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Lili Viola Taught Us Classical Pilates (and We Died a Little)

We swear that we were born with abs. In fact, we swear that we have a couple of pretty strong sets of abs. Hours of yoga and gym time and Pilates-inspired workouts have been slowly strengthening and toning our cores. But our recent Pilates class with Lili Viola definitely led us to think differently…

So, let’s start at the very beginning. Lili Viola Pilates is located in Yonge Lawrence Village and the studio is GORGEOUS! Bright, airy, modern (with plenty of chic athleisure for purchase), we instantly fell in love with the space. The first floor is set up for reformer work and the second floor has space for both group and private sessions, including all of the classical Pilates equipment (also boasting the ONLY guillotine in Toronto!). The big surprise for us was the basement – designed as a cozy and intimate Pilates and meditation cavern with heated (!) floors, the room is equipped with mats, meditation cushions, blankets and more…all organic, by the way.


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For our class with Lili, we headed upstairs to the private session room. Lili set about putting us through our Pilates paces…which brings us back to questioning whether we actually have abs. Both of us had taken mat and reformer Pilates classes before, but never in the classical Pilates style. We started with mat work, moving from a floor core sequence to a Pilates chair. Cue shaking, muscle fatigue and the working of muscle groups we didn’t even know we had. Really striking, though, was the mind-body connection that was at the forefront for the entire practice. Lili, through her expert cues, managed to push us to our limits by having us really tune in to the way our muscles and our entire bodies were working. By focusing on the right muscle groups, we were forced to stay present…or lose the crux of each exercise. This mind-body workout made Lili’s class engaging, extremely challenging and left us wanting more.

Lili is truly transforming the face of Pilates in Toronto. We can’t wait to see what’s next for her…and get back in the studio with her again very soon!  Keep reading for our Q&A with Lili, where we talk classical Pilates, business, Toronto and so much more!

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Well TO Do: What did you do before opening your own studio, Lili Viola Pilates?

Lili Viola: I’ve taught Pilates for 15 years. Before opening my own studio I taught contemporary Pilates at Equinox and Granite Club as well as at other gyms and studios. Prior to being a Pilates instructor I was a translator, and before that I was a model.

In 2013 I was the Pilates Studio Coordinator for Equinox on Bay St.  Equinox had outfitted the studio with classical equipment but didn’t know that Toronto Pilates instructors are almost entirely trained in one of the contemporary methods. I was blown away by how different Gratz apparatus felt from the equipment I was used to, and how strong the springs are. I had to modify what I knew to be able to do the exercises on Gratz. I decided to learn more about the original method. I enrolled in the award-winning re:AB Authentic Pilates Teacher Training program in NYC owned by 2nd generation teacher and best-selling author of The Pilates Body, Brooke Siler. It took me over a year to complete my apprenticeship.  After over 17 years of successful and media-attention grabbing training, Brooke closed her studio re:AB in 2015 and moved her family to Manchester, England.

In January 2014 I opened my fully-equipped boutique studio, featuring Gratz equipment. It was on Avenue Road and measured no more than 600 square feet. In no time I started to fill up my hours with private clients, including a number of Hollywood actors and directors looking for a place to do authentic Pilates while filming in Toronto. Being the only classical studio in the city, it was easy for them to find me, since all other studios offer only contemporary versions of the method.

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WTD: What are the key differences between classical pilates and what is taught at most studios?

LV: The key differences between the two are: lineage, the exercises, and the equipment. Classical Pilates stays true to the work of Joseph Pilates and is handed down from generation to generation as it was taught by Joe. I am a 3rd generation teacher. My teachers, Brooke Siler and Chris Robinson are 2nd generation teachers who were taught by Romana Kryzanowska, who was taught by Joseph Pilates himself. Classical Pilates is a vigorous full-body workout that is sweaty and cardiovascular when done at the intermediate and advanced levels. Most studios teaching contemporary versions of Pilates teach slow movements that are more physio-based. Contemporary Pilates is done on equipment that may bear resemblance to the traditional apparatus but that has been altered with features being added, dimensions and spring tensions being changed, and that changes the exercises and the body’s response to them. As one of the Pilates elders, Jay Grimes says: “change the body, not the apparatus”. There are only a few manufacturers of Pilates equipment that stay true to the dimensions and designs of Joe Pilates: Gratz and Basil.

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WTD: How do you balance being a mom, business owner, pilates teacher and your own fitness?

LV: Balancing all those things is hard, but what makes it possible is the support I get from others. My husband, Mark, is incredibly supportive. He does much of the cooking these days, and takes care of the household when I have to travel for business. My kids are getting older now too, so they don’t need me in the same way they did when they were younger, and that gives me time to focus on the business. I have an amazing staff of 12 people, so I get plenty of help at the studio. As for exercise, it’s simply scheduled into my day. I teach long hours – my typical work day starts at 8 AM and ends at 6 PM. I set aside an hour at 4 PM for my workouts. I workout 5-6 days a week. It helps to have a fully equipped studio so that I can mix it up. I don’t get bored, and my body gets plenty of variety. Sometimes I workout together with a teacher, and at other times I workout alone. The important thing is to do it, whether I feel like it or not. Daily movement is as important as eating regular meals and brushing your teeth.

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WTD: We know you just did a big renovation, but what is next for Lili Viola Pilates?

LV: Yes, our small studio on Avenue Road outgrew its original space and moved to Yonge Street in the summer of 2015, and we added 2 more levels to our space in September 2016. Our expansion has brought us to 3000 square feet of beautiful light-filled space that can accommodate small groups and private lessons happening at the same time. The next step is launching my teacher training program. In 2018 we will be starting our new apprenticeship for anyone wishing to learn to teach classical Pilates or bridge to it from the contemporary one. A number of collaborations with health, wellness and lifestyle brands are being in the works too. There are also some other exciting projects on the horizon which I’m not at liberty to discuss yet, but can’t wait to share!

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WTD: What is exciting you most right now about the Toronto health and fitness scene?

LV: Toronto is exploding with boutique studios of all kinds. Being in the fitness industry I am happy people are paying more attention to their postures and to their health than in years past. There are a number of fads out there that I roll my eyes at but time will tell whether they’re effective or not. I’m happy there is more interest in the Pilates community in discovering the roots of Pilates and seeing what the difference is between what has been taught here so far and what Joe taught and how it is still relevant today, it has stood the test of time. What really excites me in the health scene in Toronto is this move to embrace organic and clean beauty and hygiene products. We’ve embraced the move toward clean eating and it’s time to treat the whole body to clean products that don’t cause harm. I am stocking natural deodorants and skin care at the studio and I support a clean food diet. Wish we had a cold pressed juice bar near to the studio though! Maybe it’s time to expand the studio in that direction!