Myrna Brown feels like somewhat of a superwoman these days – and she also looks the part.
The Calgary businesswoman, wife and mother of a son in university and another son in high school says she recently stunned her husband with her strength and newly toned build.
“I was raising my arms and he said, ‘Wow, look at those pipes,’” she says, referring to her sculpted biceps from sticking with regular exercise that includes walking and weight training. “It was awesome, especially since I’m 54.”
When Brown committed a year ago to taking better care of herself, her goals extended beyond the aesthetics. She’s also sleeping more restfully and eating more wholesomely, and has harnessed the stress that she didn’t even realize she was feeling. An expert in the ancient Chinese system of feng shui, she helps others achieve balance and flow in their surroundings. But she herself needed a push to re-energize, so she turned to Sonja Franzmann, a certified fitness and holistic health coach – the type of trainer that time-challenged women are turning to as a one-stop guide to wellness.
“I feel strong, I feel confident, I feel happy – I’m sleeping completely differently than when I started with her [Franzmann], which is huge for me,” says Brown. “My stress level is way down and my self-care has been transformational.”
Instead of just taking up exercise, or just making healthier food choices, or just going to a meditation class to destress, women are looking to balance their lives on the road to wellness – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. It’s a prime reason the fitness and health industries have shifted from piecemeal ways to helping people look and feel better to a holistic approach, and why there are more specialized experts such as Franzmann.
The owner of a mobile fitness and nutrition company she started 11 years ago, Franzmann travels to clients’ homes or wherever they want to train, but also may have them come to a small workout boutique in downtown Calgary. She calls herself “the holistic personal trainer for wine lovers” – emphasizing kicking back over kicking butt to get more out of her clients.
“We slow down to go fast. I want their transformation to feel relatively fun, easy and stress free,” says the 39-year-old wellness guru.
“I’m very nurturing – people need to see that, they need that reassurance. They don’t want personal trainers yelling at them, like that sort of boot camp sort of training. If I see clients trying to push themselves and get stressed out, we stop and I’ll say, ‘Let’s go for a walk.’ I’m their caretaker and let them know if they’re pushing themselves too hard.”
Her more relaxed approach to achieving wellness permeates the evolving fitness industry, which still has its hard-core proponents, but generally is moving from the once popular “no pain no gain” philosophy of whipping people into shape.
Part of this shift is driven by research showing that even small doses of regular exercise can go a long way in making a person feel better physically and mentally, as well as managing and preventing maladies such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Combine that with our aging population – the recently released 2016 national census shows there are now more Canadians 65 years or older than children 14 and under – and the emphasis is on adopting an exercise, eating and stress-reducing routine that can be maintained for a lifetime.
Nathalie Lacombe, vice-president of canfitpro, Canada’s largest certification organization for fitness professionals, says the fitness industry isn’t the only one taking a holistic approach. Many health and medical professions are also going beyond their traditional scope. Chiropractors, for example, are adding acupuncture and other alternative therapies to their care.
As part of the wellness movement, canfitpro, as well as other certification bodies, are offering more specialized training, Lacombe says from her Toronto office. For instance, along with the “foundational” personal training and group fitness trainer programs, canfitpro’s offerings include courses on active aging, clean eating, fundamentals of nutrition, and navina thai yoga therapy.
Franzmann says it’s crucial to never stop learning as a coach. After completing the nutrition for healthy lifestyles program at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) and the personal fitness training program at Mount Royal University in Calgary, she became a certified holistic wellness and health coach in 2013, through the Association of Wellness Professionals.
Her empathy comes from a different source. She says she can also relate to many of her clients’ struggles, having emerged from some dark periods in her own life.
For years, she was overweight and depressed, with no direction or motivation. She turned to drugs, alcohol and food for comfort. After her mother encouraged her to join her at the gym, she started working out regularly, eating better and changing her self-destructive ways, dropping to a size 4 from 14. But then she became obsessed with exercise and developed a binge-eating disorder. Her determination and will put her back on a healthy path, until a terrible car accident in 2011 left her in constant pain. Over the next three years, she felt overwhelmed and sometimes felt like giving up, but, “I fought my way through it,” aided by a personal trainer, family and friend.
Today, she’s happy, healthy, spiritual and confident – a positive existence she strives to give her clients, who are mostly women between 45 and 60. Many complain they have no energy and feel tired, and want to eat better, possibly lose weight and get stronger. To start, she gives them a free consultation – they also fill out a health form with a range of questions, including asking them how stressed they are, from a level of 1 to 10.
While each client’s workout regimen varies, generally, it includes a combination of cardio exercise (such as walking or anything that elevates heart rate), strength training (through dumbbells or exercise bands), and stretching.
But there’s also a lot of talking to connect with clients emotionally.
“In every single session, the first question I ask is, ‘How is your body feeling today?’ We start there and work around that. ... I use my intuition to guide me, to guide them.
“I can feel from their energy what they can or can’t do that day. If they’re angry about a work issue, fight with a spouse ... we’ll do a harder workout, because the energy is there – anger is built-up energy. If a client is tired, didn’t sleep well or not feeling 100 per cent, the workout will change. It’ll be a bit easier.”
She adds: “At some point during our workout, I ask, ‘How is your eating?’ I’m very different when it comes to food and nutrition, especially with women.”
Experts say building a healthy relationship with food is key.
“If you’re putting hate into your food, saying, ‘Oh this is so bad for me – it will it go right to my hips,’ well, it will,” Franzmann says. “My really simplistic nutrition advice is eat whole foods from earth. And it’s all about how you feel. ... Just knowing foods aren’t off limits and you’re not a bad person if you eat certain things.”
Lacombe at canfitpro, noting she has a background in psychology, says eating without guilt is a huge part of achieving balance.
“We have moved away from the restrictions of dieting to fuelling the lifestyles we have ... to becoming grateful for the food we have instead of looking at what you can be deprived of. This is where the coaching becomes interesting.”
Brown says she sometimes would get “stuck” eating a certain way, so Franzmann would suggest tweaks.
“She’d say, ‘How about a little more of that’ – most of it positive reinforcement. I’m now eating healthier than I was in the very beginning – more protein and vegetables than maybe I would have originally, but not a shocking change. And I have that glass of wine every day.”
The changes have given her superhuman goals for the future.
“I was kind of older when I started having children, and now have intentions of being super active with them. And when they have kids, I want to be that walking grandma in my 70s and 80s, doing cool things and moving.”