure that you've had enough time in your day to be present.
What is the best advice you give your clients?
Keto or intermittent fasting?
Neither! Do what's best for your body, which I call it like food mood journaling, like food awareness. Like not just, "What do I eat to keep me skinny, but how does what I'm eating make me feel?" Our food affects our emotions tremendously through the biome and directly through the way it's changing blood sugar and our chemistry.
Is that why I love cheese so much? It feels so good. I love cheese. I would give up anything for cheese. It's a problem.
Maybe! Yeah, there are actually emotional benefits of cheese for some people. That's actually true as long as you're eating really good grass fed, organic cheeses. Actually, a bit moldy. It's really good for you. Make sure you think about your food - the emotional response that’s happening before you eat that's causing the eating and how does it make your digestion feel? How does it affect your sleep? Stop villainizing certain foods.
First thing you do when you wake up?
My son wakes up super early and when he wakes up, my daughter wakes up and comes in and gets in bed with me and goes back to sleep. The first thing when I wake up is I snuggle with her.
Do you have a daily mantra?
That's something that changes depending on what's going on and I think it also depends on what part of all the hats that I wear and I'm in. Right now, at work with my administrative team, I'm thinking about how to be supportive instead of reactive.
With my kids, I'm thinking about how I hold space for them to have emotions instead of trying to fix their emotions. Emotions shouldn't be fixed, right? They should just be felt, so we're holding space and we do that a lot with clients too, like holding space for them to go through their journey.
Then, for my personal, emotional practice right now, I'm thinking about that when I have empathy for other people, I should also have empathy for myself. When I feel grateful for something in my life, I should also have gratitude for the people around me.
Erika’s Insta: erikabloompilates
Thumbnail Photo: Patricia Pena