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Download the Pilates Article PDFHow Maria Bello Gets Mellow
By Heidi Dvorak as published in Pilates Style, 2007

I pack Therabands so I can do my strengthening exercises every night. To get my energy and circulation going in the morning, I do handstands against the wall.

When the actress Maria Bello prepares for a role, she draws on her extensive acting training to transform herself into each rich and nuanced character. But to express the physical embodiment of each person she portrays, she turns to Pilates

It all started two years ago, when Bello's best pal, actress Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix, Memento), urged her to give Pilates a try to prepare for her role as a police psychologist in Assault on Precinct 13. “I had to lose at least 10 pounds to wear this ting little dress and look lean,” says the head-turning, tanned blond who looks a decade younger than her 40 years. “And I wanted to do it in an efficient and healthy way.” She happened upon Pilates instructor Jennifer Gianni's studio near her home in Venice, CA, and decided to give her a try.

Gianni, who received her own training nearby at Long Beach Dance Conditioning immediately sensed tightness in Maria's body and proceeded with moves to open and release the tension. Focusing on her chest, sacrum and pelvis helped bring the woman, famous for her role as a tough, sexy bar owner in Coyote Ugly, to a place where she could focus on her physical goals. “We had an immediate connection,” says Bello. “Jen’s nature is gentle and nurturing. I can’t be screamed at or be strong-armed.”

Gianni helped her new client to relax during that first session by having her use yoga's ujjayi (“ocean” or “victorious”) breath rather than classical Pilates breathing, believing it releases more endorphins in the body. Bello almost instantly started to feel her tension lessen as she proceeded through the strengthening sequences. “After the workout I felt much more centered, and my core was tighter,” she says, “I was walking straighter and was more balanced for the rest of the afternoon.”

That first session led to a partnership that continues to this day at thrice-weekly sessions at Angel City Body Kinetics in Marina del Rey, CA. “Whether I need to reshape my body for a role or just stay strong and focused while moving, Pilates helps me attain a balanced life,” says Bello.

Toned and shapely, feminine and strong - rather than scary-skinny as celebrities tend to be these days - Bello maintains a healthy image that mirrors her philosophy. “I trust Jen to create specific workouts to help me achieve the look that I need on the set or off,” she says. “I don't believe in putting perfect bodies on-screen,” she continues. “In The Cooler I gained 10 pounds, and in World Trade Center I gained 15 pounds to look like a suburban mom. For both roles, Pilates helped me to get my body physically strong and shapely so I didn't look flabby. But I did get to eat a lot of pasta and fries!

Conversely, for her latest role as a self mutilator in Downloading Nancy, Bello is struggling to lose 15 pounds. “While researching the role, I found that many self mutilators are anorexic, so I wanted to lean out,” she says. “As I get older, though, it's getting harder and harder to lose weight. I've already lost five pounds by eliminating most carbs - no sugar or flour. I'm also seeing an acupuncturist who also treats me with herbs. But I'm concentrating on Pilates now, because once I start on this project I'll be working 15 to 16 hours a day and won’t have time to practice.”

Even on the road, Bello relies on Pilates to decompress. “I pack Therabands so I can do my strengthening exercises every night. To get my energy and circulation going in the morning, I do handstands against the wall.” In between roles, Bello uses Pilates to regain her focus, strength and peace of mind to meet her off-camera responsibilities, specifically spending time with her five-year-old son, Jackson Blue. “Starting my day with Pilates helps me feel more centered. I like to work out between 9 and noon, when I have the most energy. My favorite move is the Short Spine to open my back,” she says. “It helps me to feel more focused for the day that lies ahead.”

You don’t have to be a Hollywood mom to benefit from a good de-stressing Pilates workout. In fact, we asked Jennifer Gianni to re-create one of Bello's workout programs just for you. The sequence, which is designed to work from the ground up, has a twofold purpose: to provide relief from simple physical stresses (such as running around in high heels) and to improve your connection to the earth. By allowing the feet to release tension first, the rest of your body will follow as the exercises progress upward. As tension is released, the mind and body can more easily focus on balance and strength. And what better role can exercise play than that?