Just over four years ago I was a year out of my Pilates certification program, and was just starting to get my legs under me as an instructor in body work. For me, a big part of teaching Pilates is about getting into my client’s body—almost like trying on someone else’s skin, bone and muscle; I learn to feel what they are feeling and this helps guide me. Although at the time I felt pretty confident about teaching the majority of my female clients, when I took over our Prenatal class on Sundays in early 2010 the first thing I felt was fear. I’d never been pregnant, never been a mother; would I be able to reach my clients? How was I supposed to know what was right for the body of a prenatal client? My first class was terrifying; although I had general guidelines of fear-inciting No-No’s from the AMA, and a set of solid prenatal exercises passed down from other teachers, I couldn’t help but feel that the whole canon of prenatal exercise mythology was a lesson in terror: DON’T do this! DON’T do that! It seems like most of the prenatal instruction focused on DON’Ts rather than DO’s. At any moment I was certain I ‘d slip up and a room full of pregnant women were going to turn in union, point at me, and screech accusations at me like something from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
And then Carolyne Anthony came to town and taught a workshop at my studio and everything changed. Finally! Someone who wasn’t preaching fear of the pregnant body and the ramifications of exercise! To recognize that the pregnant body is full of strength, growth and energy, rather than something eggshell fragile—the message of so many other exercises dictations—was a game-changer for me. All the other information I had been learning about teaching pregnancy was—perhaps not surprisingly—from an external viewpoint; no one ever said “How does that feel?” or asked a women to listen to her body to learn what was right for her. And why not, I wondered? Isn’t that what every body needs to learn how to do, pregnant or not?
Carolyne’s workshop was full of DO’s and offered the first practical advice and explanations I’d heard about why so many DON’Ts were present. Once I left behind the fear mentality, I began to learn how to slip inside the pregnant bodies of my clients (Who was the body snatcher now?), to try them on, to feel what my clients were feeling, and—coupled with my Pilates training and anatomy knowledge—to understand the whys behind aches and pains. Teaching Pilates has always been immensely rewarding, but to receive a room full of gratifying looks when I was able to relieve the discomforts of pregnancy; to receive text messages that said “Only 12 minutes of pushing! I feel like a rock star!”; to see clients return to Postnatal classes in droves with an entirely different sense of their bodies and a stronger commitment to their own health—these are the most amazing gifts I could have asked for. But even beyond that, teaching Prenatal and Postnatal Pilates has made me an advocate for women’ s bodies in an entirely new way.
Women are often caretakers. We so frequently will put others ahead of ourselves. In the early years of teaching Prenatal classes I noticed that my prenatal classes were growing each month and we kept adding Prenatal classes to the schedule, but I wasn’t getting the same kind of commitment to Postnatal classes. I recognized that it was easy for a pregnant women to focus on taking care of herself during pregnancy—after all, she can justify taking care of her baby, but after the baby is born, it is far too easy to put the baby (and others, and work, and chores, etc.) ahead of her own health, strength and recovery. I realized that my own focus had to change as well. Moms come first, and I preach it every chance I get in classes. How can you take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself? I told my clients to contact me for email Postnatal “homework” for those early weeks after birth, and they did. Communication improved, my clients started coming back for postnatal care, and I began to feel like women’s attitudes about their bodies were shifting. Their bodies were not just vehicles for babies; their bodies were incredibly important aspects of themselves, ones that—in many cases—pregnancy had allowed them to notice for the first time. Taking care of your body, as a female, is not simply about looks or how others’ perceive you; it’s about how you feel, it’s about your energy and sense of what is needed to make you feel whole. Perhaps most importantly in a world where women are so often judged based on outward appearances, where so much of our medical instruction comes from an outside voice, body health is about listening to your own body’s messages and trusting what you feel is right for you.
As I became more experienced and educated, my fear dissipated, and—perhaps no surprise—I felt better able to aleve client’s fears and, instead, empower them to make life-long changes in their exercise and health regimes. I knew that during pregnancy a client had a unique opportunity to experience a new and deeper communication with her body, to correct postural imbalances, to learn to connect with muscles she had never before really spoken with; now even science is showing that pregnant women have a very special window of time, thanks to relaxin and, in my opinion, to a dedication to a regular exercise, in which to make fundamental changes that she might otherwise not make.
“You’re the baby whisperer, I hear,” said a new client last September. She was back in the studio (after consultation with her doc) 16 days after the birth of her daughter and is doing amazing work. As is the client who shrunk her 4 finger wide diastasis and, now over a year postnatal, is back to regular classes. Several of my clients are currently in Prenatal classes now with their second (and third!) pregnancies, and they all say the same thing: Pilates changed their bodies, and their lives. A great deal of our business is via word of mouth, friends telling friends how beneficial Pilates has been to their pregnancies. We started adding more Postnatal classes over a year ago, and earlier this year I began teaching Prenatal Couples workshops to help instruct dad-to-be’s on how to touch their wives (insert joke here). I plan on taking doula training next year to continue my journey with my pregnant clients, but beyond that, my understanding of the importance of a strong (and not tight) pelvic floor has changed much about my Pilates teaching. Last spring, after much joking with my prenatal classes, I had a t-shirt printed that said “Ask Me About My Pelvic Floor.” This fall, my mentor and our studio owner had that printed on t-shirts for ALL our instructors at Frog Temple.
I am so incredibly proud to watch my clients come back to Postnatal classes and make the commitment to themselves, as mothers certainly, but also as women to their bodies. My Pilates journey began with a weight loss of over 90 pounds and a narrative that involved learning how to really and truly listen to my own body for perhaps the first time in my life. Now I get to teach others to listen, to really listen—to get past the noise of the media, past diet fads, to go beyond the fear-mongering of so much of the medical and health industry; to get past the voices that only focus on the external imagery of the female body; to finally turn the volume down on all the noise so that our own healthy voices—the voices of our bodies—can come forth and teach us to live the healthy, active, energetic and joyful lives we deserve.
Prenatal and Postnatal Specialist
Frog Temple Pilates, Chicago