The likelihood of meeting a Pilates instructor as talented as Nonna Gleyzer is slim to none. ““When you go to Nonna, you are going to a wellness school,” says Erica Reid, author, founder of lifestyle site nécessité and L.A. Reid’s better half. “You don’t have to say anything. It’s like she has an infrared that’s always on and scans your body without you knowing that she’s scanning you,” she laughs. “She knows her stuff on a level I’ve never seen or otherwise experienced—a deep awareness and connection with the human body that you don’t see in other trainers and coaches.” I can personally attest, which is why the revolving door of celebrities and athletes that come through her private, West Hollywood studio is no surprise : Natalie Portman trained here for Black Swan, Tom Ford sent Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams to train for Nocturnal Animals, Brie Larson, Vanessa Hudgens, Kerry Washington, James van der Beek, Elon Musk, Gisele and Tom Brady… the list goes on and on. Anoud Khaled, a Middle Eastern businesswoman who sought out Nonna for pre and post-partum strengthening and recovery, summed it up best: “Nonna is a miracle worker—she concentrates on fixing the root of the problem, not just the symptoms. She develops a completely unique and custom approach for each client depending on their specific needs.” I recently sat down with Gleyzer to pick her brain about her unique practice.
What does a typical first session look like with you? Before I do anything, I assess a client with hands-on bodywork. I put you on your back and have you pull your knees up to your chest so I can see if your neck is crunching, if your tailbone and lumbar spine are going up, if one knee is different from another, if one hip is different from another, how your ankles are reacting—it’s like going to a doctor and having your blood drawn to see what vitamins and minerals you’re deficient in. That’s what I do by checking out your alignment to see which parts of the body are strong and which are weak. If something is wrong—and there usually is unless you’re 25 years old—I do bodywork to ease tension and pain. So a first session is often therapeutic if someone is injured because the goal is to heal first, not put stress on top of stress. The goal is to prepare the client for physical activity. I want to make sure that the body is healthy and open to receiving physical activity. If the body is in spasm, I’m not going to put them through exercises that would cause a spasm on top of another spasm.
What are the most frequent ailments people see you for? Upper back issues are the most because people spend a lot of time sitting at their computers and in their cars. The second most common issues are the lower back and pelvic floor because we walk around and participate in various physical activities but our feet and ankles aren’t strong to support them. It’s like building a house: If you don’t have a strong foundation (i.e. lower body and feet), you’re not distributing your weight correctly so your lower back and pelvic floor are negatively affected.
How do you train clients differently from other Pilates instructors? With my work, I don’t only train the muscles physically. I also work them neurologically, physiologically and lymphatically. For example, it takes a long time to really find your abdominal muscles. Because your stomach muscles are responsible for supporting your spine, I never teach any type of abdominal work without supporting your spine. I have special tools that are always placed under a client’s back so they never have to worry about hurting themselves because their back is supported and they can put their complete attention and focus on their stomach muscles. I protect the spine so the stomach can do the work. In the beginning, your stomach isn’t strong enough to do the work by itself. No one else does this.
Why don’t other people do this? They’re creatures of habit and people like to follow rules. I believe that if Joseph Pilates was alive today, he would have progressed and changed his method. He was a visionary and always thought outside the box and I can’t imagine that he would continue teaching the exact same things decades later. Everything changes. How can you stick to something that was invented long ago and not modify them? In the ‘60s and ‘70s people weren’t spending as much time sitting at their computers or looking at their iPhones. 100s were appropriate at the time because people didn’t have such neck issues.
So how do you do the 100s differently from the classical style? Instead of teaching the 100s on the reformer, I take clients to the mat. I take a soft ball, foam roller, or another support under their lower spine and I place my hands where the head meets the neck—and I hold the head! This is pilates therapy as much as anything else.
Tell me about that. I care about aesthetics but what I do is really therapy. I’m a body therapist and I also understand the neurological aspect because of my background as an athlete. I understand what happens when you under-train the body and what happens when you over-train the body. When you do it correctly, Pilates is the most body-friendly exercise—you’re working your muscles from inside out and you don’t put the pressure on your joints, ligaments and tendons because you don’t do a crazy amount of repetitions.
What else do you do differently from other teachers? My bodywork really sets me apart, especially on the neck. I realign the neck and upper back. I’m also a big fan of Chinese acupressure, which I frequently utilize to break up scar tissue. I’m a huge believer of reflexology and do a lot of footwork and exercises because I believe that feet need to be strong. A lot of injuries occur in the body because feet aren’t strong.
In relation to other classically trained Pilates instructors, how do you teach differently? I’m a classically trained teacher but after awhile it gets boring. Madonna came to work out with me in 2006 after she had broken ribs and was getting ready for her world tour. She was bored with the classical method and asked me about doing things differently—she really inspired me to create my own moves and that’s really when I started doing things differently. I respect classical Pilates and am grateful that I was certified and trained by Romana herself but at the same time, it’s important for me to do so much more. As a Pilates trainer, teacher and therapist, I do whatever it takes for my clients to reach their goals and feel their best. Joseph [Pilates] himself always said “modify, modify, modify!” I really like to get into the muscle and reps of 10 aren’t always enough. I mix up whether they’re fast or slow and believe—as Joseph Pilates did—in getting muscles tired but working the same group in different directions.
If someone comes to see you once or twice a week, will they see major changes or do they need to see you more frequently? It’s not even that they don’t need to, I won’t take them because I work so deeply that they would get hurt (though athletes are an exception when they need to train for a season). The body would freak out because it’s not only physical, it’s neurological.
I’ve heard that your nickname is “the body stylist.” Tell me more! For the longest time, clients have been calling me “the body stylist” because I have such a strong sense of aesthetics that when I train them, the exercises I have them do reflect in how they look in their clothes. Tom Ford loved my work and the way I made the cast of Nocturnal Animals so much that he credited me on film as the pilates coach!
*During Covid-19, Gleyzer offers remote private lessons via Facetime and Zoom.
bodybynonna.com; (c) 310.801.6621