Asking Ashlee

AshleeJohnsonI had the opportunity to chat with Ashlee for a bit about joining the Blue Sparrow Pilates team, taking on a full load of classes at our new Oakland studio, and what inspired her to pursue a career in Pilates.  Read more from this wonderful instructor!

Where are you from originally and how did you end up in San Francisco?

I was born and raised in Ventura, CA and moved to San Francisco from Santa Barbara after graduating from UCSB. After my college graduation I felt like I was in between dreams and I needed to get out of my familiar little corner of the world to find a new dream, so I packed up and moved to San Francisco with a little faith and a lot of hope.

What led you to begin your Pilates Certification and why did you choose STOTT?

It occurred to me while taking a Pilates class during a particularly difficult time in my life that practicing Pilates was the only time during that period I felt calm and peaceful and happy. I knew that I loved Pilates but it wasn’t until I was feeling really low that I realized just how valuable Pilates was to me. It provided me with peace of mind, a sense of calm, and a feeling of well being, which I wasn’t getting anywhere else in my life. I knew I needed to make some changes in my life and I decided to start with trying to do something I love for a living, and I truly love Pilates. When it came to selecting a certification program I chose STOTT because it seemed like the most in-depth and thorough training program. It was very important to me to have a very solid base of knowledge to build on so I could enter the industry with confidence, knowing that my training was respected and sound, I think STOTT provides that foundation for their students. They teach you why you would (or in some cases would not) cue an exercise, not just how to cue an exercise. As a new instructor you can program mindfully and know what muscles you’re working in certain exercises and, more importantly, why.

What is your favorite thing about being a Pilates instructor?

I’m a really inquisitive person by nature so my favorite part of being an instructor is probably the fact that it feeds my insatiable curiosity. There is so much to learn and every client you encounter is like a little riddle whose point is not to be “solved” but to be pondered over. Everyone has a unique body, a unique life, that is ever-changing, there is no real “right answer” so it’s impossible to get bored. Teaching the same exercise to 3 different people will be 3 very different experiences, and furthermore the same exercise with one person can be a different experience from one day to another since our bodies are always in a state of flux. This can be challenging but it’s also really intellectually stimulating which is important and exciting to me.

What’s your favorite thing about Blue Sparrow Pilates?

I love the depth and breadth of knowledge and love at Blue Sparrow. Everyone is really knowledgable not just because of our training but because they love what they do and continue to learn everyday. This makes Blue Sparrow a great place to be an employee, a client, and a student. Everyone who works there is really passionate about the work and shows genuine care for their clients and coworkers alike. Working there feels like being part of a really smart family.

Have you ever had any injuries that you turned to Pilates to help rehabilitate?

Fortunately, no physical injuries but practicing Pilates helped me heal a broken heart when I thought nothing would.

Do you have any hidden talents that we should know about?

I don’t know if its really hidden but I’m a pretty good dressage rider

Now I’m going to ask you my favorite questions that new clients have to answer…Where do you see your health in 30 years?

My goals for health in 30 years are to hopefully be walking daily pain-free (I am now and really hope to stay that way as long as possible), I hope to still be teaching and practicing Pilates, and still be able to do pull ups from the top of the cadillac table!

What was the hardest part of your Pilates training/certification program?

The hardest part of training and certification was developing and maintaing courage because I was, and to a point still am, very afraid. I was afraid I wasn’t strong enough to do the exercises, that I wasn’t studious enough to pass the exam, that I wasn’t articulate enough to teach. Developing and maintaing the courage to start and finish training and begin and continue teaching in spite of these very real fears was harder than any exercise or homework assignment I encountered.

How do you incorporate Pilates into your everyday life and how does your everyday life affect your Pilates work and instruction?

Pilates helped me a lot with body awareness and consequently I stand up straighter, I don’t sag into one hip or slouch as much as I used to before I was certified. Pilates also helped me develop an appreciation for the small things. In the grand scheme of life doing a perfect teaser may not be considered the greatest accomplishment but when I was in class, struggling to absorb so much information not just mentally but get my body to try to perform some pretty difficult exercises, sometimes one tiny improvement, one smoother transition, one great teaser would be the absolute highlight of my day. I’ve learned to experience real joy and pride from tiny steps forward physically and learned to view and love life that way. If you’re only focused on the “major” things in life (or Pilates), the really big moves, you may find that you’re missing a lot, there is wonder and value in the small stuff. Before I was in instructor I was, and still am in the restaurant industry and I feel like I bring a lot of what I learned for years of restaurant work into the studio. I’m a really good listener and aim to please naturally and those qualities have become more highly developed because of the work I’ve done previously and these things transfer into my presence as an instructor.

Favorite way to de-stress and wind down?

Movement with music! Whenever I get really stressed about something I grab my iPod and go for a long walk through the city. By the time I get back home I still have to deal with whatever had me feeling stressed but I’m not nearly as worried or pent-up about it, and that makes all the difference. Unfortunately, life can be stressful, it can’t always be avoided, but finding ways to effectively manage it is key, for me good music and moving my body works like a charm every time.

What’s your absolute favorite meal?

This may be the hardest question for me since I’m such a lover of food! I rarely get to eat an indulgent breakfast since I’m usually on the go so lately I’ve been dreaming of a really good omelet with hash browns and gourmet french toast.

If you had a stage name, what would it be?


Sunset or sunrise?


Favorite movie?

An Education

Cat or dog? or other?

Other. Horse.

Favorite book?

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov