Pilates For Everyone: Jane’s Story

I believe that Pilates exercises can be modified for every body type and physical conditions. Take my experience with Jane for example…

In 2002, Jane told me she was diagnosed with Systemic Scleroderma, an arthritic autoimmune disease that attacks organs and makes them fibrotic., the skin being the most obvious. She has written a book titled The Wizard Within telling of her experience. When she started to work out, her ability to smile had left her face and her hands and feet were just beginning to stiffen. As the disease progressed to her lungs she was eligible for an adult stem cell transplant operation with stem cells harvested from her own body.

I decided to get her moving to see if we could maintain her mobility. She was still working as a music teacher at a local high school. Jane performed Basic Reformer exercises twice a week for 2 months. We started out slow. Jane seemed quite happy to see what was possible and what she had difficulty with, which we would then work to improve. After 3 weeks, she could get up and down off the floor easily.

“I had always hated exercise because it was boring… I couldn’t wait to come back.”

Jane’s left side did not respond as well as her right. We noticed seated exercises with her raising her arms with a pole helped her breathing. She liked bending to the side while seated as it was like rowing. So she tried to Kayak with a friend. She was afraid to get out of the Kayak, that was the big problem. So we started doing triceps dips inside the well of the reformer to lift herself out of the kayak. Within no time she bought a Kayak and started to row. This was in 2003.

“I didn’t know how to communicate with my body…you were able to make me understand…it was all mental.”

We added basic mat exercises. Simple neck rolls, easing up and then practicing the roll down (lying back by controlling the abdominal muscles) with bent knees lying down against the Spine Corrector. (another Pilates Apparatus). Then leg lifts and circles with one leg while the other knee is bent and her foot was on the floor. We started the Stomach Series (Abdominal exercises performed lying her back), the first 2 exercises (modified of course), with a pillow under her head, and bent knees, graduating to Russian kicks (modified Crisscross, w/arms crossed). Later we added the side series (leg movements while lying on her side.) This sometimes took us 25 minutes to half an hour just for the mat exercises.

Throughout all I was very patient and had to hold her back a bit because she was determined to work so hard. She was motivated.

“This was a whole new world to me and to experience success mentally and physically.”

Unfortunately by 2004, her lungs were failing from the disease. We would walk around a neighborhood track and I would carry her oxygen tank taking up to 30 minutes doing a mile. We were getting her strength up for the operation..

In Summer 2005, Jane had to leave work and then get permission for the stem cell transplant and find funding, but that is another part of her story. After the transplant, and time to recover we began again when she was able to receive outside visitors.

Starting all over

In the Fall of 2005 we started with the seated chair exercises. This was quite exhausting for her, but we kept at it. We did footwork on and off the floor with knees bending to raise up the legs, just resisting gravity and stretching her calves. We progressed to standing leg lifts and side leg lifts, while supported by the chair. We added seated foot exercises for the arches and toes. She enjoyed the footwork, so much that she excelled. In less than 3 months we were back on the mat.


Still her breathing was shallow. We put her over the mini barrel (another Pilates Apparatus) with a pillow under her head and started to open up her chest passively. Her breathing improved audibly immediately. Deeper and clearer. We started breathing exercises on the barrel. Really, the difference was night and day. She now owns her own Arc barrel/Spine Corrector.

We get her back to moving and breathing. This is wonderful. She can perform the Tree!, which is a seated leg raise and abdominal roll up, which stretches out the hamstrings and lower back. She remarked that she could now shave her legs easily. Many things were improving in her daily life. By 2007 she was performing Reformer Duets with a friend. In 2009 she worked out in Pilates Trio Reformer session twice a week.

Just this summer she walked uphill in the pouring rain and kept up with the grandchildren on their bicycles which would have been unimaginable in the past.

Certainly a person should get their Doctor’s approval before starting any exercise program and a list of contraindicated exercises for their condition if there is a health concern or previous injury.

Pilates can be modified for everyone and get them moving and feeling better. This will contribute to faster recuperation as well.

Download Jane’s Story Article

Pilates can be modified for everyone and get them moving and feeling better. This will contribute to faster recuperation as well.