To celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to introduce you to one of my best friends, Chiara Favaretti. She continually inspires me, both with her “have-a-go” approach to business and also through her positive attitude towards maintaining good health through her work as a Pilates teacher.
I met Chiara when I attended one of her Pilates Masterclasses in Greenwich. It was a gift from my brother-in-law Alex and my first introduction to the world of Pilates. However, I only began a regular Pilates practice during the first lockdown in March 2020. At an incredibly stressful and unpredictable time, I was able to find stability and a sense of community thanks to Chiara taking the plunge and starting her very own online studio. During 2020 Classes were donation-based and that allowed me to prioritize my mental and physical health during a penny-pinching period. Over the past two years, I have enjoyed watching her business grow, whilst I too gained a few extra centimetres in height, thanks to her guidance which has improved my spinal flexibility and posture. This week I enjoyed sitting down with Chiara and having a natter over a fresh cup of Chai tea as we reflected upon our shared journey so far.
As many of you know, I am a professional opera singer, and my passion for my Art influences many of my day-to-day activities. Pilates is a great example. When I began practicing, I hoped that Pilates would help my posture and breathing and in turn improve my singing. However, I did not realize that it would enhance my life on tour as the portability of the online classes meant that I could make healthier choices when traveling and keep up with my exercise routine. An extra quirk was that I was able to practice my Italian. Chiara is from Padua in Italy, and also offers online Pilates lessons to Italian speakers. After realizing I am an opera singer, she suggested that I attend both the English and Italian classes on Mondays to improve my understanding of the language. She would repeat the routine from the English class, enabling me to identify new vocabulary by following the same instructions in Italian. This was fantastic learning experience for me and helped me improve my Italian listening skills.
Chiara’s lessons also significantly impacted on how I approach my practice in general. Previously, I would spot an area of concern and try to fix it head-on by focusing all my attention on it. In Chiara’s classes, she doesn’t try to fix an area of concern by encouraging a quick-fix, or bringing in a forceful strength to counteract it in some way. Instead, she recommends:
“I encourage my students to undergo a journey of improvement. Together we move the focus a little away from the area of concern to see the bigger picture, enabling the student to see how it affects other things (mobility, posture, strength, etc.). The student can then find a greater balance across the whole body because they have addressed everything else rather than trying to fix that particular thing and maybe create issues somewhere else.”
A great example of this process in action was my aim to improve my posture. I have a natural curve to my spine, resulting in my posture appearing to be hunched over at times. I was concerned that this would have a negative impact on my singing and my future physical health. My previous attempt to fix my posture was to purposely pull my shoulders back to straighten out the top of my spine; however, holding my body in this manner caused me discomfort in my lower back and sensations of rigidity. Chiara encouraged me to approach this goal with patience and to focus instead:
“By creating more movement in your spine, promoting more uniformed mobility across your whole body. This focus enables you to find more length and a better, more balanced posture. So rather than fixing what you thought was an issue, we looked into creating more movement and more balance across the whole body that then allows you to stand in what looks like a straighter posture but is actually a balanced, healthy, and open position that embraces the natural curves of the spine.”
I found this very empowering, and I was happily surprised to see the improvement in action while looking at my wedding photos. I remember quickly sharing a photograph with Chiara taken in profile during the ceremony. I was so pleased to see an improvement in my posture candidly captured at such a special moment in my life.
I have seen and felt the benefits that Pilates has had on my body and I have approached my Pilates training with the same commitment that I use for my singing as my body is my instrument. However, if you wanted to dip your toe in the water and explore what it is like to practise Pilates you can join Chiara in her March Matness series for only £1.00. Within the Pilates community the month of march became an opportunity to share a love of Pilates and particularly a love of the classical exercises as originally designed by Joseph Pilates worldwide:
“These sequences represent the emblematic exercises of Pilates. I like to think of them as the sun salutations of Pilates. It is the source from which all the movement comes from. My Goal this year was to dedicate this month to people who would like to give it a try without feeling the pressure of being able to do the full version. Rather than this being a moment of glory for those of us that are able to do it or have been studying it before and showing off how difficult the exercises are. My Goal is to inspire people to approach the classical work without feeling fearful and understanding that there is always something that they can do.”
Chiara has created a series of 30 or so videos, which are to be released daily over this month. This series breakdowns the classical mat routine, with a focus on accessibility. If you would like to try them out here is a link to her website and her online studio.