Sometimes getting healthy means something more than dropping a few pounds and taking a brisk, invigorating walk every day. That’s a great start if you’re already mobile and on your feet, but what if you’re in chronic pain and can barely move under the best of circumstances?
“When I was 49, I fell on my tailbone and I herniated my L4 and L5 discs. I never experienced pain like that,” says Kathy Lou Kronerberger one recent morning at a coffee shop on Grant Street near her business, .
“I laid on my back for three to four months doing very little. I was so afraid of the pain I stopped doing everything. Over the next five years I gained 50 pounds. Food was my comfort and I was bored because I wasn’t doing anything. I was absolutely miserable.”
A Los Angeles transplant who lived and worked in San Rafael as a regional sales manager for Paul Mitchell, Kronenberger bought a home in Novato almost 20 years ago. When a co-worker suggested Pilates, she serendipitously happened to drive by Novato Pilates.
“I went in and asked, ‘what’s Pilates?’” She began a series of five private sessions on the Pilates Reformer the next day and when those were finished, she felt ready to join group classes of four to six people.
“It took no time at all for my back to feel better. I started going once, then twice, then three times a week. In a matter of three months, I was in the best shape of my life.”
The positive effects of gaining strength, and decreasing and soon eliminating her pain, multiplied exponentially.
“Once my back started feeling better, I started feeling better about myself because I was doing something for myself,” she says. “I had not been taking responsibility; I was doing the ‘oh woe is me’ routine, throwing a pity party for myself, and now I was doing something, taking control.
"I had more energy so I was walking and improving my diet and I lost about 30 pounds in five or six months. It wasn’t just the Pilates but that had so much to do with it.”
As Kronenberger, now 62, began to feel better, her father’s health began to decline and the experience of caring for him over a six-month period taught Kathy Lou that she wanted a job where she could give back. “[Caring for my father] turned out to be the most rewarding experience of my life,” she tells me in her soft yet firm voice.
Kronenberger completed a 400-hour Pilates training program with Synergy in Albany over 2005 and '06. Over the next few years her new career coalesced into working at, managing, then owning and operating Novato Pilates.
During one recent weekday morning at Novato Pilates, Roberta Dixon, 73, lies on the Reformer and begins energizing her core muscles as she smoothly glides through a series of exercises under Kronenberger's guidance. “It’s the first time I found an exercise I love,” Dixon says, echoing two other women who told me the exact same thing before she had arrived.
“I’m recovering from a horse-riding injury,” she adds. “Normally my husband is here with me and he likes it, too. It took him awhile to get him to come but now he’s a believer.”
Novato Pilates employs three Pilates trainers in addition to Kronenberger and Beverly Scholar, who is trained in Pilates but specializes in a similar modality called .
Novato Pilates offers both Pilates Reformer and mat classes. “If someone is unsure of what they want, I let them try both before they decide which one they want to do,” Kronenberger explains. “It’s for anybody and everybody. Men, women, my youngest client was a 12-year old with scoliosis and my oldest right now is 78.”
Novato Pilates is not the only place that offers Pilates classes in town, but if you want someone who can feel your pain and understands the power of rehabilitation, Kronenberger is a good bet.