Into, Through and Beyond Pilates: A Personal Story...

Into, Through and Beyond Pilates: A Personal Story of Pain, Discovery and Triumph

At 25 years old, I thought I had it all – dream job, great boyfriend, optimistic attitude and a body that looked and felt like it could do anything. I spent my free time lifting weights, running, surfing, salsa dancing and planning outdoor adventures. THIS was the life I had imagined for myself. Then, several millimeters changed it all. I was working as a firefighter/paramedic, “throwing ladders,” where you carry a 24-foot ladder on your shoulder and then throw it into a vertical position, to enter the second story window of a building. You know, life-saving stuff. Super cool move and really fun training – until my back decided, “no más.” Years of training to be a bad-ass, and all it took to knock me down were two little discs in my spine moving a matter of millimeters out of their proper position. I had learned to revive patients from cardiac arrest and to identify brain injury, but I didn’t know a thing about the discs in my spine. This incident became the greatest motivator to learn everything I could about them.

As a paramedic, I was pretty comfortable in the hospital setting and accustomed to watching doctors save people in the emergency room. Naturally, I thought seeing a doctor for my back injury would lead to a clear and quick solution. Not the case. It became a nightmare trying to resolve my pain with a solution that didn’t require me to stay medicated beyond function or include injections, nerve blocks and removing the discs altogether. After months of pain, and several doctors, I became severely depressed. My life was starting to take the tune of one of those old country songs: I’m gonna lose my job, my boyfriend left me, feeling so alone and all I can do is drink this pain away. I probably would have written my own song if it didn’t hurt so much to sit down. I was a far cry from my hip shaking Latin dance days.

Then, I met a progressive neurosurgeon who recommended that I do Pilates to not only treat my back pain, but also to prevent further injury in the future. It was 2006. I had never heard of Pilates nor had anyone I knew at the time. I discovered that my local gym (where I used to lift weights) offered Pilates classes. I cried half way through my first class. I’m still not sure if I cried more because of my back pain or because my ego was so pained by the women twice my age doing these little tiny movements that my body couldn’t seem to understand. I was frustrated with myself, but by the end of the class, I felt better than I had in six months. And, THAT made it worth it. In fact, it changed everything. I became a Pilates regular. I started creating my own “physical therapy” routines from the Pilates moves I learned in class. I was dedicated to practicing twice a day. I could feel my body changing with the practice. And, as my body began to change, so did my mindset. I started to feel the pre-injury version of myself return, the me that I actually liked. Enter the real core strengthening power of Pilates!

It’s been almost 17 years since my initial injury. When I injured myself at 25, there were moments when I thought my life was over. Now, at 42, I’m healthier in both mind and body because of my Pilates practice. And, I’ve found a new career teaching Pilates and yoga in my studio and online. Being a firefighter/paramedic was so rewarding, but I’m now saving lives, in a very different way, through Pilates.

If you’ve had a back injury, you can likely relate to my story. If you’re a Pilates teacher, trust me when I tell you that you have no idea how many lives you’ve touched and how deeply you’ve touched them.

To my first Pilates teacher, Odile Zelenak, thank you for teaching me self-empowerment and healing through Pilates. I strive to help others as much as you helped me.

To learn more about how movement professionals are implementing Pilates and other modalities for patients in pain management, attend our Virtual Pilates on Tour Event: “Pain and the Healing Potential of Movement” on April 2.

Naya Calmels is an integrative movement coach who uses Pilates-based exercises to help her clients prevent and rehabilitate injuries, stay active and play at their full potential. @4mindfulmovement (IG)



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