This is a question I ponder often. Pain can be searing, sharp, intense, debilitating, numbing, electric, vomit inducing. This is your body’s way of yelling at you to stop. It is amazing how hard this response is for most of us to recognize. It can be difficult to understand what this means: is it actual pain or simply muscle fatigue? Or is it just good hard work? I often ask this question of my clients. You should be clear what sensation you are experiencing. You may have injuries or you may not. You might sprint into the pain or you might hold back not wanting to feel any sensation. The idea of pain and fear intrigue me. Each of us has our own life experiences that create the pattern we fall into during exercise and honestly, life.
For me, this idea of living pain free has eluded me for my entire career. Having been a professional dancer for most of my life, the idea of existing without pain is laughable. I have had numerous injuries (some debilitating!) along with the normal aches and pains that come with pushing my body every day.
As a young ballet dancer, I spent hours after school jamming my bloody toes into pointe shoes (and enjoying every minute of it!). As my body grew and my focus shifted to jazz and musical theatre, I suffered a stress fracture in my lumbar spine at age 15. I spent my entire sophomore year in high school wearing a hard plastic back brace and doing Physical Therapy in a pool 3x a week. No dancing for me. It was the first moment that I realized my vulnerability as a dancer and human.
Luckily, I rehabbed well and went on to dance at college and in NYC. Immersed in the NY life, teaching pilates full time, auditioning, commuting insane hours a day and carrying my life on my back; I tore the fascia in my foot. But like any injury I have suffered I kept pushing thinking it would resolve itself. By the way, it never does. Finally now into my 30’s I believe I am beginning to accept this truth. It is a bit insane that it has only taken me 20 years to figure this out.
With that severe foot injury I was unable to dance (or basically walk) for almost 3 years. I was devastated. I did everything imaginable to heal my body: physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, cortisone injections, night splints, walking boot, several weeks non weight bearing. I was losing my mind and my sense of self and my life’s purpose. It was an intense time and all I felt was that I was wasting my prime dancing years. It still makes me upset thinking about it. Even now when I get injured I have a visceral response to the pain and it triggers extreme emotional reactions.
Pilates has always been there for me, but as an extra level of training not as exercise or rehabilitation. Even as I worked my way back to dancing professionally again, I was doing pilates as a bonus workout. I never allowed myself to believe that fitness could be about feeling better. Yes, I felt amazing after a kickass workout or pilates session, but I couldn’t let go of the idea that suffering needed to be involved. Even today this is something I work on.
For the athletes I train this concept is a HUGE challenge. Especially with our American mentality of working harder than the person next to you and believing it only matters if you are killing yourself. I believe testing one’s limits is never a bad thing, but now I see the line getting blurred between hard work and pain. The effects show up in the numerous injuries and muscular imbalances that I see in my clients’ bodies.
Becoming mindful and being honest about how your body feels is the key. It is scary to look inward and ask yourself is the pain good or bad. Sometimes pain is all we know and the only way we think we are working. Or it can be the opposite, where there is a fear of pain that holds us back from connecting deeper.
After teaching pilates for 16 years and seeing the results of this amazing technique, I can begin to understand the power of honoring one’s body (and not trying to destroy it!). I spend my days asking my clients to listen to their own body and experience the sensation of their muscles working correctly. My goal with each lesson is to have the client walk away taller, stronger and breathing easier with a sense of empowerment and knowledge.
The benefits of pilates are huge! I see how much my clients’ bodies change from the journey of building strength from the inside out. Not only do they feel better, but they look amazing! I feel passionately that consistency is key. I created Jette Sette, my fitness concierge service, for this reason. With Jette Sette, you have a fitness team that supports you no matter where you are in the world. There is no excuse for your body to be in pain or suffering from travel fatigue and weight gain. The trainers have your up to date routine and create a program to keep you stronger while you travel. If you are curious to learn more about how Jette Sette can help you, please reach out. Even if you just have questions about your injuries and want some advice I would LOVE to chat.
I made a decision in 2016 to become pain free. (And I am not one for resolutions!) I made the decision to really connect with my body. Not the body I had in my 20s while dancing professionally, but the body I have right now, in this moment. The body that feels like a pilates workout is enough for one day. The body that knows that feeling good at the end of the workout is the point. It is a daily battle for me and I am just beginning to learn so much about myself in the process. This discussion about pain free living is an important one so let’s keep it going. I will keep you up to date on my journey as well.