A short while back I had the good fortune of visiting the workshop of Fredrik and Elisabet Prag in their rural home outside of Stockholm. Fredrik and Elisabet are both Pilates instructors, passionate about the classical technique. They are also craftspersons; they design and build Pilates apparatus. The purpose of my visit was to find out a little more about their craft. I entered their lovely home, and was lead upstairs and across the house to their workshop/studio. Descending into the open space where the full spectrum of Pilates apparatus was present along with building materials, I was struck by the clean and simple harmony that was present. In the far corner, sitting by itself near a large bay window, sits a reformer.
Even from a distance, I can see the well-known Scandinavian touch of simplicity, quality and understated beauty. I am immediately impressed with this reformer, recently completed. They notice my admiration, “we want every product we make to last a lifetime”, they say with seriousness and pride. Fredrik and Elisabet move in closer to the reformer, I follow them, and they explain the uniqueness of their product.
“We compare making this reformer to the production of a cello,” says Elisabet, “the frame of the reformer needs of course to be durable, but we aim for a much deeper experience. For example, when you are laying on the carriage doing footwork, it is important that the combination of precise spring tension, the friction of the wheels along their tracks, and the firmness of the carriage itself should be calibrated to create a resonance that enters into the body. In this way, the exercise deepens into an intense and intimate duet of equipment and person, leading to a greater use and sensitivity of the powerhouse.”
I am touched by her words; they opened for me a new dimension of the apparatus of which I was not previously aware. I am also touched, for as Elisabet speaks, she is bent over the reformer, gesturing with wide sweeps of her arms, accentuating how the build of the reformer should be able to transmit the resonance she talks about. And Fredrik stands close by with a stillness showing his similar understanding.
In making the metal base, Fredrik collaborated with local metal smiths. “It was great that to share our respective expertise in making this unique reformer,” Fredrik points out, “traditionally, the track upon which the wheels roll are made of aluminum, but together we created a new recipe, creating a slightly different resistance, making the body work that little bit more. If the tracks are too smooth, and the springs too easily pull you back in, the body will be less informed and the work remains more at the surface. We designed the resistance of the tracks to encourage working into the body, creating a greater lift within. We are pleased with the result, and find it unique.”
Time for a test drive, I climb on and start with footwork. “Yes” says Fredrik encouragingly, before I have done anything. I am struck by the visceral sound from the rolling wheels, new to me who works solely on mainstream apparatus. Fredrik perhaps sees my discovery and murmurs again, “yes”. It find it not easy to travel inward, a little confused, I begin to experiment with a subtle internal pull to facilitate the complete return of the carriage. Again from Fredrik, “yes”. I am not sure I like it, but continue. “Yes”, says you know who, and giggles “I keep repeating yes but and do not really know why!” “I believe it is because I am working so beautifully”, I say helpfully (and hopefully).
Fredrik and Elisabet laugh, me too, and confirm that indeed my footwork is astounding. But then I remember that this is a very serious interview, for my very serious newsletter! So I heroically pluck myself away from my need for attention, and get back to the business at hand.
Fredrik explains, “To perform each exercise at its fullest potential, the last centimeters of the movement need to be without tension, much of the work is done here, think elephant”. I give elephant a try. Fredrik instructs “all the way in” with each of my thrusts forward of the carriage. Usually with elephant I do not bring the carriage fully in so as to avoid the crash that has always occurs on other reformers. But now I engage more deeply and am more conscious as I bring the carriage to its resting place, and I sense a more lively inner quality. Lovely, the apparatus informs me that how to use my center. I start to see their point, and benefit from their vision.
I myself have difficulties teaching elephant and knee stretches, getting my students to understand that the point is not to push the carriage out. “What a fantastic help in teaching knee stretches and elephant,” I exclaim. They laugh, “We just had a customer call the other day to tell us the very same thing!”
Moving on, Fredrik shows me the greater firmness of the rubber coated aluminum foot bar in their design, remarking that one can more easily grip the bar and maintain a straight wrist. Fredrik explains, “Ensuring a straight wrist facilitates a connection to the powerhouse. Just as links in a chain, every joint is important; a weak link results in a loss of energy and efficiency.”
Fredrik puts me on my back for coordination, “in in in in in in in in, deep deep deep deep deep deep” as I release the leather straps to bring the carriage in, I am truly pulling in and up more than I have before in this exercise. “Yeeees”, Fredrik encourages in unison with the final glide of the carriage those last few centimeters. I am getting tired, but I like it, I experience an engagement of greater depth.
So how did they get into this business in the first place? According to Elisabet, “we were impressed with traditional equipment, we loved it. But to buy and ship from New York doubled the cost for us. So it was partly for financial reasons that we wanted to start to build our own. But as we have deepened in our practice, we simply do not presently find anything that really meets our sensitivity. Our reformer is designed to do so, and in that we find we have created something unique.”
Fredrik continues, “our endeavor is to make beautiful equipment with the potential to give an experience. We are dedicated to deepening into the Pilates method ourselves while developing our ability to teach others. Together, Elisabet and I have 40 years of experience of the method, and we use this in our design. We are deeply interested in enhancing the lives of those who are open to it, and enjoy ourselves in the process. Hopefully, we are an example of the benefits that we have to offer.”
By the looks of it, I’d say the execution of Fredrik’s and Elisabet’s vision is progressing beautifully. I travelled home not only having gained 2 lovely friends, but also a greater sensitivity that I can apply to my practice, and life. The Prags endeavor is truly that of quality, artistry and love. Even if you are not in the market for apparatus, I recommend a closer look at the work they are doing, you are sure to learn something new.
Fredrik and Elisabet are the owners of Pilates Scandinavia, a studio dedicated to the classical technique in Stockholm. Learn more about the apparatus designed and built by Fredrik and Elisabet here.
Permission to duplicate only with full credits given to Brett Miller, www.pilatesintel.com