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“Last but not least, we tend to forget the cumulative effect of abusing our bodies.” With Maria Angelova

Last but not least, we tend to forget the cumulative effect of abusing our bodies. There is nothing wrong with AN evening with pizza. There is nothing wrong with A day of being lazy in front of the TV. There is nothing wrong with A day without physical activity. However, when these become daily habits, this […]

Last but not least, we tend to forget the cumulative effect of abusing our bodies. There is nothing wrong with AN evening with pizza. There is nothing wrong with A day of being lazy in front of the TV. There is nothing wrong with A day without physical activity. However, when these become daily habits, this is when the dangerous effects begin accumulating. I am a proponent of everything but in moderation. I love the saying: “The trouble is, you think you have time.” I always say that the best investment on the market is with ticker symbol Y O U. We have ONE body to live in. We tend to start appreciating it when something goes wrong.


As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Angelova, MBA.

Maria, is the founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl — www.rebellious-intl.com. Maria owns a boutique Pilates studio in Sandy Springs, GA. Maria teaches Pilates for healing and creates awareness and education on the topic of environmental toxin reduction. Maria is a fierce proponent of respecting the body and leveraging exercise to deepen the body-mind-spirit connection.


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?

Iwas 15 when my family relocated from Bulgaria, Eastern Europe, to Athens, GA, U.S.A. I wanted to continue my gym membership. Upon a visit to a local gym, my dad declared to the puzzled General Manager that I need ‘free’ membership and asked how I may obtain one. The GM responded that the only way to receive free membership was to teach classes. I would have to audition for a position. I was embarrassed and mortified. I would have to teach a workout class without any prior teaching experience and in a different language. My dad was overjoyed and sold on the idea. A date for my audition was set.

Long story short and 25+ years later, I couldn’t be more grateful for my dad’s spontaneous and crazy idea! Who would have known that would be the beginning of a life-long love affair.

I discovered Pilates and became certified after an intense 600-hour program. I fell in love with the brilliance of the method, its effectiveness, and the way it holistically approaches body, mind, and spirit. Pilates has completely transformed my view of fitness. I used to be a cardio junkie and would do 1.5-hour-long super intense workout sessions. Those days are gone.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The most interesting story related to my wellness career is probably my transition from corporate to entrepreneurship. I went from a Finance Director to a ground-zero entrepreneur.

My professional background is actually in Finance. I have a BBA and MBA in Finance. I was in corporate for close to 20 years in various positions in Operations and Finance. However, since I first started my first fitness job at age 16, teaching group fitness classes and doing some personal training has been a side gig. For the past 20 years, I kept saying that one day I will have my own fitness studio. I had no idea it would be a Pilates studio.

I stumbled upon Pilates “randomly” when I was actually seeking a Yoga studio to obtain a yoga certification. I became a certified Pilates instructor in the summer of 2013. In August of 2016, after a meeting reviewing a financial report, I resigned. That was the beginning of Rebellious Intl!

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?

This story happened when I was doing testing for my Advanced Pilates certification. I was demonstrating my teaching skills to a senior teacher and in front of a room of other teachers. I placed my client on the equipment and started queuing him on performing the exercise. As he began moving, I realized I had positioned him too far on the apparatus, and he was about to fall.

It was a few seconds panic in my head on what to do. It went something like: “He is about to fall! What do I do?!? I can’t hold his legs because he will then hit his head!”

As I was trying to stay cool on the outside and the panic was taking over on the inside, my client declared: “I will now fall! And he fell off the equipment, luckily without getting hurt. I was petrified.

As I heard the story from the other teachers’ perspective, they all knew he was going to fall. The senior teacher told them to let me learn a lesson. Boy, did I learn a lesson! I am never placing another client so far back on this exercise (teaser 2 on wunda chair, in case you are curious). Pilates is all about precision…yup, I completely agree with that statement.

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 think that I am very much counter to the current state of the fitness field. In that aspect, I think my company name — Rebellious — goes beautifully along my mission to make people fall in love with movement because it feels good. I think it is very unfortunate fitness is promoted mostly as a path to weight loss and that people are encouraged to beat up and hurt their bodies to see results. I think this is very counter indicative, especially nowadays when most people are already so overly stressed and overwhelmed.

As far as wellness, I am a huge advocate of proactive wellness and natural alternatives. Many medical conditions today are a result of our lifestyle choices.

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?

Hands down, my parents! They have had such a tremendously positive influence on the person I am today.

From a young age, they raised me to be very independent. Since I was a little girl, they would allow me to make choices prefaced with the statement: “the choice is yours, so is the consequence.”

They raised me with discipline and taught me to be persistent — these two traits have served me immensely in life and especially on my entrepreneurial path.

They taught me to not be a victim but to rise to the opportunity. That came in handy when I was bullied in school and instead of falling apart, I started going to the gym. Isn’t it interesting how some of our most unpleasant experiences create the most incredible opportunities?

Immigrating to another country was a tremendous growth experience. My parents emphasized the opportunities and that it is up to me to make the choices to propel me forward.

My parents have also always been very supportive of whatever crazy ideas I have had. Unfortunately, dad passed away at age 48 from lung cancer caused by environmental toxins. As I resigned from my corporate job, I could tell mom was horrified. I can tell she worries when entrepreneurial life has hiccups. Yet, not once has she said anything negative. She always tells me that if there is anyone who can do it, it will be me.

I couldn’t be more grateful for the skillset my parents gifted me and for their encouragement and support through the years.

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?

I think we live in a world of busy. We are busy with work, family, social engagements, obligations….in this world of overwhelm, usually the first thing to intuitively get off the priority list is self-care. It is unfortunate as self-care is the exact thing we all need when the world is spinning. A self-care routine should be heavily emphasized when stress spikes.

We are also a society expecting instant gratification. If results do not happen overnight and without much effort, then we lose interest, especially when it comes to ourselves. Then one day, we get sick of the way we feel/ look. We decide to hit the gym hard. Our bodies are unprepared for the challenge. We start beating on them to submission because we are mad they have become this way. Stop the madness. This has happened because of the choices we have made over a period of time. No reason to be regretful or mad of the past. Adding stress to an already stressed body is of no help. Practice self-compassion and with love and grace start embracing a new lifestyle.

A medical professional I am collaborating with has this machine that you can sit on, vibrate, and it promises you will lose weight. I don’t mean to be skeptical but ….. I told her: “You realize this baby is my competition. People can come sweat with me or sit here and jiggle.” What do you think 99% of the people will choose? Joke aside, I think we all know the answer.

Last but not least, we tend to forget the cumulative effect of abusing our bodies. There is nothing wrong with AN evening with pizza. There is nothing wrong with A day of being lazy in front of the TV. There is nothing wrong with A day without physical activity. However, when these become daily habits, this is when the dangerous effects begin accumulating. I am a proponent of everything but in moderation.

I love the saying: “The trouble is, you think you have time.” I always say that the best investment on the market is with ticker symbol Y O U. We have ONE body to live in. We tend to start appreciating it when something goes wrong.

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.)

  1. Make yourself a priority!

This is my biggest tip. If you can conquer this one, I promise it will be life-changing. Sounds disappointingly simple yet is so hard to implement. Be intentional and patient. New habits take time to form. When our cup is full, it can overflow.

Even though I preach self-care, I do have my moments when I slip. However, at this point, I am so utterly aware of the negative implications. Last week was a super busy week, and I didn’t do a good job prioritizing myself. By the end of the week, I had zero energy, was all puffy, couldn’t sleep well, was irritable and had the hardest time concentrating.

Yes, these are all related to poor self-care — lack of sleep and movement, crappy diet, staying too busy, not enough enjoyment of life.

2. Listen to your body, it knows.

Maybe today you don’t need an intense workout. Maybe today you need a walk or a stretch or taking a few extra breaths. Are you in tune and aware of what your body needs?

I remember making a comment in class after a holiday week off: “My body feels so stiff from all the travel and sitting!” One of my clients echoed: “I am with you. I feel like crap! The funny thing is, before I started a regular Pilates routine, I was never aware that I actually feel bad. Now, when I don’t move, I can definitely tell a difference and not in a good way.”

Many people today are very out of tune with their bodies. You will be surprised at how many clients I have who have broken down in tears on the reformer. It has happened when they have had a minute to take a breath and be aware of how that breath feels. It can be uncomfortable…. Some people freak out because they don’t know what is happening. Others are surprised why it is happening. The more aware ones embrace it.

Let’s do a little challenge — sit back in your chair, take a deep breath, close your eyes. What does your body need right now? If your mind is seeking the multiple-choice options, here are a couple: a) another breath, b) a stretch, c) a walk, d) a kick-ass workout, e) gentle movement, f) a night out dancing g) an escape from reality h) alone time.

I hope you follow it.

3. Do not take things personally. Do not make assumptions.

Ok, I stole these two from the best seller ‘The Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz. I wanted to make sure I note them here because these two ‘guidelines’ have been game-changers for me personally.

When someone tells you something, remember that their reaction has more to do with them rather than you. We all fall in the trap of taking a small comment and building an entire story around it based on assumptions. The story can deprive us of peace, possibly lead us to unnecessary actions, destroy relationships, and so forth.

For example, when I was quitting my corporate job, many family members and friends discouraged me from following my dream and encouraged me to stay where I was because ‘being in a good corporate job’ is the societal stereotype for success. It was disheartening to hear the comments. What I have consequently learned is that those reactions are due to people who care about me being uncomfortable with that change. Basically, they wanted to protect me and keep me ‘safe’. While to me their reactions appeared to be against my decision, they had to do with their own interpretation of the changes I was going through.

4. Keep perspective. Be present.

We have all experienced those moments when something or someone triggers us. Suddenly, we feel our heart pumping faster, our blood pressure rising, our shoulders and stomach tightening. In case anyone is not aware, this happens when our body is subjected to stress, and when the sympathetic system, the fight or flight system, takes over. We now know that chronic stress is bad for us; it can cause and/ or exacerbate health problems, and prolonged exposure to stress may lead to inflammation and eventually disease.

When experiencing a reaction that does not do us good, it is a great tactic to stop everything we are doing and take a few deep breaths. Try to not think about anything else but simply focus on the breath. You will feel your heart rate decelerate and the tension dissipates. Calming our mind allows us to objectively evaluate the situation. Next, ask yourself a couple of questions: 1) In the grand scheme of things, is the situation worth sweating over? 2) Is the situation something you have control over? 3) Is what you are worried about real or did you make it “real” by taking something out of context/ proportion?

We frequently worry about things that aren’t real. The ‘what if’s’ sometimes could be endless. The truth is that often, they do not apply.

One last thing I would like to add here — working on trusting that everything that happens to you happens for a reason. This is sometimes more difficult than others, depending on the circumstances. I promise you if you take this approach, your stress and anxiety levels will tank. Once again, work on this consistently. It will not happen overnight.

I have been working really hard on these lifestyle tips myself. I used to be a worrier about everything because I used to like to be in control (and that is not easy to change). I am continuously working on responding rather than reacting. I now worry about things I can control.I am conscious about what is worth stressing over and not and the implications this has on my health.It was my entrepreneurial journey that took me on this huge growth path where I am intentionally working on trusting as frequently my plans weren’t going the way I wanted them to.

5. Practice gratitude. Daily.

You have probably heard people talking about gratitude. In a life coaching seminar, I heard this statement which stuck with me: gratitude is what connects us to the source.

Your source — God, Universe, etc. — will be based on your personal belief system.

Make this a practice. Start/ end your day with a thing or two you are grateful for. Even in difficult moments, there is always something to be grateful for. The more you practice this, the easier it will be to find things to be appreciative for. You can do this at any time during the day when you feel you need a reminder about all your blessings.

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?

  1. Body-mind connection — quieting the mind, de-stressing

Best forms of exercise are ones that develop a balanced body and mind. Going to the gym and mindlessly completing a workout without an intention but simply moving through the motion may not be the best idea for multiple reasons. Many of the new and upcoming workouts require intensity few can keep up with safely. Combined with a competitive personality, these intense workouts could result in injuries and over-stressing an already stressed system. Focusing on the movement, integrating breath and paying attention to proper form prevent injuries and have a therapeutic effect. Connecting body and mind during our workout is a wonderful way for mental health too. There is much research focusing on the mental benefits of physical activity. It is now well known that a great workout is a way to get off the hamster wheel and focus on being present.

2. Balanced fitness regime — creating/ maintaining functional movement

A balanced workout regime is a functional fitness and one that develops healthy muscles and quiets the mind. A healthy muscle is one that exhibits strength, flexibility, endurance, and control. If a muscle is strong but stiff, it is predisposed to be injured. Vice versa, if a joint is hypermobile, even if the movements performed appear impressive, the chance for injury could be increased if there is a lack of control. Creating a strong and stiff body that doesn’t allow us to tie our shoelaces isn’t healthy. We need to move so that we can age actively and enjoy life to the fullest.

With aerobic exercise, we want to work out at a moderate level. If a body is already under a significant amount of stress, which most bodies nowadays are, cortisol is high. An intense workout can be an additional stressor and lead to the release of extra cortisol, which does not do the body good. Taking a walk, a light jog, some elliptical, cycling — at moderate levels are all great cardiovascular movements.

Overall, we want to create a varied and balanced workout regime. We want to focus on the workout offering relief or prep for a long day. We should feel reinvigorated, rejuvenated, re-energized and stronger post session.

3. Preventive for a multitude of issues — heart health, bone health, joint health, diabetes, etc. Many diseases today are related to lifestyle.

As we age, we naturally start losing muscle mass. The bones begin to weaken. Posture and balance may become an issue. Did you know those old people are more scared of falling that of being mugged? Aerobic capacity begins decreasing as we hit 30. That results in huffing and puffing as we age. Keeping a healthy heart and normal blood pressure is key to preventing heart disease and stroke. Type 2 diabetes and obesity, both of which are growing rapidly could be prevented with physical activity. Research also shows that while physical activity does not prevent Dementia or Alzheimer’s, it does help delay the onset and progression of the disease.

Definitely food for thought……. Move, feel good AND prevent disease and injury.

For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?

It is hard to narrow it down to 3 but let’s go with these three. I will add that to get the most out of these, or for that matter any other exercises, proper execution is key.

  1. The Pilates Rollup — core, spinal articulation and flexibility, stretching, full-body engagement. Arms can be added to make it chest opener/ shoulder stretch.
  2. Lunge — balance, functional movement, legs, glutes, core
  3. Plank — full-body workout; spice it up with limb movement and Pilates Push up (elbows in)

In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterward. 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?

  1. Meet your core

I have always put much emphasis on proper form and core engagement. It wasn’t until I was introduced to Pilates when I truly discovered my core. One of the principles of Pilates is to originate all movements from the core. If you manage to master this principle, I promise you the effectiveness of your workout will leap.

2. Listen to your body

Can you tell I am really a stickler to this one? Read above for more details.

3. Execute movements with proper form

Form first, everything else — a range of motion, weights, etc. — next. Ask for help if you are unsure of how to perform an exercise.

4. Soak in an Epsom salt bath

Soaking in warm water with Epsom salt may help relax muscles and joints. It is also de-stressing after a busy day.

5. Utilize the power of essential oils

Using essential oils for soreness and recovery is a usual treat for me. My favorite essential oil blend for anything muscle-related is Aroma Siez. I use it topically before and after half marathons and in Epsom salt to make baths, and it never fails. Peppermint and Wintergreen are great anti-inflammatory oils too. I would say Wintergreen is better for joints.

6. Get a massage

Massages are great for improving circulation, reducing tightness and easing inflammation.

7. Stretch

Shortened, tight muscles moving within a limited range of motion are a risk factor for injury. The same is true if the body is not balanced and certain body areas are stronger than others.

8. Rest

It may sound counterintuitive, but rest is key to recovery and improved performance.

9. Breathe

Think not only about bringing oxygen into your body but also performance. Proper breathing during workout creates core pressure which not only stabilizes but also protects the spine. Consistent breaths ensure you aren’t holding your breath and depriving the muscles and brain of oxygen. Holding the breath also creates tension in the body and limits the range of motion.

10. Eat right, stay hydrated

Not to be cliché….but can’t talk about body care without mentioning nutrition and hydration!

Best tips to work out without injuring yourself short or long term:

  1. Focus on the activity you are doing — that not only prevents injuries but also helps quiet the mind and grounds you into being in the moment (think therapy). Try to not watch the news, a TV show or read — these take away your focus.
  2. Prioritize form over weight/ speed/ range.
  3. Always make sure that your core is engaged; this protects especially the back
  4. Listen and respect how your body feels. Do not worry about what those around you are doing.
  5. Do not forget to stretch. As we age, this becomes increasingly more important.
  6. If you don’t know what you are doing, do yourself a favor and hire a professional.

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?

I dislike the word ‘diet’. Diets have a short-term mentality associated with them. How often have you heard of someone doing a ‘diet’ for X number of days? What happens after the diet is over?

My motto is everything but in moderation.

Emphasize veggies and fruits. Do include healthy fats and meats, if your diet includes those. Do eat fiber-rich grains, unless those cause you problems.

Limit consumption of sugar, processed foods, and alcohol. Avoid canned and microwavable foods.

I strongly dislike the microwave and recommend against using it. I also think sodas are super bad for us. Definitely drink those in moderation. Also, few of us truly need sports drinks.

I am against low and no-fat products as those contain more chemicals to destroy the fat. Eat the full-fat ones.

Choose organic or local whenever affordable and at least for fruits and veggies on the Dirty Dozen List. Avoid fruits and vegetables known to be GMO modified — e.g. corn, soy, papaya. Choose organic, grass-fed full-fat dairy products. Eat wild-caught seafood — e.g. salmon, oyster, sardine, tilapia, trout — known to have with low mercury levels. Consume organic, pasture-raised chicken, organic, grass-fed beef and free-range organic eggs.

As far as frequency of eating, I personally prefer to eat frequently and small meals. My brother is doing great on the intermittent diet, which I personally think works better for men. The rule here: do what works best for your body.

I feel compelled to state here: beware of ‘diets’ which use hormones or mess up with your hormones to help you lose weight.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

In the past couple of years, I have been on a personal journey of growth. I have become absolutely fascinated with the power of our mindset. The one book that I think everyone should read is You Are a Badass. It is a light read yet thought provocative and presents universal law concepts in a practical manner.

I always thought that being a perfectionist and a control freak has served me well since I did well professionally in school and then corporate.…. until I realized that those were huge contributors to my stress and anxiety.

I was totally unaware of the subconscious and limiting self believe I was holding on to and how they were impacting me and my lifestyle.

I was also priding myself for being constantly being busy…. until I realized this was robbing me from enjoying the present moment.

Even if it doesn’t sound like something you will enjoy, do give it a chance. It may trigger a thought or two for you too.

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. 🙂

I can totally envision the headline: A Bulgarian Starts a Rebellious Movement towards Purposeful Living

It is my vision to create a global Rebellious Movement! I love to inspire and help others feel their best, quiet their minds, connect to their intuition and dare to be the best and authentic version of themselves. My goal is to inspire many to live on purpose.

I think the world is full of people going through the motions. We live lives we should live versus the lives we want to live. What closes the gap is faith and erasing the self-doubts and fears. Sounds easy, no? Living on purpose requires discipline, taking personal responsibility and persistence. Self-care, including movement, is a total must as part of this entire equation.

Cheers to awakening many rebels around the world!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

This quote has recently become a favorite because it speaks to me loudly and clearly on my journey.

“Trust the wait. Embrace the uncertainty. Enjoy the beauty of becoming. When nothing is certain, anything is possible.”

Isn’t it beautiful? It holds profound truth that I think only those who have been/ are on the transformational journey can whole-heartedly relate to.

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 🙂

This is a tough one to narrow down to one person….

How about Jennifer Lopez?

I think she has been a tremendously positive influence on the Latin community. She rocks her Puerto Rican roots. She came from humble beginnings but believed in her dream to be a star. She doesn’t allow age to defy her. She is a mom. I think she is a very authentic and inspirational rebel!

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Facebook — rebelliousint

Instagram — rebelliousintl

LinkedIn — Maria Angelova

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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