Teaching Pilates requires a lot of balance challenges. There is a struggle between balancing work and family life. There is a struggle to keep the clients you have and get new ones at the same time. Then there is the challenge to balance your business and take care of yourself. You must do all of this while keeping a smile on your face and the right words coming out of your mouth.
A couple of years ago, I went through some significant losses that destroyed my sense of overall balance. There were three deaths in my circle for over nine months. The cycle started with my writing mentor passing away, then my Father in Law, then one of my clients. Cancer, Dementia, and Suicide. I fell apart in dealing with the never-ending grief, trying to be there for my husband, and working full time. I did not think I needed to spend extra time taking care of myself during what became one of the most challenging periods. All balance was lost. I barely kept up with my full teaching schedule. I tried to keep it to myself, but my clients knew something was up.
I was exhausted and heartbroken. I retreated further into myself and put all of my energy and time into work instead of dealing with the pain or taking time for self-care. I built a fortress of busy around me to protect myself from devastation. Grief and loss are not new concepts. I saw my family at funerals more than regular gatherings growing up. I gained an important and helpful tool for mourning at a theater workshop in 1999. But this was different. I didn’t know how to deal with the death of a mentor. I didn’t know how to deal with my grief, plus watching my husband lose his father. There was discussion during teacher training about clients dying, but it was more so about older clients. My client was young, and it came out of nowhere. I didn’t know what to do with the compound of these three people gone within nine months. After my client died, the grief I was able to leave at home was now in the workplace. I also taught his wife. The hole she left in my schedule was deep and emotional. He was a leader in the community. Many of the other clients knew him. Sometimes there was discussion around me while I was teaching about what happened. I did my best to focus on the client in front of me, but some of the conversations were loud and unavoidable. Most people did not even know we were connected. I took it hard. There were times I had to blink away tears while digging my nails into my hand and cueing at the same time.
Dave, I will call him, was a dedicated Pilates student. He loved the method and how it made him feel. He gained strength, had less back pain, and lowered his golf handicap. He had a loving family. I also taught his wife and a few times, his daughter. Other teachers asked who he was and said that his Pilates was beautiful. This was true. He was the first serious and dedicated male client I had. I finally figured out the mystery of teaching men by teaching him. I gave him a workout to do before playing golf, and he did it sometimes. He loved Pilates and gave it his all.
The thing with Pilates is that you sometimes see clients more than they see important people in their lives. I teach my mom Pilates, and I still don’t see her as much as some of my clients. I wasn’t prepared for how upset I would be when Dave was gone. We had a friendship through the movement. He understood what the goals were for the movement and worked hard to achieve them. We shared those moments of victory, like finally getting a Teaser. Then it was over. There would be no more victories. Maybe it had something to do with the amount of grief I was already dealing with. Perhaps it was because he was my first client to die. Maybe it was because it was unexpected. Maybe it was how he died. But his death took me down.
When I got the call that he died, it was the thing that pushed me off the cliff of grief. Each death before his, over the previous nine months, had pushed me closer to the edge. I was driving through my apartment complex and almost home when the manager of the studio called. I had a feeling it was an emergency. I answered, and when she told me he died, I stopped the car out of shock. Thankfully no one else was around. I couldn’t go on. I couldn’t even push the gas pedal. This had to be a cruel joke, but it was the truth.
Losing a client is hard. Each client makes up the fabric of the studio, even if it’s a home studio. Each working hour has a name attached. When that name is gone forever, it can be a challenge to move forward. Grief is different for everyone. Each person touched by losing a client has to deal with it in their own way. Here are some of the things that helped me move forward.
Therapy. Having an outside source that is trained to deal with grief makes a huge difference. Giving yourself a space outside friends and family to talk through the loss, is so valuable in the healing process. If you can’t afford a therapist look for a grief group. Some communities have free groups.
Specific time to process. If you do nothing else, do this. Set aside time each day to process your grief. Set a timer for 10-20 minutes when you are in a safe, private space. Then do whatever you need to process. Feel your feelings, journal, cry, scream, whatever is a safe healthy way to work through your feelings. When the timer is up, shut it down. If you feel something come up outside of that time, tell yourself you will feel it and deal with it when it’s time. Save those things for only the specific grief time. That way you can work through the grief without being overwhelmed by it or completely ignoring it.
Movement. Grief can affect your body. That doesn’t mean you should stop moving but you might need to change your approach. Set aside time for yourself to move and put it in your calendar just like you would a client. Pay special attention to how your body responds and what it needs. Sometimes you just have to show up for yourself and lay on your mat. But try to keep that appointment with yourself and keep moving.
Meditation. Balance out the movement with stillness and quiet. I really like using guided meditations on YouTube or Insight Timer.
Treat yourself like a client. How would you support a client in this situation? If it feels right, do some of those things for yourself.
Let go of judgment. No one is perfect. There is no perfect way to deal with grief. Just because it’s hard now, doesn’t mean it will always be that way. Do your best to find healthy ways to process and let go of any judgment of yourself. Some people need more time than others. Take it one day at a time.
I took the news of Dave’s death hard, but I turned it into an opportunity for some major perspective. I was reminded of how important and precious life is. We never know how long we have on this earth. I realized that I had been so consumed by grief; I had not spent as much time as I needed to take care of myself. I had to take care of myself in order to offer that care to my clients, friends, and family. I had put too much focus on work in order to avoid feeling the pain of loss. I had to let myself feel the feelings in order to move forward. I had to give to myself first. I made some significant changes in my life and it helped me in more ways than just working through my grief.
People die. That is a fact of life. The important part is what we the living do with this fact. We can’t choose when or how we go. We can’t decide who goes before us or who we keep around. We can choose what we do with our grief. We can choose what we do with our lives in place of the ones we lost. We don’t have to choose big things. We don’t have to start foundations or go on crusades. But we can choose to love ourselves. We can choose to pass on the love to others that have lost. We can live our lives to the fullest. How can you choose to live your life to the fullest?