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Real Talk: Pilates and Menopause

Posted by Flexia Pilates on
Real Talk: Pilates and Menopause

We believe that Pilates isn’t just about the exercises. It’s about having an instructor who can deliver a class that makes you feel safe, seen, and cared for. This is why we are so stoked to have Mychele Sims as one of our founding instructors. 

Mychele is a force with 10 years of experience teaching everything from Pilates to dance fitness. She has a gift for making all bodies feel welcome, while also delivering a thoughtful, yet killer (and fun!) class. 

We sat down with Mychele to chat about life, what it’s being a mom in fitness, a Black woman in Pilates, and *gasp* menopause…and true to form, Mychele held nothing back.

A Q & A with Mychele Sims

Flexia:

Can you share a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Mychele:

My name is Mychele Sims. I am the owner and operator of Get2Werk Pilates and Fitness. I teach all things movement. I love getting people to move in ways that they thought their bodies never could. I’ve been doing this as a profession for 10 years. The ones that I feel that do good [for the body], are the ones I practice. The ones that I’ve got that are evil, I no longer practice. So that’s me in a nutshell.

Flexia:

Love it. You have a lot of experience in this industry. What originally made you want to teach fitness and Pilates?

Mychele:

Weight loss. It’s 100% true. I fluctuated in weight for years. All of my family members are very slight in build and I got lucky for a long time. After I had my daughter, I started slowing down and became more of a soccer mom. I was on the sidelines and kind of just spreading. Combined with some divorce and some depression, fitness became a rediscovery of myself.

A friend asked me to help him with some choreography, which got me back into dancing. I had several friends who were fitness instructors, who were saying, “Mychele, you should do this!” I said, “Well, if I do it, let me do something that’ll be fun and will help me lose this weight that I put on.” I was at about 210 pounds, and that was 10 years ago. Right now, I will happily say I’m 195 and happy as hell. But when I started, I wanted to get down to what I thought was my driver’s license weight.

I started to teach Zumba and from there, it just grew. I kept on adding on certifications in different areas. I feel like that initial step has given me a life that I really, truly enjoy. But my initial thought was, “let’s get in here and teach something so you can lose weight. You have a reason that you have to show up.” I showed up for myself for 10 years, and ultimately others.

Flexia:

It’s so true that what draws us to exercise usually isn’t the reason for why we stay. As you’ve mentioned, your motivations for moving have changed over time. How has your relationship to yourself and your body changed during your teaching career?

Mychele:

I now know how strong I can be. In this 10-year span, I’ve been shown so much in trying things that I initially stayed away from. I never thought I would be the person who could teach mixed martial arts conditioning. The same was with weights.

Now, I’m stronger and now my bones feel stronger. So much has happened. I know to be easier on myself, because I’ve been up and down. I’ve been buff as hell, and a little flabby, and a little bit extra love. It’s okay, because I know that my body is healthy.

My favorite part of my journey is the flexibility of knowing that the body can do so many things. In these 10 years, my body could do Pilates, it could do yoga, it could stretch, it could do kettlebells. This keeps me fresh and interested. I don’t get stuck in one modality, I can kind of play around with all these different things.

Flexia:

Yes. There is so much to be said about our various fitness identities, but as we know identity goes beyond just fitness. You have a lot of identities, including being Black and being a mother. Are there any ways that your identities have influenced how you teach or your perspective of exercise?

Mychele:

On being Black, I’m African American. I’m American, but I call myself Black, because that’s where it is. Whether it’s fitness, Pilates, or yoga, you don’t see a lot of people who look like you. I wanted to show up and change that. I also wanted to show up for my daughter. I have a son as well and he’s seen a different work ethic from me, but my daughter is looking at me to emulate it, so that kept me in check.

I teach with the knowledge that we all have a variety of identities. Whether it’s a community of women of any race or background, we are aunts, we are mothers, we are wives, we are girlfriends, we are caretakers, we have all these different hats. We are people who can have kids, we are people who don’t want to have kids, we’re people who have endometriosis, PCOS, and have been through cancer and mastectomies. We are people who have all these things that are related to whatever’s going on in our bodies and our minds.

I’ve seen the gambit of the world in my classes. I want to show up and I continue to show up, as somebody who understands, but to let you know that whatever you come with me, it’s a safe space. If I can listen and just be ears for you, that’s the reason why I do what I do. If you don’t feel seen in this space, then come over here with me. That’s what keeps me going, like seriously, because I could be doing a whole bunch of other things, but this is what brings me joy.

Safe means being seen. Safe is somebody who gets my body type. Safe means being somewhere I can let my hair down and not worry about being judged, because especially for women of color, depending on whatever their ethnicity is, people have preconceived notions about you.

Flexia:

To expand on this idea, the Pilates industry has a poor track record regarding representation and has often been associated as being for thin, white women. From your perspective and lived experience, are there ways this notion of what a Pilates teacher looks like created a barrier to entry for you to become a Pilates teacher?

Mychele:

I’ve talked about it before, but it’s expensive and sends a signal of “this is not for me.” These people don’t see me, because if they saw me, their marketing, words, and actions would speak to me in a way that it telegraphs that I would be safe there. That’s a huge thing. Safe means being seen. Safe is somebody who gets my body type. Safe means being somewhere I can let my hair down and not worry about being judged, because especially for women of color, depending on whatever their ethnicity is, people have preconceived notions about you.

That’s why I show up, because why is she there? Because she’s here. She’s here, because that one chick who thinks, “I’ve got thick thighs. I’ve got thick legs. Well, Mychele looks a little thick. She looks like she understands me.”

This ties back to the point of “She’s a mom. Oh, okay, she’s a thick girl. She’s a Black girl. She got an afro. She’s kind of brave.” My messaging is that this is for you too and if it can’t hit you at this price point, well, let’s find a different option instead. Let’s make it a stretch class or something that’s accessible to you. You don’t have to have an apparatus or need to get to the place that has it. There are options.

Flexia:

With all of this in mind, where would you like to see the Pilates industry go moving forward?

Mychele:

They need to stop making the method so exclusive. Part of why the status quo is the way that it is, is because the gatekeepers have to keep it a certain way to make people come to them.  Generally, you’re making Pilates inaccessible, because you’re justifying that if you have a certain certification or come from a specific pedigree that you can charge a certain amount.

That’s why I love what I’m seeing right now with this influx of people saying, “Hey, I do strength training, and I’m a massage therapist, and I’m a Pilates instructor, and … it’s the “ands.” Life should be yes, and, so I think the way forward is what we’re seeing now.

We’re seeing differently abled and differently bodied people showing up. We’re seeing more people of color getting to shine, because even though most of us have been here for a while, nobody saw us. I think that the pandemic has shifted people from feeling like they couldn’t to saying, “No, I should. I will. I am, and I’m doing it.”

Flexia:

Agreed. These conversations online have been such an important part of moving the industry forward, so thank you for having them!

Shifting gears, Menopause has been a dark hole that until recently we never talked about – even though it has a profound impact on how we feel and happens to any of us who are fortunate enough to live long enough to experience it. 

Is there anything about your own experience that you would like to share?

Mychele:

My initial level of understanding was that it just means you stop having your period. Then you’re going to have mood swings and night sweats. That’s all I knew. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know what age to look for it.

I’m not a doctor, but If you look at it scientifically, you’re losing estrogen and progesterone, which changes the chemical balance of your body. That might mean you get hairs in places you didn’t know you had them, hot flashes, and mood swings. My favorite, vaginal dryness may be real for you. My least, least favorite is that your sex drive will depreciate.

I think the biggest ones for me are still the weight control issue, and the night sweats…or the day sweats…just the random sweating. I think it’s really scary too. As a fitness instructor, I don’t know where I’m going to be. I know how I’m starting out my day, but I don’t know if this is the day that my period, that’s never there for two years, decides to almost pop up. Does that mean that I’m in the middle of class, and I’m just standing there under air conditioner sweating the hell out?

Then, there’s the issue of it being something gradual or sudden, I think it varies from person to person. Perimenopause was something serious. I felt my body changing, but now I feel okay. I feel the hormones shift. I feel I’m getting more padded, more juicy. Holding on to my weight, because that’s my body’s way of trying to regulate it. It’s just odd. It is odd because the mood swings are so real and severe to me. I mean, I could be teaching a class and feeling like I want to just cry. It’s been challenging, but I’m keeping active. I want to keep something regular in my body, because my hormones are not regular.

Flexia:

Yes, it’s a lot and we definitely don’t talk about this enough. With that, is there anything about menopause that you wish you’d known or that someone had told you before you experienced it that would have helped you navigate it?

Mychele:

There are some things that no one told me about. One thing was increased anxiety for no reason. Then there’s the changes in your cycle. Everything that is happening disrupts your healthy flow of vaginal fluids. I just was like, why am I getting these hellacious yeast infections? Like what’s going on? What am I not doing? Then being a fitness instructor, we’re in sweaty clothes, we’re working out, we’re sweating there, and it can be very uncomfortable.

So the dryness mixed with the working out, with the sweats, and all of that, it’s like, you don’t have control of your body. All that’s to say, is that there’s a mental component. You’re like, am I me today? Who am I today? Then I have to show up for other people and do this. The mental part of it for me, is also like, am I old? So am I old now? Am I worthless now? Am I useless now? What’s my purpose now? That would mess me up mentally. That’s the thing. No one mentions the effects that hormones have on your personality. You know?

Flexia:

Yes, nor do we normalize it, so thank you for talking about this so openly. We have one final question for you. What advice would you give other women about how to navigate changes through her lifetime, particularly in regards to Pilates and fitness where it’s often sold as being something for twenty somethings where youth and perfection is emphasized?

Mychele:

First and foremost, there is no fountain of youth. Ponce de Leon, or whoever else is looking for it, doesn’t exist. The fountain of youth is movement. Okay? If you ask me, selling Pilates as something for the 20 somethings is really a farce because they don’t have disposable incomes, they already have the bodies they want, and they’re doing it for the gram. I’m making a generalization here, because you have some 20 year-olds with specific challenges where they need Pilates in their life. But to make it this sexy thing that is only for people who wear certain brands of clothing, that’s where you’re missing the mark.

What they should be marketing this as is “feel good in your body.” What does that mean? It means that you have more mobility, you have more balance, you have more flexibility, you have more control, you have better posture. Those are all long-term goals that you need as a human being that are not for just a certain age range, or a gender.

Be who you are, in the age that you are. If you’re 20 something, do that. Same for 30, 40 and so on. It’s the celebration of life, no matter what milestone you hit. Fitness and wellness is not a punishment. I’m not punishing myself for anything that I ate, did, or didn’t do. This helps me create the space that takes care of my physical body and my mental health. These things go hand in hand. I think that’s where everything should be going.

Finally, there’s something to be said for the wisdom that comes with age. I was a wiser 30 than when I was 20. I was wiser at 40 than I was at 30, and now I’m even wiser at 50. I think it’s about leveling, understanding what really works for you, and doing those things that make you feel good and like you’re present in your body.

Flexia:

We couldn’t agree more. Are there any final thoughts that you’d like to share with us?

Mychele:

I think the conversation that I would like people to keep exploring is whatever that thing is, regardless of what you are dealing with, how can you hone in on what works for you? With that, know that there’s more than one way to do things is so paramount. You are the author of your life. You are the author of your story. You will find what works and what doesn’t work, so adjust things accordingly.

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