Former circus performer Maria Mankin recently opened Begin Pilates in the Irvington neighborhood of NE Portland. The studio focuses on helping all ages and genders build and maintain optimal health and improve sports performance with a range of unique classes. One special program and the first of its kind in Oregon, is called the Grace Pilates Method®. The program is aimed at boomers and seniors or anyone with limited mobility. It is practiced on a patented ball chair, invented by Mankin herself, called the Begin Chair™.
We had the opportunity to interview Maria Mankin and learn about her background and the story behind the one of a kind Pilates program she developed.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to settle in Portland?
A: For years I was traveling and performing all around Europe and United States mostly doing theater and circus shows and in San Francisco where I met my husband who also was in the circus arts. The first time I visited Portland I loved it! I was sure that I would come back to it. We mostly lived in California and in Washington State while raising our family. At the time, we bought a place here in the lovely Irvington neighborhood of Portland. Several years later we made it our home and we are very happy here.
Q: What exactly is Pilates and some of the main benefits it can provide?
A: Pilates is a system of exercises developed nearly one hundred years ago by Joseph Pilates and perfected thereafter by his many followers. Pilates helps people of all ages and physical abilities to become fit, strong and healthy by improving muscle flexibility, core strength, posture, balance, coordination and by fostering a holistic sense of vitality and well-being. In addition to that it’s very complimentary to other activities like gardening and enhancing performance level in sports such as golf, skiing, tennis, running. Pilates is also gentle, safe and effective for almost anyone and can become a rehabilitative program that will help restore the spine’s health or help people recover from injuries and surgeries.
A: My mother, 83 at the time, could not get up from a chair or a couch without help, which is the first reason why older people need to move to an assisting living facility. Being her daughter and a Pilates instructor I felt like I had to do something. I created The Begin Chair™ which is the only ball chair available that adjusts to your spine’s natural curves. It reinforces excellent posture through the use of an adjustable small ball that rests against the sitter’s lumbar spine. The ball seat of the chair is very safe yet also provides just the right amount of instability to activate the core muscles. With the Begin Chair™ I also designed the Grace Pilates Method® for my Mom and all people like her who may not have the strength and the flexibility to participate in a Pilates mat class. Like my Mom, after just a few weeks participants experience greater core strength, balance and flexibility and can do things they could not do before like getting up from a chair or going for longer walks or simply taking care of themselves without depending on others. The Grace Pilates Method® on the Begin Chair™ is making Pilates more accessible to a population with limited mobility. Our Grace Pilates Method® classes are very popular at our Begin Pilates studio here in Portland.
Q: How can people who live outside of Portland, practice Pilates on the ball chair at home?
A: Balanced Body™, the company that we developed the Begin Chair ™ in collaboration with, is selling it online as an office chair which comes with an exercise chart
We are hoping soon to expand our program to other cities and states by launching soon our Instructors Training Program that will allow other instructors to teach the Grace Pilates Method® all across United States and eventually the world. We will also have books, manuals, videos and podcasts that will make it possible for people to have a home practice as well.
A: Because we believe that Pilates is for everyone at Begin Pilates in Portland we are trying to fulfill our community needs by targeting all populations but especially the under served ones. We have a Mommy and Baby Booty Camp which is a Pilates mat class that integrates babies into the exercise routine which is a fun way to workout after baby comes. We also have Yoga classes and one that is called “Yoga for the Inflexible Guy” which is a safe and fun place for guys to do Yoga without competing with super flexible people. We have classes on reformers (Pilates machines) for all levels, including for rehab, prenatal and for athletic people wanting to improve their stamina and build their core. One more specialty class that we are starting soon is called Buff Bones, which is specifically for people with Osteoporosis.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Portland?
A: The fact that it is such a manageable and beautiful city with delicious food, lovely people, vibrant culture and everything ten minutes away from my house.
To check out some of the classes offered at Begin Pilates and to sign up for your first FREE class, visit http://www.beginpilates.com/. (Be sure to mention Oregon Lifestyle and Home Magazine for your free class)
Maria Mankin is a Portland based Pilates instructor. She was born and raised in Catania, Sicily and moved to the United States in 1983. She has over 30 years of experience in bodywork and movement. A Pilates instructor for the past 16 years, she draws on her diverse background in circus arts, acrobatics, education, the Feldenkrais technique, the Frankin method and a Stott Pilates certification to create thoughtful and engaging practice for her students.
Mankin is also inventor of the Begin Chair™, produced and developed by Balanced Body™. The Begin Chair™ is not only a state-of-the-art office chair that transforms sitting at a desk into an active experience, but it’s also a Pilates chair that has been the inspiration for Mankin’s Grace Pilates Method®, a gentle Pilates program for older populations and for those seeking a rehabilitative approach to Pilates after surgery or injuries. With the Begin Chair™ and the Grace Pilates Method®, Maria and her team have helped many people regain strength and stamina in order to lead the life they want.