Do you hate going to the gym? I know lots of people who hate the whole idea of working out at a gym. I used to feel exactly like that, in my 20's. I was unfit, uncomfortable, and nervous. Let's just say that I didn't exercise much back then.
I used to think things like:
What is all this equipment for? How do I use this?
Are people looking at me?
Why should I want to watch other people sweat?
Am I supposed to be doing what everyone else is doing?
Many, many years later, I am a happy member of the Walker Family YMCA in St. Catharines. As a fitness instructor, I'm now comfortable using the amazing variety of equipment and love creating a variable program for myself which changes as I need, each day. Experience, education, practice, and self-confidence has changed it all for me. Now, I drop my son off to the childcare and have a GLORIOUS 1.5 hours to myself! Some days I just rest and meditate in the reflection room. Most days I do a bit of cardio and a bit of strength, with (of course) some Pilates thrown in there. I've been learning to take each day as it comes, and try to find balance in all aspects of my life- physical, emotional, spiritual. One thing that I've discovered is that I actually find a great deal of inspiration from my time at the Y.
Inspiration, you say? FROM GOING TO THE GYM?!?
In life, we look around and we see what we want to see. I could probably look around the Y with my old eyes now, if I wanted to. But I'd rather look around and feel inspired. I almost always feel inspired when I'm on the track on the upper level. I generally spend some time walking and/or running during my workout. This time on the track allows some wonderful space for my brain to engage and I often find this becomes meditative movement for me. Here is what I see now from this meditative mindset:
I see so many different people on that track. With all levels of fitness. In wheelchairs. With canes. Hunched over. Standing tall. With knees taped up. With arms in slings. Old and young. Alone. Friends working together. Moms with their sons. Anyone and everyone, all on the same track.
Every single one keeps on going. They are there. They are trying. They are moving. It is truly amazing and it humbles me. I have aches and pains- and injuries- and they do too, to varying degrees. It's not important to compare these things at all. In fact, I feel that I have completely set aside this comparative mindset. Instead, we are all working with what we have available to us, at the present moment. There is a collective power in this place, with everyone working towards the same goal: self-improvement. I get to join in to this collective when I am on the track. I get to see it all, and feel inspired, and inspire others too.
Maybe this kind of experience isn't for you. I totally get it. But I wanted to share my inspiration with you all today. It's how I feel when I workout at the Y. I hope that you have found a way to work towards improving your own self- physically, emotionally, or spiritually- however it is right for you. If you feel stuck and want some help along this journey, feel free to send me a message or write a comment below. If you see me on the track, I'll be the one with a smile and a bounce in her step.
Last night in my advanced class I found myself searching for the words to explain something pretty important while leading an exercise- in this case, the Roll-Up (see video above). I realized after I got home that I was actually going into detail about one of the Six Pilates Principles: Flow. Flow can be defined as: moving smoothly, without tension, stiffness or jerking. When you move with flow it is a GREAT feeling- as though your body is both under your control and also doing it's own thing, strong and supple. It's something dancers seem to do without effort.
So how can YOU learn to move with flow?
If you are injured, in pain, or feeling stiff this may seem virtually impossible. I want to tell you that it is available to everyone with a little practice. The lady in the video above is named Clare- I worked with her when I lived in England and she had a frozen shoulder for over a year while I was teaching her. She was frequently in pain. Does she look like she's in pain in the video? Is she stiff, tense or jerky in her movements? Definitely not! She is moving through the movement with flow. Believe it or not, this is as much a mental challenge as a physical one.
Here's my go-to guide for learning to move with flow:
Trust your body, and truly believe that your muscles can do what you are asking them to do.
Relax and let the movement happen.
Repeat: You don't have to force it.
In the modern world, we often treat our bodies as vehicles that need to be forced from one position to another. We push and pull, with extra stiffness and tension developing in unrelated areas as a result. When I used to run (before I did Pilates) I always felt like I was simply dragging my body around. This heavy, uncooperative beast was forced along with me, but there was no joy in it. It felt like punishment. "Come on, stupid body, keep going, let's keep running and burn those calories" would go through my head at regular intervals. My breath was short and choppy, my shoulders hurt, and it was most definitely not a flowing movement. Now when I run, my shoulders are relaxed and my body remains in place over my legs, strong and upright. My breath is deep and smooth. I swing my arms with ease. Learning to move with flow is not only better for your body, it also makes moving more enjoyable. Watch any child run and you can see this physical joy in movement. They don't have to force it. You don't either!
Do you feel like you are dragging your body around with you? Let me help by teaching you to move with flow.
Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below or send me an email.
I've been thinking about writing this blog post for a long time- years, even. It's about an issue that comes up for me fairly frequently, and it's not external- it's coming from the deepest, darkest part of my soul. It's the feeling that I don't fit the mold. That I don't look how a Pilates teacher is supposed to look. And the nagging, incessant worry that it will affect my business. I rationally understand that this isn't the case at all- the evidence is before my very eyes when I go teach a class, every day. People aren't looking and judging me all the time, they are attending my classes and enjoying them. But emotionally, I hold on to fear and worry about it, far more than I care to admit. But I am beginning to realize that it's time to come out of the closet about my fear and share it with you all.
I had the pleasure of reconnecting with a former client of mine last week at a networking lunch. She has decided to make a life change and become a yoga teacher. I'm really pleased for her and think she's going to be a fantastic teacher, and I want to help her in any way I can. So we chatted about life as an entrepreneur and about our shared connections in Niagara. And then she told me a story that made me shudder inside. A story about how someone reacted when my friend announced her change of career. This person was rude and dismissive about how she didn't look like a yoga teacher. Now, I'm fortunate because I've mostly been having this conversation in my own head and not had anyone say anything about it to my face. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to face this from someone else, and publicly too.
To be completely open here, the reason I don't think I look the part is because I am carrying some extra weight around. I'm not going to make excuses here or rationalize why that's the case. The fact is, the choices I have made in my life have led me to this place in time, and, honestly, most of the time I am pretty happy in my own skin. I have made exercising a regular part of my life and I love how it makes me feel. I feel strong. I feel like I can do so many things with my body, and that's awesome. I have a lot going on in my life and yet I've made exercise a priority. That's something to be proud of. Managing my diet too seems a step too far for me, at least in the present. I am not ruling out a change there at some point, just that I only have so much energy and time to commit, and I'm at my limit now.
But all that aside, I can't help but wonder why I can't get past this idea of "looking the part." Is it simply conditioning by the media? Is it the scared little girl inside that remembers being teased for being chubby? Is it just a general fear that I will be the one responsible for my own perceived failure? Whatever the reason is, I hope by writing this blog I can begin the process of setting it aside and moving on. Life is too short to hold on to fear, especially when that fear is entirely unfounded.
I am a Pilates Teacher.
I am overweight.
I am a good teacher.
I love helping people get stronger.
I can do amazing things with my body.
All of these things are true. That's me, out there for all to see.
Do you ever feel like you don't "fit the mold"? Please feel free to share in the comments or shoot me an email with your story. Let's not let fear hold us back from being our best selves.
I've been putting off writing this blog post for awhile now. When you teach other people to take care of their bodies, you are supposed to be taking care of your own as well. But, like everyone else, I am human and make mistakes. So I want to share a lesson with you today, a life lesson I thought I had learned before but recently learned again.
That lesson is:
Do not ignore pain.
Do something about it instead.
If you don't know what to do, seek help from others.
In early December I helped organize a fundraising event for my son's preschool. Being in the health and wellness business, I came up with the idea for a "Family Wellness Festival." It was a huge success with lots of exciting professionals in the community coming together to share their knowledge. One of these was a chiropractic office in Niagara Falls- the Advanced Chiropractic Clinic. They offered a free 5 minute consultation at the festival. I wandered by, and thought, hey, why not? My neck is ok most of the time these days but still hurts sometimes...
This started me down a long, dark rabbit hole. It turns out that the pain I've experienced on and off in my neck since my early 20's was a pinched nerve in my C2 vertebrae. I had less than 30 degrees of rotation in my neck to the right. I had a major loss of sensation on the right side of my body. My biggest shock was the x-ray that shows I have bone spurs developing. Bone spurs! I'm only 37. I'M ONLY 37. What if I had ignored this for another 10 years?
The chiropractor was amazed at my general fitness and mobility. Pilates has literally kept me moving and strong. I fixed myself as best as I could with exercise, and I got used to pain. That's the only explanation I have. After an intensive round of chiropractic treatments, I am now aware of being pain free. Each morning when I get up, I turn my head and cannot believe the lack of pain. At the time, it was just the way it was- I didn't identify it as pain most of the time. Now, I am feeling the benefits of a pain free life. I can snuggle with my husband on the sofa again! I couldn't do it for years because it hurt my neck after a few minutes. When I rode the bus to montreal last month, my neck didn't hurt after falling asleep sitting up. When I talk to someone sitting on my right side, I can turn and look at them without shifting my whole body. It's truly amazing.
I am finding now that my personal Pilates routine is more effective than ever before. I can feel muscles coming alive on the right side of my body. No matter how much I worked at it over the years, I couldn't align myself properly before to get them moving. If I'd had a teacher working with me these last three years I'm sure they could have helped me find that alignment. But on my own? No way.
So if you are out there reading this, and have pain that you've been ignoring for a long time, please take a page from my life lessons book. I'll repeat it here, for me and for you:
Do not ignore pain.
Do something about it instead.
If you don't know what to do, seek help from others.
Who you seek help from is your personal choice. Osteopaths, Chiropractors, Kinesiologists, Massage Therapists, Physiotherapists. Your GP. Holistic Health Practitioners. There are a lot of amazing and talented people out there that can help. Don't wait around, just do it. You won't regret it.
And if you come out the other side of your pain, and want a safe and effective exercise routine to stay fit and healthy, I would be happy to help you to stay that way.
Take care of yourself.
I will too.
Today is Bell Let's Talk Day. It passed last year almost unnoticed for me, but this year I want to share. I am ready to talk.
As a small business owner, it's hard to feel comfortable sharing personal information with the world. Especially information about your mental health. What if people think you won't be able to do your job? What if people think you will let them down because of your mental health problems? I've thought about this a lot. And I believe that the answer is: if you are honest and open and compassionate with yourself and others, you will find yourself surrounded by like-minded people. And those people will continue to support you in your business, no matter what you share. Bell is right- it's time to talk. So let me tell you a little story.
In high school I was a shy, awkward teenager. I had body issues- I thought I was fat and huge. I was fearful all the time. I was afraid to draw attention to myself. Afraid to speak up. Afraid to ask for help. I had a particularly bad year when my circle of friends decided that they didn't want to be friends with me anymore. All of a sudden, lunch was a horrible hour of hiding in different places around the school. When I tried to eat, I felt like throwing up. It lasted for weeks. I would put food in my mouth and chew, chew, chew, and then start gagging. I was not consciously trying to stop eating- I wanted to eat. I was hungry, but there was a knot in my stomach that never went away. I went from 150lbs to 120lbs in 2 months. I was 5 ft 9 inches tall.
Something interesting happened then. People started talking to me and giving me compliments. The dad of someone on my soccer team. Boys I'd never spoken to at school. They told me I looked good and said I'd lost weight. Every time it happened, I felt kind of odd. I was getting attention now. And I didn't want it. And the reason I was getting it was because I felt like throwing up all the time? That felt wrong.
This is where I'm glad that I am a stubborn and strong willed kind of person. I rejected the idea that my weight would define me. I decided that I would just be me, however that was, and not worry so much about what others thought. Those boys who talked to me weren't worth my time. Suddenly, I could eat again. I'd somehow worked it out in my head and the knot in my stomach had lessened.
I wish I could say that was the only time I experienced mental health problems. But it is a lifelong experience for me to feel these feelings, to feel different from the world. I have had periods of depression, periods of anxiety, panic attacks. I've been on medication and I've been through counselling. I'm much, much better now. Now, I can recognize what's happening. I can take a moment and try to breathe. Ask for help. I've surrounded myself with people who understand. I don't hide away anymore (not much, anyway).
When I started a Pilates business, I wanted a name that would share my philosophy with the world. I wanted something that would be both a reminder to myself, and a reminder to others. Compassionate Body Pilates was born. I work on treating everyone around me with compassion, every day. Even more importantly, I work to treat myself the same way. To forgive myself when I have a bad day. When I can't manage. To step back and be kind. And try to set that example for others.
Lots of love and compassion to you all out there. If you have mental health issues, please take care of yourself as best as you can. Please ask for help. Let's talk.
Happy New Year to you! I wish you and your family a SPECTACULAR 2017!
With the start of a new year there is traditionally a time of reflection, and goal setting. This year I have a lot to be thankful for; I live in a new, beautiful house (that's all my own- wow!), my son is getting older, and my husband has a new job that he loves. My business is taking off and I am meeting and working with such lovely people. It's easy for me to write my goals this year, because life has been good to me, and I'm grateful. If you are writing goals of your own, there's something I want you to consider first and I feel it is very important. It's the kind of language that you use to write them. Let me explain.
I can see it everywhere now. Posts on Facebook, blogs, emails, ads. The fitness industry is leveraging the "New Years Resolution" craze to whip up more customers. The language of the fitness industry is often the language of shaming. Cajoling. Assumptions. Mostly shaming though. Things like "Finally do something this year about that spare tire" or "Get beach body ready!" or other similar sentiments. These kinds of phrases assume that you already don't like yourself, that you are powerless to change on your own, and that you subscribe to socially accepted ideas of beauty and fitness. In my experience, shame is a terrible motivator. It simply doesn't work long term and you are miserable when you fail.
We tend to absorb what we read everyday. That means when people write their resolutions, they often echo these ideas. Here's an example:
So I am proposing a new language of goal setting this year. No shaming language allowed! Instead use the positive language of compassion, of understanding. How about, instead of the above, we have ones like this:
Those ones don't involve shame as a motivator. And I truly believe that you will achieve a healthier, longer term result with this kind of mindset. This is my greatest wish for you in 2017, to ditch the shaming language and learn to use positive language for your resolutions.
If you are looking to try a fitness class this January, I would love to meet you and teach you all about Pilates. I hope you will discover that Pilates is the exercise system for you and that you want to keep practicing. But if it isn't, then fair enough! At least you came out and gave it a shot.
Classes start January 9th and run for 6 weeks. I hope to be meeting you then!
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so please feel free to reply with any comments. I'd also love to hear your positive goals for 2017! I'll be sharing this idea on fb today so you can also pop on there to join in the conversation.
p.s. My resolutions are below... did I mention cookies before? LOL
Old Man Starts Exercising, Writes Blog: Part 11
I just ran up the stairs for the first time in I don't know how long.
Time was when I dreaded the staircases that wind their way up my two-and-one-half-story century home, in downtown St. Catharines.
Whenever I was working on a home-improvement of any consequence, I would always insist that She-Ra be my helper. While I made it seem to be that it was only fair that we share the work, it was really because I hated running up and down the ladder, up and down the stairs to fetch some item or tool that was invariably needed.
Whenever I was in the loft (where my home studio is) or in the cellar, I would carefully manage my trips up and down to minimize my steps.
What the hell is a Pilates?
Do I think that my renewed abilities are the result of 12 weeks of training from Compassionate Body Pilates and Diane Archer? Yes I do.
Do I think you should do it too? Same answer.
The workouts (I was reluctant to call them that earlier, but now have changed my tune) are low impact and high result. I came in with no knowledge of Pilates except that a dancer friend of mine from years ago had a studio in Toronto.
She was always super fit and I understood from the sidelines that strength, conditioning and balance were on offer. It kind of made sense that someone with her physique and abilities would want to work on their “core” (whatever the hell that is).
I, alas came in to Diane’s program unfit, with a train wreck of a physique and limping from an old sports injury.
Today I am still unfit (but way more fit than when I started), I have lost a few pounds (looking in the working mirrors at the Pilates Studio was a big motivator) and I am no longer limping.
Is Pilates for you?
If you are the type to need to know what Pilates is before you sign up, I can tell you.
It’s twice a week.
It’s under $100.
And it’s running up the stairs.
By Dan Willis
Old Man Starts Exercising, Writes Blog: Part 10
It's Just Gravity and Me
In my youth (not the misspent one, the other, more youthful youth) I anticipated the start of soccer season year after year.
The getting fit first, then testing oneself against another. Then performing as a team. By the time we were in week seven I had kicked enough grass around, I was ready for the season.
I didn’t like the first 5 or 6 weeks out on the pitch, but once I got good, I played with enthusiasm and never made any excuse for loving the taste of victory.
Likewise, the theatre is a place where one gets fit for a role, practice with others and when one gets good, they slay the audience.
I thrill to taking a curtain call.
It has been 20 years since I hung up my cleats, six years since I played my last game and four years since my last curtain call.
After my seventh class with Diane (Compassionate Body Pilates) I felt I was starting to strengthen and balance, then I went and injured myself.
Now its week nine and I am on the upswing. I got my posture back; and I got my gait back; and I got my height back too.
Knowing the body’s position in space is an important skill for the theatre actor and since it is a non-contact sport, the soccer player as well. The Pilates sessions I am getting are fantastic in helping me control my movements. I am not surprised how much I am improving (I am), I am surprised about HOW MUCH I MISSED MOVING PROPERLY.
I missed my posture, I missed having a gait, I missed standing tall.
What I don’t miss now is my body slipping into a slippery slope of decay. I don’t miss the defeatist attitude I was carrying around and I don’t miss fearing the stairs.
Now it’s just gravity and me. It’s a solo performance not a ensemble piece. There is no opponent but the craftiest one of them all, me.
I have to remember that: “How much I missed having a gait.”
By Dan Willis
Old Man starts Exercising, Writes Blog. Part 9:
You Snooze, You Lose.
So I missed my Tuesday Pilates class with Diane Archer of Compassionate Body Pilates this week. Recall that I also missed my last Friday’s 1 on 1 and thought it would be a good idea to take to the Skys and enjoy a trampoline fitness class on Sunday.
It would be reasonable to say that I missed the Tuesday class because I was sore from tramping around, but that would be a lie. I didn’t miss the class for that; I missed the class because I went out to dinner with the Girl.
I know having had made it to my advanced years without back problems is a real blessing and I should not be tempting fate by becoming overly aggressive in my activities where my back may be at risk. Luckily, The injury in the lower part of my back subsided after a couple days and I don’t expect any permanent damage.
Today’s 1 on 1 was an eye-opener. My core strength was still pretty good, but my balance wasn’t as good as it has been. The week between classes was too long without exercise and my body was all too able to show me that.
My body also showed me that the trampoline had engaged muscles that I didn’t even know I had. Didn’t know I had them until I was running through my exercises with Diane, that is.
You know that feeling when you literally rack your chest coughing and it feels like a vice is closing around your chest? Well, I was stretching and breathing and then, “Hey”.
Then during an arch it felt as if my spine was fused. I am not the most flexible individual, but during simple bends and twists my ribs and spine let me know they were there and they were not happy.
So two things to take away. Tuesday nights at Kully’s on St. Paul is a lot of fun and don’t join in a fitness boot camp.
I can see how one might enroll in a course of fitness that is far above their level and then after suffering an injury decide that maybe fitness is not for them. I get it.
But fitness is for me. I just have to learn not to get cocky and to take things slowly. It took a couple lifetimes of neglect to become this fabulously out of shape so I should treat myself to a long and not-to-hard regimen of slowly progressing activities suitable for a man my age.
That or give up entirely.
By Dan Willis
*P.S. Note from Diane- Just a little reminder for you Dan- anytime you are thinking of skipping a session, watch this clip :)
Old Man Starts Exercising, Writes Blog: Part 8
If you have been following this blog then you know a few things about me. I started an exercise program after having a “come to god” moment while hiking in the mountains Mexico with my life-partner. If I were to participate in meaningful ways with her I would have to take better care of myself. I would have to participate in physical activities that, at my age and fitness level would require ongoing care and some lifestyle changes that were hither-to inconceivable.
Life has a way of sneaking up on you and in our daily habits where work and life takes up so much time we can forget to, or miss opportunities to take care of ourselves. Such was the case when, on Friday I lost complete track of time in the afternoon and missed my personal session (one-on-one) with Diane Archer of Compassionate Body Pilates.
Regular readers will also note that I have been less than punctual in practising my at-home, by-myself workout sessions. So it was an extra big bummer when I missed my Friday Session (Sorry, Diane!) Well the weekend was not a complete write-off where my fitness was concerned as my beautiful and uber-fit partner provided a chance for me to partake in “Sky-Fit” at the newly opened Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park on Ontario Street in St. Catharines.
Six months ago this would have been out of the question. I know because when the kids were growing up they played on trampolines. At the time with the kids the aerobic efforts to sustain any bounce on the mats was beyond me. I was a smoker and I was inactive and overweight. While bouncing with the kids would have been a joy, my joints, my belly and my lungs would not have permitted it.
If you are reading for a heart-warming story of redemption and glory, you may be disappointed. Given the fitness of the other participants and my partner I figure I was about 45% effective in my participation during the exercises and routines. After all it had been about 40 years since I was last on a Trampoline for any length of time and 9 weeks of Pilates training, no matter how skilled a teacher Diane is, is no miracle cure.
However, what 9 weeks of Pilates training and 4 months of non-smoking has done for me is to give me back a relationship with my body that I thought was lost to the depths of time. So feeling confident (and wanting to participate with my Partner, who was going to go with or without me) I put my hand up and joined her for a Sky-Fit Session early on Sunday morning.
Our instructor Laurie welcomed us to the session personally warning us not to push too hard, to have fun and to simply pass on exercises that were beyond our skill level.
If you have not been to Sky-Zone you do not know that it has become a favourite with the Birthday crowd and every Saturday Afternoon there is a cacophony of children squealing, music playing and general joyousness. Sunday in the AM was thankfully more subdued, so I was able to focus better on keeping my feet under me.
After the warm ups, we went from one grid of tramps to another where we worked alone and with partners springing and springing for the hour-long class.
Thanks to my Pilates training I felt strong enough to take up the challenge of the aerobic exercises and confident enough that I wouldn’t make a complete fool of myself. Given the two extra bowling balls I carry around my mid section the “L-Sits” did hurt my back a bit but otherwise I am not stiff or sore at all.
It will take a long time before I become passable on the trampoline for fitness or whatever, but I figure mixing it up a little with the Pilates and Aqua-fit, continuing as a non-smoker and hiking regularly with the girl, I will come to enjoy the free-flying feeling of the jumps and twists at Sky-Zone.
By Dan Willis
Diane Archer, Pilates Instructor from the UK now living back in Canada. Blog of tips, thoughts, home challenges.