Our Community Now: Exclusive: Ashley Olsen's Pilates Teacher Jessica Schatz Shares Tips for Healthy Living

In an exclusive interview with Our Community Now, Jessica Schatz talks her journey in health and fitness and shares tips on how to stay on the edge of your game with healthy living.

Jessica Schatz

[as originally published on ourcommunitynow.com]

Jessica Schatz has an incredibly impressive resume as a fitness guru and instructor to many current and former athletes with the NFL, NBA, MLB, pro athletes from Europe, professional dancers (e.g., Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, company of Wicked) and film and television actors.

She has recently received recognition from People Magazine for helping renowned actress Ashley Olsen with her Pilates.

In addition to being a Pilates expert, Schatz is also a yoga instructor and likes to combine elements of that practice into her routines as well.

We thought it would be awesome if she could share a little practical advice with us about how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Here's what Jessica Schatz had to say about her journey as a fitness guru, along with some tips for healthy lifestyle adherence. 

OUR COMMUNITY NOW'S RYAN MEKKES: What got you started on the path you're on?

JESSICA SCHATZ: I came into this world moving, and I have been ever since. Movement is my life force -- the most innate part of my being. It’s literally and figuratively what makes my heart beat. I studied dance from a very early age. I attended college as a dance major, focusing on performance. At the same time, I immersed myself in the study of all the sciences behind my artistic pursuit: anatomy, biology, physiology, and kinesiology. I wanted to understand everything about how my body was doing all the things it was doing. During this time I was also introduced to Pilates and yoga. Their benefits for me were enormous. I later began teaching them as my "day job" while I continued to be a professional dancer. Eventually, these things took on a life of their own.

At 30, I had a career-ending knee injury. Rather than curl up in a ball and let my spirit die (which is what I felt like doing at times), I decided to turn my "day job" into my career and do something for others that, at the same time, I needed to do for myself: feel well in body, mind, and spirit. Through many years of teaching Pilates, yoga, and other techniques and practices, I continued to study, learn, and teach – biomechanics, nutrition, and other wellness practices. I loved working with athletes and dancers, and even developed a specific program and company dedicated solely to that market. But I soon found how I loved and got so much out of working with so many different kinds of people. I wanted to expand my practice and offer my services to everyone, from the very young, to elders experiencing challenges such as Parkinson's. As a master Instructor and health and wellness coach, it is my passion to guide others – no matter their age, abilities, challenges, and stage in life – towards optimal wellness.

OCN: What is your general outlook on health and fitness?

JESSICA SCHATZ: The body-mind-spirit connection is at the root of wellness, and it is the root of my work. It is not three separate parts of ourselves. It is an integrated and symbiotic relationship. One facet affects the other, affects the other, affects the other. Therefore I believe in addressing the whole person in body, mind, and spirit. In fact, it's why a lot of medicine is going the direction of integration (as it should). One of the reasons I'm known as The Core Expert™ is because while I teach a scientific knowledge of the physical core, I'm also adept at addressing the core of each person: who they are, identifying the needs of each individual irrespective of their fitness level, age, or physical challenges. I can then customize instruction and coaching in alignment with each unique person.

OCN: What do you believe people are missing the most when it comes to a healthy lifestyle?

JESSICA SCHATZ: Self-care and rest. Downtime. Doing things that make us feel good. Doing things that are restorative, recharge our batteries, and hit our reset buttons. So many of us get caught up in this culture of "busy." Of needing to do a million things. Of feeling obligated to attend to and say "yes" to everything. And yet, if we don't take the time to "stop and smell the roses," so to speak, we'll never be able to keep going at that pace. It leads to a system breakdown, and I say that from experience. Even if you have to put in your calendar when you're going to stop work to take a walk outside, meditate, get your nails done, take a vacation, or call a friend – do it. It's going to put you on a healthier track and make you a happier person.

OCN: What advice would you give someone who wants to get started on a healthy path?

JESSICA SCHATZ: Start simply and be good to yourself. There’s so much information out there, and it's easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s also easy to idealize the lives of others. The things we see on Instagram, for instance, might feel unattainable. Of course, it’s great to be inspired, but be careful. We live in a “culture of comparison,” and that can be quite discouraging. Start small. Start simply. Remember how important it is to address the whole self: body, mind, and spirit. Look to nurture that connection. A few ways to start small are to drink an extra glass of water each day, spend a couple minutes writing down a few things for which you're grateful. For a few minutes a day (or more), mindfully focus on your breath. When you’ve been sitting down, stand up and stretch your body. Park farther away, take the stairs. Basically, move more and breathe deeper. And when it comes to food, my golden rule is: if it comes from a plant, eat it; if it’s made in a plant, stay away. And as importantly, notice how you feel. Check in. 

Yes, getting into a regular exercise routine, a healthy nutrition program, and a regular meditation practice – all of these are great things that lead to optimal wellness. But if you start small, you'll see and feel the improvement and that will encourage you to do it again, to do it more regularly, and for more time. Some of these simple tools I give with more specific guidance in my upcoming eBook, "Three Ways to Feel Better Right Now," which will be out very soon. Stay tuned!

OCN: So I understand you're a Pilates and yoga expert. For those who don't know, how would you explain the difference between the two as far as the respective movements and benefits?

JESSICA SCHATZ: There are differences, similarities, and enormous benefits of each. Yoga came from India over 5,000 years ago with the purpose of giving practitioners greater self-awareness, tension release, greater personal freedom, and a path to spiritual enlightenment. All of this develops a more positive thought pattern and a feeling of greater space in the body. A regular yoga practice of the postures, core strengthening exercises, breathing techniques, and deep relaxation offer many benefits, some of which include increased core and overall strength, better flexibility, reduced stress and tension, improved breath control, a deeper awareness of the mind-body connection, and a quieting of the mind.

Joseph Pilates created Pilates in 1925, although he studied yoga and believed in its benefits when he was creating his program. Pilates is a method of exercise and physical movement that is designed to stretch, strengthen, and balance the body. The main focus of Pilates is to strengthen what Joseph Pilates referred to as the “Girdle of Strength,” or “Powerhouse.” These are the muscles where your abdominals, lower back, pelvic floor, and buttocks meet. A regular practice of Pilates can help strengthen your core and important postural muscles, develop a leaner body, improve overall health (particularly lung capacity, coordination, and circulation), create a balance between strength and flexibility, and improve the mind-body connection.

Yoga has more freedom of movement; it opens up. Pilates has more precision of movement; it pulls in. Simply put, the majority of the benefit in yoga is spiritual well-being, whereas in Pilates, it's core strength and the mind-body connection.

OCN: Would you ever recommend one over the other (Pilates or yoga) depending on the individual?

JESSICA SCHATZ: I recommend doing the thing that you're actually going to do. The thing you enjoy and know you'll keep doing. If you're looking for spirituality and relaxation, yoga is more your path. If you're wanting to work your core, as well as the length and leanness of your body, Pilates will be a very powerful road to get there. If you're an athlete rehabbing from an injury, I'd suggest Pilates. I have an NBA player who I've seen through several of his injuries. Pilates works for him. On the other hand, a runner who moves fast and has a tight body, maybe they need to do yoga to balance out that kind of impact, muscle-tightening sport. 

Everything depends on the individual. One of the reasons I recommend everyone do both, however, is because in any form of exercise, if you only do that one thing, and do it too much, there are diminishing returns. Too much flexibility without the strength and stability to support it, and you could get injured. On the other hand, if you develop a lot of strength without taking time to improve your flexibility, you're also setting yourself up for injury. Hence, finding the balance between the two.

OCN: What would you recommend to people who want to get fit but have a limited time to get their workouts in?

JESSICA SCHATZ: Subscribe to my online video subscription series out this May! The workouts are short and sweet. You don't need any equipment, and I have something in it for everyone, at any level. Besides, there are so many kinds of workouts online: yoga, Pilates, HIIT, circuit, and so on. There's no excuse not to find a way to move with all that we have access to. Wherever you are – home, office, hotel room, park, or beach – open up your computer, tablet, or phone; dial up a workout; and do it. Look, everyone has 20 minutes somewhere in their day. Some smaller things you can do: park farther away and walk, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and it doesn't take any extra time to order something healthier off the menu. Bottom line: move more and eat cleaner.

OCN: What are some exercises one can do while watching television?

JESSICA SCHATZ: My favorite thing to do while watching TV is stretch. I lay on the floor almost every single night of my life and get in a stretch session. I've found enormous benefits in terms of how I sleep and how I feel when I wake up in the morning. If you don’t want to lie on your floor to stretch, then every 5-10 minutes, hit pause, stand up, stretch your arms overhead, soften your knees, and bend towards the floor, stretching your hamstrings and your back. Breath deeply. 

However, if you need more of an "exercise" feel (though, stretching is part of exercise), stand up and do big arm circles, push-ups, leg lifts, body squats, or march, lifting your knees up one at a time towards your chest. If you want to sit, move towards the edge of your couch or chair and do those same knee lifts or some tricep dips. If you have weights, do bicep curls or shoulder raises. But with everything, keep your navel pulled to your spine to protect it at all times. Whatever you choose, focus on your breath and let whatever you're watching flow over you while you tune in to your body.

OCN: Overall, what would you consider to be the greatest benefit of a healthy lifestyle?

JESSICA SCHATZ: The ability to experience more joy. With the freedom of movement, a body that feels better, you're happier. When your breathing is better, you're happier. When you're thinking more positively and mindfully, you're happier. When your relationships are better, you're happier. When you're following your joy and doing the things that make you feel good, the entire picture improves. When I talk about optimal wellness, here’s what I’m saying: with better health comes more joy – in body, mind, and spirit.

Follow Jessica on Instagram @jessicaschatz.
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Rick Krusky