Rael Isacowitz of BASI Pilates

Rael Isacowitz of BASI Pilates™

Rael Isacowitz is definitely one to follow in the Pilates industry. He founded BASI™ (Body Arts and Sciences, International) Pilates in 1989 and over the past 30 years, since he began his study in Pilates, he has made an indelible mark in the industry. “I have tried to keep BASI Pilates™ quite intimate,” says Rael, even with its spread across 20 countries. BASI Pilates™ is headquartered in Orange County, California and has 65 certifying locations. You can read about BASI Pilates reformers here.

Although business requires that he still travel, Isacowitz prefers to stay close to home. He resides in Oregon with his wife and 8-year-old son. He is a passionate windsurfer, which is what brought him to Oregon. Isacowitz also enjoys hiking, walking with his wife, skiing and snowboarding, long distance swimming, yoga and dance. He practices Pilates at least 3 times per week in his fully equipped home Studio. Obviously he is a hard worker and very disciplined… a great example to his students.

“My infinite thirst for exploration of different forms of training” is what Isacowitz says brought him to Pilates in the late 70s. His background at the time included dance, yoga, exercise physiology and biomechanics. He found the merging of arts and sciences in Pilates. “I felt that Pilates had the inner sense of yoga and dance, but it also had the physicality of a conventional workout. Pilates develops the musculature; coordination, flexibility and strength, and uses resistance in creative ways.” Over time, he began to focus more and more on dance and Pilates.

Rael danced professionally for many years and became the head of the dance department at a performing arts college in Australia. It was there he opened a Pilates studio and taught mat classes as part of the college’s curriculum. He began working with athletes, dancers and physical therapists, and was instrumental in helping Pilates be integrated into one of the largest and most prominent physical therapy schools in Australia.

Isacowitz came to the U.S. at the invite of an orthopedic surgeon who asked him to create a rehabilitation program based on Pilates. It was at that time that Isacowitz began to shift his main focus to Pilates rather than dance.

Recognized as an industry leader in Pilates, Isacowitz was the first Pilates professional to be invited to main land China. “For me this was an amazing experience and honor. This is a country so big with an enormous population, and I was the first Pilates person to be officially invited there by a government authority,” he says recalling the memory.

He does see a difference in Pilates across the countries, he says, “The American style of practicing Pilates has led the way. It is typically a more dynamic style, more active and athletic. To this day in England it is much softer, slower, lighter, less dynamic and athletic, even though there are always exceptions. There is a mixture of influences in other countries.”

Even within the U.S. he sees a difference between East Coast and West Coast. Whereas California is often regarded as alternative, esoteric and mind/body oriented, New York is very dynamic and physical. Some schools, particularly in New York, are staunchly focused on doing the repertoire and working on the apparatus exactly as Joseph Pilates originally did.

Rael feels strongly about his focus at BASI Pilates™, as he explains,

“BASI Pilates™ is focused on maintaining, honoring and respecting the source, but justifying and understanding the work from a scientific perspective and giving the work an inner sense, soul and spirit. I refuse to look at Pilates as just a series of exercises. It has to be more than that to be a way of life and for me it is a way of life. I know Joseph Pilates definitely wanted it to be a way of life.”

When Rael talks of teaching, he says “The hardest part to teach is the intangible part, things that you can’t put your finger on. Life experience will get you there, not doing an exercise 10 times. You have to practice and it is about what you feel and being in touch with those sensations in your body. I try to guide people more to experience something rather than just going through a series of exercises.”

Rael stays busy at BASI Pilates™ with many new developments to check out, including several specialized and post graduate programs for Pilates professionals. These are intense, in-depth programs and participants must have prior knowledge and Pilates experience. Here are some highlights of what is happening at BASI Pilates™:

  • The Dance Specialization is taught by Karen Clippinger, who has a book called Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology. She is a professor at California State University in Long Beach and is one of the BASI Pilates™ faculty. Rael says, “She is a treasure of knowledge.” Dancers benefit so much from Pilates. Even though the benefits vary depending on the dancer’s background, Rael says, “Pilates brings dancers a great deal of functional strength and functional flexibility. Often they are enormously flexible and don’t have the strength to support their range-of-motion. Pilates gives them strength to use this large range-of-motion safely.”
  • BASI Pilates™ brought Pilates into the university system in California and the BASI Pilates™ curriculum with Dance Specialization is offered through the university. Isacowitz started the program with Clippinger who now teaches it on her own.
  • Rael also initiated a Pilates program for children at his son’s school. There was a class for kindergarten through second grade, and one for third through fifth grade. Initially the classes had 50-60 kids with 40-50 sticking to it, with parents participating as well. Everyone reported a tremendously positive experience from the class.
  • Other BASI Pilates™ post graduate courses specialize in working with the elderly, athletes, pregnancy and rehabilitation.
  • The Mentor Program, one of the few programs Rael teaches personally, focuses on the advanced repertoire. This takes participants to the highest level of work.
  • The Avalon system developed by Rael together with Balanced Body, Inc. evolved from years and years of working on the apparatus and seeing where it could be improved. It is a system, not just pieces of apparatus. There are added dimensions of functionality to the apparatus, including the multi-adjustable resistance and handle system on the AVALON Armchair™ and AVALON step barrel™. This helps with the different exercises and diversity of client proportions. Both are sold by Balanced Body.
  • BASI Pilates™ offers a line of Pilates apparel for men and women that can be found on their website.
  • BASI Pilates™ has also launched an exciting and revolutionary Online Pilates Training software program for students and teachers. It is a resource with infinite possibilities for creating exercise programs.

You can find more information on all of these programs on the BASI Pilates website.

Rael tries to remain open minded about the industry expansion, he says, “Growth is a wonderful thing as long as we are trying our utmost to bring respect to this profession by setting high standards, and by earning the respect of other professionals. We need to offer good training, good education and not give in to the quick fix mentality. He remains adamant that people learn Pilates as part of an inner journey. “If we sell out too easily to the temptation of exponential growth and earning money in the short-term, we risk sacrificing our profession in the long-term.”

Rael says to new instructors, “You MUST seek a good education. Research and find an approach that works for you, one that you can believe in, and become strongly grounded and familiar with that approach. Never stop practicing. Never stop learning. Always be a student as much as you are a teacher. Find something to believe in.” He is content with the fact that new instructors may not choose BASI Pilates™, as long as they do their research and find a place and approach that they can dedicate themselves to.

Isacowitz believes that Pilates professionals need to work together and he reminds us, “Don’t become too immersed in ego. This is the one thing in the past that has held our community back. Nothing gives me more joy than collaborating with other professionals and getting their points of view, disagreeing and still sharing a deep respect for one another.” He says to always open your mind and heart when entering another instructor’s class.

Rael does have a positive, but realistic outlook for the future of the Pilates industry. He says, “I think our future will be good, but it doesn’t mean there is not a lot of hard work to be done.”

As much as I enjoyed speaking with Rael, reading his book Pilates and watching his new DVD on the Wunda Chair, I look forward to participating in one of his workshops. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him yet, but I am planning to in the future and you definitely should as well.

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