'Meet with' is our series of interviews with women we admire from across the beauty, wellness and female health industries.
It’s the start of a new year and many of us are turning our thoughts to our fitness routines and so it felt appropriate to spend some time talking with Caila, founder of Balance Zen - a pre and postnatal Corrective Exercise Specialist and Diastasis & Core Consultant. We talk about how she left the corporate world behind to follow her dream as well as common myths surrounding pregnancy and exercise.
What led you to start Balance Zen?
It started out as a small idea with a vague plan...but at the heart of it, I wanted flexibility in the way I educate and train my clients. My demeanor is definitely on the calmer side and my purpose is to help my clients to find balance in their bodies. I push my clients to do their very best each session while maintaining their “zen” and honoring the balance of life.
Did you always know you wanted to work in the fitness industry?
Deep down yes, but not until I was heading into the eighth year of my corporate IT life did it hit me hard in the gut - and I just knew I needed to pursue it full time!
I was doing well in the corporate world. I have a degree in Mathematics and did an MBA in the evenings while working full time. All the things I was “supposed to be” doing :) I had a great salary with benefits and I was good at my job. I was even able to teach group fitness in the morning and evenings, allowing me to pursue both worlds. But after seven years, I had to make a choice. I was unfulfilled and burnt out. It was around this time that I got immersed in Pre & Postnatal education through Fit For Birth™. Once I got through my first course I knew I had found what I was looking for and luckily started to get approached by new moms after group classes asking for 1:1 training.
Was there a particular struggle which led you to learn more about fitness and pre/post-natal exercise specifically?
- As a Barre instructor in Philadelphia and then New York City, I was constantly approached by pregnant and postpartum moms. My pregnancy education up until this point was a list of dos and don’ts to memorize and repeat out to students. This drove me nuts - I knew there had to be more out there.
- I was really struggling with hip pain for years. I eventually had the scans done that showed FAI and torn labrums. I knew I wanted a career in fitness and opted for the surgical fix to preserve my hip joints. I was a nervous wreck before each procedure and asked my surgeon how this would impact me if I wanted to have kids one day. His response was “don’t worry about it”. But I was definitely worried.
So with 1 & 2 - I saw & felt this major hole in the fitness industry. I knew I needed to go get educated and be an expert in this field!
What does wellness mean to you?
Wellness for me is ongoing. Just like any fitness or weight loss goal, I don’t believe in before and after metrics. It’s a process and we’re constantly evolving. So 'wellness' is something that I strive to be aware of, how I am feeling mentally, physically, and spiritually all play a part in my wellness. When I am in touch with these aspects in my life, then I am kind to myself, my family, my clients, and generally more present.
What’s the most commonly asked question women ask you with regards to keeping active during pregnancy?
I’m not sure if there is one most common one, but I find that everyone I’ve started with has come in with some interesting pre-conceived notion about something they “should” or “should not” do. It ranges from “I should do more yoga, right?” to “Is it okay for me to lay on my back, I've read that I shouldn’t” and “can I go for a run?”. It’s just crazy to me that google can cause this much confusion! But I totally understand and that’s exactly why I work to empower my clients to know what they should or should not be doing to stay active during pregnancy.
What’s a common myth which isn’t correct?
Ah - There are so many! But the biggest is “skip the core work during pregnancy”. This is the furthest thing from the truth! There should be lots of focus on the inner core unit - diaphragm, transverse abdominis, and pelvic floor. And the goal should be strength & length!
You should however skip random core exercises that you are not sure of and consult a specialist to make sure those exercises work for you.
What are your top fitness tips for women during pregnancy?
- Learn to breathe diaphragmatically - this skill will carry you through all of pregnancy, birth, and all the days after!
- Learn how to relax your pelvic floor first, then work on the strength.
- Connect to your deep inner core with your breath. This is where the magical core strength comes in.
Do you offer specific advice to women struggling to conceive?
I truly believe in the power behind the mind/body connection. I teach all my clients the Fit For Birth™ Core Breathing Belly Pump and this is such a powerful tool no matter where you are in your pregnancy journey. This type of movement brings a sense of mindfulness and awareness to your body overtime in a way that can absolutely calm the nervous system and put someone in a really good headspace for the pre-conception phase.
What are the main differences women need to be aware of in terms of their exercise routines during pregnancy vs post-pregnancy?
During pregnancy we are focused on strength and balance as the body is expanding and the baby is growing. We’re also preparing for labor and working to build endurance for delivery. During the postpartum period the focus is a lot more restorative. Strength & balance remain top priority, but now we’re working on bringing the center of gravity back inward and allowing organs to shift back.
So the foundations of the training remain consistent, the style of training is extremely different.
What’s your top tip for women during pregnancy?
This is such a great time to become more aware of in tune with your body. Spending quiet time with your breath can be a great place to start. You’ll start to become more mindful of what you and your baby need both with movement/exercise and nutrition.
What do you recommend to support women with painful menstrual cramps/PCOS?
Ah - I love the book 'In the Flo' by Alissa Viti. She talks about balancing your diet and exercise in a way that I have personally found to be SO extremely helpful in managing cramps and energy levels. Also - find a local practitioner to guide you through your own personal struggles! Functional practitioners can help you get to the bottom of these issues and hold you accountable through a recovery plan.
Do you have any nutritional advice for women you work with pre-natally? If so, what piece of advice resonates with most women?
Variety in your diet is my best piece of advice for prenatal women. The more nutrient dense foods you can consume the better for you and the baby. Also, don’t believe everything you google and definitely be mindful of the random unsolicited advice that comes your way :) Find reputable sources and choose wisely what you choose to subscribe to. If this is a major concern, I always recommend finding someone who specializes in this area.
Any advice for managing the huge hormonal swings which can happen during and post pregnancy?
I always urge pregnant moms to start getting used to the idea of leaning on your support system - partners, family, friends, etc. It’s okay to need a little help especially in those first several weeks. Birth is an amazing but drastic life altering event and it’s important to give yourself some grace...both during pregnancy and after!
Is there one quote which resonates with your journey in life so far that you like to share to inspire or empower other women?
"Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going". - Jim Ryun
What’s your go-to hair and skin product?
I am always trying new things! Right now I am loving the Athia skin products. And for hair - my go-to for the days I do style my hair is the DryBar Triple Sec spray.
How do you practice self-care?
Intentionally dedicating some “me time” each day even if it’s just for ten minutes. This ranges from a ten minute meditation to a nap; a workout, foam rolling/stretching, a hot bath or even just sitting with the pup and cup of tea.
How do you advise your clients to manage stress?
I have all my clients do two minutes of breathing in the morning and two minutes in the evening. In the morning they practice their core breathing belly pump to activate their core and prepare it for the day. In the evening their breath practice is aimed to relax the inner core and unwind for the day. Being present with your breath is one of the best ways to calm the nervous system and often creates the habit for long term stress management.
Non-negotiables for your at home routine?
Each morning before I dive into my client sessions, I drink a big glass of water before sitting with my coffee and my Erin Condren planner. I find a piece of inspiration and jot down a few thoughts for the day including some gratitude. This helps me be present and focused throughout my day.
What’s your current state of mind?
I am constantly brainstorming ways to motivate women to keep themselves active despite the current state of the world. It’s a very difficult time for many and it’s so easy to lose sight of the basics - breath, movement, and hydration. We need fresh air and movement more than we know. So right now more than ever I want to make exercise available in a simple yet effective way.