By teaching fitness classes, Katie Larson wants to give her students some of what she got from her own teachers.

Larson, an instructor at Little Apple Pilates, hopes to add to the studio’s environment of giving people space and flexibility to get what they need out of the class. Larson used fitness classes to rebound from a difficult period in her own health journey and wants to help others feel better, too.

“If somebody walks out of here and feels better, and something uplifts them, then that’s what I want,” she said, “to give that self care back to people, because I don’t think as humans we take enough time for ourselves.”

Larson first came to Manhattan to attend K-State. She met her now husband, Jeremy, and they moved to Topeka, where she eventually taught Zumba and PiYo classes.

Larson, 37, initially became interested in fitness classes after having her two children, Colton, 12, and Gwendolyn, 10. She said she had gained weight during pregnancy and didn’t feel healthy.

“I couldn’t get on the floor with my daughter,” she said. “I had to get to my worst before I decided I was ready to walk my own journey to get healthy again.”

The family moved to Manhattan in 2016, and the next year she took an aerial class at Little Apple Pilates shortly after it opened. Aerial uses fabric hammocks or silks in the exercise, often allowing people to hang in the air. Larson was working through a hip injury at the time, and said the classes helped immediately.

“I remember going upside down the first time and everything felt like it went back into place,” she said.

Larson said Little Apple Pilates owner Hilary Santana worked with her individually to help her recover from the hip pain. She said Santana would adjust her forms during classes and answer questions about how she could minimize pain. Working with Santana helped her understand how her posture and other habits were affecting each other and her whole body.

“She and her magic hands got my hip healed and functional, and I fell in love with Pilates,” Larson said. “She was just so gentle and let me know that whatever I could give was great and that she’d help me. ... We started unraveling in all of these sessions the onion that is your body.”

Larson said Pilates is about strengthening and elongating muscles and working on the mobility of joints. It uses poses and resistance bands to work on the core muscles.

“I have a 13-year-old that comes in and does Pilates, I have my pregnant ladies, and we have clients all the way up in their 80s,” Larson said.

Larson teaches aerial, barre, trampoline cardio, Pilates, dance fitness and burlesque, and she has been an instructor there since 2018. She said her favorite is probably aerial.

“I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junkie, so it lets me fly in a safe capacity,” she said.

She was an elementary school teacher until last year, when she decided to step away from that job largely because of the stresses of teaching during the pandemic.

“I was exhausted,” she said.

She now teaches at Little Apple Pilates full time. As an instructor, Larson said she has tried to foster the welcoming, safe environment she felt when she joined the studio. She said Little Apple Pilates tries to respect what people need on any given day.

“No matter where they’re at, we’re constantly giving them modifications or making it harder, leveling it up if that’s what they need, so everybody feels like they’re seen in class,” Larson said. “But yet we give that space to be anonymous if they need to be, or sit back and maybe have a day they don’t want to work as hard.”

She said sometimes if someone is struggling when they walk into the studio, they might not need someone in their face. She said instructors there often begin classes by asking “What can I give you today?” She said one of the reasons the studio has small classes and asks people to enroll in advance is because it allows instructors to plan ahead for any needs a student might have.

“If you walk in and you’ve had a really bad day and all you need is a really good stretch, it’s not my job to say, ‘You gotta get over it,’” Larson said. “It’s rather a, ‘What is going to help you feel better today?’”

Larson said a deeper understanding of your body and how different parts are connected can help you make sense of why something might hurt, but also help you communicate those pains to doctors and other health professionals. When she was in pain, Larson said lessons from her background helped her name specific problem muscle groups.

“It allows you to advocate for yourself because you do understand the functions of your muscles, of your bones, how your joints hinge or where the pain might be,” she said. “(We) can give them a map of exactly what is hurting on their body.”

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