Inside the Pilates Studio: Mariska Breland

Inside the Pilates Studio: Mariska BrelandThe creator of Pilates for MS, and a respected name in the industry, Mariska Breland has been on my Pilates radar for a few years. She hails from my previous Pilates home, Washington, DC, and I owe a huge thanks to serendipity for bringing us together.

A favorite new friend

Swirling friendships brought us together, colleagues and mutual friends, and I could not be more thrilled. Mariska has been studying with my first ever Pilates teacher, Lesa McLaughlin of Excel Pilates in DC.


Wait, there's more.

My San Diego Pilates pal, Jennifer Kries has been singing Mariska's praises as well. So on her recent visit to San Diego – Del Mar to be more exact and literally minutes from my home – Mariska and I met up ostensibly for coffee or drinks.

Me: Hi! When I suggested coffee or drinks a few weeks ago I was partaking in both – but now I've been eliminating caffeine, sugar and alcohol for nearly a month – could we get a snack instead?

Mariska: I don't really do caffeine or alcohol either, a snack is perfect. What do you suggest?

Me: Well we're really close to one of my favorite sushi restaurants…(crosses fingers)

Mariska: Perfect. I love sushi.

Okay she gets like a million points for being a fellow sushi-lover. Now we'll talk about Pilates, awesome! There's nothing like some girl-bonding over sushi, books and Pilates. Wait, what book are you reading???

Our heroines discover they are both reading the same book.


(The Secret History by Donna Tartt – all the cool Pilates gals are reading it.)

OMG we talked forever and in just 2 weeks I hope to do it all over again.

1. What is your favorite Pilates exercise and why?

Mariska Breland: Short Spine Massage. If an exercise can be called ‘delicious' this one is a culinary masterpiece, especially if you get a great hands-on assist during it.

Since this question doesn’t say that I need to limit my response to one exercise, I also have to throw in that I love Reformer Leg Circles. It’s become a saying at my studio “Leg circles save lives.” First, because they are instant bliss, but second, because weak and tight hips can lead to falls, hip fractures, disability, nursing homes, and yes, early death. Leg circles save lives.

2. What exercise is your least favorite. Pick just one.

MB: Easy – kneeling side kicks. I have a lot of neurological-based weakness on my left side, and this exercise goes right to those weak areas and points them out. I should probably do it every day. I don’t (Next time I do a private with you, you can make me do it if you like).

(Mmm…duly noted.)

3. What turns you on creatively, mentally or physically about the Pilates method?

MB: There are so many things to love about Pilates. I love that I am never finished learning. I love that I can always get better at something. I love that on days where I feel weak or tired or beat down, there’s something I can still do that makes me feel strong and empowered. I am an eternal student, always curious, always asking questions. I love that there are amazing teachers (classical and non-traditional) who can answer those questions or explore them with me.

4. What is your idea of earthly happiness?

MB: Floating in the ocean. Even better – snorkeling in a very crowded (with sea life) coral reef. Follow that up with some time to read an amazing book on the beach and dinner (that I didn't have to cook) with good friends.

5. What in your mind would be the greatest misfortune?

MB: The greatest misfortune would be to be too scared to go after your dreams, followed closely by failing to make the time to enjoy the pleasures of life. My mother died young and I was diagnosed with MS in my 20s, so I think I’ve had a fire lit under me that says I have to do things and I have to do them now. It’s always been hard for me to take time to just enjoy because I have always so goal-focused, but as I am writing this on vacation, the importance of fun is fresh on my mind.

6. What is your favorite Pilates word?

MB: Lengthen. 

7. What is your least favorite Pilates word?

MB: “Pelvic floor” or pretty much any cue or phrase that is telling me to engage my “bladder control muscles.” Sure, these are useful in certain circumstances (I teach an entire section on exercises for neurological bladder issues in my Pilates for MS course, for instance), but when I’m just going through a session, I don’t need to be cued about that. I find most great teachers don’t. The worst variation of this term I ever heard was “imagine you are a pregnant cat, and you’re trying to hold in your kittens.” Seriously, yuck.

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

MB: Tough one – is there a job that combines restaurant critic, fiction writer, philanthropist, healer, and animal trainer? ‘Cause that’s perfect for me!

9. If Heaven exists and by some chance, you arrive that pearly gates and Joseph Pilates is also there, what would you like him to say to you?

MB: “We have a full Pilates studio right over here. Let’s go play.”

10. What did you learn today?

MB: So much! I’m in Nevis (West Indies), and I learned that free divers can hold their breath for 3 minutes on average, but some push it to 4 minutes and up. The Dive Master told me that divers always work in pairs, and one stays up while the other dives. If the diver blacks out, the other is there to rescue them. Apparently, when this happens, the diver's lungs often don’t fill with water due to a protective reflexive spasm of the larynx. Often, the diver regains consciousness when they are brought back to the surface – several seconds to sometimes minutes after they are pulled out of the water, when the spasm relaxes. I don’t want to try it, of course, but it reminds me of how fascinating and powerful the human machine really is. 

I also learned that “goat water” is a very hearty Caribbean soup made with goat meat and a kind of pepper Nevisians call a burnt pepper. It tastes like habanero to me. I should look that up to see if it’s the same thing.

I could keep going. I think you should learn a lot of new things every day.

Visit Mariska at Fuse Pilates, her Washington, DC studio.

More on the fantastic Pilates available in DC in a future post!

Inside the Pilates Studio: Michael Fritzke and Ton Voogt

Inside the Pilates Studio: Michael Fritzke and Ton Voogt

Michael Fritzke (right) and Ton Voogt (left) are longtime veterans of the Pilates Method. Originally trained by none other than Romana Kryzanowska, who referred to them simply as ‘the boys', Michael and Ton have been educating and training Pilates teachers around the globe since the 1990s.

I was first charmed by this pair way back in 2000. Dianne Garrett, one of my first Pilates teachers, told me a story about Ton. Dianne had weekly lessons with Ton during her apprenticeship at The Pilates Studio (Romana's program at the time).

When Dianne would get to the T-straps exercise on the Long Box, Ton would often question her:

“‘T' for…?”

Dianne admitted to being puzzled every time. Was he asking for the purpose of the exercise? No… What about the song, ‘T (tea) for two?' Was that it? What is he asking??

His response made me giggle: “‘T' for Ton, ‘T' for Ton.”

I think I love this guy already.

Dianne would also give me a specific spot/correction in the Shave exercise (Rowing Series on the Reformer). It was not until just this January that I got to feel the same spot from Michael. Ah! There it is again. I love when my Pilates world comes full circle. I had been experiencing moments of Michael and Ton's brilliance since my first Pilates lessons. How lovely.

Remember when Glinda the Good Witch tells Dorothy that by just using the ruby slippers and her intent she could have gone home to Kansas at any time? It kinda felt like that.

Shortly after my first training program at Excel Pilates, I got to meet Michael and Ton at an Education Seminar. Amazingly I would not see them again until nearly a decade later. But I remembered their fun banter and the warm learning environment they create.

It was a pleasure and a luxury to learn from them for 2 full days this past January at a fantastic event created by Michael, Ton and Elin Benson at Premier Pilates in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Now that their home base is in Arizona, I plan to see much more of them in the next decade.

For more information about Michael and Ton or to find out where they will be teaching next visit

Inside the Pilates Studio: Michael Fritzke and Ton Voogt

1. What is your favorite Pilates exercise and why?

Michael Fritzke: I don’t have a favorite exercise. It varies from day to day, depending on how my body feels and what it needs to realign and balance. So I guess you could say I have an exercise “du jour.” Today it was extension exercises. It was tax time and I spent too many hours rounded over my desk.

Ton Voogt: Ok to clarify I don’t believe in favorite exercises. Each exercise feels different each day you perform it so sometimes this exercise feels the best and sometimes another exercise feels the best. Having said that, today the Roll Up is one of my favorites. It engages and stretches your entire body. It centers you, you get a great stretch in the front and the back of the body, you feel your abs contracting, and you get a great articulation through the spine.

2. What exercise is your least favorite? Pick only one

MF: I don’t have a least favorite exercise either. I learned early on in my teaching career, not to judge. I believe all exercises, variations and evolutions of the method have merit. The art of teaching is finding the right exercise or variation of the exercise for your client.

TV: Least favorite is a strong word, but the exercise that every time “sneaks” up on me and my mind goes “really….again?” would be Swimming.

3. What turns you on creatively, mentally or physically about the Pilates method?

MF: The fact that the method and our bodies are constantly changing and evolving and we have to adapt and grow with these constant variables. My biggest insight is that the essence of the method is quite simple, but it is this simplicity that challenges you creatively, mentally and physically.

TV: The fact that there is always room for improvement and growth. You are never “done” with any exercise, you are never “perfect”, and the method will never stop evolving and growing. It is a fluent and ever moving and growing field. Can it get any more exciting?

4. What is your idea of earthly happiness?

MF: Love, I found it with Ton.

TV: With a good book, on a beautiful beach, together with Michael of course.

5. What to your mind would be the greatest misfortune?

MF: Not to have love in your life.

TV: Not to be able to follow your dreams.

6. What is your favorite Pilates word?

MF: Contrology. The art and science of body mind and spirit, development through disciplined movement. Joe’s one word describes the whole method.

TV: Contrology. It explains and defines the entire method.

7. What is your least favorite Pilates word?

MF: I don’t use many of the “Pilates” words with clients. It is my experience that many clients have no idea what you are talking about and therefore it does not really give them the experience of the movement. I don’t think the use of the “Pilates” words is wrong, it is like using anatomical terms, it is about when and how you use them and with whom.

TV: Any word that does not help the client. I see so many instructors rattling off their cues, the set up of exercises etc., but they pay no attention to what the client is actually doing. Their words and the action of the client/group do not match. Such a waste. Your words matter….use your words!

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

MF: I can honestly say, I have pretty much done what I wanted to do. Teaching Pilates is my third career, but if I had to pick a fourth, I would be a philanthropist…. I just need the billions to spread around! To quote a line from Hello Dolly, “money is like manure, it needs to be spread around.”

TV: Philanthropist….is that a profession?

9. If Heaven exists, and by some chance when you arrive at the pearly gates Joseph Pilates is also there, what would you like to hear him say to you? 

MF: Interesting question. I guess he would say, “Hello!” I believe everything ever created has an energetic field and we all have the ability to tap into Joe’s energetic field of creativity, and most of us probably have. So I guess you could say we have already met….energetically that is.

TV: Based on the stories we heard from Romana Kryzanowska and other protégées about Joseph Pilates I would not be surprised if he said: “WE ARE FULL” (of course in his German accent). What I would like him to say is: Willkommen und viel Spaß! (Welcome and enjoy!)

10. What did you learn today? 

MF: When we were in St. Petersburg for a Pilates convention we took some extra days and went to the Hermitage museum. There we saw a painting called Portrait of a Man by Dominico Capriolo. I did not know this painter so I finally googled him to learn more about him. And what I learned today is that there is not a lot of information about him. So the search continues, because now I really want to know about him.

TV: I really should stop procrastinating. Yeah I should. I will start immediately….tomorrow.

Remember to visit and see where M+T will be teaching near you!

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