Just breath...

"Above all, learn how to breath correctly" Joseph Pilates

Breathing.

I'm very good at it, I've been doing it for over 45 years now.

Deep, shallow, deliberate, I was particularly good at well placed deep sighs when I was a teenager, I have all the skills, heck I even teach people about breathing! I'm a rockstar at breathing.

Until I stepped into a round pen with a small grey stallion. I had been advised by my tutor that this ponies love of life and exuberance may mean a pair of high kicking back heels, a squeal many a teenage girl would covet and a skill at farting most of us only ever aspire to. Often all 3 at once.

Apparently this display was saved for "high energy" students and those with "low" energy would barely be able to get him to a slow walk. Having 5 year old twins and a serious sleep disorder I have never considered myself "high energy" I thought I was a definite half asleep, running on empty kind of energy.

How wrong can a person be?

Within 20 seconds of entering the round pen I was standing in the middle of a farting, squealing rodeo. With only my own body and my newly learnt equine psychology skills to restore peace, harmony and calm.

 I knew I needed to breath, I could hear my instructor telling me to breath,  breath, relax and let go more than I ever thought I could or would be able to.

I breathed out and felt my whole body sag in a way I was not used to, it felt alien and unusual.

The result was astonishing, this crazy little rodeo dude also began to slow down, we became synchronised. With every out breath that I relaxed, he responded with more communication.

Until , finally I was able to invite him to come to me and trust me. I let out another deep sigh and stood quietly and waited. He walked calmly to me and we were then able to walk round the pen together without any contact or need for lead ropes. In that moment I learnt the true power of breathing.

Flight animals can teach us many things if we choose to listen. 

I have learnt so much from my equine teachers in a very short space of time and I now understand how I can use my breathing not only for myself but my clients too.

Every out breath can release us from our patterns of holding and tension.

I had not realised how much energy I was constantly pushing out, yet at the same time never really breathing out and relaxing, until this small grey energy ball gave me a lesson I'll never forget.

They say "When the student is ready the teacher will appear". 

Thank you to all the horses this week who have been my teachers. 

I was ready and I've been listening.

Spring Powered

Resistance.  Assistance. Persistance.

There is no doubt in my mind that without these 3 things my recovery from severe injury would not have been achieved as successfully.  

The “Resistance and Assistance” of the Apparatus springs, and the persistance to use them regularly.

February1st, 2008 I had a debilitating ski accident. My left leg was 180* rotated below the knee. My tibial plateau had imploded, there was a spiral fracture down the rest of the tibia and my Fibula was in pieces , when asked how many pieces the surgeon told me “ I stopped counting at 18”. I had also developed Acute Compartment syndrome. After 4 operations I flew home. We were told it would take me 9-12 months to walk again and I would have a permanent limp.

Resistance

 I refused to believe this, and I was determined to prove the doctors wrong. I knew it would be a tough recovery but I felt it was possible with with enough support, effort and Pilates. 

For the first 6 weeks, I couldn’t wash, get dressed or even get out of bed on my own.

Assistance

I had a leg brace rather than a cast because of the enormous skin grafts as a result of the Compartment Syndrome and fasciotemies.  Learning to care not only for the broken bones but for the skin grafts was physically, emotionally and mentally draining. Without my Husband and my mothers consistent love and support it would have been a long bleak journey.

My Reformer/Tower was moved into the spare room next to our bedroom so I only had to go a short distance to complete my exercises. It was incredible how much I could do on the apparatus without having to bear any weight through my "Compromised" limb. The rest of my body was kept working while my leg recovered.

Persistance

Every day I did my rehab. At the beginning it was the simplest things, excruciating but I was determined to prove the doctors wrong. Every time it hurt I knew I was one step closer to it not hurting. 

My physio and I used to talk about the benefits of going to the gym and pushing " dead"weights against the benefits of working on the Pilates apparatus with spring tension.  I would go to the gym for my sessions with him but  I was certain that once I was able to use my apparatus to its full capacity the springs would do their job. And they did. 

By August I was walking again…without a limp.

The following year, June 2009 I had further surgery to correct the alignment between my femur and my tibia. This involved a bone graft from my left pelvic crest and an osteotomy. The original titanium plate was removed and replaced.

Post surgery I was unable to weight bear and needed re-hab. Not as extensive as the previous year but all too familiar for us. Again , I trusted my physio and my Pilates apparatus to ensure a full and complete recovery. 

I try to practice Pilates every day, not so easy now I have small children. I have pushed and pulled the springs, I have used the resistance of the springs and I have been assisted by the springs.  I know that without using the apparatus regularly my knee will become painful. It needs the mobility coupled with the strength and stability of the joint. 

The final part of this story took place on Friday 25th November 2016. My titanium plate and most of the pins were removed as they had begun to work their way loose and were in danger of rupturing through the skin. 
Unsure of what would happen once the metal was removed from my leg, my surgeon warned the recovery could be anything from 8 weeks to 3 months, depending on the bone and what he found once the plate was removed..

I came round and was told I would be able to ‘FULLY weight bear” on crutches as the bone density was so good. My recovery took weeks rather than months and by New Years Eve I was walking unaided. 5 weeks  from operation to recovery. 

Sitting here now,  knowing that I had a swift recovery due to the quality of the bone in my leg. A leg that has been through so much trauma, I can firmly say that “Pilates works”.

Be "Spring Powered!"

 

 

Pilates and IVF

I had never felt a huge desire to be a parent, whereas friends of mine were very clear from a young age it was what they wanted.

For me, that burning ache had never yet materialised. I had been completely honest with my husband from the beginning about my feelings, when he proposed it was with the understanding that I didn’t want children.

A few years later I was on a car journey with a close friend,  My friend explained that after a heart-breaking number of IVF cycles she had been found to be Peri-Menopausal. Their game was over.

She cautioned me to seriously consider my “NO children” clause.  If I had any doubt, if there was any possibility I may change my mind later we should consider it ASAP.  Before I found that nature had taken the option away from me.

Love

Love

It terrified me. The thought that I may NOT have any choice in the matter.

I was 37. I reconsidered. After not conceiving for over 18 months and numerous tests we started out with IUI (Intrauterine Insemination.)  After our first round we attended a BBQ.  I drank, I played Badminton I behaved almost as if I didn’t want it to work. And it didn’t.

Every month that brought the disappointment of a cycle failure, I found the Pilates studio gave me healing and physical nourishment. Pilates requires you to have a conversation with your body throughout your practice in order to execute the exercises to your best ability. You cannot leave your brain at the studio door. I found this mindful movement a steadying and calming influence.

We continued through numerous rounds of IUI until the doctors decided it was time to bring in the “BIG GUNS” with IVF.  I was now 39.  I was terrified. Terrified it WOULD work, terrified it WOULDN'T work.

We were put on a “Short” protocol and every evening at the same time we would mix and administer the meds. The hormones raging through me made me like King Kong and I felt like I could tear the house apart. I disliked the whole system,  I felt like an ungrateful herd cow.

As so many different medical professional are involved in the IVF process, something that should be so wonderful can become clinical and impersonal.  

On our last cycle, when the day of the day of the pregnancy test arrived, we sat on the stairs outside our bathroom door and waited for the results. When I saw the result I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was totally numb, even though I had suspected I was pregnant knowing it was true was different. I wasn’t unhappy but equally I wasn’t happy. 

The whole process leading up to what should have been a magical moment had left me feeling utterly out of control over what was happening to my body. I felt invaded and exhausted. The thrill of finding out had been taken away and I felt numb. 

During this period of huge emotional expenditure, Pilates was my refuge, my safe space where in the studio I was back in charge of my own body. I could enjoy feeling the freedom of movement and breath. I was back in control.

Giving women back some power and understanding over their bodies in that time is hugely important. Providing women the a “holding space”  for an hour to be themselves with themselves. Appreciating, forgiving, loving and yes, maybe even hating what they are experiencing.

It is ok to have negative feelings about the process.  We want the results but the getting there can be traumatic and mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting and it is OK to say that. There should be no stigma attached.  You may have to have IVF, it doesn’t mean you have to pretend you are enjoying the process, it can take its toll on both partners and anything that can help reduce the stress is hugely valuable.

Women should and can empower other women with support, knowledge and experience and this counts as part of that conversation. 

I am grateful everyday for my wonderful, messy and noisy family. I am also grateful for my Pilates practice. Long may it keep me sane!

"Just Be Nice"

It continually saddens me to see comments on social media that denigrate other users. Why is it so hard for some to appreciate and honour others and their work?

We are all working towards something and so it is not ok to try and improve your own sense of self worth or perceived value by treading all over others in your ambitious haste. It's never to your benefit and inevitably works against you.

You cannot improve your status by belittling someone else. 

Your light will not shine brighter because you extinguish someone elses. 

Do not stand on my head to reach higher. If you are kind, honest and pass it on, I will happily be your cheerleader and will make a ladder for you from my own hands to lift you higher. 

Let's be clear, "trolling”  in any environment outside of the World Wide Web is simply “bullying”. 

Cowardice has been given a voice by the ability to comment from your own front room into someone else's without potential retribution. 

There is so much to be gained when we learn from each other's paths and travel together, enjoying the journey rather than trying to trip each other up. 

Another person does not need to be your competition or your enemy.  It's your decision how you react to the people around you, so just be nice.

Retreat to Advance

"I was tired.  I needed a shake up. I was in danger of stagnating, the worst thing that you can allow to happen to your teaching.

I needed a break, I needed to be taken out of my comfort zone, shaken vigorously, not stirred and given new learning experiences.

pilates sign.JPG

 I have my regular lessons and I attend courses and workshops as often as possible. Yet  I knew I needed a period totally given over to my own learning. You could even say "to be selfish."  It is not easy leaving your Husband and children behind even for a short for a period of time, Skype and FaceTime ease the distance but it's not the same for either party.

I had previously contacted teachers whose teaching I enjoyed and so I took a deep breath and contacted them again.

Dates were set, flights were booked and my Airbnb was chosen.  There was no going back.

So on a rainy Sunday in New York I left my rented apartment feeling excited and nervous.  Heading off to find the studio where I would be based, I walked up and down the same street 3 times before I decided that yes, that heavily graffitied door was the door I needed.

I hadn't even noticed the film crew eyeing me suspiciously as I walked past repeatedly, until one of them stopped me as their filming was beginning.

I don't think they would have understood that I was more in awe for the work of the person behind that grafittied door than any Hollywood actor!

8.30am the next morning, I stood in front of that same door, took a deep breath and rang the buzzer.  A cheery voice immediately put me at ease and my work began.

During the run up to my NYC trip my left knee had become increasingly painful, the metal work is moving and slowly coming out and I know that surgery to remove it is imminent. This was another reason to make this trip, the prospect of months on crutches again is not one to undertake lightly but I know it needs to be done.

However, I realised that after 2 days of strong Spring work and lots of walking, my knee pain had gone.

All the work we were doing on my feet and alignment was clearly having an impact.  I came home physically and mentally exercised.

My mind feels clearer, stimulated, a whole new breath of life has been breathed into me."

I wrote this Blog on the plane coming home from NYC. I never posted it, I’m not sure why. I was looking for another piece of writing when I came across it and it stirred something in me. I had intended to write a NYC Diary, covering all my exploits with all the great teachers I was meeting.  That was almost too big a task and I needed to simply let the work sink in.

Since my return from NYC I have had a wonderful 3 months. I have thrown myself headlong into new projects and found friends and opportunities manifesting almost daily.

There has been a sense of letting go in order to allow the new in. I am still hungry to learn, that will never end. My diary for 2017 already has training weeks planned which I am delighted and excited to be attending.

'There is no such thing as teaching, only learning" - Monty Roberts

As Pilates teachers we place an importance on stability and mobility. One facilitates the other. This is also true outside of the Pilates studio, sometimes we need to be still and grounded in order to know where we  need to be …sometimes we need to travel to come back to our place of stillness. 

We need to take time for ourselves to find where we are in space both figuratively and metaphorically speaking.

I am grateful to all my teachers, old and new and the ones I have yet to meet.

A friend of mine has a saying “Open your heart to the Universe and the Universe will provide”. I have and it does.

Go on…give it a try!

"First educate the child"

Our weekend had been set aside for teaching our 4 year old twins how to ride their new pedal bikes.

As they were highly proficient on their balance bikes, we were determined they would make the transition to 'big' bikes without the use of stabilising wheels and that it would be relatively easy with only the occasional tumble and tears.

Imagine my surprise when on my sons very first attempt, my husband started frantically waving his arms and shouting my name. I looked up, expecting to see a mangled small boy needing medical assistance but instead I saw my son pedalling furiously away across the field. 

Standing open mouthed, along with a few other parents and early morning dog walkers, I looked down at my daughter who was waiting patiently for her turn.

No pressure for her.....

I held the back of her saddle and ran along with her until I heard her shouting "Mummy, LET GO!" And she was gone, pedalling as fast as she could to catch her brother.

It really was that quick and that simple, their "Control and Balance"  kicked in and my backpack full of antiseptic wipes and Elastoplast will live to serve another day.

I may be a proud parent, puffing out my chest at my children's achievements but I am also a proud Pilates teacher.

There is no doubt I'm my mind that it is their inclusion in my enjoyment of Pilates and encouraging them to join in that has helped them develop their own sense of movement and balance. 

My children haven't always been welcomed into my studio, when they were 18 months old I resumed teaching from home. They would lie on the floor looking under the studio door shouting "Mama, Mama,"  Not conducive to a good teaching or learning environment.

Then one cold and Rainy day when cabin fever had well and truly set in for everyone  I gave in. I took them into the studio and made an assault course with various apparatus for them to jump around and run over. They loved it. 

The next day they asked to do it again and even pulled out all the equipment to make it themselves. That was when I realised how quickly we can catch our childrens imaginations and joy of moving. There is so much truth in the quote: 

"First Educate the child” - Joseph Pilates

You could say my children have been an unconscious Pilates experiment.  I strongly believe that what began as a reliever of boredom is now having a direct impact on their physical abilities and the many hours of playing with their balance created this weekends moment of achievement and delight with their new bikes.

So, back to our Sunny Weekend morning, by 10am we were in the cafe, coffees for the grown ups and ice cream for the kids. 

Ice cream at 10 o'clock in the morning? Oh yes! A big fat yes! Fair reward for being so awesome and for giving Daddy extra time to play golf....but that's a whole other blog.

The Power to Fly Part 2. Being Grounded

Truth Time

I love my kids, I had no idea how much that love would keep increasing day by day. Since I had my kids my home is dirtier, my language is cleaner.

But Parenting is not easy and it is not made easier for anyone if other women do not tell the truth.

Staying at home is work. It's rewarding but exhausting.

Going to work is work. It's rewarding but exhausting.

Working Partime is work. Its rewarding but exhausting.

Women may look at each other and think "Their grass is greener" but you know what? That grass might just be plastic.

Being a carer is a valid, valuable and important profession.

Our children are the future and we must nurture them to the best of our abilities and this is where the crux of the matter lies.

I feel guilty for enjoying my job.

There...I've said it...now everyone let out that giant breath you've been holding inside you since you gave birth. 

I love being at home, I hate that I go to work and leave my children for 3 mornings a week. Please do not judge me for that decision, I am judging myself enough.

My children have given my career a turn that I never foresaw, they've given me wings and "The power to fly" and part of that joy is returning home to them, to cuddle them and kiss their sticky little faces.

I don't believe any mum truly feels they have the balance correct. Is anyone really running a smoother, happier, shinier home?

Who cares? As long as YOURS is happy, quit giving yourself a hard time. As women we also need to quit judging other womens choices, maybe they weren't theirs to make.

Stay at home Mum, Working mum, part time mum, we are all just trying to keep those balls in the air. Let's all be a bit more truthful with each other and a lot kinder to ourselves and each other. Please.

Horse whispering for children.

There are so many things to consider when you find out you are pregnant..., where to birth, which hospitals, what names for the twins are just a few. One of the things that my husband and I instantly agreed on was HOW we wanted to bring up these new little people.

An amazing maternity nurse helped us navigate the exhausting early days when we had one twin in hospital and one at home. Her knowledge and expertise taught us a mixture of her own techniques and the usual parenting manuals like Gina Ford and Tracey Hogg.

But the name that will be less familiar to parents that we chose to embrace is Monty Roberts, the man who listens to horses.

Wind back ten years to when my early mid life crisis hit, and as a result my husband and I headed out to a tiny town in California called Solvang. This is where Monty’s farm and teaching facility is based. I was there to learn from the man himself his extraordinary way of communicating with horses using their own language of "Equus".

'Park v Coat' deal signed.

'Park v Coat' deal signed.

Monty Roberts teaches his technique of Join-Up®, a process during which the human takes on the role of the lead mare of the herd. This requires the human to "listen" and respond to the horses body language to develop a relationship based on trust and co-operation rather than the historical techniques of fear and domination which have been used as ways of 'breaking" horses.

The difference in the terms alone gives you an idea of the opposite approaches to such an amazing fight or flight animal. Would you rather Join-Up® with your horse or break them in?

In his book "Horse Sense For People" Monty gives examples of how he has used his techniques with his own children and his many foster children. So when we found out I was pregnant, it was a natural progression to bring these techniques into our home.

It may not work for everyone, it may seem too far out to some, and to others it may seem common sense. To us it felt right and it continues to give us a way of communicating with our children in a way that is calm (most of the time!) and gives us all a sense of being listened to.

When our children were very small I always told them what was about to happen. There can be nothing worse than being so small and unable to communicate other than crying and having no control over where you are placed and who holds you no- matter how lovingly.

I found nappy changes a time of potential great anxiety and annoyance for our babies. They’re removed from their cot; toy or cuddle to be undressed and have their bottom exposed and wiped unceremoniously with often cold wipes. 

I found that when I explained what was happening and gave them a choice – “wriggle and it will take longer, stay still and you'll be back playing or sleeping or being cuddled quicker. It is your decision” - I usually found they became more cooperative. They understood and made a choice. 

Another frequent example I continued to experience was the ‘Park v Coat’ scenario. (Feel free to insert any item of clothing or favourite pastime!)

To go to the park requires a coat.  If you put your coat on we can go to the park and run around.  If you don't put your coat on we stay home.

No coat, no park. No problem. Even if you are silently crying inside for a Cappuccino you must be calm and show them that it is THEIR decision. Either option rocks your world.

The longer it takes to put the coat on the less time they have to play in the park. It is their choice. 

This gives the child a part in the decision that will directly affect how their time is spent. 

As they've grown up we’ve continued to make 'deals' with our children (Monty uses the term “Contracts”, but we felt 'Deal" somehow worked better with our children). Children have very little power over their own lives, they can mainly exert their power through food (eating/not eating) or clothes (tantrums over what to wear/what not to wear).

Making deals and sticking to them has helped us navigate the “Terrible Twos and Threenagers” with remarkably few tantrums, though now we are heading into the "Frictional 4s!”

Of course I still have times where I throw myself on the floor in despair. Life with toddlers can never be all bunny rabbits and love hearts but I feel we have found a way that helps with day-to-day parenting. 

Sometimes my children offer me 'Deal Mummy?" when they are trying to negotiate a play-date, chocolate or TV.

We have a dialogue, they are communicating. That’s good.

Keeping the fun in 'functional'.

The word “Functional” is used regularly in the fitness world, I use it myself, the use of the term itself is not in question. 

Functional movement is important and as Pilates teachers we should help clients improve and sustain their movement. To make the best decisions on what is appropriate for each individual client teachers need to be educated well in the repertoire, human anatomy and movement. It is critical to our professional development that we keep ourselves up to date.

There are certainly exercises which may not be appropriate for some clients or age groups and we must gauge that on the client in front of us.  That does not mean that particular exercises that we choose not to teach, or that are not considered functional, should be consigned to the scrap heap of exercise manuals for Eternity.

Some exercises may never be functional or relevant to an individual clients "activities of daily living" but you know what, if they can do it and be safe they might have fun!

When is it inappropriate to teach an exercise? When it's unsafe for that client.

Ask yourself - If another teacher came in and asked you what you were doing and why, could you justify it?  If you can’t, don’t teach it.

However, if they are safe then the justification needn’t always be ‘because it's functional’ sometimes it could be because it’s ‘fun’.

There are exercises that some clients may have no ambition to achieve a good balanced “Open Leg Rocker” may be the last thing a client wishes to achieve in their lifetime. That's when we have to remove our ego and our expectation of what my client “should be able to do”.

By way of example, I once demonstrated “Open Leg Rocker” to a class of regular clients. After some collective tutting and one or two sniggers, they all tried it. Some did well, some didn't, some broke wind. They all loved it!

There are many sports that have repetitive asymmetrical movements, or that incorporate extreme ranges of movement, try telling a golfer or a tennis player that their sports is “not functional".

It’s how we off set these asymmetries that is relevant to our work, enabling a ‘weekend golfer’ to continue to enjoy their game through good relevant functional movement that offsets their golf is our aim, if that is what they bring to us.

Some people do Pilates to "do Pilates".  It’s their choice of movement practice. 

Pilates may not be an Olympic sport but it is widely recognised and used as a form of recreational exercise and like any other form of exercise it has participants of varying abilities.

Some enjoy gentle, simple work and get a lot from it.  Others do it for the challenge of mastering more complex movements and enjoy the sense of achievement. It’s these more complex movements which are often deemed non functional but are embraced by the clients who love the challenge of a strong session.

This is where our skills as a teacher come to the fore. We have a duty of care to ensure that our clients receive a balanced workout with the elements they require in that moment and on that day. Listening to and paying attention to their needs - sometimes today's just not an Open leg rocker day!

I do Pilates because I love Pilates, I do it because I like the simplicity of parts of the work, the challenge of others and the sheer fun of all of it!  I do my knee rehab when I need it, I offset all the time spent picking up my 4-year-old twins (and their toys!) when I need it and I also just “do the work".

Put simply...do your rehab, do your back care, your pre/ post natal specific exercises when necessary, keep it fun, keep it functional and keep it relevant for your own private practice and ultimately, to the client of front of you and “Do the work…."

Because it does.

The Power of "When"

I was recently asked about the best teaching tool I knew, I thought long and hard about different bits of apparatus and exercises.

Montecito, California

Montecito, California

And then it hit me.

The power of "when".

When to progress a client; when to regress a client; when to listen; when to observe; when to praise; when to cue or when to simply shut up and let them get on with it and move.

I am always in danger of over-teaching, over complicating, over thinking. My challenge is to focus on embracing the power of "When".

It's a jungle gym out there. Are you 'Playground Fit'?

 

On a warm Sunday in August I found myself physically out manoeuvred by my 3 year old.  It stung.

I watched him run up a slide, dart right at the top, spin on his heel and leap down a fireman’s pole cheering triumphantly.

I followed him confidently, only managing half way up the slide before I slide back down humiliated onto the grass, much to the amusement of my watching husband and friends. My insistence that I was wearing “slippery socks” was only met with laughter.  I spent the rest of the day determined to get to the top of that slide - and I did, eventually.

Feet together lengthways on board.

Feet together lengthways on board.

This incident showed me the importance of adults wanting to join in with their children, but more importantly being able to. It is all too tempting to sit on a park bench checking our smart phones whilst our children run, jump and chase each other. Let’s face it, as they get older they may prefer it if we stay on that bench!

When an adult goes for a run in the park it is not in the same way a child ‘runs’ in the park. Children constantly change direction, they zig-zag, they zag-zig, they double bluff you, run rings round you.

It's their agility, their ability to instantly change direction and "turn on a sixpence" that we lose as grown ups because we don't chase anymore. We don't evade capture from an imaginary monster/bear/baddie. In short, we lose the essence of play, the ability to squat and play on the floor, to commando roll across the lawn and to feel the effortless joy and achievement of movement.

Hip width on narrow board setting

Hip width on narrow board setting

Clearly the best way to get involved with our children’s play is to simply GET involved, but there are some ways we can help improve our agility and reactions.

Balance work on the Wobble Board: Feet wide apart, hip width, together or standing on one leg. The purpose of the wobble board is not to keep it still but to react to the movement of the board.

To increase the difficulty turn the wobble board to the narrower width. This makes the movement of the board and therefore reaction times quicker.

The power to fly!

I am a Pilates teacher and I am a mother. But for most of my life I insisted I did not want children because I had a career that I loved and I was frightened of how my life and ( yes, selfishly) how my body would change during and after pregnancy.

Also, new-born babies make me nervous.  The worst thing a new parent could do was hand me their precious bundle of joy. To all my family and friends I have avoided after your babies were born, please accept my apology. 

A conversation with a dear friend who is also a doctor made me pause for thought. Realising that I wasn't getting any younger, what if after all these years saying I didn't want children, I couldn't have children.  Flash forward a number of years; years spent thinking that the latter may be true – then suddenly - "Mrs Tudor you are doubly blessed" - these were the words of the sonographer at my 9 week scan.

I'd love to tell you that what followed was a Disneyesque style tableau with me lying back smiling beatifically whilst bluebirds circled my head with ribbons and stars.

What actually followed was I let rip a string of four letters words. My husband had to sit very still for a long time, so long in fact that after I left the clinic, he was still sitting in shock. 

The first two years were hell. There is no point lying or pretending and women who do so only make it harder for those of us who struggle. Our son was in intensive care until he was 6 weeks old and our world was turned upside down, one baby at home and one life threateningly ill in hospital. He was discharged from GOSH only for us to return there with my daughter at 16 months old. Again our lives were devastated with difficult diagnosis that we now live with and laugh with every day.

So, how did my work fit into this scenario? Brilliantly.


Teaching Pilates gives me the professional flexibility that allows me to work around my children and husband and still gives me a sense of who I am beyond the definition of mother or wife. At the same time my family are my home and always truly where my heart is. 

As I reflect on the last few years, the most wonderful and successful years of my teaching career to date, I am struck by the realisation that my achievements have happened SINCE I've had children. 

My trepidation that a family would hold me back or that children would put my career on hold now feels like wasted energy.  Looking back I see what I have achieved and what my children have enabled me to achieve. Children do not ground you, they inspire you; they give you the power to fly. 
                
I am a mother and I am a Pilates teacher.

Are you beach body ready?

Summers here. Cute dresses,  skimpy shorts and barely there bikinis.  I love winter with knee length boots and chunky jumpers.

Believe me I'm no stranger to a bikini but with grafts on my leg I can no longer safely bare my legs on a sunny day.

So it's in summer that I particularly notice the media pressure to conform, to join the army of bronzed legged ballerina pump wearing perfect size 10s. The desire to look airbrushed to within an inch of ones life even when the mercury is soaring and the humidity is creating havoc with your sleek hair, turning it into a giant fur-ball. Or is that just me?

It can be hard to understand that when someone is looking in the mirror it may not be vanity driving them to stand there but a deep inner critic. We all have our own demons, so none of us need the additional pressure piled on by the media. 

Since my accident I have experienced the full range of how people respond to visible scarring (not all negative), but a client who told me "I don't want to have to look at that" is no longer a client!

 I was visiting an indoor swimming complex and in my haste to pack for my 3 year olds and myself I neglected my waxing regime. 3 year olds do not care about these things and I left the changing rooms feeling embarrassed and self-conscious.  Imagine my horror when I realised a young couple were staring at me and nudging their friends. I whispered to my sister-in-law through clenched teeth "Is my bikini line THAT bad?"

Cue hysterical laughter as she pointed out that they were actually pointing at my scarring. Relief, but not funny.

We all have physical imperfections; they’re what make us individual. Some of us are happy to put our imperfections on display, some of us aren't and that’s our choice. Ideally we should all be able to embrace our imperfections and understand why for some that can be a hard journey, one made harder by feeling judged by the media and quite literally being pointed out in a public.

My first years in London were spent as a model visiting agencies. Having been on the receiving end of comments about my weight and looks it saddens me that some people still think it is ok to stare, judge and nudge friends when we see someone different, unusual or not the media’ s perception of beauty. Surely it is now time for change?

In my teaching I see a variety of shapes, builds and bodies, all miraculous machines.  True beauty lies in the glint of an eye or the arcing sound of someone’s laughter. The rest is embellishment.  Seeing the value of others is where true beauty lies.

When we go to the pool my children don't care if I'm a size 6 or a size 16. They care that I am there, splashing, playing and present. So tonight I'm packing my case and heading off to sunnier climes.  Am I 'beach body" ready? No.  But am I ready for the beach?

Hell yes!

Embrace the joy

Today whist I was sitting reading to my 3 year old twins, something extraordinary happened.  
My son (who had been sitting under the coffee table listening)  suddenly appeared and asked me, "Mummy, why do people do Pilates?"

Whilst I was busy picking my chin up off the floor and running through a few of my stock ‘drinks party answers’ he continued with, "Why do children do EP [sic]?" (He actually meant to say PE, but I understood the question)
 
Two great questions with two potentially very long answers. 

Advance Pilates for 3 year olds (work in progress)

Because my special audience had a very short attention span, my answer needed to be simple and to the point (the type of point a 3 year old could understand).  My reply? - "Because it's fun"

He looked at me, thought about my answer, nodded and disappeared back under the table.

Simple.

In this age of social media and instant online debate it is easy to lose sight of this and become caught up in negative conversations about nuance and to grow conflicted and polarised in our views on exercise and Pilates. It's time to embrace the joy in our work and recognise the fact that we all share a passion for Pilates and a deep admiration for the man who created it. 

I'm delighted my 3 year old knows what Pilates is.  And you know what, I got up from that sofa, ran outside with my children into our garden and jumped on the trampoline, slid down the slide and did roly-polys on the lawn. All for the sheer pleasure and fun of moving. 

Simple.

"If you think these guys are amazing? Look outside!"

My birthday present to myself this year was a dissection course.  

Not everyone's idea of a great present I agree, but having met Gil Hedley in San Diego last November, my interest had been piqued and I felt ready to begin my journey of understanding deeper into the human body.

I was advised wisely to book the shorter two day course to begin to make sure I was ready and able to enjoy it and to make the most of both a time and financial commitment.

That’s how last week I found myself waiting in a locker room in the Human Anatomy Unit of imperial College London.

We were a small group that morning. All with our own reasons for attending, all slightly anxious but excited.

The days were led by Julian Baker ( Functional Fascia) and Gary Carter (Natural Bodies.)  It was a fantastic opportunity to learn from these expert tutors who were happy to spend time explaining and sharing their vast experience and expertise in their respective fields, answering questions and revisiting information when we needed more time.

Each day began with the group talking and setting an agenda for the day’s discoveries. This was an important time because allowed to me to settle into the laboratory and familiarise myself with my unfamiliar surroundings. 

Strict protocols surrounding the dissections were explained to us and we learned and saw how the bodies were treated with the utmost respect and absolute dignity. 

After this we put on gowns, gloves and glasses and began the days exploration. On the first morning I was happier to observe and ask questions, not yet ready to touch or become more hands on with the specimens and there was no pressure to do so .  I felt comfortable in the group knowing that our personal decisions regarding how much or how little you wished to interact would be respected. 

When, after lunch I again had the option to participate in the dissection, I made it clear I was still not ready and again I was allowed to be as involved as I felt able.

I was shown some of the preserved  lower limb specimens and after having aspects explained to me in this way it helped build my confidence.  So on returning to the table, and taking the day at my own pace I did feel able to go more deeply into the experience. 

At the end of the day we had time to talk about our experience and we were encouraged to "decompress".  I had learnt a lot but at that point I was still unsure how I felt about returning the next day.

I went home, showered, played with my children, read them stories and cuddled them.
 
"Decompressed." 

But it wasn’t until after the children were asleep and my husband passed me a cold glass of wine that I realised the full impact of the day.  Suddenly I found myself speaking nonstop in an overexcited, intense train of thought. It sounded just like my 3 year olds recounting their day to me!  I knew I couldn't wait to return and continue my journey.

What have I learnt?
The human body is beautiful, the pearl-essence of the femur head, the rainbow of colours in the tissues, the genius of structures. It is breath-taking. 

I learnt so much I am still processing it all, and I now have new questions.

Is it applicable to my work as a Pilates educator?
Yes, definitely. 

Do I want to do it again?
In a heartbeat.

In quiet moments I find myself drifting back to that room, those people, their amazing bodies and the words of Julian Baker return to me.
"You think these guys are amazing in here, look outside, in the street. We are all amazing." 

Everyone of us.

An important footnote....
I will never underestimate the generosity of the donors and their gift to us. It has made me reconsider how to plan for my future.