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An Interview with Hilary Burnett

Hilary Burnett

Hilary's Web site:

Read VF reviews of her videos

by Tami Skelton

TS: Before we begin, I just want to tell you that you have a lot of fans on Video Fitness! Your Pilates videos were well received because they're fresh and innovative. We like your calming, laid-back style of teaching as well as the wonderful set you chose for your videos.

I also wanted to share with you a recent VF poll. VFers were asked who their favorite Pilates instructor was and you came in second to "other". ("Other" included Ana Caban and Tracy York/Michelle Dozios videos.)

Favorite Pilates Video Poll - Feb 2003
Hilary Burnett2024.10%
Kathy Smith67.23%

We're excited to see new products from you and especially excited about the prospect of current and future workouts being produced on DVD.

HB: Regarding the survey: that is SO fun that I came in second! I feel so grateful to the VF crew, because I think you represent the "thinking" fitness people. It seems to me that the VF crowd is savvy and does the research needed to find quality offerings in the marketplace… and thank you for your excitement regarding future projects. I am looking forward to the time when I can proceed.

As the market shifted to DVD, video sales were affected, and being an independent producer has its financial challenges - I hope in the near future I can brainstorm a new project. I think I'd like to do an intermediate/advanced Pilates, a Vinyasa flow yoga, and possibly a combo (yoga/Pilates) DVD. I have a lot of ideas, hopefully some can be made into reality!

TS: When did you first become interested in Pilates? What sparked that interest?

HB: I began to spark to Pilates back in 1993 or 1994. I had been hearing about it, and had a sense that it would fit me and my style of teaching perfectly. I had been in the fitness industry for a while and was always drawn toward precision style exercise. One day after one of my step/fitness classes, a student came up to me and told me that during the ab exercise portion of my class, she was thinking it was so much like a Pilates class she had been taking… that gave me a boost to pursue Pilates with a stronger intention. I was craving a more holistic approach - I loved the idea of "lifestyle fitness."

TS: What type of fitness training do you have?

HB: I guess you could say my training goes way back - gymnastics in my youth, and cheerleading (!)… In the 1980s I pursued a fitness certification from the YMCA, (at that time, it was one of the only organized fitness certifications), then, after having two of my four babies, I pursued the A.C.E. fitness certification right after it had first been instituted. I received my certification from them in 1991, and maintained it throughout my "traditional" fitness career. I have studied ballet and modern dance, and from 1994 on, I studied the Pilates method.

I pursued my certification from the Pilates Center of Boulder, Colorado from 1994 to 1997, taking on a teaching job at a Washington state Pilates studio to log over 600 training and teaching hours, and taking trips to Boulder for workshops, testing and training. In 1997, I decided to go out and teach mat Pilates on my own, away from the studio setting. This led to my "yoga journey" - I fell in love with the idea of mat practice as foundational. My study of yoga dovetailed with the base of knowledge I gained in the Pilates world. I pursued a yoga education locally and found 8 Limbs Yoga Centers (Vinyasa based) and received my certification early in 2003. Ongoing training is part of my value system - I continue to take class and investigate through my own practice.

TS: Many of us at VF are trying to balance cardio, strength, and flexibility goals. How can we incorporate Pilates into that regime?

HB: For me, the yoga practice (I put Pilates matwork under the "umbrella" of yoga practice), is the corner stone of mind/body wellness. Balancing strength, flexibility and cardio must start from there. Since the VF crowd is keen to the idea of "home practice" already, I think that incorporating the mindful approach could work perfectly; Basing the home fitness practice on the mind/body disciplines, and then letting the other things blossom from there. It's hard for me to prescribe a formula here, I think it can be something guided from the body and mind awareness gained through matwork.

TS: What is your own personal fitness routine like?

HB: I have an "almost daily" asana (poses) practice that incorporates my long history in Pilates, and I take a weekly Hatha class. I also usually do a long weekly hike/walk with my hubby and dog, and have lately been doing a weekly "mini jog" with one of my daughters. I think I will likely add some things to my mat practice as the years go by, perhaps a bit of weight training, and more jogging or walking… but I really feel passionate about the idea of the "daily practice" and want to continue to develop this discipline as the "home base" of my physical and spiritual life.

TS: What would you define as the most important benefit of doing Pilates?

HB: I think the biggest benefit is increased body awareness, leading to more effective movement patterns - yielding mind/body benefits for the practitioner. An instant benefit seems to be posture improvements.

TS: We often discuss Pilates on VF and many of us are novices who are getting (often) conflicting information. Can you help answer some of the most frequent questions?

Will Pilates "thicken" my midsection or make my midsection appear "wider"?

HB: If Pilates moves are done "incorrectly", (for example, done with force instead of finesse), misaligned patterns can be reinforced which can lead to a thicker midsection, but I think that risk is a little inflamed. If the point is for you, the exerciser to become empowered, (Joseph Pilates vision was just that!), then THINKING is imperative, and study of the method will follow, and improved movement patterns will also follow. I do think "live" instruction is important, but I think that it can be done with quarterly workshops or visits to "drop-in" classes.

If I incorporate Pilates at the expense of my weight training, will I lose muscle gains?

HB: Pilates IS weight training, using your own body weight, and again, if done with intention, Pilates can improve strength, tone, etc. I think that "development" would be an important concept here - increasing intensity and precision will yield weight-training gains. Pilates is like the "foundational work" you do for your body, to gain the deep core strength that will support further pursuits, so I don't think in terms of sacrificing strength gains, but of gaining ability and facility.

Will I be over-training if I do Pilates for 20-30 minutes daily?

HB: No, Pilates uses your body weight, so over training is unlikely; again though, we come back to "how" the exercises are executed, and for sure, if a misaligned body pattern is being reinforced, "over training" could be an issue, so personal study is a good idea, through workshop attendance, chatting with other VFers, reading, etc.

Will Pilates make me lose the natural curve of my neck?

HB: Hmmmmm, I've never heard this one before. I think that the natural curve of the neck tends to be reinforced in Pilates, (dropping the chin towards chest while lying down, and tucking the chin to chest in alignment with the spine in exercises done while in the ab curl). Perhaps here you are referring to a "forcing" action of the chin to chest during inversions or other moves. In Pilates, "uniform development" of the WHOLE body is Joseph Pilates' rallying cry, so that if a position during an exercise is "overloading" a particular body part, it is not promoting uniform development and should be modified, or altered.

TS: On your web site, you mention:

I believe that "less is more" - a high level of fitness can be achieved without burning out your body. Can you explain that in a little more detail?

HB: Having been in the fitness industry for a long time, I have seen students and instructors push for fitness gains while blocking out messages the body is sending. ("OW! My knees are hurting." and "Oooh… my back is stiff.") As I pursued more in-depth education in Pilates and in yoga, I discovered that "intention" rather than endless repetitions was a key.

In my own teaching, as I morphed into a Pilates/yoga instructor, I noticed new ease and youthfulness in my body and mind, and I virtually did away with little aches and pains. This is not to say that I have reached "body nirvana", but the wisdom and precision gained from the mind/body disciplines, has literally changed the way I think and the way I feel. The "less is more" concept is about listening to the body, learning the way of precision movement to correct misalignments, and crafting a practice schedule that challenges without repetitive stress… again, here, I have a hard time talking in formulaic terms, it's such an individual pursuit, creating a practice that challenges, and also nurtures.

TS: Can you provide three basic and easy-to-remember tips that will enhance a person's mat practice?

  • Become your own trainer Think of yourself as getting a constant education in your mat practice… this will heighten your awareness and increase your ability to "correct yourself".
  • Get some live education This as a life long pursuit; it doesn't need to be weekly if that doesn't work for your life, twice yearly workshops can fuel you in a productive way.
  • Think from within The deepest core muscles provide a foundation for your body. As you exhale, consciously pull up the pelvic floor, and pull in the imaginary waist corset. This will activate the deepest muscles, the transverse abdominal muscle and "kegel muscles." The conscious exhale provides deep toning benefits in your practice.

TS: What suggested reading would you recommend to enhance our mat practice?

HS: The Everything Pilates Book by Amy Alpers and Rachel Taylor Segel will offer a lighthearted, but thorough look at Pilates history and technique. It is not meditational in its approach, so for some it will offer a very concrete and helpful way of enhancing practice, for others it will require that a more meditational reading is integrated.

Taking Root to Fly by Irene Dowd was one of our required readings during Pilates training. It is an artistic and deep way of knowing the body.

Return to Life by Joseph Pilates can be enlightening, but also a little strange at first - it is written in an old fashioned and flowery style. Within a few readings, nuggets of wisdom shine through.

For me, since I am coming from a blended way of thinking (Yoga/ Pilates), many yoga books on the market can be helpful. I would say that the VF chats are also quite informative as well as the amazon.com reviews.

TS: As I mentioned, we felt your last videos were very unique, especially the set; it was a perfect balance of instruction and style. Can you tell us a little more about where and how the video was taped and produced?

HS: Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington is where the Bastyr chapel is located. It is currently a naturopathic university, formerly was a seminary. A friend who used to work at Bastyr helped us secure it as a location for the shoot, a beautiful and amazing place to have filmed my videos.

I felt from the beginning of planning the project that art and excellence were on the top of my list. At the time of beginning the videos, I remember saying to my producer, "If I have to pay for these for the rest of my life, I'm willing to do it." It was that important to me that they be not only "do-able", but that they have longevity and spirit (I know, I know, I'm sounding like the new age lady here…). My producer/designer is the perfect balance of perfectionist and artist. He was able to distill a product that is technically top notch, and artistically soothing and beautiful. I felt it was important that the set was not sterile, and that the challenge of the method was presented in a holistic manner.

TS: What are your future video production plans?

HB: The "seed planting" required to make this set of videos "go" is really a huge job, and I need to get some more exposure with the current videos before I can pursue a new project. I'm hoping that with the offering of DVDs (which should happen this summer!), we get another boost in the marketplace to allow some funds to go towards new projects. Any positive reviews that VFers post on Amazon.com really help, and of course the chatting itself is great, letting new VF members know about my projects. As I mentioned earlier, I'd like to do an intermediate/advanced Pilates project, a Vinyasa yoga practice and maybe a combo idea. I welcome comments, promo ideas and help from any interested VF babes or gentlemen!

Many thanks for your support and enthusiasm, I think VF has been instrumental for me. Namaste'.

For more information about Hilary, check out www.mindbodymat.com.