Pilates Instructor Harjit on Fitting in Fitness
Pilates Instructor Harjit Reveals her Superwomen Secrets
Earlier this month, my new book, Superwomen Secrets Revealed, was published. In it, you'll find fitness motivation from real life role models. While these women work in a variety of roles, none of them have careers in fitness.
I chose non fitness professionals as the subjects of my book after many years of working in the fitness industry and hearing a common complaint from gym members. They would claim that of course it was easy for me to fit in fitness -afterall, I worked at a gym!
However, a few of my readers have shared that they would enjoy hearing how fitness professionals fit in fitness, too.
Today's post gives you a glimpse into the life of certified Pilates instructor, Harjit,. Her interview will uncover how and why she fits in fitness as a fitness professional and give you a chance to get to know her a little better!
Find Harjit's answers to the questions the women featured in my book, Superwomen Secrets Revealed, answered below.
Pilates Instructor Harjit on Fitting in Fitness:
1: What does a day in the life of Harjit look like?
I typically eat breakfast, have salted tea and 2 glasses of water by 10:30am. Then I keep eating, drinking water and having extra salt at regular intervals for the rest of the day. This is important because I have low blood pressure and I’m also sensitive to blood sugar drops. I wash any dishes leftover from yesterday, then cooking is next. If I don’t eat well my health destabilizes for days or weeks. It’s tricky to eat enough of the right food, at the right time, to fuel my workouts! I avoid overeating since extra digestion overloads my body. I pay attention to my feelings and thoughts since anxiety and stress makes my body react negatively to food and my environment. I stand for most of the day because sitting means blood pooling and other really unpleasant symptoms. When I need to sit, I prefer something high (like a bar stool) or low (like a firm ottoman) so I can keep my legs active. It helps to stay physically active in the evening with chores and exercise.
You may have heard the phrase movement as meditation. I recently heard a variation which has been so true for me: movement as medicine. Consistent exercise played a big part in my recovery from chronic illness (you’ll read about this in question 3). These days I’m fitter and healthier than before I became ill. Exercise is still a big focus for me and I typically exercise for 1-3 hours a day. I’ve slowly built up to this level of fitness using pacing. Pacing is a technique for people with chronic illness or pain that’s also beneficial for regular folks. It allows you to gradually increase your activity levels without going into a “boom and bust” cycle which leads to more pain, discouragement and disability.
I’m definitely not a gym person! I usually do Pilates and circus - specifically aerial and hand balancing. I’ve recently added Yoga, Essentrics and dance. They all complement each other and I can do them year round. I love being out in nature but it’s frustrating when I’m limited by colder seasons. I’ve found indoor fitness classes to be more chronic illness friendly since I can do them without needing a lot of gear, travelling for hours and regardless of the weather. They’ve allowed me to slowly build up strength and endurance while having fun and really challenging myself!
2. Describe how you currently fit fitness into your busy days.
I choose home workout sessions over going to group class. I’ll take movement breaks throughout the day instead of waiting for a big chunk of time. This usually means 2-5 minutes of shoulder shrugs, as well as breathing into my side and back ribs. This releases tension where it collects most and calms my nervous system. This kind of breathing also activates the deepest abdominal - the transverse abdominus - which means I can improve my core stability even when I don’t have time for a full Pilates session.
Recently I’ve used streamed, on-demand videos for my home workouts. This is something I avoided for a long time because I wasn’t sure if I was doing the movement right and didn’t want to injure myself. It’s taken a lot of self-trust to use the videos and I’m loving the convenience! I don't have to get ready, travel, nor do I have to remember the work out. I use the movement skills and body knowledge that I’ve built up during live sessions (where the instructor corrected my form) to stay safe.
I’ve found Facebook group fitness challenges to be helpful for motivation and habit-building even if I’m short on time. The challenge made a huge difference in whether I completed each day’s fitness task (e.g. 30 mins of stretching for 30 days), especially when I wanted to cheat and go straight to bed! This meant I stuck with daily stretch sessions long enough to start looking forward to them and discovered that my body loved them! These sessions were great for stress relief. I also realised that I needed to live in an apartment where it wasn’t so cold. The cold was making it hard for me to get motivated, as well as increasing my chances of injury.
3. Has fitness always been part of your routine?
The short answer is no, unless you count wrestling with your siblings and cousins when growing up! 😉
I did Firm exercise videos occasionally when I lived with my parents but didn’t walk anywhere, nor take public transport. Then I graduated university, got married and moved to the UK. This is where I basically walked and took public transport everywhere! I was also introduced to outdoor activities by my work colleagues like ‘walking’ (what we call hiking in North America) and climbing.
I dabbled in these activities but didn’t catch the fitness bug. To be honest, I didn’t start exercising consistently until I had no other choice. I mostly experienced life through ‘brainy’ activities and using my hands, e.g. reading, doing arts and crafts, or writing short stories. I also didn’t want to draw attention to myself physically - I really paid the price for it!
I was in my late twenties when I ended up with a chronic condition which turned normal everyday activities into risky business. Using computers, walking or even taking public transport lead to repeated injuries. After one too many, I became dependent on my hubby for everything. I couldn’t work. I was trapped in a body that was weak and incredibly stiff. At one point, I could barely feed myself or roll over in bed! I was really skeptical when my doctor prescribed Pilates. My first few Pilates classes were in a hospital. I didn’t like them and couldn’t understand how the exercises would help me.
I was ready to quit until I googled Pilates and saw images of people doing acrobat-style exercises. These exercises looked exciting and challenging - nothing like the workout I was doing at the hospital. This was the moment that I committed to Pilates. I promised myself that one day, I’d be the one doing those fun, advanced exercises.
Three years later, I had become that person!
Along the way, I regained my health and independence. I’m now a recreational trapeze artist and train 4 times a week. Last spring I did my first performance on the trapeze (which you can watch here). I’m also able to return to my previous career of software development which I never thought would happen! However I still need to exercise regularly. When I slack off, I’ll get small injuries simply from walking around. Thanks to years of diligent exercise I recover more quickly.
4. How did adding fitness to your routine have a positive impact on your life—beyond just helping you look cute in your skinny jeans?
I’m a completely different person now! I’m self reliant and very physically active. I do things for myself instead of using my cousins as minions (sorry cousins!). I’ve gained body confidence and overcome shyness. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been and not just physically, I’ve become a balanced person in every way. You could say that doing Pilates and circus has been a form of personal development! It’s pretty awesome to be an inspiration to family, friends and even strangers simply by prioritizing my health and happiness. I’ve learned how to push myself without overdoing it. I feel empowered to make changes in my life, especially when I do a solo workout session early in the morning or late at night. There’s something magical about moving and challenging yourself when the rest of the world is dark and quiet. It allows me to start or finish the day feeling deeply satisfied, calm and centered.
5. Do you always stick to your routine 100% of the time? How do you feel when you miss a day or two, and what do you do to get back on track?
I wish I did! Because of my personality I find it hard to stick to any routine beyond 4 days. I deal with this by pre-scheduling weekly classes at the Pilates studio or circus gym so I can’t cancel easily. It’s also much easier to be consistent when I make commitments involving other people, e.g. signing up for the aerial performance team. It’s a 10 month commitment requiring 7+ hours of training/week. If I don’t show up, I’m not just letting myself down, I’m also letting down my teammates. Eventually I’d like to be the kind of person who works out regularly every week through my own motivation.
If I’ve gone too long without working out, it’s really hard to restart the routine even when my body is sore! The first half of the first session is yucky and hard, then my body starts to remember the movement and isn’t sluggish anymore. This is the point where I’m motivated to continue! I have a little trick that I use when I’m having a hard time getting started with my workout. I tell myself that I’m only committing to 10 minutes and then I can stop. However I fully commit to those 10 minutes and do my best to not watch the clock. I usually end up working out for much longer (if time permits)!
6. What advice do you have for other women who feel too busy to make fitness part of their lives?
Nurturing your body with physical movement is as essential as brushing your teeth! Your body needs regular maintenance, just like a car. Think of exercise is a form of self-care. You’ll function best when you regularly relieve the niggling aches and pains in your body, especially if you choose an activity that makes you happy. Also focus on how you’ll feel during or after exercise, rather than the hassles in scheduling. I never finish a session wishing I hadn’t done it. I feel refreshed, accomplished and ready to tackle the next item on my to-do-list or next big challenge. I usually regret NOT exercising!
7. What action step do you dare readers to take to start fitting fitness into their routines, no matter how busy they may be?
I have three suggestions. Start with the one that seems most sustainable and least stressful for you in the long term. Or try each dare for a week and see which one suits you best!
Spend less time sitting. Notice your default behaviour and then ask yourself if you really need to sit. When can you stand even if everyone else is sitting? For example, I almost always stand when I use the subway - even if it’s an hour journey or there’s lots of empty seats.
I've accepted Harjit @FitArmadillo's #FitNDare to avoid sitting! Hold me accountable to this #FitnessChallenge!
Do two daily mini movement sessions, one early in the day, the second just before bed.
For the first session, ask yourself: “What do I/my body need to prepare and feel good for the day ahead?” For me this could be 10 minutes of mindful meditation or movement, i.e. simple Pilates exercises to wake up/connect with my body.
I've accepted Harjit @FitArmadillo's #FitNDare to start my day with fitness. Take this or another #FitnessChallenge with me!
In the evening, ask yourself: “What do I/my body need to recover?” For me this could mean doing hip rolls to get rid of low back stiffness.
I've accepted Harjit @FitArmadillo's #FitNDare to end my day with fitness. Take this or another #FitnessChallenge
Start keeping a fitness journal. This is the one thing that I’ve done consistently since starting my fitness journey! It allows me to reflect on my progress, note key learnings and plan my goals for the next session.
I've accepted Harjit @FitArmadillo's #FitNDare keep a fitness journal. Take this or another #FitnessChallenge
8. Do you have a quote or mantra you live by?
My mantra is ‘enjoy life and be the best person that you can be’. This means something different for everyone! I also believe in self-honesty and living a life which reflects this. I don’t have a single quote that I turn to when I need an inspiration boost as this changes based on what I need that moment, day or week. They usually revolve around facing my fears, finding motivation and trusting that I can do more than I think. However here are two quotes that sum up my approach to life:“Life is like photography - develop from the negatives”
9. Leave us with some added inspiration (doesn’t have to be related to fitness).
Don’t set limits on what you’re capable of. Trust me on this! Every time I built up a body and life beyond my dreams, I discovered that there were more ‘dream bodies’ to come, especially when I was recovering from a significant injury.
For example, I ended up with a back injury during my Pilates teacher training that left me incapacitated for almost a year. This injury became a catalyst for an epic transformation that blew my mind! My body lacked stability and core strength for simple tasks, like pouring ketchup from a bottle or bending over to put on my shoes. After doing private Pilates sessions twice a week for months, I developed a pain-free body which had more athleticism and power than my pre-injury body!
Honestly if I can do it, anyone can. You just need dedication, curiosity and the right motivation. Age doesn’t matter nor a person’s starting point. Every moment is another chance to become the person you’ve dreamed of, to build your dream body and life. Figure out what’s stopping you and then take your first steps!!
I hope you enjoyed this interview with Harjit!
Don't forget to post on social media telling us which of her fitness challenges you've accepted 😉
Looking for more fitness challenges and interviews like this? Grab a copy of my book HERE. Now - 12/31, I'm donating all profits to help Bring Girls on the Run to Southern Maryland!
Feeling inspired to try a private Pilates session?
Head HERE to create your account and request a session with Harjit. Now - 1/27 her sessions will be $10 off.