Set your intention: Don’t set the alarm for the last possible moment. Don’t hit that snooze button until you have no choice but to jump up and scurry around to make it to the train. Give yourself time in the morning. Time to make a leisurely cup of coffee or tea. Time to sit in the morning and think for a moment about what your intention is for the day. I know it is tempting to take that moment and add to the endless ‘to do’ list. Don’t focus on the “should haves,” focus on the “coulds.” What could you do for yourself that will help you feel focused and balanced? What do you want for yourself this day, not what others need and want from you? Taking this time to simply breath, look out a window as the beautiful day unfolds before you, or sitting quietly before your house wakes and starts placing its demands on you, helps you to set your mind, your thoughts and your intentions for the day instead of allowing the day to sweep you up into its current. At home, we have a hummingbird feeder. My morning isn’t complete if I haven’t spotted a hummingbird. I take a cup of coffee outside, sit and wait. As I wait I find myself just simply enjoying the smells, the light and the comfort of the morning. I wait until I spy my hummer, I watch him/her flutter from feeder to feeder and I watch until he is drawn in another direction. That is when I take myself back into the kitchen to start the day.
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joy Puleo, Education Program Manager for Balanced Body. Joy has been in the fitness industry for more than 24 years and is currently the Education Program Manager at Balanced Body, the leading Pilates education and equipment manufacturing company. In addition to writing Pilates educational curriculum, Joy lectures at fitness and Pilates conferences around the world. Joy is also the founder of Body Wise Connection, an organization which brings fitness and Pilates inspired movement to women newly diagnosed with Breast Cancer. One of Joy’s current initiatives is to teach the Body Wise Connection program to fellow instructors as a way to use exercise and movement as a bridge between the medical world and patient experiences. Joy’s belief is simple: movement is the hallmark of health and, even in the face of a cancer diagnosis, movement and exercise can empower and facilitate the healing process.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
“262.” “What?” the anesthesiologist said. “262,” I said, as I glanced at my chart. I was in active labor but I was not dilating even though I was being administered Pitocin to speed up the process. I was being induced because the spike in my blood pressure worried my doctor that I might have eclampsia. He looked at my chart, shook his head and said disapprovingly, “Really?!” My chart said 225 lbs. He changed the Pitocin concentration and labor followed shortly thereafter. Needless to say my OBGYN was not happy with me and asked me how it happened. “Well,” I said, “You left me alone to get un-dressed for my routine check ups and I was embarrassed with how much weight I was gaining with each visit, so, I would weigh myself and simply shave off a few pounds.”
Well, as most women who have had babies know, the amount of weight gain only gets greater the farther along you are, which means that by shaving off the pounds, starting with the first visit, meant I needed to proportionally change the scale each time or it would look like I ballooned overnight. Looking back I see how contrived I was due to intense shame. The number I presented on the scale was quite large so it was never questioned. Although I was involved fitness and sports all through college, the moment that the anesthesiologist shook his head in disbelief I realized I lost myself somewhere along the way and I wanted to, once again, be the driver of my physical destiny. There it is, the origin story! I started slowly and it was not diet or exercise that did the trick, it was my brain. The diet and exercise and the progressive progress I was making changed my whole perspective on the possibilities of change, the potential of the body and the resilience of the spirit.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
There are many interesting stories, but perhaps the most interesting is when I transitioned from my Pilates studio in Chappaqua, New York, to move across country and begin my work for Balanced Body in Sacramento, California. I was fortunate to have long-standing relationships with my clients, many of whom I still consider close friends and confidants. It was hard to say goodbye and deciding whose hands to entrust the studio and my clients was a very personal and emotional decision.
Rewind three years earlier to when I started a small not for profit called Body Wise Connection. Through this organization, I raised money which allowed me to go into hospitals and provide women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, and in active treatment, ten private Pilates sessions. I mainly worked with older women with multiple issues, cancer being the most top of mind. However, one day I met Rebecca through the program. It was clear to me she was fit and healthy, despite the short hair which was just growing back after chemotherapy. When I asked about her goals, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “I want to ride a 50 mile mountain bike race in six months.” What I didn’t know, was this athletic 37 year old woman was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer just as she was preparing to raise her recreational mountain biking aspirations to the professional level. So I said, “ok.” In the end, she did the race, sporting her short hair and wearing her compression sleeve. After that, she went on to take my Pilates teacher training courses, became a fully qualified Pilates Instructor and, ultimately, took over the management and running of my studio in New York. She still has the studio to this day and many of my prior clients work with her.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
The most humorous mistake I made was the one that led me to the health and fitness world. At sixteen I took a life guarding class. During that class I realized I knew absolutely nothing about my body — what sixteen year old does? During the written final exam there was a throw away question and I will never forget it: “Which long bone in the body is the most likely to be broken or fractured?” I knew it started with a ‘c.” I thought on this for some time and now I know the answer to be clavicle. But on that day, for whatever reason, I decided to answer, “cervix.” That still makes me chuckle and it made everyone at the pool who was part of the course chuckle as well. After that day, I knew I wanted to understand this amazing body better. I wanted to know the anatomy of the body and use that knowledge to help others. It is funny to look back on it now because it really was a turning point.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
I do not ascribe to today’s “Instagram culture,” where if my picture of doing something outrageous goes viral, then I am somehow a great teacher. For me, the greatness in teaching is in the giving of information, transforming people in the way they feel and perceive their own bodies and inspiring clients to strive to be their strongest, fittest and healthiest selves. This did not happen for me by being an athlete, or even being a gym rat and enthusiast. It was quite the opposite as I consider myself to be an imperfect messenger who found herself looking down at a scale that read almost 250 lbs. back in my mid-twenties.
It’s not my fancy Columbia University master’s degree in Physiology, or my years of experience, or my multiple training certificates that make me an authority. It is that I understand. My imperfections make me the perfect messenger and the message is that to change your life you need to move, move often, move well and not be afraid to challenge yourself to move more. Weather its pain, or fear of failure or simply the mindset that exercise is something you tried but didn’t like, I have been there personally. I know how to tap into the fire inside all of us that wants to feel strong, graceful and healthy. This is what has allowed me to work with clients from the professional athlete to the 85 year-old grandmother.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Who we are as individuals is contingent upon who we have encountered on our life journey. There are many who have contributed to my growth and aspirations. Professionally, I am grateful to Nora St. John who runs the Balanced Body education program. She is someone who challenges my intellect and encourages me to ask the questions that help us marry fitness and health science with our educational programs. This is important to innovating our curriculum, keeping it current and fresh and allowing us to teach programs that are effective in creating physical change through movement and exercise.
Personally, I have been inspired by and indebted to a prior client, Marie Figeroua. Marie just showed up at my studio one day and asked for a session. She was in her 70s then. Her goals were simple — she just wanted to stay independent as long as she could. The year prior, she lost her husband of 50 years to a heart attack and she was looking for ways to stay active. Though Marie was my client, she taught me more than I ever could teach her. She taught me that it was acceptable to be sad in the face of great loss but to not let the sadness weigh you down. She taught me that aging was an opportunity, not a disability, and that loyalty to family and friends were really the most important lessons of life. Marie was perhaps the most generous donor to Body Wise Connection (donations she wanted to remain anonymous; I am sure she will forgive me for outing her here). She taught me that generosity breeds generosity. Marie passed away last year from Pancreatic Cancer and, when she was feeling well enough, she was at the studio inspiring others just by being her.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits.
In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
As humans in a modern society, we are often faced with choices. Choices between what we know to be true and what we believe we need. Food and exercise choices are no different. We know, for example, that added fats and sugars are not good for us. But on a warm summer evening, in the moment, we believe that enjoying a bowl of ice cream in favor of some fresh cut fruit is no big deal. And let’s face it, sometimes it’s not. But if it becomes a nightly preference, that’s another story. The first big reason why we do not tend to do the things we know to be good for us is because we don’t believe that a single act will actually have the positive consequence we desire. Here too, we are right. No single incident of abstinence from ice cream will matter, nor will exercising sporadically or when the mood strikes us, or, when we feel guilty enough, make the lasting changes we seek. However, if you want to see and make changes, then consistency is the key to success. Consistency equals change over time. This, however, takes an unseen belief that over time, if I avoid the nightly trip to the freezer for ice cream and instead have it only on weekends, I will be benefiting my body in the long run. We need to believe even that the small changes, over time, matter.
Second, we see diet and exercise as negative vehicles of depravation and effort. We think, “I deserve that scoop of ice cream,” or, “working out takes too much time and I’ll be tired.” In health and fitness, changing eating habits may be hard at first and may even make some of us anxious. In the end, with consistency there is positive, nourishing changes to the body. You look better, you feel better and, more importantly, you are healthier. The same is true for exercise. Sometimes it is just hard and other times it has a flow and energy of its own. In either event, it nourishes the body, not depletes the body. We need to change our mindset and not focus at what we can’t have, what we are giving up or what we dread but see them as choices which feed us emotionally, as well as physically, and empower us to be stronger, faster, fitter and healthier.
The third reason is comfort and ease. We all want to be 72 degrees all the time — not too hot, not too cold. We want it to be easy and not the least bit stressful. I tell clients and students all the time, that nothing in life changes without a little tension. If you want to get smarter, you go to school, which is all good until the first test rolls around. You get nervous, you study, you have to be evaluated and you take the dreaded exam. The good news is that you pass and you are one step closer to accomplishing your goal, which, of course, is graduation. We have so many easy food choices available, and, typically, the easier, the less nourishing is what we choose. The same applies to exercise — we want it to be convenient and fit into our lives and our schedules, not the other way around. Afterall, most of us have some exercise equipment that was bought from Amazon or QVC in a closet or lying under a bed somewhere. If things are too convenient, then it holds no value and does not inspire. Setting goals that place us out of our comfort zone, that challenge us and inspire us to give more, to be adventurous and to challenge ourselves are the very things that help us to change our mindset. This approach will shed the belief systems that have been holding us back from reaching our potential. Elenore Roosevelt said, “do something every day that scares you.” Changes to diet and exercise do not need to be scary, but her point is well taken: move beyond what’s easy to achieve what matters.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
You are asking for ‘non-intuitive” and ‘lifestyle’ tweeks. As I mentioned above, we often work against our intuition because we do not believe that small changes matter or we see the effort that needs to be exerted too great a price or it simply is not easy or convenient. But research shows the opposite. When we change our mindset about what is good for us we change our outlook. When we change our outlook we align more naturally to the very things we thought were impossible, changing the way we view healthy behaviors. With that in mind, the small things that help us change our mindset make all the difference to living healthier lifestyles.
- Set your intention: Don’t set the alarm for the last possible moment. Don’t hit that snooze button until you have no choice but to jump up and scurry around to make it to the train. Give yourself time in the morning. Time to make a leisurely cup of coffee or tea. Time to sit in the morning and think for a moment about what your intention is for the day. I know it is tempting to take that moment and add to the endless ‘to do’ list. Don’t focus on the “should haves,” focus on the “coulds.” What could you do for yourself that will help you feel focused and balanced? What do you want for yourself this day, not what others need and want from you? Taking this time to simply breath, look out a window as the beautiful day unfolds before you, or sitting quietly before your house wakes and starts placing its demands on you, helps you to set your mind, your thoughts and your intentions for the day instead of allowing the day to sweep you up into its current. At home, we have a hummingbird feeder. My morning isn’t complete if I haven’t spotted a hummingbird. I take a cup of coffee outside, sit and wait. As I wait I find myself just simply enjoying the smells, the light and the comfort of the morning. I wait until I spy my hummer, I watch him/her flutter from feeder to feeder and I watch until he is drawn in another direction. That is when I take myself back into the kitchen to start the day.
- Turn off to turn on: Along the lines of not waking up at the last possible moment and starting your day with a bang as you jump out of bed, to the shower, to the…you get the idea. End your day by turning off a little sooner than you think necessary. If you go to bed at 10 p.m., turn off your screens, your phone, your TV, your computer at 9 p.m. This will help your body to transition itself for sleep. By turning off sooner you will find your mind can quiet and sooth itself better and, studies are showing, you will sleep better and deeper leading to a more refreshed you in the morning.
- Yawn, stretch and shake it out if you must: What does a dog or cat do first thing when they wake up? They yawn, and not just any yawn, but a big and sometimes even, noisy yawn. They then stretch — they sit back and stretch their front legs, then hang back to stretch their back and hind legs. Sometimes they even shake out their hind legs. When you get up, yawn. Yawning draws in oxygen, unlocks your jaw and wakes up your senses. Stretch, but no need to get crazy and buy a yoga book to learn downward dog (though it would be helpful). Your body knows what it needs. Just stretch. Reach your arms up to the ceiling, move your spine in all directions and stretch out those legs. Stretching is yawning for your joints — It gets them ready to move. And stretching is to the body what setting your intention is to the mind. This is part of my daily routine.
- Go all the way down to stand up tall: You have heard that we all need to stand up more. Sitting for long periods of time is detrimental to our health. Some studies are equating long periods of sitting to the similar deleterious effects of smoking. We not only need to stand up more, but we also need to get ourselves down onto the ground. Think about this. When we sit, our hips, backs and knees remain in the same position — it’s the middle range between standing and squatting to the ground. After long periods of sitting we try to stand up and find our backs are stiff and we are not completely upright. Well, what if I told you that in order to get upright, I need you to be able to get all the way to the ground? We, as a culture, do not make full use of our hip, low back, knee and ankle flexibility. We work only from sitting to standing. This causes us to loose flexibility and strength in these ranges. Here too, there are studies that show the ability to rise up from the ground is associated with decreased morbidity (decreased period of time between onset of disease state and death). Therefore, it is not only important to stand up and to walk, but to be able to sit on the ground, play with the kids, grandkids, dogs and cats or simply to watch TV, and then get up again.
- Just move — stop quantifying exercise: Part of the reason we do not believe exercise will work is because we set impossible expectations. Clients get overwhelmed with number of repetitions, duration of exercise, and amount of exertion. We strap them to heart rate monitors, have them buy wick away clothing and dictate number of days per week they need to be at the gym. We need to stop and understand that the first thing we need clients to do is to move. My 86 year-old father-in-law, an ex-marathon runner who has had two hip replacements, tells me every morning that he is going out for a walk and takes the time to inform me of what he will accomplish by reciting the amount of time (duration) that he will walk and his heart rate (exertion) goals. When I ask him at the end of the day if he walked, more often than not, he did not. Why? Because he was not up to meeting his own expectations about what duration and exertion was necessary to be helpful. So he opts out, which is by far the least helpful thing he could do. Stop quantifying and move. If, every day, he simply walked as far and for as long as he is willing and able, he would ultimately be able to walk longer and farther. He would feel better, have less aches and pains and generally be pleased with himself, making it more likely he would walk again within the next day or two. We need to stop judging or putting expectations on ourselves based on numbers and statistics. We simply need to move, move often, move well and move joyfully.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
Current health research sites a growing number benefits to having a daily exercise routine. Some of the most compelling research focuses on aging and is quite groundbreaking, including:
- Increased mental acuity and stress reduction: Being physically active can help you to stay mentally acute. We often think of exercise for muscles and bone strength, but, for the first time, the physical benefits of exercise are being linked to cognitive health as well. Studies on dementia show that exercise can help to slow memory deterioration while other studies show that exercise slows general cognitive changes as we age. Studies with children are even showing how exercise can help children with ADHD focus more. For college students, exercise and movement, particularly mindful movement, are associated with stress reduction. Exercise has also been shown to lower the concentration of a stress hormone called cortisol. This is important for many reasons, but not least of which is cortisol is knows to increase harmful belly fat. Want to get rid of your belly fat and get rid of stress? Exercise. It’s a win-win.
- Reduces perceived pain: Pain is a touchy subject these days as pain science is starting to discuss how we perceive pain as an indicator for how we deal with pain. For example, if we perceive pain as making us fragile or if we fear pain, we will move less. If we perceive pain as information and believe that we can move through the pain, we will be less likely to succumb to it. This, of course, is an oversimplification, so let me give you a real life example. I had a client who knew she had a tear in her meniscus. When it would bother her, she would stop moving. Over time she stopped coming to the studio and eventually the knee became so weak she felt unsteady on her feet. Pain from a meniscus tear is real and needs to be treated appropriately. Simple exercises such as leg lifts help to work the muscles around the knee, which, in turn, help to support and stabilize the knee joint. Avoiding these exercises only made the discomfort and the instability worse, leading to further deconditioning of her whole being. Research is also showing something else — pain receptors in our fascial tissues send us messages, particularly in the mornings when our joints are stiff. Once we start moving, we lubricate the joints and move fascia. The simple act of moving sends different signals to the brain and the pain receptors reduce their input, leading to reduced sensations of pain. So while, in the old days, when someone was hurt we would prescribe bed rest, today, more often than not, movement is the elixir.
- Manages chronic disease states: This is the most important and speaks to all of the prior answers in this interview. What we do today with regard to our health determines how healthy we will be tomorrow and as we age. Exercising, no matter when you start, is associated with positive health results and even helps to manage chronic disease states such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, and arthritis. Exercise helps to push off the deleterious and debilitating effects of these diseases so that you stay healthy and active longer. With exercise, you can actually be faster than time as we condition at a faster rate then we decondition and these positive effects can be felt regardless of when you start. In other words, if we are sedentary, time will gently start to erode our potential. We lose muscle mass, balance changes, our vision changes, our cognition starts to slow as well. Our metabolism, not only as it relates to weight gain, but our cellular metabolism, the ability of the cells to be healthy, get rid of toxins while absorbing the nutrients that run through our blood stream, all become compromised. Ultimately diabetes, heart disease and arthritis can all slowly creep up on us. Exercise and being generally active — remember all the small things count — help us to not only maintain our potential but actually expands our potential. On the most cellular level through to our physical abilities our body systems are efficient, active and vital.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
If I have to limit to three, I would suggest:
- Child pose to back extension
- Planks — Front, side and back
- Squats and lunges — in all directions
In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. These exercises are a great starting point and can help prevent a stoppage from occurring.
What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?
The most important thing athletes can do for themselves is to add variety to their workouts. The body is brilliant and it will do what you ask of it. It will also get used to what you do which requires you to continue harder and harder to continue to see changes. Stop doing only the same things the same way. In order to work better, vary your activities. For example, if your focus is weightlifting, add yoga and Pilates to the mix weekly. These exercise routines will help you to balance your strength while creating a more dynamically flexible body. Variety also trains your nervous system to be agile, especially if you are an athlete or play sports. To play well and effectively you need the body to move in complex ways and in a coordinated fashion. You also need the endurance to persevere. If a long distance runner, for example, comes out of the gate too fast, they will not have the steam to finish strong. Too much effort and the body exhausts. To train the nervous system you need varied exercises and to move in multiple planes of motion and different levels of exertion. Varying your workouts will also make it less likely to be minimize soreness as you create a more balanced strength, work multiple muscle groups and avoid overworking any one muscle group.
There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?
For me, this is quite a fluid and loaded question. As I am aging (currently 53), I am finding that my diet needs to change with me. I have been finding it personally difficulty to deal with inflammation, particularly in my legs. There are some hormonal reasons for this and the only diet that helps me is an anti-inflammatory diet. I have also been doing much reading on our farming practices and climate change. As someone who has found animal proteins helpful in the management of my weight, I am reluctant to become a full vegetarian. As a result, my personal research has led me to a diet consistent with the Mediterranean philosophy. This includes an abundance of vegetables, grains, beans, fish proteins and light on the red meat. I also avoid sugars. It makes my father-in-law crazy. Food for him is comfort and he watches me and asks me all the time if I feel like I am missing anything. Honestly, the answer is no. I feel so much healthier now at 53 then I did at 23, and the reason has everything to do with a cleaner diet and moving more. I don’t expect everyone to adhere to my diet, but I will say this: simple things like reducing sugar and processed foods, eating more vegetables and eating smaller portions will affect profound health changes.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Michael Pollans’ “In Defense of Food.”
He starts the book with three simple sentences. Eat food. Not a lot. Mostly plants. This is everything you need to know. If I had the opportunity to do for exercise and movement what he has done for food I would in a heartbeat. My three sentences would be: Move. Move Well. Move Often.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We place unrealistic expectations on what it means to be active and healthy. I cannot tell you how many clients feel they needed to run marathons or become triathletes in order to be healthy. Clients try diets where they juice exclusively or eat only proteins. We need to stop. We are a dynamic, beautiful and miraculous body with profound healing capacity and with almost unlimited potential. We simply need to nourish it. Nourish it with food, nourish it with thoughtful care and nourish it with movement. No marathon required. Get outside, feel the air and sun on your skin, eat mostly well, and move. There is no need to place ultimatums or absolutes to your routine. Understand we are human and, yes, you can have ice cream and you can take a day off. Actually, you must, as knowing when to rest is as important as knowing when to move. But when you place all you do on a scale, it should tip toward healthy. After a while you won’t even need to think about it, because it will feel so right, it will become who you are.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. — Helen Keller
This quote is why I started Body Wise Connection. I lost a dear friend who lived in London to melanoma. We would speak frequently on the phone about how she felt her body had abandoned her and how the medical treatments, though they were trying to save her life, made her feel disconnected from her body and physically insecure. I thought this was the perfect place for our movement and fitness communities. My discussion with Sandy made me realize that by providing a safe place to move we can help others to realize that even during the literal fight for life, the body can heal, be strong and confident.
When I saw this Helen Keller quote I realized, I may have lost my friend Sandy. I may not have been able to help her, but I can help others and because I can, it is my responsibility to do just that.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Michelle Obama, hands down. I think this message of moving to be well and eating to feel well is one she would embrace and support. I also think the work with women with breast cancer would be topic of mutual interest.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Reluctantly, Facebook and Instagram (@Joy.Puleo). I say reluctantly because I truly believe our connections run far deeper then social media. We cannot lose sight that the most human of interactions is face-to-face. However, I am there, and you can follow my work with breast cancer at Body Wise Connection on both as well as m travels and adventures with Balanced Body (@Balanced_Body and www.pilates.com).
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!