I woke up the other day after having, well, a powerful dream. In this dream I was teaching a new class, with new people in what looked like your typical living room. There were only 3 people in the class- no sweat really, for me, after having taught for so many years. Only, this time, the class did not go as I expected.
Every time I started to walk around, they started walking too.
Every time I stood up, they stood up.
They mimicked my every movement, exactly.
And every time I tried to explain that they needed to stay put and do what I said, instead of copying my movements, it was like they didn't hear me.
This is not the first time I have experienced this kind of thing happening with new clients, only, it usually isn't quite so overwhelming! Even in my dream I was more puzzled than irritated. It's my responsibility to teach them, and if they don't get it, it's something I'm doing wrong. That's what I believe about teaching. So I paused, and I thought for a moment. How could I get them to understand me? So I sat down on my mat, and they sat down too. I looked at them, and I said:
"Usually I don't stop a class like this but I feel I need to make something clear to you now. In my classes, I'm here to be your guide. I am here to watch what you do, and help you do it the best way you can. Sometimes that means I'm walking around you to see where your shoulders are in relation to your hips. Sometimes I'm looking at your knees, or your feet. Sometimes I am seeing if moving one part of your body means you are tensing up somewhere else. I'm seeing how your body works together, and which parts are holding you back from moving freely. I don't usually explain this because I worry you might feel nervous, or concerned about "doing it wrong." Under a spotlight, if you know what I mean. I can only explain why it is I am doing this, and to reassure you that this isn't about judgement at all. It's about compassion toward your body. I want to be aware of what your body is doing- what it's been through, what it needs to feel better. I watch to see what areas might hold pain or tension so I can help you find ways to relax them. I have the highest respect for your body- in fact, for every body I have ever worked with. It is a miracle to me how bodies can change, move, grow and adapt to any situation. The fact you are here means that you also care about your body. You care what happens to it. You want to show compassion to your body too. But maybe you don't know how. So I'm going to help you figure it out. And I help best by watching, explaining, and occasionally, placing my hand on you so you can feel what is happening too. I don't believe I'd be helping you very much by simply moving in front of you, and expecting you to follow along. I might as well be on a DVD then. You're not going to change overnight, but you will feel a difference soon. You will be sitting at your desk at work, and suddenly, you will feel the ache in your shoulders. You will sit up tall and relax your shoulders. Or, maybe you will be picking your child up off the floor. And you will stop, and think to yourself, I'm going to engage my core before picking you up. This is the amazing power of pilates. If you can muddle through this beginning, and not worry too much about doing it wrong, and simply keep trying your best and allowing me to watch and correct, this is what will happen to you. It will improve your life in so many ways. "
And then I woke up.
I thought it was important to share this message with everyone. It was a powerful moment in my dream. A message from my subconscious.
I want to add that it may be that you are uncomfortable being in a class like mine. I offer private sessions too and sometimes that helps people gain a bit of confidence, and get to know me before taking the step of joining a group class. Or, maybe this kind of exercise class isn't for you. My way of teaching isn't for everybody. But I can't change how I work- because I believe it works. I have seen it work, over and over again. If you want to start and give it a try so you can see for yourself, please get in touch.
Have you discovered the power of Pilates in your everyday life? I would love to hear about it if you want to share in the comments.
Do you remember your gym class in High School?
There's probably people who fall in the middle ground, but you may have:
LOVED it- felt so graceful and strong. "I never understood the girls who just refused to move!"
HATED it- you would have done anything to avoid class. "I just felt so awkward! Everyone was always looking at me!"
Has that experience coloured your attitude towards exercise as an adult?
Last weekend I went to visit friends in Huntsville and someone described my swimming as "graceful" when I got out of the lake. I did a double take (internally) as I have never, ever, in my life, considered myself graceful. I'm awkward. I'm an awkward girl with a large body and limbs that were uncoordinated for a long time. My high school gym class was absolute torture. I couldn't catch, I couldn't throw, I couldn't run, I couldn't jump. After that, I became an adult- and still felt like I couldn't move gracefully. Sure, I have learned to exercise, in my own way, and I now enjoy moving my body- especially after having done Pilates for so long. But graceful? Really?
Now I am questioning the very idea of "graceful". Is it something you feel inside? Is it something that others can see but you can't? Is is possible that my high school beliefs are still here inside with me? I'm thinking yes.
Pilates has helped me to gain control of my awkward limbs. I definitely practice a flowing movement in certain exercises. I feel strong, coordinated, and, well, graceful sometimes. Perhaps it's time to change my mindset and stop believing I am stuck as my teenage self. Perhaps practice a little compassion for that girl. That one who was afraid to try and make a mistake. Who was worried boys would be looking at my breasts while I jumped around on the volleyball court. Who felt so out of place every day and just wanted to hide. That part of my life is over, and I'm learning new ways to be.
If I had never felt that way, then I may not have ended up where I am today. And I'm pretty happy to be where I am. I'm so blessed to be able to learn new ways to take care of my body, and have the time to practice. And I even get to do that with other people! How awesome is that?
Do you feel graceful? Are you stuck with your teenage attitudes too? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
I came up for the idea of this blog post during my weekly swim. I LOVE swimming, and feel totally at ease in the water. I reach and pull, reach and pull, and breathe. It's repetitive and calming for me. And I've realized it is an excellent example of mindful movement.
Exercise can be more than simply exercise. It can be Mindful Movement.
Sometimes, during my day to day life, when I'm in a rush, or distracted, I get careless with my movements.
Sometimes- like during Pilates exercises, I am very precise with my body and move a certain way.
But there's definitely a middle ground, where I have a low level background hum of an awareness of what my body is doing. That space is a pretty amazing one, and I find myself able to connect to it more and more these days. It's awesome, and you may just be doing it too.
How do you know you have experienced mindful movement when you exercise?
1. Your mind becomes clear.
During the movement, I'm not thinking- I'm doing. My mind enters that state where I am there, I am present, and I am just in the moment. Thoughts come and go, but don't linger. It's glorious. If you meditate at all you will understand exactly what I mean.
2. It will feel effortless.
Your body moves and you are along for the ride, helping when needed but not forcing it to keep going.
3. You will not be obsessed with a goal or plan.
Throw the calorie counting, reps, times and all other goals out the window. You are just doing the movement. That's it.
4. You will feel refreshed afterwards.
Your mind and body feel fantastic- your muscles pleasantly worked, your mind free of worries and at peace.
5. You will look forward to doing it again.
It felt good, you feel good, so you want to do it some more. Awesome.
Needless to say, the above does not fit with our modern expectations of exercise. It doesn't meet the criteria of the current fitness industry- which is obsessed with goals, counting calories, having accountability partners, etc, etc. Many people feel like they haven't truly worked out unless they've experienced pain, sweat, felt "the burn," did 50 reps or whatever they have in their plan for that day. Unfortunately, this kind of mindset can easily lead to injuries- and is almost always a short-term and unsustainable approach to exercise. What happens once you meet your goal? Do you keep going and set a new one? It's an obsessive way to view it, and doesn't account for the "life" factors. Like getting sick. Like having a child to care for. Like being tired after a busy day. Or having a craving a chocolate bar, or a glass of wine. So many things to keep track of and control, it's impossible to keep on top of it forever. And exhausting!
I'm saying no thanks to this mindset of control and accountability. Instead I'm going to focus on moving mindfully, and enjoying the feel of my body performing an exercise. I'm going to find the space and time in my life because I love exercise. If life gets in the way, so be it. I will find the time sometime soon, I'm certain of it. And I will for the rest of my life.
Maybe you've moved mindfully before and recognize the feelings I described above. Or maybe you hate moving because you've done so much traditional exercise that it puts you off moving mindfully. If that's the case, maybe it's time to try something new.
Thanks for reading. All my love and compassion to you on this crazy journey we call life xx
Last year I wrote a blog post about using positive language when writing your goals. I thought I was on to something at the time but now I'm not so sure. This year I have a new plan for those pesky New Years Resolutions, and it's called: Goals! Schmoals!
I've been realizing that I am always interested in improving myself, in a general sense- and all year long, not just in January. Why should I go to the trouble of adding extra ideas on top of all that I already do? When it's been proven time and again that New Years Resolutions peter out before March and are unsustainable? I feel like this whole lark was invented by the diet and fitness industry to generate income and use shame as a motivator. Don't fall for it this year! I say: Goals! Schmoals! If you are working to be your best self already (like most of us are) there is absolutely no need to pile on more expectations at this time. You will continue to be your best self in 2018 too. I promise!
One thing I do like about this time of year is the encouragement to reflect on the previous year. My 2017 was a challenging one and I'm amazed when I think about all that happened. I started it out with a bang on January 9th, when I tripped and fell over my son on our basement stairs and broke my pinky finger. I initially thought- hey, a pinky finger isn't so bad! Turns out I was wrong... our pinky fingers are the base of all our grip strength. I now affectionately refer to my left pinky as my "lightning" finger... and it's become a new part of me. Just another funny part to learn to take care of and work on regularly!
I had further physical problems in March when my dreaded sciatica returned after a 10 year absence. I was in pretty much constant pain until late September. There's several things about this experience that I want to remember going forward. Here they are:
1) No matter how much you take care of your body, sometimes it does things you don't understand or expect and you just have to go with the flow. It's hard not to be angry about it! But it is just a fact of life.
2) Spending money on regular physical maintenence (ie. osteopath or fascial stretch therapy appointments) is but a drop in the ocean compared to trying to recover from an acute injury. I used to hold off on appointments and think, hey, it's not so bad, I don't need to go this month. Now I can see how utterly important it is and am more than willing to move money around in my budget to make it a priority!
3) I hate painkillers. Hate them. TENS, heat, movement and natural treatments are definitely the way for me. Unfortunately OHIP is not on board. This is a national crisis in my opinion. I'm 38 years old, and my doctor was willing to give me any pain pills I wanted and had nothing else to offer. He actually said: "Just keep coming back when they stop working and I'll up the dose." How many millions of people out there are on pills their whole lives because this is all the standard and free medical service has to offer us? It's truly horrific and I wish there was something that could be done about it.
4) Moving is key to relieving pain. Truly it is. My husband took my son to his parents for a few days to let me rest and have a break. (Bless him!) However by the time he returned I was crying from the pain and could barely move. All because I spent two days "resting" instead of leading my normal, active life. Lesson learned.
5) Moderate and regular exercise is way better than occasional hard core workouts. I am continuing to gently exercise more often (no more than 30 mins of walking, swimming, or- you guessed it, pilates) and I am feeling a huge increase in my energy levels. It's totally the way forward. I knew this already but this experience hammered the lesson home!
6) Living without pain is a blessing. A BLESSING. And I intend to enjoy every moment of my pain free life.
On the emotional side of life, in May my son was eventually diagnosed with ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder). This has been a huge ongoing rollercoaster of emotional stress for me and my family. I read book after book about it and returned to counselling for the third time in my life. I have managed to adjust my parenting style and expectations (at least to some degree anyway) and life is a whole lot better at home for it. This entire experience was way more draining than any of the physical pain I experienced. It brought about a new awareness of taking care of myself emotionally and mentally as well as physically. I began a regular meditation practice and I gotta say, it was a crazy huge life changer for me. I'm planning to keep going with it for the rest of my life. I am also continuing to learn alongside my son how to regulate emotions and stay calm in the face of stress. Such important skills but until there's a crisis, we don't usually learn about it or get help.
Looking back I can see that I was incredibly persistent in 2017 by carrying on with life through it all. I was open to new ideas and willing to change. I felt thankful for all the little things in life and incredibly grateful for my family and their support. Those things are way more important than setting goals like : "Lose 20 lbs" or "Get beach body ready by June" or whatever utter nonsense is being peddled out there on social media right now. In fact, I don't see any need to set goals- I'm pretty awesome just the way I am. I hope you will join me this year in saying the same: "I'm pretty awesome already. Goals! Schmoals!"
Happy New Year!!! <3
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.
Diane Archer, Pilates Instructor from the UK now living back in Canada. Blog of tips, thoughts, home challenges.