Graduate Highlight: Mara Sievers

“What really matters is that we feel good and that we can live our lives to the fullest. If we apply it correctly, Pilates is the tool to get there.

It’s the best tool I know.” – Mara Sievers

Mara Sievers is a Polestar Graduate, Practitioner and the creator of the Pilates Encyclopedia.  Read our interview with Mara and discover her thoughts on the body’s kinesthetic intelligence and what led her to Pilates.

Polestar: What do you love about teaching?

MS: I love that I get to know the whole person. Pilates gives me permission to take all aspects of a person into consideration… their body of course but also their emotions and thoughts. Feelings influence breathing and breathing influences movement. I love that my students leave the studio feeling better than when they came in. Often that’s my only goal for a session, especially for my clients with movement restrictions, limitations or pain. I work with a lot of people who’ve never experienced individualized Pilates on equipment before, and I love seeing their excitement when they realize that they CAN do this. That they don’t have to hurt and suffer to get stronger and move better with more ease.

Polestar: What is your current inspiration?

MS: My students’ activities outside the studio inspire me. I usually ask them what they’d like to be able to do outside the studio, in the real world. Often it’s hiking, skiing, tennis, gardening or playing with and lifting up their grand children. Once we have a goal that excites them we build the skills to get there and we find ways to mimic the movement in the studio in preparation for real world application.

If my energy gets drained from teaching a lot I make sure to take lessons from other teachers. Getting out of my head is important. Having another teacher look at my body and help me find better movement patterns is invaluable and incredibly inspirational. When my own body feels great I want to share this feeling with my students. Ultimately, Pilates teachers are practitioners first.

I live in New Hampshire, and we’re pretty outdoorsy. Moving in nature is the best meditation and inspiration for me. It helps me put things into perspective, clears my mind from clutter, and helps me focus on the essentials.

Polestar: Why Pilates?

MS: I used to be a dancer. Then I got injured and Pilates helped me get back on stage. I later started to teach all sorts of group fitness, aerobics, step aerobics and yoga. Eventually, I decided to fully focus on Pilates because it was the only modality that gave me the skill to work with everyone, no matter their limitations. You can’t be too inflexible, too weak or too out of shape to do Pilates. You’re out of excuses to feel better, stronger and happier.

Polestar: What do you hope to convey in your teaching?

MS: That Pilates doesn’t matter. What? Did I just say that? What I mean is that it’s not important to do Pilates perfectly. What’s the point in practicing a gazillion Roll Ups to “perfect” them if I end up with neck pain. What really matters is that we feel good and that we can live our lives to the fullest. If we apply it correctly, Pilates is the tool to get there. It’s the best tool I know. So in that regard Pilates matters. A lot.

Polestar: Where would you love to vacation?

MS: Any of the National Parks in the western US. I’m an avid hiker, and I’ve never been to Yosemite, Zion, Yellowstone, etc. I’m also getting more and more intrigued with Alaska.

Polestar: What is your favorite quote?

MS: “Everyone is the architect of their own happiness.”

It reminds me that it’s all about personal responsibility. I sometimes get the feeling that my desire for my students to get better is stronger than their own. Probably because I have more faith in Pilates than they do. I’ve seen with my own eyes and felt in my own body the power of the method. But ultimately, I can’t do it for them. The student has to believe in it, too. If you can’t believe it, then you can’t achieve it, right?

Polestar: Describe your movement style?

MS: Slow, precise, soft, gentle, and with intention. I came to Pilates through an injury due to hyper-mobility.  This set the stage for me to focus on exercising within my abilities and not pushing outside of my comfort zone until I’m able to fully control the movement. I focus on building a strong foundation first for each of my students. They want to see me do the most difficult exercises in the repertoire. But I know exactly what I can and can’t do (correctly). I know which exercises will help me and which ones I’d be cheating (compensating) my way through. I don’t care about showing off. Unfortunately most of us are very impressionable by the “shiny things,” the flashy exercises, the upside down ones. The subtle work that happens inside the body is often not visible to the outside (especially not to the untrained eye). But it changes everything. It makes all the difference.

Polestar: What is your favorite apparatus?

MS: At the moment the Ladder Barrel. Pilates can get a bit linear and rigid. The curves of the Barrel remind me and my students to keep the spine supple (as a cat’s).

The Oov has been tremendously helpful with this same goal. It provides a shortcut by helping the student feel a neutral spine position without having to explain so much. It’s a direct line to the body’s kinesthetic intelligence.

Polestar: What are you reading?

MS: I recently read Critical Hours: Search and Rescue in the White Mountains by Sandy Stott. As a hiker and outdoor enthusiast, I was humbled by how much effort goes into rescuing hikers who get into trouble. I learned a ton about how to stay safe.

I also highly recommend Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown for anyone who, like me, tends to have too many ideas and wants to do too much. Its philosophy of dropping all non-essential activities resonates with the “less is more” Pilates mindset. He calls it “less but better.” I remind my students that fewer repetitions but performed with more focus are worth more than 20 sloppy repetitions.  One of Joe’s quotes comes to mind:  “A few well-designed movements, properly performed in a balanced sequence, are worth hours of sloppy calisthenics or forced contortion.”

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