Pilates studio brings classic techniques to Birch Bay

By Gwen Roley

Pilates studios are common nowadays, but Colleen Wenrich is one of the few instructors in the area to be certified in authentic, classical Pilates.

Wenrich is a new transplant to the Pacific Northwest who has been training clients in Pilates since the 1990s and recently opened a studio, Whole Pilates, at 8289 Fawn Crescent overlooking Birch Bay. She trained under a protégée of Joseph H. Pilates, the founder of the fitness system, and is therefore one of the few people who is considered a classical Pilates instructor.

“There’s nothing like what I do close by besides in Vancouver or Seattle,” Wenrich said. “There’s no one teaching classical Pilates in Bellingham.”

She and her husband came to the Birch Bay in June and she operates the studio out of their home. She is supplied with a collection of Pilates equipment. The studio itself is on an upper level of the house, which offers wide views of Birch Bay.

“The house really lends itself well to being a studio,” Wenrich said. “Whenever I have clients come in, they always want to be facing the water.”

She said her style of instruction attempts to be as specific to the individual client as possible, catering to their unique needs to create their training programs.

Wenrich started as a registered nurse when she was living in the New York tri-state area in the early 1980s. She saw many people who came into the hospital where she worked could be helped with preventative measures.

“A good percentage of people who were coming into the place I worked didn’t know what was going on with their bodies,” Wenrich said. “I decided I wanted to help people stay out of hospitals by teaching them how to take care of their bodies.”

To accomplish this, she studied to be a certified biofeedback nurse. According to the Mayo Clinic, biofeedback is a technique used to control some of the body’s functions by connecting to electrical sensors, which show information about what’s going on inside. Wenrich said this can be used to curb migraines and control stress, all without medication.

She found Pilates at a health conference in the early 1990s she was attending to learn more about biofeedback. She was drawn in by the way it uses one’s own body to heal itself, similar to the way biofeedback works. From there she started training in general Pilates instruction and teaching classes.

The fitness system was invented by the German-born Pilates in the early 20th century. According to the Mayo Clinic, Pilates focuses on low-impact strengthening and flexibility with an emphasis on postural alignment, core strength and muscle balance. Exercises are often executed with apparatuses such as a Reformer, which a participant uses to push and pull a weight carriage while they lay on their back, or a smaller pieces like resistance bands.

During the time when Wenrich was coming up in Pilates, it was gaining popularity while also losing what many considered to be its authenticity. In the world of Pilates, to be considered a classical trainer, an instructor has to have been an apprentice of either Pilates himself, who died in 1967, or by one of the people he taught. Classical Pilates also has to be executed in a particular order.

While a court ruling in 2000 found the term “Pilates” to be a generic one, which could be used by anyone, classically trained instructors like to make the distinction between classical and contemporary.

“All exercise is good. As long as you’re getting people off the couch and moving their bodies, that’s a good thing,” Wenrich said.

The way classical Pilates is passed down from instructor to instructor creates a network that Wenrich refers to as generational. Wenrich considers herself a second-generation instructor. In 1999 she met her trainer, Romana Kryzanowska, one of Pilates’ most prolific disciples.

“She was a genius of the body,” Wenrich said.

Kryzanowska trained at the Balanchine School of American Ballet and was referred to Pilates after an ankle injury. Wenrich said she took to it immediately. When the two women met, Wenrich said very few people were permitted to train with Kryzanowska.

“My medical background allowed me to train and conform to their needs,” Wenrich said.

After apprenticing with Kryzanowska in her 600-hour program, Wenrich became a certified classical Pilates instructor and continued training clients with her new credentials. She was able to open up her own studio, Whole Pilates, in Ringwood, New Jersey in 2005.

She said she decided to come to the Pacific Northwest because it’s where her and her husband first met. Both of them traveled to Whistler Village for a wellness meditation retreat and fell for each other. When they both came back to New York, they found out they lived in the same neighborhood.

They always talked about coming back to the area, but Wenrich said the cost of living held them back. The couple discovered the Birch Bay-Blaine area and found it could fit their budget. Wenrich said once her daughter finished school, she decided it was a good time to make the move they had always talked about.

“We just jumped up and came to Birch Bay because we were really attracted to the area and all the natural beauty,” Wenrich said.

Wenrich has been adjusting to the move and leaving behind her network of friends and fellow trainers on the East coast. She said when she started her studio, business was slow, but that was what she expected in the winter.

Around Christmastime, she said she saw things start to pick up. Even as more people start to come in, Wenrich said she isn’t trying to expand her business size much from where it is now.

“I’m not trying to start an empire,” she said.

More information about Whole Pilates and the sessions they offer can be found at wholepilates.com.

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