Nonna Gleyzer, also known as Body by Nonna, is not your average Pilates instructor. In fact, “instructor” barely scratches the surface of what Gleyzer does. As she says on her website, “Nonna has spent decades in Los Angeles healing everyone from Gisele Bundchen, Tom Brady, Madonna, Sting, Samuel L. Jackson, and Natalie Portman.” If you can, ignore the long list of mega-stars (we’ll get to that later) and focus on the action word: Healing. Not sculpting, not shaping, not slimming. That’s because with Gleyzer, Pilates is elevated from everyday exercise to energetic experience; one that’s healing on every level: mind, body, and soul.
Upon hearing her story, it’s clear that Gleyzer is a healer at her core. She’s spent her life learning how to heal herself — first, from the hits her body took training as a professional gymnast and later, from a near-death encounter with salmonella poisoning — and with Body by Nonna, she passes that knowledge onto her clients. Admittedly, some major clients… but Gleyzer was pretty much destined to be a big deal from birth.
“I am a former gymnast and I used to compete for the Ukrainian national team,” she tells Nécessité of her initial love of fitness. “At the time — this was 1978 to 1980 — my body was so worn out and damaged.” Gleyzer, a Jewish refugee, immigrated to the United States in 1990, and she intended to compete for the American national team… but her body had other plans. It would often fall into spasms, leaving the gymnast unable to walk for days. “When I got reinjured, a friend of mine mentioned to me to do Pilates,” she says. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Obviously, Gleyzer no longer deals with debilitating injuries, and she credits it all to Pilates, a physical fitness system built around core strength and alignment. “It is the most anatomically correct type of workout for the body,” she explains, citing three main reasons. First, “You’re using your own body weight and your own muscles to work,” says Gleyzer — no fancy equipment, no heavy weights. Secondly, Pilates doesn’t rely on repetitive motion. “You’re not fatiguing the muscles,” she says. “We work the muscles really hard, but we change from exercise to exercise.” This is a major selling point, since most people tend to overdo it on the repetitive exercises and inadvertently put strain on ligaments and tendons. “And once these are damaged, they almost never go back to normal; it’s very hard to heal them,” Gleyzer says.
But the most well-known reason to do Pilates? “Every movement you do works your lower ab muscles,” the instructor says — not to mention rights your alignment and improves your posture. In other words, the practice is known to turn people into tall, lithe Amazon women. (Gisele, anyone?)
Don’t be fooled, though: Pilates is hard. A class usually consists of small, intense movements of muscle groups you don’t normally work on a daily basis, and it takes concentration and willpower to make it through an hour-long session. To Gleyzer, this is where the “mind-healing” portion comes into play.
“In order to do the exercise correctly, you have to put your mind into your body for certain muscles to work the right way. It forces you to disconnect and focus on your body from inside and out. Not only are you getting a physical workout, but you’re also getting mental relaxation while you’re doing that.”
You’ll reap the physical and mental rewards of Pilates no matter where you practice (as long as it’s with a good teacher, of course), but there’s one thing that only Body by Nonna can offer: energy healing. “I’m very intuitive,” Gleyzer says of her natural abilities; but she didn’t fully step into the role of energy healer until she had a near-death experience. “In 2008, there was a salmonella outbreak and I was one of the 600 people that almost died from it,” the Pilates entrepreneur shares. Due to complications from the sickness, she had to have her gallbladder removed — and it was then that she developed a nearly-deadly infection. “I was 88 pounds, I was halfway dead basically,” she tells me, “but after this horrible agony, I developed these skills.”
The skills she’s referring to are her energetic abilities. “I don’t even have to touch [my client’s] body — I just feel where the injury is or might be,” she explains. Gleyzer’s NDE took this to the next level, but “I always had a natural inclination — I come from a line of Kabbalistic rabbis, I actually come from a family of healers,” she adds.
No wonder Madonna took to Gleyzer immediately.
“I was blessed enough that I was recommend to work with Madonna,” she says. At the time, Madge was dealing with a wrist injury and couldn’t perform typical Pilates movements; this forced Gleyzer to get inventive and incorporate physical therapy treatments into their sessions. “I was so afraid to do physical therapy exercises and she was like, ‘Just go for it!’ The way she said it, the amount of love and encouragement she had, it was like, “Oh my god, I’m hearing this from Madonna!’”
The Queen of Pop gave Gleyzer the push she needed to take her business to the next level, in more ways than one. “She trained me, she helped me to be who I am today — she’s my angel,” the Pilates instructor says. And what’s more than that, “She introduced me to Sting.” From there, word of mouth garnered Gleyzer A-list client after A-list client; she’s work with everyone from Amy Adams to Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa Hudgens, and Armie Hammer. Kerry Washington even named Gleyzer “the Body Stylist,” and iconic designer-turned-director Tom Ford hired her to train the entire cast for his film Nocturnal Animals.
Nécessité founder Erica Reid is a client, as well. “I do not allow just anyone to care for me and my body,” Reid says. “I am very selective and I not only want a great mind and body workout, but I also want to avoid injury.” She swears by Gleyzer’s signature blend of Pilates, physical therapy, and energy healing to stay fit on every level, saying, “Nonna is the person you see with injury, to avoid injury, and to whip it all together.”
Body by Nonna isn’t just for celebrities, though. Gleyzer will take on any client that she vibes with; but seeing as she’s LA-based, it might not be a possibility to book an in-person session with the Pilates master herself. Luckily, she has some key advice for Pilates moves you can pull off alone on your morning commute: “Make sure no matter what you do, you pull your stomach in and up and use your abdominal muscles,” Gleyzer instructs. You can do this while driving or sitting at your desk to work your abs and protect your spine. “Plus, the motion forces your shoulders to stay down, so you take the pressure off your neck.”
But the biggest lesson Gleyzer’s learned from her Pilates journey?
“Love your body, respect your body, be good to your body — when you do that, your life is going to love you back. Oh, and when Madonna gives you advice, listen.”
Photographer credit: Arianna Reid