The enrich list

By Zoe Walker, Amanda Linnell

Pilates instructor Maree Seerden. Photo / Babiche Martens
Pilates instructor Maree Seerden. Photo / Babiche Martens

Forget the mundane, give your life meaning ... become enthused and inspired. We meet people who have followed their hearts, and share simple ways to fuel your fire for life.

1. Work out mindfully

I am standing centimetres taller than normal. Well that's how it feels and people have commented. When you're five foot ten, and have spent most of your life being told to put your shoulders back (thanks Mum), to finally feel at ease with my height and posture is a quiet blessing.

But's it's far more than just putting my shoulders back. As it turns out, good posture starts at your feet. This, I have learned from pilates guru Maree Seerden. For the past three months she has been gently opening me up - physically and mentally - to encourage a mindful awareness of my body and how it works.

As Maree explained on my first day, "pilates works on enhancing the mind-body connection, thus allowing a person to work at a deep level of awareness".

Now, after decades of mindlessly pounding away at the gym building up and tightening muscles, pilates has come as a bit of an epiphany.

In Maree's small and intimate studio near Victoria Park, every new client is taken through an initial assessment.

"First we look at you in a static posture and observe your joints such as with the position of the head, neck and shoulders and look at the general balance of the body," says Maree. "If you're working on a computer or at a desk, areas like the muscles on the chest can become shortened - so we look at the parts we want to open up, the muscles we want to lengthen and those we want to strengthen.

"We then look at what we call the kinetic chain - the moving body - and look at all the joints in action. So if you're doing a squat or a walk we look at the alignment. We look at what we want to work on and then we find out what your goals are. It is very individual.

"People come with all sorts of reasons - then it's a case of incorporating all those and forming a programme.

"As we get older we get into different patterns - through our experiences in life, what we do, what our occupations are ... and what happens is we create what we call a faulty pattern which can lead to compensatory actions and these can lead to pain and dysfunction."

Maree knows what she's talking about. It was she who first introduced pilates to New Zealand back in 1995 - from her bedroom in Herne Bay. "I always wanted to be a dancer," the vivacious 48-year-old laughs.

"And when I was on my OE in London I spent all my time taking classes at Pineapple Dance Studios. But next door, there was this sweeping staircase that I always wondered what was at the top of. And it was here I discovered a pilates studio run by Gordon Thompson where people of all ages were doing these incredible things on incredible looking machines."

It was the eighties and at the time pilates in London was very much the domain of ballet dancers and performers. Maree was hooked and within a few years of being Thompson's client he asked her to train as his apprentice. Working with dancers from the Royal Ballet of London and various celebrity clients, Maree was in her element.

"I discovered the world of theatre, opera and ballet. I loved it. But, most importantly, I loved that pilates was such a holistic form of exercise which dramatically improved strength, balance, flexibility and posture as well as working wonders for rehabilitation, helping those with chronic pain or injuries."

Maree returned home in 1995 to discover pilates didn't exist here. Keen to share her passion and experience she set up at home in Herne Bay. The cost of importing the equipment was beyond her so, forever enterprising, she worked with a boat builder to make her own. In 1996 she opened the Pilates Body Studio which rapidly became the hot spot for sports stars and celebrities looking to get fit and toned.

But the clients that Maree loves the most are those with problems or in pain.

"I love the challenge and knowing that I can help them," she smiles.

"I have a client with Parkinsons, others with arthritis, serious back pain, pelvic floor problems ... Pilates is good for all of these. It helps with osteoporosis especially in menopausal women. The key is you can treat each person individually as the equipment is so adaptable."

For me the exercises she prescribes are gentle and extending, which allow me time to think through exactly how my body is responding, in order for me to correct it as we go. Maree uses phrases such as "allow your shoulder blades to melt down your back", "let your leg float up" to help me visualise what I am trying to achieve without over-recruiting muscles.

Today, Maree travels regularly to New York, Australia and back to London, constantly learning and growing as the discipline itself evolves. "It's so stimulating discovering more and more about the body and mind and then being able to share that."

Maree is the licensee and master educator in New Zealand for Polestar Pilates USA, and has trained many of our country's pilates instructors. "The industry has grown and changed since it first began. For me the root of pilates is about forming close relationships with my clients.

The more that you work together and the more you get to know each other, each session can be different or the same - it really depends on how the individual's feeling on the day. So if you're having an off day, you can tone it down and do more stretching and opening up. While if people are feeling full of energy you can focus on that."

A mother of twin eight-year-old boys, Maree knows the importance of finding balance in your life and, most importantly, listening to your body.

"Pilates is for all ages, shapes and sizes - I'm looking into setting up sessions for children and teenagers who would really benefit. It's about understanding and knowing your body to prevent injury, but ultimately it's about being healthy and creating a sense of wellbeing."

- Amanda Linnell

* The Pilates Body Studio, 2/141 Victoria Sq, Wellesley St West, City, ph (09) 303 2211 or see bodystudio.co.nz.

Individual sessions from $75-$90/hour; Studio group classes $310 (for 10 concession card); Reformer and Mat classes $250 (for 10 concession card).

2. Follow your heart

A new country led to a new career and an enriched life for Beate Glaeser, who opened Ease Thai Foot Massage last year. Glaeser moved to New Zealand four years ago, selling everything she owned in her native Germany from her own business to her bookshelves.

Her former life involved media management for high technology companies, with a job in Bangkok providing the introduction into the world of Thai massage - and the seeds for owning her own business focusing on the relaxing art of massage was born.

Opening in April last year, the massage salon on Ponsonby Rd is set up to resemble authentic salons found in Thailand, combined with a relaxed Kiwi atmosphere. Glaeser, who sometimes still works in marketing on a project-by-project basis, aims to open more branches around the city and country.

Thai foot massage is an art in itself. Focusing on the lower legs and feet, the massage involves strong, slow movements and acupressure with gentle stretches. Nerve endings in the soles of the feet correspond to all of the organs of the body such as the liver, kidney or spleen. The gentle and repeated massage of these pressure points stimulates and detoxifies organs and improves circulation to the problem area. Thai foot massage can relieve stress, help promote restful sleep, and even improve the immune system.

I became serious about opening a store for traditional Thai foot massage pretty quickly but allowed the idea some time and room to grow. Playing around with some scenarios and thinking it through thoroughly helped a great deal in getting it off the ground. I spent nearly one year, on and off, to plot out my concept. I wanted to get it right.

I did not plan to do the massage myself, but I took a course in Thai massage as I wanted to understand everything behind it. I regarded this as crucial to the business. I was very particular in choosing the right therapists, a top-qualification from a recognised massage school and a sound experience was a must. Fortunately I could put together a wonderful team from the start.

I'm a spontaneous person and never afraid of trying something new. Venturing into unknown territory presents certain thrills for me, I love new challenges. I guess I seek change proactively and I constantly stay alert to new opportunities. When I first experienced and fell in love with Thai massage, I instantly knew this is something worthwhile pursuing.

I added some serious cultural diversity to my life. A native German in New Zealand running a Thai business is quite a mix of attitudes, habits and view points. I enjoy juggling the multicultural challenges and blending it all together. I find it very interesting to see things from different angles.

The best thing about changing my career was the deeply gratifying feeling of building up something from scratch and reaping the rewards of overwhelming feedback from our customers. There is nothing better than a customer remarking that it was a fantastic massage and see them return next time with friends.

My idea of an enriched life is to take a chance when the right opportunity comes up, and to not get stuck in your ways. Being open to change, and embracing all that comes along with it.

- Zoe Walker

* Ease, 49 Ponsonby Rd, ph (09) 360 0198. ease-massage.com.

3. Dance like no one's watching

Whether you've been buried in self-consciousness for too long or you love yourself on the dance floor, 5Rhythms is a liberation. There are no right or wrong moves. There's music from deep house to dharma and prompting with words both poetic and practical. It's undeniably fun, yet this two-hour practice has the power to unlock frozen bodies or rekindle a person's creative spark.

People who do the 5rhythms learn to know their body, heart and mind well. Though many - like me - may have started out awkward in their own skin, they soon dance charismatically, alive to the music and visibly themselves.

On this Friday night, in Waiheke's Palm Beach Hall, Sacha Paddy, 36, is our teacher. Both fluid and focused, she will DJ us through a "wave" of five different movement styles - Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness - devised by American Gabrielle Roth. We start with a rolling Latin fusion track and an innocuous invitation to move any part of our body that wants release. I have no idea what the next two hours will unfold.

Before we know it, a funky bass-note has us shaking out the week. Sacha turns it down slightly to demonstrate the first rhythm - Flowing. Her movements seem to rise directly from her words, and are continuous without breaks or edges.

Inspired to follow the whim of my feet, I trial an unfamiliar twist at my hips and suddenly I'm dancing with, not against, the weight of my thighs. They actually give me swing. But wait - in this experimental space, my rigid 80s side-step has resurfaced as something more fluid. It's a new movement that's definitely mine, and it's fun.

Everyone's dancing their own way - some immersed in one spot, others curling wildly through the hall. Anything goes. On this dancefloor the point is to dance for its own sake, not to hook a mate. You're free to engage with one another, and free to move away when you want. It's a relief after the loaded codes of the nightclub floor. An easy thread of movement ripples up from heel to fingertips. Flowing. Where once I battled shame, I feel elegant - uncommonly so.

As Staccato kicks in, a rock beat evokes the angst of a million puberties. We move in percussive, short sharp moves, thrusting shapes which give pent-up emotions a form. Everyone's busy finding the gesture that feels, in that moment, like their mother tongue.

It's strange to be following one's innermost whisperings among others doing the same. Though the crowd changes each class, a sense of community forms. Momentarily, three of us mirror each other in a hilarious elbow-dance. You're seen, enjoyed, accepted, without words.

The music carries us into Chaos - the creative, unpredictable, trancey state. I'm going fast, but there's no question of stopping now. I know I'm flushed, but I feel the funkiest kid, loving my unique moves. I weave an incredibly complex dance with a man I barely know. It's thrilling to find myself playing with another, free and light as a bird.

When Sacha first discovered 5Rhythms 13 years ago, she was "stiff as a log and clumsy. I saw a fluid comfort in others bodies which I wanted for myself." She soon found changes at many levels. "The dance changes how we relate to ourselves, others and groups, how we handle blockages, and move through life."

Certainly, in my two years of sporadic classes, deep shifts have occurred. One dance, I shed a thick crust of protectiveness around my heart. I actually believe this practice has not just made me a confident dancer - it has also opened me emotionally for a passionate relationship, after a period of being single and shut-down.

As befits a powerful process of creative release, all 5Rhythm teachers have rigorous training. Despite 10 years' experience, Sacha had to practise for eight months in Europe to qualify for the course; then followed a year's workshops overseas with Gabrielle Roth. Her manner is understated, her interventions sparse, yet her deft use of language prompts extraordinary self-exploration and insight as you move.

In Lyrical, a lightness pervades the still-vibrant beats. In this rhythm I have danced out grief for my father, and experienced explosions of lightness. Whatever's topical that day will be aired and moved through in an abstract way.

Stillness, the final rhythm, is peaceful, but not still. "If you're giving voice to your body" asks Sacha, "what still wants to move?" Some Gregorian chants invoke a dreamlike state of grace. Physically spent, emotionally grounded, awake to our essential nature, we come, very gradually, to rest.

- Rosie Walford

* Sacha Paddy teaches regularly (Sunday mid-morning, Auckland; Friday evening, Waiheke) and at residential workshops. Email: sacha@5rhythms.co.nz.

Other qualified teachers in NZ: 5rhythms.co.nz.

Gabrielle Roth, founder of 5Rhythms: gabrielleroth.com.

Classes are drop-in.

Sacha Paddy will also be offering a workshop, Living Passionately, combined with Big Stretch life coaching, on 16 to 18 April 2010. Cost $240. email: sacha@5rhythms.co.nz

4. Bring fresh meaning to your life

Don't sit on the fence ... Find a local issue that excites you or a charity that is meaningful to you and get involved. It's a great way to become part of a new community and the pay-off is the feel-good factor of being part of a team working together to make a difference.

Expand your mind ... Attend a lecture on something you know nothing about. Everyone from Petra Bagust to Rosie Horton were hanging on the words of scientific rationalist and critic of creationism Richard Dawkins when he was in town last week. If this isn't your bag, try the world of modern art at the Auckland Art Gallery where the 4th Auckland Triennial - Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon - is on until June 20. With participating artists from around the world there are numerous chances to take part in guest lectures, panel discussions and guided tours. For more information, go to aucklandtriennial.com.

Care for your planet...You can feel good about the most mundane of things - like housework - if you know you're using products that are good for the planet. One of our favourite shops is the Ecostore where you can buy everything from laundry detergent to organic garden supplies. Visit them at 1 Scotland St, Freemans Bay, phone 0800 33 55 33, or shop online at ecostoredirect.co.nz. For other planet friendly and sustainable products, the best place to start is greenlist.co.nz which has more than 600 products and services to choose from.

Think more deeply ... "Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom." - Lao Tzu. Ponder that thought and then get along to the School of Philosophy (there's one in Mt Eden and one in Takapuna) and learn how to incorporate practical philosophy into your daily life. The school runs nine lectures three times a week (many are repeated so you can fit them into your schedule) and draws inspiration from philosophies and religious traditions from around the world. The aim, they say, is to "discover and realise in life the truth about one's self and the unity that lies within creation ... This can help us in practise to find our own inner strength, freedom, intelligence and happiness, qualities which then reflect naturally in life." Term two starts on April 26, to find out more go to philosophy.school.nz.

Break bread with friends ... Join the passionate world of the foodie where seeking out unusual ingredient and visiting markets to buy locally produced products becomes a joyous thing (and it's so much more inspiring than the supermarket). Take a cooking class and expand your culinary repertoire before sharing your new talents with family and friends.

5. Find a job with meaning ...

Ambitious and typical Type A, Michelle Quirk's "awakening" came after having her first child five years ago.

Before becoming a mother of two, Quirk worked as a high-powered lawyer in the corporate world, a role in which she excelled. "I was typical Type A - straight A's and I worked hard and was good at my job - I thought I would go overseas and do an MBA, get a lot of world experience then come back and be prime minister. I was quite serious at the time; it was either prime minister or head of a corporation like Telecom."

Quirk moved to Britain in 1998, where she met her future husband, also an ambitious Kiwi lawyer. After graduating from the London Business School with an MBA in 2001 and working in law firms on the management side, she had her son - and her ambitions "changed pretty much overnight".

"Without being too witchy-pooh about it, I had a bit of an awakening - which has continued."

Her daughter followed a few years later, and Quirk quickly realised that "the life I wanted wasn't compatible with what I wanted to do as a mother. I was starting to realise that my place in the world was making a difference socially rather than making a difference in the corporate world".

In 2007 the family moved back home to New Zealand and Quirk became involved with the First Foundation in early 2008. The charitable trust works with talented but financially disadvantaged high school students around the country, providing them with financial and personal support in the form of scholarships, mentoring and work experience. Quirk's role as business development manager means she looks after getting the scholarships from corporate clients every year, and it also means she gets to use her experience and talents from her previous career in the corporate sector - but putting them to use for a greater good.

"An area of passion for me is young children; helping them reach their potential in life is a bit of a calling really," explains Quirk who has also recently finished writing a book about raising children in the modern world.

"We all love our children and want them to be healthy and happy, but the way the modern world and society has become, we're kind of sleep-walking through our roles. Our kids are getting swept up in all the technological change, two working parent families, all those things that have happened over the past generation, we haven't really picked up on how that influences our children."

The book, she says, provides parents with "a recipe for waking up again".

She sees the book being published as the first step in her 10-year plan - first the book, then workshops and courses for parents, followed by a foundation similar to First Foundation, but for families.

"Kids are born perfect, they're divine and capable of so much. The way that we raise them has such a major impact on whether they're able to reach their potential, and I'd really like to help kids in all sectors of society reach their potential in life".

A change of career has seen Quirk find her calling and reach her potential in life, the best thing about it being "the alignment with me".

"When I was younger I had all these ambitions about the corporate sector - there's nothing wrong with that of course - but I decided that my place wasn't there. In terms of being that very driven, very money focused person, I thought that's what I needed to be to be successful.

"What I realised after having kids is bringing down those barriers of who I thought I was supposed to be at work as opposed to who I was at home, I got rid of that artificial separation of the two. I can be me. My passions for making the world a better place, people and relationships are able to come through."

- Zoe Walker

* First Foundation, ph (09) 580 1020 or firstfoundation.org.nz.

6. Simple pleasures

Let go of the edge, you'll be amazed how you float...

Go skinny dipping or just swimming in your togs at the beach or an outdoor pool. There's nothing more exhilarating and it's a wonderful way to feel at one with nature. Lie on your back and watch the clouds pass overhead as you float.

Walk... And we don't mean on serious tramps or power walks to keep fit. Just simple walking: to the shops, around your neighbourhood, over to a friend's place, to work... You'll be amazed how much more of your immediate world you'll notice.

Change your routine... This might be as simple as changing the radio station on the drive to work. We are surrounded by a vast richness of information and entertainment - documentaries, interviews, music... Who knows? You might discover a whole new world.

Bask in the sunshine... Sunlight lifts your spirits and helps your heart. Research shows that being in the sunshine can increase your levels of Vitamin D and that helps fight heart disease. So take a break in the park this lunchtime. And if you can't find time in the day, wait for a clear night and head to the garden and moon bathe. Wrap yourself up in a blanket and ponder your place in the universe under the lunar light.

Read the book before the movie... Allow your own imagination to flow as the words on the page come alive in your mind. Create your own heroes and heroines, and savour the way the author originally told their story. You'll go to the movie informed and leave with a curiosity about why they made the changes they did to get it on the big screen. Try A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood; Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert or The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson.

Surround yourself with things that carry good memories... Photos, postcards, gifts from friends, a child's drawing, a stone from a beach. Surround yourself with things that when they catch your eye give you a boost of positive feelings.

Spend an afternoon cooking... Make your own hummus or preserves and then give the extra to friends. There's nothing nicer than a friend dropping in with something little and handmade.

Spend time with people who make you laugh... Why not? There's nothing better than a good giggle.

- NZ Herald

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