Put the focus on longevity. It’s seductive to hear “lose 10 pounds in 10 days” but the happiest and healthiest people are the ones thinking about longevity. This body of yours…you want it to be in tip top shape for the long haul!
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ellen Barrett.
Ellen Barrett, M.A., is a fitness instructor, with dozens of blockbuster videos, like “Crunch: Fat Burning Pilates” and ”Crunch: Strengthen, Lengthen & Breathe”. She starred on FIT TV’s long running program, “All Star Workouts,” and is the author of four wellness books, including her latest, “28 Day Lighter Diet” (Skirt!, 2014), a book that delves into women and weight release. Her biggest passion now is her online studio, which offers feel good barefoot workouts.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I was a very serious tennis player as a teenager and spent all of my time after school at tennis clubs. This was 1980s U.S.A., when indoor tennis courts were being turned into aerobic rooms. I had a front row seat to this aerobics craze and instantly loved it — preferring it to the tennis courts! Everyone was smiling and everyone was winning. My 15-year old self looked at those instructors and thought they had the greatest job on Earth.
I started teaching aerobics at age 18 and could not believe they paid me for something I’d pay money to do. After college, many family members said, “It’s time to get a real job,” but I never did. I was scrappy and innovative and somehow carved out a career. I taught everywhere from big gyms and boutique studios to corporate fitness centers and Club Med.
Aerobics evolved, and I evolved right along with it. I racked up certifications in Pilates, yoga, health coaching and meditation. “Movement is medicine” has been my biggest motto. Even though I’ve become more sophisticated in my teaching, have written books and created all of these video workouts, deep down, I’m still an aerobics instructor from Upstate New York.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
One fun story was when I was promoting my book “Sexy Yoga” at the Book Expo at The Javits Center in New York City. I was stationed at my publisher’s booth (Ulysses Press) and at the booth to the right of me was the one-and-only, John Waters, the genius behind Hairspray and Cry-Baby. He was there promoting his new book. Before he settled in, he peeked over at my table and said, “Sexy Yoga, sexy title!”
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When spinning became popular, I was staff at a gym that demanded we all teach at least one class per week, so I got certified. From day one I found the bike to be very irritating to my hips. I didn’t like being confined to a bike and I dreaded teaching the class. I soldiered on for about six months but then my misery was too great. I went to my boss and said, “Look, I’m so bad at teaching spin and I don’t even want to be good. Please take me off the schedule.” He appreciated my honesty and took me off the spin schedule immediately. The big lesson here is people pleasing can go too far. You need to “follow your bliss” and that might mean sometimes saying no.
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?
I’m really grateful for Andrea Ambandos. She’s a fitness video producer who she hired me for “Crunch: Pick Your Spot Pilates” way back in 2002. She showed me what a true leader looks like. She takes charge on set — she holds a strong vision — and that’s why her final products are so good.
Mari Windsor and her Pilates studio was a great influence, too. Her studio was so different from every other exercise space I was ever in up to that point. It was quiet and everyone was concentrating. It showcased intelligent mindful movement. Mari taught me about looking at the body as a whole and not compartmentalizing the abs, the arms, etc. Mari was a total powerhouse. She really left her mark.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I think we have an epidemic of un-inspiration today. People, especially women, are exhausted, stressed out and too self-critical. Mindful movement, even if it’s just 15-minutes a day, lifts us up with no negative side effects. Movement is an underrated, natural antidepressant and the most accessible self-help tool around.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
1. Go barefoot whenever possible. Your feet need exercise and by wearing shoes we limit the activity of our feet. Kick off those shoes and allow your feet to work.
2. Put the focus on longevity. It’s seductive to hear “lose 10 pounds in 10 days” but the happiest and healthiest people are the ones thinking about longevity. This body of yours…you want it to be in tip top shape for the long haul!
3. Find some fit buddies. You want friends that help you keep moving. — the ones that text you and say, “Hey, let’s go do a class” or invite you to The Kripalu Center for the weekend. Fit buddies are good influencers, precious to your well-being.
4. Leave your phone behind…and your Apple watch! Exercise should be a break from text messages, phone calls and push notifications.
5. Splurge on massages. I am a big believer in body work. It’s not just pampering. It keeps you well. I think massage is one of the best self-care gifts you can give yourself.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would start the Evening Stroll with the Family Movement. After dinner, everyone in the household just takes a walk together. It’s true wellness on so many levels — being outside, being together, moving your body (helps you digest!) and closing the day with a healthy simplicity.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1. Be entrepreneurial. It’s important to own things. The risk is great, but the financial freedom it could bring is worth it.
2. Education is great, but nothing beats work experience. This is why I think older can be better. If you’ve been taking notes and paying attention, older is truly wiser.
3. Remember creativity takes many forms. We think creativity is reserved for artists, but everyone needs to be creative. Coming up with any idea or solution is creative. Teaching a fitness class is creative!
4. Do you. You don’t have to be or look like anyone else. I realize now, that I didn’t need to color my hair or get spray tans!
5. Be on time. As a boss, I have fired people because of their perpetual tardiness. The habit of being on time is rare and a little boring but a big secret to success.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
All of them, but I am a huge animal lover and have been plant-based for 20 years. I think vegan is the healthiest diet for body, spirit and planet. Veganism is not easy, but by simply adding more vegetables and fruits into your daily life, you’ll ultimately crowd out the other stuff.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I’m an avid Instagrammer, @ellenbarrettfit
Thank you for these fantastic insights!