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Happy new year all and welcome to 2023. We are extremely excited to sit down and be in conversation with one of London’s most sought-after Pilates coaches and founder of Shapes Studio, Paola Langella. Together, we discuss Pilates, nutrition, lifestyle and motivational wisdom to sustain long-term progression and wellbeing. Moving you closer towards your new year goals and intentions centred on self-love and attributes that look beyond the physical and material.

Q: Can you briefly introduce yourself and tell us what inspired you to become a Pilates instructor and wellness coach?

Paola: I am Paola, from Italy and based in London, where I discovered Pilates. I was originally an athlete and professional dancer but during a performance, I injured my neck, leading me to suffer from two slipped discs. My doctor suggested Pilates in order to restore full mobility of my neck and shoulder area. After just two weeks, I felt and saw the beneficial results of this technique and I could not believe it! I felt so curious and inspired by this discipline that I had to begin my studies on it and that’s when my whole journey started. First qualifying as a matwork Pilates instructor, then reformer, prenatal, rehabilitation and I have not stopped since then. I have practiced in many studios before founding my own called Shapes Studio.

I truly believe Pilates is the best fitness and mind-body technique that we can adapt to any body type and personal goals. With my background, I dedicated most of my time eating and living healthier, which is what fuelled my desire to become a nutrition health coach. Further allowing me to help individuals understand that fundamental lifestyle changes to achieve personal fitness and nutritional goals does not have to be restrictive. I am inspired to support each and every of my clients to become their own expert of their own health and wellbeing.

Q: The holiday season is now over, is there a diet or exercise routine you recommend to get back into shape and rid the guilt of indulgence?

Paola: After the holiday season, I always recommend a gentle and mindful detox but not by abstinence or diets, which I do not believe in. Rather, take a first look at the foods and drinks you had across the festive period and recognise you were allowed to have fun, enjoy and celebrate. Now, come back to the present day and ease yourself back into your daily routine by drinking plenty of water, structure your exercise routine, turn to leafy greens and avoid fried, sugary and prepackaged foods and establish on your new year’s intentions and goals. In fact, as you read this, I would like to invite you to take a moment to pause and reflect on your life. Check in and ask yourself what are you really craving? Is it an enriching home environment, a nourishing relationship or progressing in your career?

I suggest this approach because wellbeing and health can be affected by so much more than exercise and nutrition, which both to me, are considered to be sources of pleasures and self-love, and not tools of restriction and punishment for having that cinnamon cookie at Christmas. This is why it is important to take our personal lifestyles into great consideration when returning to routine. This is also referred to as the ‘Primary Foods’ concept, everything (relationships, career, passions etc.) that fulfils our soul and life outside of our plates and mats. The more primary food we receive, the less of a need to fill a void and our dependence on Secondary Foods - foods that we eat. This is why, my personal principle is to add more good things to our lifestyles instead of removing and restricting ourselves.

Q: You recommend a low stress and mindful approach to each aspect of our lifestyles. Why?

Paola: A relaxed mind is a more powerful mind. If we approach a fitness routine carrying a notion of “I want to lose weight because I hate my legs and the shape of my face”, how do we sustain our motivation levels long-term to wake up each morning and continue the routine? Instead, if we approach the mat and our plate of wholesome and delicious food with a sense of love, “I love my legs because they help me to walk home from the office”, “I love my face, my mouth and my nose”. We will be manifesting gratitude that pushes us forward to keep improving.

Q: A study by Journal of Psychosomatic Research found systemic links between perfectionism with anxiety and depression. How do you work through these themes with your clients and prevent feelings of defeat?

Paola: Perfectionism can slow us down, rather than move us closer to our goals of happiness and fulfilment. I used to be a perfectionist coming from the dance world and I was never happy. I have since changed my mantra - progression over perfectionism. This is what we start with at the beginning of every class because while we are striving for 100% happy, we are overlooking the 70% or 80% happy progress we have achieved. The most important thing is to continuously move forward. In each of my classes, I ultimately lead my clients to confront existing perceptions on the areas that hold a negative influence over their body and mind. For example, if legs are a sensitive topic, I would encourage my client’s focus to convert from dejection into appreciation of the legs’ strength and ability. Which allows us to not depend on public transport. I am utilising each Pilates, nutrition and lifestyle coaching session as a vessel to inspire people to focus on their priorities and go beyond the concept of perfect figure. For me, to find beauty is not about toning and achieving the ideal physique. It is about personal characteristics because what is a person without a beautiful personality, right?

Two typical exercises I like to do with my clients are: creating a beauty diary. This is a simple tool that begins with writing down three things you love about your physical body and why, and three things you love about your personality and why. The second is to take a moment to visualise our bodies as a box holding our organs and personality. This box works hard 24/7 to keep us alive, healthy, happy, energetic and vibrant so how about giving it a chance to work for us to do all the activities we want in our lives? Say, travelling, playing with our children, cycling to work. However, we must first let it in and support it, not fight it, by feeding it wholesome and balanced nutrition, engage in dynamic exercises, sleep and a special ingredient, enjoying life by practising gratitude!

Q: What are you looking forward to this spring and your recommended tips to keeping motivated?

Paola: For this spring, I look forward to more travelling experiences and new connections. I feel I want to discover new places in the world and connect with people worldwide. Of course, the upcoming retreat I have with Balance Holidays will be a great opportunity for these two areas and I cannot wait to meet, inspire and to share my love for Pilates, wellbeing and wholesome, healthy foods with you in-person.

As for keeping motivated, I suggest writing down your top three short (from now to 2 months), mid (now to six months) and long term (now to twelve months) goals on a piece of paper that you can turn to each morning and before you go to sleep. Break down each goal further by writing out simple action steps you can easily implement into your everyday life to attain it. This way, it creates a guideline to hold us accountable for our progress, the determination and consistency to keep going.  

Join Paola on the Shape and Nurture Pilates Sicilian Manor Retreat this coming March.