On the surface, Isofit Beijing looks much like any other fancy Pilates studio in Beijing. It’s outfitted in soothing shades of cream and avocado green, with pots of white and purple orchids peppering the rooms and hallways. I’m here to sit in on a Pilates class with members of the International School of Beijing’s swim team, one of the first groups to take Isofit’s newly-launched Pilates program for kids and teens.
Founder and Head Instructor Lili Schloss, 51, is a petite woman with a warm smile, short hair, and flawless posture. Within a few minutes of our conversation, it’s clear that she is very passionate about Pilates and helping her students achieve their health goals. Schloss never strays too far from teacher mode, even as we have lunch at the LMPlus around the corner.
She starts to talk about alignment, then stops herself mid-sentence. “Let’s try this. Let’s all come in.” My photographer and I follow her lead, bending towards the table and hanging our heads down. “Let’s breathe,” says Schloss. “And breathe again. Where does the air go in? Your chest, right? It’s very shallow. Sit as tall as you can.” We comply. “Now breathe. You have much wider capacity for air to come in when you’re here.” She gets up from the table and folds her body in half, drawing looks from the couple at the next table. “When you’re here, you’re closing the gate. There’s so little space. In normal everyday breath, you’re only using 40 percent of your lungs. Think about what the other 60 percent is doing – nothing.” This is Schloss’ style. She questions, cajoles, makes you try different postures, explains everything you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
Born and raised in Beijing, Schloss met her husband in the US, lived in Hong Kong for 16 years, and moved back here with her family around seven years ago. She trained as a Pilates instructor under Dawnna Wayburne of Isofit Hong Kong, who eventually became her business partner. Schloss studied the Polestar Pilates system, a reputable US-based provider of Pilates education with a focus on rehabilitation and physical therapy.
It’s this concern with alignment that convinced Schloss of the need for a kids’ Pilates program, which she has wanted since Isofit Beijing opened in June 2012. She says that her own sons – now 24 and 17 –
are both athletic but each have their own physical issues; the older one slouches while the younger one has developed slight bow legs from doing track and field.
“School doesn’t really emphasize this,” she says. “You need to have enrichment classes in yoga and Pilates so that children can prevent bad posture. Then you don’t have to go in and spend all this money to correct it.”
The good news is that kids tend to be relatively injury-free and aren’t likely to hurt themselves within a Pilates environment. Though the kids’ Pilates program caters to ages 8-18, Schloss prefers students to be 12 and above because the body is more mature and stable by that age.
The Team Arrives
At around 1.20pm, members of the ISB swim team start to show up. There are nine of them today: four boys and five girls ranging in age from 11 to 16. They’ll be doing mat work with foam rollers. Most came with their mothers, who are having a class of their own in the adjacent reformer equipment room.
“Last week, we did an easy introduction to Pilates. I had [the kids]play around and show me their dry land swimming,” says Schloss. “A couple of the swimmers they say are international-level. They’ll probably go on to become professionals. But when I see them moving, there’s just a little bit of improvement they can have, even from my eyes and not being a swim coach.”
The kids joke and laugh before class, quickly settling down when Schloss calls them to attention. For the first exercise, the students sit on the foam roller and curl down onto the mat, vertebra by vertebra, then curl back up while reaching their arms forward and without lifting their feet up. Some are struggling to maintain control – faces red, feet fluttering above the floor, arms wobbling, spines bucking outward.
In another exercise, the students are belly-down, legs long, and feet apart on the mat with the foam roller extended in front of them. As they push the roller underneath them, they come up into a cobra pose, shoulders away from ears. As they push it away again, Schloss instructs them to scissor their legs in a rocking movement. As the legs come down, the students lift one arm at a time, rotating their shoulders in an unmistakable swimming gesture. “That strengthening will go into the water with you,” says Schloss.
Throughout the one-hour class, she coaxes and challenges the class to pull their limbs away from the floor, point their feet, extend their limbs, and stay in control. She walks from student to student with a smile, gently adjusting and correcting alignments. There are giggles and frustrated sighs, the occasional thud of bodies falling off rollers and slap of feet coming down hard on the floor. But if you listen closely, there’s also the silence of concentration. “Beautiful,” Schloss says periodically.
At the end of the session, I ask two students what they think of the program.
“It was my first time doing Pilates,” says 15-year-old Cayly Chia
(Malayasia). “It’s like yoga, but less stretching and more fitness, strength training. I found it difficult today because I already had training [in the morning]. The first time it was hard because I had to use muscles that I didn’t know were there. I don’t really like it; I’d rather do yoga because I like the stretching. But I think that if I do it for a long time, it will probably help my swimming."
“It was really fun. It was difficult when we were doing it, but
afterwards I found it really relaxing,” says 14-year-old Eden Liu (US). “A lot of the core work was really hard, especially since we had to balance. It was my first time. It’s not like yoga, because you’re doing more fitness and yoga mixed together. It’s not like dry land because it’s not just purely fitness.”
Outside the classroom, I bump into Tricia Flanders, the mother of a former beijingkids cover girl. “I love coming here,” she says. “Lili is probably the best Pilates teacher I’ve ever had.” I send her an email after our encounter and ask her to elaborate.
“I’ve been doing Pilates since 2007. The difference between Lili and the studio from my past experience in Seattle (and other studios I’ve visited while traveling) is the quality of teaching,” she wrote. “Their passion shows that it’s a lifestyle for them and not just a job. They are so detailed in making sure you understand why your body should move in a certain direction that it automatically carries into your personal life. I find myself remembering visualizations and quotes while I’m riding my bike or sitting at my computer. I know so much more about the ‘why’ of the exercise than I ever have before.”
Words of Advice
Schloss emphasizes the importance of researching studios and instructor certifications. “You have a lot of small studios now that all have some sort of Pilates. A lot of the people who run and open these studios come in for six days of the [teacher]course training. They don’t follow through, do their mentoring, or prepare for the exam. People who take shortcuts, they take the temperature of the water but never really swim, then they come out and become an instructor.”
She shows us a picture of a scantily-clad woman displaying her derriere at a recent industry conference. “This is ‘sexy booty’ Pilates,” she says. “This is not about health, beauty, or fitness – it’s just vulgar.”
“Real Pilates is a mindful, intelligent movement. It doesn’t matter how strong a person is, we all have imbalances in our body,” continues Schloss. “If you’re a tennis player using your right hand all the time, you’ve probably developed more strength and rotation through that side. You want your shoulders to support your head in a vertical way, you want the spine to have this nice curvature so that it absorbs shock and impact. So really through the Pilates movement, you’re learning to become more aware of your alignment.”
Schloss has seen a number of success stories in her time as a teacher, but none of these clients came in specifically to lose weight. “Health, fitness, balance, control come before losing weight. When you get all of that, you achieve this weight loss goal.”
She cited the experienced yoga practitioner who decided to add Pilates to her regimen. The client had always had an athletic build without much of a defined waistline and had resigned herself to that being her body type. “When we passed a certain time period, all of a sudden she started shedding weight,” says Schloss. “She’s lost three sizes in her waistline. Does it work? Yeah. What does it take? A good instructor and a very dedicated self. A lot of people, they do three to four classes and they don’t see changes. Rome isn’t built in a day; the people who stay most consistent are the people who see changes.”
Children’s Pilates classes (ages 8-18) take place on Saturdays and Sundays from 1.30-2.30pm and 3-4pm. Until Spring Festival, there’s a special rate of RMB 100 per one-hour group session. Unit C-2-86, Upper East Side, Dongsihuan Beilu, Chaoyang District (188 1083 0188, email@example.com) www.pilates.cn
To learn more about the US-based Pilates system that Schloss trained under, visit www.polestarpilates.com.
This article originally appeared on p30-33 in the January 2015 issue of beijingkids. To view it online for free, click here. To find out how you can obtain your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org