Norah Myers has two graduate degrees, a background in journalism and book publishing, and cerebral palsy.
She’s also a STOTT PILATES® Certified Instructor.
“It never occurred to me that I could be a Pilates instructor,” she says. “I had no training in anatomy and physiology, but I did have nearly 11 years of Pilates experience as a client, and I was willing to work hard.”
After seven years in the corporate world in a demanding and stressful career, Norah was burnt out and sick of sitting at a desk. Her Pilates teacher asked if she wanted to become a Pilates instructor and she instantly replied, “Yes!”
“I knew, from the day I decided to change careers, that I wanted to serve the disability community. People with disabilities are underserved in the health and wellness market and are extremely underrepresented in the industry.”
Connecting the disability community to Pilates
It’s estimated that over a billion people live with some form of disability, according to the World Health Organization. However, those with disabilities often have a harder time getting access to the health care services and preventative treatments and exercise that they might need because of prohibitive costs, physical barriers, limited availability of services, and other issues.
Pilates is not widely talked about as a form of rehabilitation for people with disabilities, Norah says.
An article in Cerebral Palsy Guidance, a support and health information network for people and families affected by this permanent movement disorder, refers to studies that found Pilates positively impacted children with cerebral palsy, helping them develop greater control, mobility and posture stability of the trunk.
In Norah’s experience, Pilates has helped her become stronger, have more balance, coordination and flexibility, and improve her functional movement— and taking her STOTT PILATES® instructor training through Merrithew® Licensed Training Center, Pilates Winnipeg, only took her practice to the next level.
She decided to train with Merrithew Lead Instructor Trainer Monique Lavoie.
“Monique progressed me faster and more effectively in one year than in 11 years of previous Pilates classes. Monique pushed me; she didn’t baby me. She put the work in to help me progress, develop and grow as a student and now as an instructor,” Norah says.
“Clients often tell me that I’m very calm, patient, supportive, caring, articulate, and knowledgeable, and I definitely learned that from Monique. I wasn’t a calm person before, especially in work, but now that’s the feedback I hear the most often.”
Finding her place as a new instructor during a pandemic
Norah completed her STOTT PILATES Matwork and Reformer exams earlier this year and is working towards her Cadillac module, with plans to do the STOTT PILATES Injuries and Special Populations course in the near future.
Graduating as a new Pilates instructor at the height of COVID-19 has had its challenges, but Norah has taken them in stride, applying her skills as a writer, communicator and people-person to build strong relationships and connections with the Pilates community and prospective clients.
She moved her classes online as soon as lockdown began in March, and has been teaching mat classes to clients in Canada, the U.S., England and Australia through her private Facebook page.
She also runs a popular Instagram account where she candidly discusses health and wellness topics, including being an instructor with a disability, and managing clinical depression, OCD and endometriosis. She’s also a go-to marketing consultant for Pilates instructors.
“I am open on social media because I think it’s important to be honest. People connect to personal stories and experiences,” she says.
She understood, as soon as she created her Instagram, how important it would be to challenge existing Pilates stereotypes. “Doing ridiculous acrobatic exercises on the equipment only alienates the people I want to help,” Norah says.
Clients have told her that they’ve come to her because she’s made Pilates seem less intimidating and more inclusive. They appreciate how she’s making a regular Pilates practice seem more attainable for the average person.
A client recently said to her, “You’re the first [fitness instructor] I’ve ever heard say that you don’t have to be in good shape to exercise.”
Now her hope is to get more people with disabilities involved.
Welcoming people with disabilities into the wellness industry
There’s no doubt the wellness industry has a long way to go to be more welcoming and inclusive. Norah is doing her bit, on social media and in her teaching, to move it in the right direction.
“I want to see more people with disabilities enter the wellness industry as a whole— as doctors, massage therapists, nurses and Pilates instructors. But that also means we need the infrastructure and programs to support, employ and promote people with disabilities,” Norah says.
She has personally connected with several disability organisations, and is designing programs for their members and clients.
“Initially, it was hard to reach people in the disability community because they’re not told or aware that Pilates is within their capability. They don’t know what it is or how it can help them because it’s not widely recommended by health care practitioners,” she says.
That’s a key factor that needs to change— health care professionals who provide services to the disability community need to be educated and aware of what Pilates can offer their clients.
“They need to funnel their patients to Pilates instructors after their acute needs have been met because Pilates instructors can help with chronic pain,” Norah says.
It doesn’t matter whether you have a disability or not, she says, a good instructor is one who is creative, patient, a problem-solver, a good listener and can anticipate the needs of the client.
“It’s totally possible to be a person with a disability and to practice and teach Pilates. I want to make that known. I want to teach others from a place of empowerment to help them feel better.”
We don't have to live our lives forever defined by the damaging things that have happened to us.
– Eleanor Longden
Have you worked with a client with a disability, or are you a mindful movement instructor with a disability? Share your story with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.