I became a personal trainer in 2006 as a way to extend my love for music and movement to private clients. I’d been teaching group fitness since 1999, and found my movement sanctuary in classes with swarms of warm bodies moving to the same beat. From dance-like step classes, to the push pull of dumbbells sweating to a bass-y beat, and finally to yoga classes that felt like stillness compared to everything else I’d practiced – I craved spaciousness with bodies, movement and music. It felt like more than a workout to me. It didn’t require a bizarre or trendy food plan. It didn’t require expensive label clothing or even equipment. I left class if it felt unhealthy, boring or painstakingly repetitive. Group movement was freedom for me as I combed through the cobwebs of my career path and connection to my own body.
“Working out should be like having a conversation with your body and spirit; it should be personal, intimate and holy, not boring and painfully repetitive.” Gabrielle Roth, 5Rhythms founder, Sweat Your Prayers
In the summer of 2006, I studied and took the personal trainer certification exam with plans to quit my full-time sales job. I knew I could introduce people to movement and music through personal training – and more importantly, help them to connect to their bodies, and therein, their lives. I’d been in sales for under one year after having left the dreadful overnight shift at CNN. Before I quit both jobs – after months of positioning both jobs in positive lights to keep myself from going bananas from boredom – my body felt tight, stiff, like I was constantly holding my breath. Those feelings gave me the go-ahead that change was due even if I’d only been in job #2 for under a year. It’s like wondering if cancelling a department store credit card will hurt your credit. Would future employers look at that < 1 year position and toss my resume? Was it crazy to hire myself as a personal trainer and pay my bills on a pinch of savings? At that point, I chose not to care what the world or financial experts thought, I chose not to listen to fear-based thinking. I had to go where I could breathe, I had to go where I felt expansive.
“And the day came when the risk to stay tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin
From late 2006 to August 2011, I saw a steady, regular group of clients full-time. I paid my bills, made my own schedule, lived with my fluffy cat in my cozy apartment – My work was my livelihood, I loved it! And, yes, even the naysayers stopped nagging about me getting a “desk job” or “real job” for backup. Sure, I had a few clients that came and then dwindled, but the base of my clients became constants in my life. Time helped us to create a language, a flow of conversation, through movement and breath work that helped us to build a connection for their selves and bodies. When someone came to me wanting a plan to lose weight before she got married, or to weigh or measure her with-a-please-kick-my-ass request, I had to be honest and stay true to myself, my own intentions and agenda. No. Nope. Sorry, can’t do that. Won’t do it. I won’t squeeze and whip you into a mold, but I will train you with a kinder, softer approach. Sometimes they succumbed and found relief, sometimes they darted.
While most of the work I do – as many teachers are taught – is to meet people where they are, I can’t get down with the diet industry’s claims that if we squeeze our diamond-shaped selves into square-shaped boxes – especially if we pay enough money and beat ourselves up enough – one will finally realize a state of thin-and-fit euphoria and acceptance. It’s bullshit. The same goes for any quick fix – any expensive-or-not remedy that doesn’t require soul-softness and surrendering effort on the consumer’s end. While I honor boundaries, and people might need guidance from a registered dietitian as she learns healthy(er) portions, and people need to be taught to safely lift weights to enjoy the blood-pumping and bone-building and body awareness effects of resistance training, I will not weigh. I will not measure. I will not prescribe trendy, loaded-full-of-BS diet plans that people blindy swallow literally and figuratively as a way to sidestep listening to their own inner guidance.
I will try to move you. I will ask: How do you feel? Where do you feel it in your body? Or, after weeks of meeting someone regularly, I might say: What changes are you noticing inside and outside of your physical body? Would you like to try a writing exercise to link your body and self? Most of my long-term clients sailed with those questions, but when I started feeling stuck with someone, and eventually had to keep turning people away because they wanted quick plans and quick fixes, I waved my white flag. I fired myself as a personal trainer. While I had a fulfilling career as a full-time (then part-time post children) career as a personal trainer, I became disenchanted with the culture’s definition of Personal Trainer. This is not a backhand at personal trainers – as you can see, I think there’s a time and place, and it’s a hugely important job when the job entails safe and sustainable and loving teachings – but I believe shows like The Biggest Loser and their yelling/shouting/shaming trainers gave us a bad reputation. While trimming down my work hours as a stay-at-home-mom, I kept having to turn people down for training. While I truly missed work, I was more frustrated and sad for them because the only other trainer I knew in town at the time who would honor a more gentle, conscientious approach happened to also be taking time off training while raising her children.
As my certification organization kept sending me reminders to renew my certification, I ignored the emails and postcards and phone calls. Instead I took long walks with my babies strapped to me, I watched the leaves fall and the flowers bloom, I took and taught yoga classes, and I discovered and started practicing authentic movement. I kept walking away from anything that encouraged contorting and twisting our bodies into some arbitrary-but-culturally-praised mold.
While I still support a moderately vigorous workout here and there for a body that’s well trained and supported – and if it’s practiced in a healthy way with grounded intentions – I find it hard to find and hardly practiced in this fitness-crazed-hard-bodied world. I’m a supporter of moderation. I’m a movement practitioner who teaches someone to move in her body with ease and effort, with flow and fire, with softness and strength. We write and move, breathe and talk, align and forgive, surrender and ground.
Swim in the flowing water and tap your toes in the fire, embrace that middle way. Smash the scale, burn the tape measure, tune into how your internal self and how your body feels. Let those be your guides. And, seek out a movement teacher/practitioner who’s focused on an inside-out, sustainable approach.