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!

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