Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I Am Not My Disease

I want to take a moment to be raw and vulnerable...

As a fitness professional and especially as a Pilates instructor I thought I had my life together.  I was living on my own, driving my "adult" car, in a loving relationship and even had a job with insurance/benefits.  I physically had run two full marathons without injury.  I felt I had a solid mind/body connection.  Well, life has a way of humbling you and throwing you the unexpected to see just how resilient you may or may not be.

It feels like a nightmare to one day wake up in a mental ward and have no idea what day it is or why you are there.  Your clothes are gone and you are in a white gown. You are required to stay there a week minimum till they straighten out your medications and feel you are normal enough to have your family take over. 

I was diagnosed with the mental health disease of bipolar

Suddenly I was going to therapy weekly and getting my blood drawn monthly and tossed into a world few can understand; the medical world included.  

I have never felt more alone.

There were days the medications made me feel like hell.  I had trouble sleeping having to pee several times at night. I felt stiff, sore and tired.  I was overly emotional out of nowhere.  There was a point where I felt like an old lady instead of a 20 something year old.  I wanted to quit.  Quit the medication, the therapy, my job, and life.  

Why me?  I asked myself this more times a day than I can count.  There was never a good explanation.  This disease was not going to go away.  No hypnotherapy, Bach flower remedy, art therapy class or reflexology was going to get this out of me.  I had to accept it.  I had to move through it.  I had to allow this disease to become a part of me.

I became proactive.  After a month without working out I decided to take baby steps back to where my fitness level used to be.  Pilates allowed me to regain flexibility and build back up strength.  Running allowed my brain to function normal again (endorphin high anyone?).  And blind faith told me I was going to get back to me.  I was going to find the path out of the dense woods.

I am not perfect. Every morning I make a choice to show up to my workouts, my students, and to have an open mind.  I strive to be authentically me.  I always take a moment each day to remind myself that my true identity is more than my occupation, title, or my disease. 

What has this part of my journey taught me?  We as teachers need to be reminded to be more accepting and less judging when we interact with our clients and fellow instructors.  Sure we look to the body to inform us of weakness or our clients to fill out a sheet noting past injuries/aliments.  Yet we are more than just the body.  The mind is a powerful part of the self and Joseph Pilates would agree with his quote: “It’s the mind itself which shapes the body.”

Notice how you communicate with others.  If you have patience when teaching the Roll Up to someone whom has only practiced it for a month.  Take time to relate to your peers whom may be on medications that hinder their physical flexibility or mental focus.  Know that the Method is especially for them.  Yes, it heals the body of injury, provides better posture and promotes graceful movement.  But the mind should not be left out.  Help your clients feel empowered to change and grow.

I personally have been able to teach clients Handstands or Long Stretch whom before had such internal fear and felt inadequate.  Others have relearned how to use their breath to combat daily stress or even changed their eating habits to make more healthy choices.  We must celebrate each improvement and keep a positive attitude as teachers.  The internal dialogue of the student will contribute the most to their success in each session.

May we all in the fitness community be better able to approach each other with compassion and use our workouts as tools to help heal the body, mind and spirit.   

Sunday, November 13, 2016

5 Lessons Completing a Marathon (or 2) Taught Me

The journey of completing an event with 26.2 miles is not a small accomplishment.  I personally have ran more than one marathon and can tell you during the training and especially after the finish line I had personal growth moments that have shaped my life.  Below are just 5 of those lessons I learned along the humbling path that is a marathon:
  1. The less you know...sometimes the better!  I signed up for my first full marathon of the Detroit Free Press Full thinking it was only the next logical step after completing a few half marathons.  Little did I realize what I registered for on that New Year's Eve night (race was in Oct).  I was excited when others thought I taking a big leap of faith to undergo what few in their twenties or even fifties set out to do.  Call it my quarter life crisis, but 26.2 miles before I was 26 years old sounded like a good challenge.  Being young and without kids and a flexible work schedule made me feel confident I could do this.  The website had training programs to follow.  My dad also signed up which provided me a running buddy for those long run weekends ahead of me.  
  2. There is beauty and love all around us if we look hard enough.  Driving in a car you can miss this.  We are programmed to move quickly through our lives and get to a destination.  Running can help you notice nature.  It allows you to say "Hi" or join a new group of friends for what would be otherwise a lonely solo long run.  During my races I have been able to see the sunrise over the Ambassador bridge and hear cheering crowds both in Canada and the United States.  My body has gone just as far as a new mom, dog or blind man.  Running forces me to get in touch with my body and breath.  In those moments I feel more connected to the world as a whole.  More positive, despite having a few hours of miles ahead of me before I am able to rest and eat again.    
  3. If you have a "why" you will finish!  Working out for me most days is a way to care for my body and personal therapy.  So far, I have run two marathons.  Both helped me get through grief and allowed me to cross off a bucket list item.  Running forced me out of my comfort zone and showed me the inner strength that was always there.  If you have a purpose or charity cause for doing a race/event you will finish and find a way to pull through.  As comedian Steve Harvey would say, "Make your setback your comeback!".  You never know what you can accomplish until you take action to make it happen.
  4. Know you are normal if you have moments of wanting to quit or give up.  We all do.  During my first full marathon the woman running next to me tried to talk herself into dipping out at the half marathon finish instead of continuing on as her bib said she should.  I looked at her and reassured her we were in this for the full and to keep going!  Your mind is stronger than your body.  Your body will feel aches, pain, blisters, thirsty, tired and hungry.  Your mind and spirit are what keep you going (especially after 20 miles).  To focus on that next step or break the race down into one mile at a time will help you create little goals when the going gets tough.  
  5. Afterwards life feels simpler and you really notice what matters to you.  Simply put, you will grow as a person on the inside and out.  Despite any injuries or weight loss.  What really sticks with you is your accomplishment.  Some people will understand what you went through while others (even close friends/family) may wish you would never need to race again.  No matter what you do after, remember to listen to your heart and take care of you.  That may mean getting a massage, signing up for another race, moving onto another bucket list item, changing careers or even just placing some memento in your home with pride. 

So how did my life change after a marathon?  Well, honestly now I know the time, effort, dedication, sweat, meal planning, recovery and mental strength needed to get the job done.  I don't click those online "Sign Up Now" buttons as soon because I know some years (for me personally) its best to enjoy the half marathons and take some time to work on my running form instead of taking on a big hurdle such as a marathon (especially in my wedding/engagement year).  I am there to celebrate others and encourage them as they cross the finish line.  And it will always be a wonderful part of my journey in this life I am meant to live and share with the world.

Need more help along your running journey?  Read about proper hydration and Pilates exercises to help strengthen your core and leg muscles.

Friday, November 4, 2016

An Attitude of Gratitude: 7 Day Challenge

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." 
-William Arthur Ward

With the season of Thanksgiving upon us I wanted to take a moment to link our minds and bodies together by setting up a Gratitude 7 Day Challenge.  All it takes is a few moments each day to really notice a difference and keep a positive spirit during the holidays which can usually seem stressed and overwhelming with commitments.  Carve out one week before the end of this year and do these daily exercises to start feeling more love, joy and peace in your life (bonus if you are able to repeat the challenge 2x before New Year!) . 
  • Day 1: Write a thank you note to someone outside your immediate family and send/give it to them.
  • Day 2: Journal 3 things about yourself you are grateful for and why.  Feel free to be creative and do a painting or drawing also that links these character traits you love about yourself into one image.
  • Day 3: Write a thank you note to someone not in your family and send/give it to them.
  • Day 4: Journal 3 things about your spouse/parent/friend you are grateful for and why.  
  • Day 5: Write a thank you not to someone whom you routinely go to for service (masseuse, hair stylist, teacher, store clerk, accountant, babysitter, mechanic) and send/give it to them.
  • Day 6: Journal 3 thing about the world in which we live you are grateful for and why.  Feel free to get creative and put together a collage of pictures or even make a mini movie to express your gratitude and post on social media or add as artwork in your home.
  • Day 7: Write a thank you note to yourself (think putting away in a time capsule to look back on next year or at a big life event ahead) or to your "higher power/God" (can be sent up in a balloon or presented during a religious ceremony).

"Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings."  
-William Arthur Ward