WATCHUNG, NJ –  Two years ago, following a friend’s recommendation, John Cullen turned to the Watching-based Pilates Design Studio to help alleviate pain and improve his quality of life, including his time on the golf course. 

“I had a very bad gait caused by my right hip being much higher than my left hip, serious arthritis in both knees, spinal stenosis on my right side, and very painful sciatica also on my right side,” said Cullen, who resides in Westfield, adding, “A better description is ‘I was a real mess.’” 

At the start of his Pilates regime, Cullen attended a private session twice a week, working one-on-one with studio owner Danielle Conner and instructor Alexandra Williamson. At this time, they focused on specific drills to improve the function of Cullen’s vestibular (balance) system and the range of motion in his knees and back. 

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“John came to us two years ago with osteoarthritis in both knees and severe sciatica due to spinal stenosis in his lumbar spine. Due to this, his balance and gait (walking pattern) was seriously compromised,” said Conner. 

After just two sessions, Cullen said he saw ‘almost immediate’ results; his sciatica started to disappear, his balance improved, and the pain caused by the loss of cartilage in his knees started to dissipate. The more sessions he attended, combined with his commitment to perform drills at home, the more he improved. 

“John is an excellent student and really committed to doing the work we gave him in and out of the studio, which aided in his success,” said Conner. 

Pilates is a system of exercises that uses special apparatus designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, and posture, and enhance mental awareness. Through Pilates, Conner and Williamson taught Cullen how to move his spine and engage his abdominals correctly, which dissipated his lower back pain. They also targeted his back line to help strengthen his glutes and hamstrings.

“This helped his knee pain and better function of the knee joint, and also contributed to the back pain dissipating,” said Williamson, adding, “If you’re going to break a ‘habit.’ you must re-teach your brain a new one. It won’t happen unless it’s consistent.”

“Pilates enabled me to do day-to-day activities in much less pain than if I had been on my own,” said Cullen. 

An avid golfer, Cullen was also able to incorporate the exercises taught to him by Conner and Williamson when on the course. “As my knees deteriorated because of my loss of cartilage, playing golf became more painful. I was offered exercises that I could actually do during my golf rounds that relieved my pain, allowing me to continue playing,” he said. 

Although Pilates was not a substitute for the double knee replacement he would eventually under go in November 2019, the regime, said Cullen, helped provide pain relief and aided in his recovery. He was walking without assistance of a cane as well as driving two weeks post-op and navigating stairs easily by week three. Within a month, he was able to extend his walking distances, increasing them each week. 

“I was always cautious but had great confidence in pushing through the pain because of the strength I had gained through my Pilates experience,” Cullen said, adding that by the two month mark, he was cleared to return to the golf course. “I played 18 holes of golf twelve days later, the seventy-fifth day after surgery. And I played well.”

“Not only did his quality of life improve in his day-to-day activities but his golf game improved, which for him was the icing on the cake,” said Conner. 

The goal now, said Williamson, is for Cullen to continue his Pilates regime to stay flexible and strong while also working to help him improve his golf game with specific drills for eye and hand coordination, balance, and efficient swing and follow through. 

“We’ve touched on it all a bit, but can now really take it to the next level,” she said. “I can’t wait to see how John’s golf game continues to improve.”

For Cullen, the Pilates Design Studio stands apart because of the 'expertise and dedication of its trainers and its commitment to improving their clients’ quality of life. 

“As I reflect back on the last two years, prior to my knee surgery, I know I would have had to, at the worst, give up golf or, at best, my ability and agility to play would have seriously deteriorated,” said Cullen. “For the year 2019, I posted more rounds than anyone else at my club. I accomplished this prior to my surgery in November [and] I attribute my success to my Pilates routine and the expertise of Danielle and Alex [and their ability] to address my physical issues and constantly find solutions.”

Cullen continued. “I know I have a lot more work to do and, in fact, there are exercises I will always have to do, [but] I am a ‘believer in Pilates’ because it prepared me for surgery and continues to be a vital part of my recovery.”

“We want clients feeling better than before they came in,” added Williamson. “We’re here to give you tools to keep advancing you forward to your goals. Your session is customized. We’re curating your hour at the studio and homework just for you and your body.”

About the Pilates Design Studio 

The Pilates Design Studio offers one-hour, one-on-one instruction and group classes customized to fit each client’s individual needs and is the only New Jersey studio that offers Body Balance suspension training and Neuroscience based drills, though the Z-Health Education System, to help stop chronic pain and create efficient movement patterns.

Located in Suite B-1 in the Shawnee Building on Shawnee Drive (at the corner of Mountain Avenue), the studio boasts five rooms with machines divided up more to allow for better client privacy and to enable the four certified instructors the ability to teach at the same time without crowding each other. Additionally, there is a room dedicated specifically to the Pilate Design Studio’s neuroplasticity work.

The Watchung studio is open seven-days a week and offers a complimentary private class to all new clients. To set up a consult, email Danielle Conner at For more information on Conner and/or the studio, visit or visit

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