Body in Motion
She created Portable Pilates™ for at-home mat workouts. Her first book was Pilates: Body in Motion in 2002 and went on to create several other works, including The Pilates Promise. Breaking ground once again, Alycea launched a digital version of Portable Pilates, designed to run on a cell phone.
BOYT: What was your inspiration to begin Pilates?
Aycea Ungaro: I was initially sent to Pilates by my ballet school to help deal with a recurring ankle injury. After a number of years using Pilates to fix my body I made the switch to using Pilates to maintain my body. Once my career as a professional dancer was over, Pilates was my next real passion.
BOYT: Your book Pilates: Body in Motion covers workouts that anyone can do, equipment-free. This is wonderful considering many people don’t have access to reformer classes. Do you find a workout with equipment and without is comparable in terms of intensity?
Aycea Ungaro: Yes and no. Bodyweight training on the mat is quite intense. It requires you to exercise ultimate control of your body. Once you add in the use of the Pilates Springs, you can make certain moves easier and other moves exponentially harder. The springs add more resistance than you can muster on your own. In that respect, working with the equipment is harder. However, many of the most challenging Pilates moves are executed with no springs, by de-stabilizing the body and forcing the muscles to work that much more. Seen from that perspective, it really can work both ways. Real Pilates, the way Joseph Pilates intended for his method to be done involves the entire system. Performed as a complete method, both on the mat and on the machines, one modality complements the other.
BOYT: Are there various styles of Pilates? If so, what style do you incorporate in your practice?
Aycea Ungaro: There are as many styles of Pilates as there are Pilates teachers. Just as no two students are alike, no two Pilates sessions can ever be the same. My personal style is dictated by the unique needs of my client. I try to blend good form and attention to detail with a vigorous pacing. It's important to me that my students achieve a full body workout each and every time, but also address the particular issues they may be struggling with. Pilates can be delivered as a therapeutic routine or as an athletic training system. Depending on whether I am working with a patient in my capacity as a Physical Therapist or strictly as a trainer, I may err on one side of the spectrum.
BOYT: How important is proper breathing technique while doing postures?
Aycea Ungaro: Mr. Pilates said, "above all, learn to breathe correctly." Breathing optimally is key to the ultimate expression of the Pilates practice. In my practice, I approach breathing as a final layer of the technique, but many teachers begin with it as the foundation of their students' training. To perform Pilates at an advanced level, proper Pilates breathing must be learned. You can execute the moves without the breathing but they will not be as intense or yield the best possible results.
BOYT: For a woman who has limited time, and is able to commit to 30 minutes per day of Pilates, what exercises should be focused on?
Aycea Ungaro: Learn the basic Pilates mat. Start with the 100, the roll up, single leg circles, rolling like a ball, single leg stretch, double leg stretch and spine stretch forward. Repeat those every day until you know them by heart and can perform them with ease. The time it takes you to perform these on your first day should be 30 minutes, but will be 15 minutes in two weeks’ time. Layer in new moves gradually. The full mat is only 34 exercises and can ultimately be performed in under 30 minutes while addressing every single muscle group! As you get better at Pilates you also get faster, making it ideal for busy women. Remember that Pilates helps all your other activities, strengthening and aligning your body to prepare it for the demands of real life. That is the gift of exercise, to increase your well-being and ready the body for the fun of living an adventurous playful life!
BOYT: We know that you have a large celebrity clientele. Do you find that celebrities are more disciplined in their practice and commitment to fitness?
Aycea Ungaro: I would say that when being in great shape is part of your job description, you are far less likely to skip your workout or work below your maximum effort. For the majority of people who are not on display all the time, exercise can fall to a low rung on the ladder, but when your livelihood depends on it, fitness becomes a priority. Having said that, I find that most of my clients have a remarkable work ethic, which is on display each and every time they work out.
BOYT: Who and/or what has been the biggest influence on the development of your Pilates style as you have evolved it?
Aycea Ungaro: That's an interesting question because I feel that the best part of being a teacher is that you must continually remain a student. Most teachers become teachers because they were inspired by another teacher. I make sure to remain a student, learning as much as I can from other systems, courses, and teachers. In so doing I reap the benefit of continued inspiration. I am most inspired by creativity and innovation in others. Learning to question everything and see things a different way has been the most valuable tool to me as a teacher and as an entrepreneur.
BOYT: Lastly, what is the most rewarding aspect of your career?
Aycea Ungaro: Without a doubt watching my clients achieve their goals. Taking another person through a complete transformation is the most uplifting element of being a teacher. A brand new client recently said to me that I have the best job because everybody leaves in a good mood. I have to agree!
About Aycea Ungaro
Wellness and fitness expert Aycea Ungaro introduced the first Pilates mat method in large New York gyms, helping bring about the method’s current popularity. Her first studio, Tribeca Bodyworks, opened in 1995 and a year later, she established the Real Pilates studio, specializing in customization and rapid results. Alycea developed an interest in wellness across the board and became a licensed physical therapist in 1998.