Jay Grimes: The Pilates Teachers’ Teacher

We spoke with Jay Grimes a couple weeks ago when we learned that he was coming to Pilates Seattle International to attend an open house and conduct a special teacher training workshop the weekend of October 5, 6, and 7. A contemporary of Romana Kryzanowska, Grimes was a student of Joseph Pilates and then taught for many years with Joe and Clara in their New York Studio. Now based in Los Angeles, Grimes is sought after around the world as one of the foremost teachers’ teacher of Authentic Pilates.

Lean and tan, with a mega watt smile and twinkly blue eyes that compliment his silver hair, Grimes stands at all times with absolutely perfect posture. And just like Romana, he beams energy into every corner of the room. It’s impossible to tell just how old he is.

BB: What’s the best thing about what you do?

JG: It is quite fascinating to see how people’s entire lives can change when they are serious about their Pilates workout. People transform their entire lives.

One client when she came to me was barely able to get around, she had no joy in her life, she had back issues, and she was overweight. From the moment she started, she seemed suddenly 30 years younger. She was able to do and go and her whole personality changed.

Another client, a powerful and successful businessman, told me six weeks after he started a regular Pilates practice, that he had not slept more than two hours straight for years, probably not since he was in college; and yesterday he said he slept through the alarm. He no longer suffered from chronic headaches.

Pilates is always new to me, I am still learning every day.

BB: What is it about Seattle that you like?

JG: Well, they invite me! This is the third time I’ve come to Lauren and Steve’s studio. They are just extraordinary. The studio vibe is the closest I’ve ever felt next to Joe’s studio – doesn’t look anything like it, but it’s similar in that the teachers all support each other and the clients are enthusiastic. It’s a family.  Lauren’s teacher training program produces some of the best teachers I’ve seen – they really challenge me – I have to be at my best. It’s a great pleasure for me to be in this environment.

BB: What’s the future of Pilates?

JG: If you had asked me that question five or ten years ago, I would have given you a different answer. Even though there is so much out there in the exercise world that is called Pilates but really isn’t, True Pilates is thriving. Through Romana’s efforts and other teachers dedicated to Joe’s training, we now do have throughout the world some really truly good teachers (Lauren and Lori for example). We have teachers in San Diego, Los Angeles, Juanita Lopez in Chicago. Rome, Barcelona, Sao Paolo (she’s so good she scares me), Australia, The Hague – I could go on and on. Each and every one of these teachers is determined to keep Joe’s teaching alive. I think we’re in good shape, no pun intended!

BB: What are your words of advice to a someone new to Pilates?

JG: The first thing I tell my new students is to forget everything they’ve ever learned about exercise. I tell them they are about to enter a whole different world with its own language and its own way of approaching exercise. I tend to repeat this over and over to people who have done a lot of yoga. They will be doing themselves a disservice if they don’t approach Pilates differently.

What’s your advice for novice instructors?

JG: My first words for apprentices: that piece of paper you get when you complete your training is just your learner’s permit. It takes years and years.

Young teachers can be so eager to show off what they know. It’s important to remember that you cannot correct everything at once.

You know, certification programs are necessary evils, they go against everything Joe was about. He trained by instinct and intuition. The mechanics are a given. He gave us a huge array of tools. How are you going to use them? It’s critical that you listen to a body. Our client’s bodies will tell us so much more than the clients themselves can. The body tells you everything – the car accident 23 years ago – those injuries are still in the body.

It’s important to remind everyone that it’s not therapy; it’s exercise. And it’s all about proper alignment.

Working with the body is almost like meeting a whole new person. You start with polite conversation and you find out what things you have in common. You have to give a new body a chance to make itself known.

But it’s not just the client’s body; you have to engage the client’s mind. Pilates requires a keen intelligence and a willingness to constantly learn. As a teacher, you have to verbalize the right cues, the right mental images so that the body will respond.

And that’s not for everybody.

Joe Pilates was fond of saying that Pilates is good for everyone but not everyone is good for Pilates.

There is one woman in New York who was one of the studio’s original clients. Joe worked with her for about 30 seconds before he asked Clara to instruct her. Clara in turn gave her to Romana and Romana passed her along to me when I arrived. This woman is brilliant (she’s in her 80s now) with a great sense of humor, but refuses to do more than she feels her body needs. She certainly knows the work, listens politely to corrections, and continues to make the same mistakes she’s made for 60 years.

BB: What other exercise do you do to compliment your Pilates practice?

JG: I’m a former dancer so there’s a part of me that still needs to move. But when I’m not in the studio doing my Pilates work out or working with my clients or teaching, I walk. I love to walk and I walk very briskly, often cruising right by some joggers, usually six or seven miles at a time. I enjoy every step.

This answer, however, leaves the main question on everyone’s mind, unanswered: just how old is Jay Grimes, anyway?

© Pilates Seattle International