Zayna Gold guides Boston Body Pilates with the endless passion, knowledge, and energy required to maintain a world hub for pilates. This Arizona native began touting the classic movement system in the late ‘80s, long before the hoards of enthusiasts followed suit. While she had always had a healthy lifestyle (biking, hiking, running, and dancing), when she discovered Pilates she was astounded not only by the exercise, but also by Joseph Pilates’ focus on mind-body connection in the present moment.
At first, she simply started doing the mat exercises on her own, enjoying the feeling of the centered alignment that Pilates creates. After college, she began working with a Pilates master instructor and eventually made fitness, specifically Pilates, her life’s work. Read on to learn about her approach, Pilates’ basics, and picking which version is right for your best body—and mind.
SBS: Your studio is an institution! How did it come about?
Zayna Gold: When I first opened up my studio, Boston Body Pilates, around 1989, I taught all types of fitness classes including step and yoga. People would always say to me, ‘I don’t know what it is about your classes. I’m dying after, but I also feel so serene. I feel so centered.’ It was always because I used the Pilates principals as I taught classes.
But at that time, nobody had heard of or would take a Pilates class.
I found a place on Newbury Street and started bringing in Pilates in the early ‘90s. I had two studios, one for Pilates and the other for fitness. In 2002, I started teaching only Pilates. Now, we have classes for Pilates, Mat, Apparatus, and Barre. It’s been an evolution, but Pilates has always been the core.
SBS: What’s your approach to Pilates?
ZG: I’m very typical of a lot of people that only do Pilates. It becomes really addictive because everything is about centering yourself and working to create balanced muscles. It’s a beautiful feeling. It sounds corny but when you do Pilates, it makes you feel beautiful from the inside out. You feel incredibly graceful, lengthened and decompressed. And it makes you feel so happy to be present. Joseph Pilates studied Zen, so he infused a lot of that feeling into the work, and it’s noticeable.
SBS: What’s your approach to barre?
ZG: To me, barre is Pilates that you do to great music, partly while standing. Before I got pregnant with my first son, I did the Lotte Burke method, the original. So I was introduced to barre way back before there were the various brands. Then, I would come back to Boston and teach whatever I picked up in my fitness classes.
I loved it, but during the course of all of my teaching I had taken anatomy and kinesiology, and I was very much into safety and proper body mechanics. So when I decided to teach a barre class seven years ago, I changed certain ineffective things like over-tucking, which isn’t great for your back.
When it stared getting popular, my clients who had been with me for 25 years, asked if that was what I used to teach. They requested I bring it back, noting their butts had never looked better. So I re-introduced it and put the class together in a way that maintains that intensity of shaky muscles, but there’s nothing that compromises your joints. Then, I started a teacher training program, since I couldn’t teach as many times a day as people wanted! Balanced Body bought the curriculum, and now many instructors teach it.
SBS: Whom do you recommend Pilates mat classes to?
ZG: The mat is hard and great, but sometimes men or athletic people don’t prefer it because you have to use and really engage with your own mind-body connection. That can be the reason clients love it or find it boring. Some clients simply aren’t sure how to connect with a mind-body experience. For that client, the spring resistance of apparatus work gives instant feedback.
SBS: Which apparatus do you recommend for which client?
ZG: Chair is the hardest in all of the best ways. It’s really athletic and physically demanding, and men and women like it equally. Someone who isn’t used to Pilates movement can pick it up quicker. It’s simple movements that give you a great burn.
Then, the tower is really the tower-slash-Cadillac. It’s attached to the reformer so you can have a class of eight to 10. The springs offer resistance, but the carriage doesn’t move. You might do leg spring or arms springs, and there’s not instability. Someone who is a beginner is going to feel spring resistance on the tower even if they don’t have that mind-body connection. That’s great for therapeutic, post-injury work.
Finally, the reformer creates that long, sleek body like a swimmer or dancer with elongated muscles. But, if you come in and go through the motions, it is possible for you to not know what you did or feel it. You must be focused and have a desire for body awareness.
SBS: How do you feel about all the Pilates fusion options popping up?
ZG: I believe working out in any way is great. As long as your instructor has real training—as in hundreds of hours!—and it’s a safe and compassionate environment, go for it. I’m a big believer in supporting all different types of exercise. A lot of my professional friends hate the megaformer, but I’m not that person.
The beauty of traditional Pilates, though, is that you’re learning a method. It’s not just about working out. If you’re doing it for one year or 10, you become obsessed with becoming more graceful, stronger and elongating your body. Our clients can’t get enough. There’s never an end to your learning experience. It’s not just a workout. It’s actually changing you from the inside out. I don’t think you get that part in fusion classes.
SBS: What advice would you give to a Pilates newbie?
ZG: First, if your budget allows, take a private, even if it’s just once. If not, definitely tell the teacher that it’s your first class. Sometimes in a group situation, if the instructor doesn’t know, they might think you’re just doing something your own way. If you introduce yourself and ask for corrections and attention, any Pilates instructor will go out of their way to help you feel comfortable and understand the movement. They love their jobs! That way you’ll get much more out of the class.
Also, if you start a Pilates class and you feel confused, stick with it! I struggled with Pilates when I started, too. It takes time.
SBS: What are the common Pilates myths you’d like to bust?
ZG: Number one is that it’s easy! It’s not! Number two is that it’s only for women. Men love it too! The third one is that one size fits all. If there are 10 clients, every one of them will be getting a different workout. Finally, some people think you have to take a certain amount of mat classes before trying apparatus classes. That’s not what Joseph Pilates intended- He intended for the apparatus to help people do mat work!
Zayna’s Boston Favorites:
Healthy Restaurant: Snappy Sushi
Splurge Restaurant: Toscano's in Harvard Square
Fun Activity: Snowshoeing in the winter, going to the beach in summer
Calming Activity: Pilates, of course!
Fitness studio/teachers: Btone and its owner, Jody Merrill
Athleticwear: Beyond Yoga
Fitness shoes: Asics
Zayna’s SBS Mantra: "Be Fearless"! I always say, ‘Be afraid, and do it anyways.’ That’s a necessary mantra for any entrepreneur.
What's the best, zaniest part of being Zayna? I follow my own advice: I get nervous and scared of anything new. Then I do it anyways.