Introducing you to Zoë Ruddock, a Pilates teacher in Boxmoor, Hemel Hempstead which is just outside London. Zoë teaches mainly Matwork classes and also has private clients in her home studio. She also works at Tring Pilates, which is a larger studio, and is run old school – so several clients doing different programmes at once. It is a big mix of teaching styles and it keeps her on her toes. I love this woman’s attitude. Be that person that reaches out to others and inspires, that is what Zoë is!
Can you tell the readers something about yourself and your background?
I trained with Stott Pilates after I had cancer treatment. When I left hospital I was given a sheet of exercises , including crunches. I knew that this was not the best advice for someone who had just had abdominal surgery so went back to my dance roots and did pre-Pilates and Yoga at home. It brought back my passion for movement and I realised I was in a position to help other people who were in similar situations. A chain of coincidences followed and after chemo and a trip to India I left my job and started training to be a Pilates teacher. At the time I had had massive weight gain due to my steroids and treatment which brought on early menopause and I was very aware that I did not fit into the gymbunny/Pilates teacher stereotype. It was a massive hurdle to overcome personally and I felt I had to work twice as hard to prove myself as a teacher.
Thankfully I had some incredible encouragement from my Stott Instructor Trainers, Amanda Kitchen and Alison Salmond, and fantastic feedback from clients. Over the last year I have had the honour of working with Kathi Ross Nash who has been incredibly encouraging and I have realised a lot about my own worth as a teacher.
This year has been once of highs and lows! I was diagnosed with lymphedema and lipoedema and have been trying to get my head around what these mean to me now and for the long term. And then I turned 50…
Who is your Pilates example?
One of the other people who has been pivotal in my Pilates growth is Anula Maiberg who has broken the mould in terms of what a Pilates person should look like – she is an awesome teacher and looks badass and I have realised that as a curvy teacher I need to own who I am and be proud of what my body can do and I can achieve.
My other is Debra Berzin, who thanks to Kathi has become my teacher and good friend. We have a lot in common in our love for Pilates, evil sense of humour and occasional imposter syndrome. We are both good at telling each other to stop being daft and get on with it!
Did you solve your own body issues or do you keep them under control with Pilates?
Pilates keeps me strong and I have lost a fair bit of weight, but it is still a struggle. My diagnosis of lipoedema has been interesting – it was not handled well by the medical practitioner who gave me no further information and assumed that I had obviously always been big. Since then I have learned a bit more about it, though is a very complicated disease and is hard for people to get even doctors to understand it, let alone get a diagnosis . It also has a lot of implications for how we all look at and treat our clients.
Basically Lipoedema is a type of fat, however it is mainly based in the lower part of the body, effecting mainly women. It is genetic and hormonally influenced, so tends to grow in puberty (or in my case after menopause). This is also fat that does not go away with diet, instead it grows and swells, often causing mobility problems. It is also painful!
Most people who have it have slimmer upper bodies (though it can be in the arms and other parts of the body). The fat can be like mine, mainly on the hips and thighs, or can go down to the ankles. Other issues that come with lipoedema are hypermobile joints (there is also a correlation with EDS), bruising and super sensitive skin.
This made a lot of sense to me – when I was dancing my bendiness was an asset, but it makes things tougher these days as I get older. Additionally women who are heavier have more pressure on their joints which makes exercise difficult, and some women find that they get increased swelling when they exercise.
I am lucky though, my lympheodema is mild and manageable – I am supposed to wear medical compression but that sports compression is more comfortable – and also the lipoedema is still at a relatively early stage.
Pilates is very helpful for my conditions, as it combines so many aspects that are important to the lymphatic system. And in fact I think it has kept them both under control. I have certain exercises that I struggle with (eg teasers as it is like lifting lead sometimes!) – as do most people but I persevere!
It is frustrating though as there is no treatment for lipoedema apart from very expensive surgery, which I might consider. Weight loss does not work, though some sufferers are on the keto diet, and there are some therapies but most are temporary fixes. Additionally the surgery is very specialised due to the nature of the fat that needs to be removed so there are not many places that offer it.4
How can we promote positive body image?
Recently I wore super bright leggings to class and once of my clients said “I could never wear leggings like that”. So I gave them all a little lecture – firstly if you like the leggings WEAR the leggings! There is no fashion police in my class. And secondly, I wear them because I have realised that short of surgery I can’t change my legs and they are mine and they are strong and have a story to tell.
We must stop shaming people and ourselves. We need to stop saying things like “I feel fat” or worrying if we will get trolled on Instagram (for goodness sake who has time to comment if someone has cellulite, or a tummy roll etc, they are the ones with the problems) and start owning who we are and being proud of who we are, no matter what age, size, gender and so on.
Be self-deprecating and humble and promote positivity and being strong and healthy. Focus on what is good about Pilates and be that person that reaches out to others and inspires. Stop criticising other people’s choices, because you really don’t know what choices they had.
What would be your top 5 tips for Pilates students and/or newbies?
- Be open minded to learning – don’t just stick with one training organisation, but learn as much as you can. If you are Contemporary take Classical workshops, and vice versa.
- Be open minded to the type of people you teach. Everyone has a story so don’t judge and you learn a lot from all clients.
- Do class. Weekly if you can. It will improve your teaching and it is good to mix with other Pilates people.
- You can’t please everyone and sometimes you might not be the right teacher for a client. However you also need to make sure that you protect your business – make sure you have clear terms and conditions for cancellations and so on. Sometimes you also need to be the better person, even when you are infuriated. It can take some adulting!
- Have boundaries. It is not your place to tell someone to lose weight or give medical advice etc. You can refer to a GP or physio etc, instead. But also have empathy – kindness goes a long way.
I often hear that in gyms “Pilates” is taught without, for example, The Hundred or other original exercises. What do you think about that?
Honestly, I think a Pilates class should have the basic components that were in Return to Life, if it is called Pilates. I do run a Rehab class which is pre Pilates mainly, for certain populations. But it still includes The Hundred. And you know there can be variations on a theme, but the essence and order of Joseph Pilates should be there. And no, a class without flexion is not Pilates either. It has its place though.
What is your opinion about Traditional, Classical and Contemporary Pilates?
I trained in a very contemporary way and it was right for me, my body and my mindset at the time, plus there was not much option at the time. I do not regret that choice as it gave me an amazing background and knowledge. However as I grow as a teacher I want to do more and learn more about Joseph Pilates’ vision and legacy. Many people I know are bridging and that is something I have considered though currently it isn’t an option due to financial and time commitments, and my health issues. Instead I am taking Classical classes and workshops and using Pilatesology to train at home.
I think though we get too obsessed with the differences, instead of embracing the similarities and the passion we have for movement and healing through movement. Get a bunch of Pilates people in a room, no matter what their training, and there is a lot of laughter and fun. And you know that is what is important to me.
I like the tool kit that I have from my Contemporary training, but I am also learning that it is there in Classical too. And I love the Classical Matwork order and am introducing it to my clients who love the flow of it.
Do you ever get bored by Pilates? Have you ever thought that you wanted to quit? Why?
No, I love this job and I found it for a reason. Yes, we all get a bit jaded from time to time, which is when I know I need to do another workshop or hang out with my Pilates friends, or take a holiday.
Will you keep on practicing and teaching Pilates? What is your (Pilates)dream and your goal in life?
I am hoping to keep going for as long as possible. I am not sure what my dreams are because a year ago I didn’t think I could do what I have done this year. I am embracing opportunities as they come to me.
Is there a Pilates book you like to recommend to our readers?
Kathi’s Red Thread Book. It is one of the best things I have bought and it has transformed my teaching. And it applies to ALL who teach Matwork.