Ask Rael Q & A: 25th issue

by Rael Isacowitz

What three things should a first-time student take away from their first lesson?

This is highly individual and subjective, with many factors involved. It is dependent on the movement and life experience of the student, the approach to Pilates and to teaching of the teacher and how they interact: the chemistry between them. The first session is extremely important, and in many ways will determine the future path of the student’s Pilates’ life.

I can tell you what I like the first-time student to take away from the first lesson. First and foremost, I want her to feel inspired and rejuvenated when she walks out of the session.

Second, I want her to have heightened awareness of her body, her alignment and posture. She also should have gained a basic understanding of how to start working on improving her alignment and movement.

Third, I want the student to leave with a few fundamental exercises to practice before the next session: a short individual program. This will help her feel a part of the process from the very outset, and give a sense of achievement.

Above all, though, the session must be a positive and enjoyable experience! If it is not, the student should try to understand why. If she feels it is worth another attempt – great. If not, she should seek out a different teacher with whom she may have a better rapport.

What are your best tips for running a successful Pilates business and empire?

This is truly a great question and a difficult one to answer in just a few paragraphs, but I will try. To start with, I am proud (and pinch myself each day) that BASI Pilates has grown from the kernel of a seed of a dream to an organization that spans 20 countries, around 100 locations with several thousand graduates, but I assure you I never view it as an empire. For me, it is still a small community of dedicated and committed Pilates professionals, and in many cases dear friends.

The most important part of running a business is, without a doubt, the people you choose to help run it. The people make the business. Location is important, finances are important, business plans are important, but nothing comes close to the people, who are the true fabric of any organization. I owe my success to the people around me, and hard work.

It is important to recognize your strengths and your weaknesses. Do what you are good at, and delegate the rest. That’s a lesson I learned the hard way years ago, while directing a show at the Sydney Opera House. I was obsessed with doing everything myself – the directing, the choreography, the lighting, the sound. It angered my team, and rightfully so. The show turned out OK, but it could have been far better if I had drawn on everyone’s talents: if I had believed in others and not just myself. Since then, I delegate as much as possible.

Keep the channels of communication open. Allow people to express themselves and pursue their own dreams within the common environment. At BASI, we encourage teachers to teach their own workshops under the BASI umbrella. We believe that every teacher can – and should – have a fully independent and successful career while enjoying a symbiotic and mutually supportive relationship with BASI.

We are also open to starting new ventures upon the recommendation of employees, and investing in these ventures, if they make business sense and fit in with the philosophy of the company.

Have a plan. Yes, we all need a plan. I have sometimes flown by the seat of my pants and I am lucky to have landed on my feet; but it is far better to have a well-formulated plan. I am a visionary, but not always practical enough to create well-defined plans. I draw on other people’s talents to help with this.

Always put others before yourself. I have never paid myself before my staff and never will. People have put their belief in me and worked for me; I owe them this commitment.

Have a vision and a belief, whatever they may be. In my opinion, a business without a vision and belief is not worth pursuing. I am blessed, and never take it for granted, that my dreams have become a reality. I hope yours do too!


This article first appeared in the July 2011 issue of Pilates Style Magazine. Responses modified with updated event information. For more great stories about Pilates, check out the latest issue of Pilates Style, on newsstands nationwide, in the app store or at

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