A Cancer Survivor on Discovering the Many Benefits of Pilates

Plus, where to practice in metro Detroit
Photo: IStock

“That’s like yoga, right?” asks Elissha Bate. She’s joking. Bate is a certified, level 1 Stott Pilates instructor at Equilibrium Studio, in Bloomfield Hills. While Bate doesn’t see Pilates as the fringe practice it once was, she’s aware that not many people have stepped into a studio, let alone raised their knees into tabletop on the equipment. “It’s a method, and it’s a discipline,” she says. “And that’s what I want people to understand.” 

Bate’s classes are exacting. Whether in a class or a private session, she smiles as she calls out the minute movements of your ribs or the depth of your ab tuck. While challenging, her approach sees her working with clients from teens to limber 90-year-olds and the physically disabled. “I want people to shake off this notion that it is just going to the gym and doing crunches. Pilates is a real study on your body.”

I was in my early 20s when I started practicing Pilates in New York City. I had only read about it in magazines, but between the words and the glossy photos of svelte bodies, there was a glint of something more profound. As a cancer survivor who had spent several years ailing from a laundry list of maladies, I felt off. The body that helped me survive looked fine on the outside but felt stiff and weak. With its promise of alignment and mind-body connection, Pilates sounded like my great panacea. And in many ways, it was. The bed-like equipment and succession of graceful moves allowed me to tap into a physicality that awakened long dormant muscles. I walked taller and felt knit together from my core. Not only did my clothes fit better, but I could ease into other forms of exercise — like boot camps and cardio dance — without feeling completely undone. 

Twenty-six years ago, Nancy Hodari, owner and founder of Equilibrium Studio, was practicing law and training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. She woke up one night with no feeling on one side of her body. Hodari had a nerve injury and needed a back surgery — her third — to fix it. “I had to walk with the brace, as a result of the surgery, so I started doing research, and I read about Pilates,” she tells me. There weren’t any studios in Michigan, at the time, so she flew to New York to work one-on-one with an instructor. Serendipitously, she found an Ann Arbor woman teaching Pilates out of her basement, once back in Michigan. In seeing her for sessions that focused on postural muscles, Hodari learned to walk without the brace. 

Once healed, Hodari wasted no time in altering her career course. “I didn’t think Oakland County needed another lawyer, so I opened the first Pilates studio in Michigan.” 

In 2019, I moved back to Detroit just before the pandemic shutdowns. After sedentarily sheltering in place, that “off” feeling crept back in and I had to act. It was then that I discovered Equilibrium and met Hodari.

Ever the over-achiever, I ended up going to classes at several studios nearly every day of the week. After two months, I realized I was on the edge of overexerting myself to make up for years I didn’t practice. I needed to trust the method and my own body to do the work, especially considering my reason for starting the practice in the first place — wellness, not fitness.

Pilates, like all exercise methods, is unregulated. However, there are several licensing organizations that grant certification. And countless scientific studies have tracked the method’s efficacy among those with back pain and those undergoing cancer treatment, particularly for breast cancer. “We have people going through chemotherapy who schedule their Pilates on the day they receive treatment,” Hodari says. A 2010 study showed that breast cancer patients who practiced Pilates enjoyed a higher quality of life, with fewer instances of fatigue and depression. 

Even if you’re only looking for a workout, Sports Health confirms Pilates can increase relaxation, boost core stability, and improve posture. “I think everyone needs Pilates. It’s like health insurance,” Hodari says.

Looking to Try Pilates?

Here are some recommendations

Equilibrium Studio 

Part Stott Pilates studio, part education center, this is an authentic Pilates experience with a focus on classical technique and Gyrotonic. Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham: equilibriumstudio.com

Reforming Foundations Pilates & Wellness

Innovative classes, cool playlists, and an infrared sauna for reviving sore muscles. Plus, a classroom fitted with infrared panels for hot Pilates. Berkley: reformingfoundations.com

The Corner Studio Pilates & Lagree 

This chic and cozy loft-style space has a fireplace, Megaformers for Lagree, and a private room for one-on-one instruction. Grosse Pointe: thecornerstudiogp.com

This story is from the 2022 edition of Health Guide. Read more stories here