For me, Pilates is not just a job. I want to say it’s a lifestyle but that is so cheesy. It’s a way of life. That’s better. Pilates keeps me sane. It's like therapy because, when I’m doing Pilates, I’m focusing on the breathing and movement and there’s no space in my brain for anything else.
However, it took me a long time to get to where I am now. My Pilates journey is a little convoluted and tied up with so many other factors in my life so bear with me!
I was always very sporty as a child, and I did every club/class that was on offer with gymnastics being my main focus. I was 13 when my right knee first ‘went’. At the time it felt like my kneecap had dislocated and then popped back in. I know now it wasn’t that extreme, but it hurt like hell!
I went to the doctor, and I clearly remember him asking me to sit up on the examination bed. At this point I couldn’t straighten my knee, but he went to push down on it to straighten it and I yelped. He said it was a torn cartilage and that was the end of it and the next day I was back at tennis camp. A few weeks later it happened again, this time I didn’t say anything, I was embarrassed and, because it had happened before I just left it.
This became normal for me over the years. The knee would give, and then it would right itself. It would be sore for a while, but I’d just carry on. It happened so many times I lost count.
When I went to University, I didn’t join any sports teams, so my activity levels decreased rapidly (and my partying and drinking levels increased rapidly!).
By the time I left university I was pretty unfit, and overweight. I was having my 21st party not long after so I crash dieted. This then became a recurring theme in my 20s especially when I started working in the City. My diet was appalling. I wouldn’t eat anything, then when the sandwich guy came round, I’d be so ravenous I’d eat a brownie and have a can of full fat coke at 11.00am, for breakfast!!
When I was 23, I landed my dream job working in Arts and Entertainment PR. Whilst it wasn’t quite up to Ab Fab levels it was very much a work hard, play hard environment and I loved I but it took a toll on my body. Over the years I tried every quick fix, crash diet and detox under the sun. There was always something new to try that I’d read about in a glossy mag. It was around the time that I was first told by my old GP that I had suspected endometriosis. It took another 5 years to get an accurate diagnosis, which resulted in surgery when I was 28, and a second surgery a couple of years ago.
I did try ‘Bootcamp’ Pilates on the reformers in my mid-20s. This was before Pilates was as widespread as it is now. Again, I’d read about it in some magazine, and it was the ‘in’ thing to do. The studio was around the back of Notting Hill and I was in the same class as the then Entertainment Editor at Heat Magazine. This was big news in my world at the time! About halfway through the 10 sessions I’d signed up for, my knee went, and I never went back.
Fortunately, I have a lovely school friend who is a fabulous physio, and she would put me back together. One memory stands out; when she saw me in the hospital she was working with at the time and examined my knees. She was so astonished by the amount of side-to-side movement I had that she called in trainee physios to have a look.
I honestly can’t remember when I first heard the word ‘hypermobile’ but once I did, all my various injuries over the years started to make a lot more sense. There is a huge range or spectrum with hypermobility and how it affects each person differs massively. To put it really simply, I needed to rein myself in. I had to stop moving into my hyper range and demanding so much of my body without having the strength and musculature structure to properly support myself. I needed Pilates.
When I was about 28, I’d just started a new job; I was a bit out of my depth, I’d just bought my flat and I was knackered! I knew I needed to start looking after myself better and I thought I’d give Pilates another go. I actually remember saying to the teacher “I’ve done Pilates and yoga before so I’m not sure I’m a beginner”.
HA! How little I knew.
Having signed up for all the usual reasons ‘lose weight’, ‘tone up’, ‘be healthier’ I surprised myself a few months in when the teacher asked us why we liked Pilates and I answered: ‘because it makes me feel strong’. This was such a revelation for me, I’d always been after a quick fix to try to look a certain way and fit in with a certain aesthetic and now I liked how strong my body was. It was really empowering.
When I was about 31/32 I went to work for a friend, a wonderful man, called Simon Raw, who runs a theatre PR agency (www.rawpr.co.uk if you’re interested!). At the time, our office was in Cameron Mackintosh’s office and what a world that was. I had one of the best years of my life. The people, the shows, the hard work, the stories I could tell, but can’t!
About a year into the job, I woke up one morning and the world was spinning. I didn’t know what to do. I had Benign Positional Paroxysmal Vertigo (BPPV for short). On this occasion the BPPV lasted about 5 months. (I’ve had reoccurring bouts since). It was exhausting. It did lessen in severity over time but initially every movement triggered it, even drinking out of a glass. Lying flat was the worst, so sleep was challenging. This was a major wake up call. I couldn’t keep pushing my body in the same way I had for the last 14 odd years.
I cleaned up my diet. I gave up smoking and cut back massively on my booze intake. I also upped my Pilates classes to 3 a week. I was regimental about it. Insisting on leaving work to make the class, getting up early to go before work. Some weeks I had to miss a class because of work commitments and my body missed it, it missed the Pilates.
On New Year’s Eve 2015 I sat and wrote a list of what I wanted from life and wanted to achieve. I decided I was going to train to be a Pilates teacher. In April 2016 I started my Beginner Mat training with Body Control Pilates, fitting it in around my full-time job, which was not easy. By January 2017 I had qualified and started to teach friends and family and cover classes for teachers after work.
I was then offered the chance of an apprenticeship at a Pilates Studio in London training on all the equipment. This was a huge undertaking and there was no way I could work full time and do it. So, screwing up all my courage, I talked to Simon and explained what I wanted to do and would he consider me working part-time. To say he was a bit surprised is an understatement, but God bless him, he thought about it and agreed. I will forever be grateful to him for this because if it wasn’t for him, none of what followed would have been possible.
I started the apprenticeship in September 2017, 10 months and 900 hours of training later, I was fully qualified in June 2018. I worked in different studios and with my lovely Osteopath and friend, and a GP in Egham and Virginia Water as well as continuing to work for Simon two days a week. I’m not sure this would have changed, had it not been for Covid and the first lockdown. One day the theatres shut, the next the studios shut, and I was out of work. I panicked, retreated home to Oxford and moped about for a couple of weeks trying to figure out what to do. I made Mummy Barder my pet Pilates project and decided to give online teaching a go! You know the rest.
Pilates keeps me strong and for the most part injury free. It also helps me manage the hypermobility, Endo and BPPV. The movement physically helps the pain and fatigue, but it also supports me mentally. I know, no matter how bad I’m feeling, Pilates will help me during and after practise. It keeps me healthy, fit and strong. Pilates also gives me an incredibly rewarding career. I’ve been so lucky to have an amazing career in PR but to have found a second career built from a personal passion; well, it doesn’t get better than that.
If you want any more information about any of the conditions I’ve mentioned, the links will take you to the relevant websites.