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When Getting Healthy is Hard

Patch editor Brent Ainsworth is not the only one with back trouble. Meet Novato business owner and Pilates trainer Kathy Lou Kronerberger, no stranger to chronic back pain herself.

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.

Beverly Cantagallo March 02, 2012 at 06:13 PM
I've been going to Novato Pilates for 5 years and will continue for many years to come. Pilates is the perfect form of exercise for me because it strengthens both my large and small muscles. Novato Pilates is perfect for me because of Kathy Lou's encouragement and attention to detail in running the studio. I look forward to my sessions there and feel great when I leave.
Catherine Trahan March 02, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Pilates and Gyrotonic have both helped me to move through some shoulder and neck issues. I work with Gretchen Turzo at Novato Pilates. She is absolutely amazing! I began going to Novato Pilates for my shoulder two years ago. Now, I can't imagine not doing pilates. My core is so much stronger, and I have much more definition in my arms!
Lisa Hamre March 02, 2012 at 08:55 PM
I have had minimal back pain during and after my pregnancies thanks to Pilates with Kathy Lou. Also I used to have chronic neck pain which has been much improved.
Judy Hallman March 02, 2012 at 10:55 PM
I have been resisting exercise for a very long time and always felt guilty about doing very little. It was serendipitous when I won three free private lessons at Novato Pilates. That was over a year ago. Because of my work schedule I went once a week and now that I have more free time, I increased to two days a week. I have amazed my friends and family that I have found an exercise program that I am committed to. While I live in Sonoma where there are also Pilates studios, I like Kathy Lou very much and her classes are fun as well as getting a good workout. I am finding increased strength and less pain in my neck and lower back, which have caused me some discomfort for several years.
Beth Huizenga March 02, 2012 at 11:18 PM
A Hand & Foot workshop led by Rose Thomas, certified MELT instructor as well as Pilates instructor happened last month at Novato Pilates. About a dozen of us learned how to greatly improve the strength and flexibility of our hands, but especially our feet. A wonderful community opportunity!
Kathleen March 02, 2012 at 11:54 PM
I love Novato Pilates - I do both Gyrotonic and Pilates and then are both effective and fun. The other big plus is that Kathy Lou and all the other teachers do a great job of making the studio feel like a community -- it's a very welcoming environment. Listening to the teachers and student share stories, tips on restaurants, latest movies, etc is at least half of the fun!
Cathy March 03, 2012 at 12:33 AM
Novato Pilates is the best - Kathy Lou makes it all seem so easy. I agree that the atmosphere is very welcoming, and I look forward to seeing my class "buddies" every week. The exercise seems simple, but it is very effective in strengthing the core - seemingly effortlessly.
Lidia Vargas March 03, 2012 at 02:27 AM
I just started two months ago and am totally "hooked.". Kathy Lou and her team of instructors are the best. I hate exercising, yet I look forward to my sessions every week. It is fun and I can see the difference. If you haven't tried their program or seen the facility, you are missing out on a ver special treat. Lidia Vargas
Renee March 03, 2012 at 02:53 AM
exercising never felt soo good!! believe it or not. The fact that the staff is fun and friendly, and the work out space is quiet and Low Key is an added plus. Kathy Lou runs a great facility, and would highly recommend it to anyone.
Maria Paz March 03, 2012 at 04:04 PM
This is my first time with Pilates and I am loving it. You can see immediate results. Gretchen is great, very dedicated and fun. The studio is great. I always feel that one hour is not enough. I don't have any more back pain. Highly recommended!
LA March 05, 2012 at 03:09 AM
I've been going to Novato Pilates since November and I love it. Kathy Lou runs a great studio. She and Gretchen are great teachers. They take time to explain things and they mix up the routines each session to keep everything fun and fresh. The sizes of the classes are nice and small, so you get individualized attention. Best of all, I can see and feel the results. I think this is the first time that I actually have looked forward to exercising! Try it. You will like it!
Leann Phelan March 06, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Novato Pilates has been such a gift in my life. I started pilates for 4 months ago after a surgery. In a short time, I began to feel stronger, leaner and have more energy. Kathy Lou has created a warm, supportive environment and I always look forward to going to my classes! I definitely recommend it!

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