Meet Anya Hayes: mother of two, pilates instructor, author and freelance writer and editor.
Why You Should Know Her
Anya, from London, is a true champion of positivity. Her Instagram account Mothers.Wellness.Toolkit is my go to for a little bit of peace, calm and grounding and she constantly inspires me to find the positive, everyday, be that from a mental health, physical or spiritual point of view.
Her book Pregnancy: The Naked Truth is a must for any pregnant woman looking for an alternative to traditional pregnancy guides. Currently writing her second book, The Supermum Myth, due out in the autumn, Anya balances writing work with teaching pilates from home and caring for two small boys.
I’m basically in awe of her capacity for turning difficult situations into beautiful ones. And her leggings collection.
Hello Anya! How did you get into Pilates, and what made you want to teach it?
In 2002, a good friend of mine had a cycling accident and broke her back, and as part of her rehabilitation she was told that she should start doing Pilates. She didn’t seem keen, so I looked into local classes that we could do together to help get her started. I had started having slight back aches and generally had been intrigued over the previous couple of years by reading about this new exercise thing that Madonna apparently did (yes, I am as lame as to be influenced by what Madonna does…), which was great for posture and strengthening core muscles, so I thought that I should check it out. My friend ended up not coming with me, but I went along and never looked back!
In terms of teaching, I’d been doing Pilates for a couple of years when in November 2004 my best friend from school died suddenly. We were 28… it was a pretty horrific time of grieving as you can imagine, and in that time I found myself in Thailand at a yoga retreat.
I had a bit of an epiphany that my friend was the only person I knew among our group of friends who truly loved what she did as a job – she had left a humdrum job and gone back to art college to study costume design, had just recently graduated the summer before and was loving the potential of her new career when she died. When I was in Thailand I thought… fuck it, life is so crazy short: love what you do, do what you love… I loved Pilates and yoga, and I decided there and then that I needed to train to be a Pilates teacher.
When I was in Thailand I thought… fuck it, life is so crazy short: love what you do, do what you love…
What do you most enjoy about it?
About Pilates itself, I love how clever it is, how intuitive… it’s like a daily MOT for your body and it just makes sense. Everyone should do it. It’s learning about movement mechanics, restoring natural movement patterns and allowing you to tune in to your body, your breath, connect to yourself in a way that in modern life we’ve largely lost the natural instinct for.
I love that it’s mind/body but without asking you to clear your mind in the way that yoga does – which I find a struggle sometimes. Tell me to meditate and my brain instinctively clucks around pecking for stuff to think about. But in Pilates, the focus is on the clarity of the movement, the isolation of the correct muscle, the breathing pattern; and there simply isn’t room for ruminating about your to do list or the things that have been pissing you off recently.
I enjoy that I am quite simply changing people’s day for the better when they come to class, and changing their lives day to day because of helping them with the way they carry themselves, helping to ease aches and pains that can be really debilitating and take their toll on your mental health if not addressed.
I love the feeling of other people “getting it”, having that lightbulb moment in class, and generally just enjoying their Pilates journey. It is a journey, like learning ballet; there are continuously things to learn and to strive for with Pilates.
Is there anything you don’t like, or what are the hard bits?
The hardest bits are the bits that go along with being self-employed generally – the money side of things, always having to make sure people pay you, dealing with the odd client who wants to make life difficult, as if what I do is a hobby rather than how I pay my bills.
I also personally have a slight struggle with my body image and sometimes it can feel tricky standing in front of a class when I don’t feel like my own body is particularly shining through as an advert for how amazing Pilates is for toning your muscles! Making the time for my own practice is very difficult.
Generally, the fact that at the moment the only times I can teach are the evenings is quite tiring! If I’ve had the boys all day sometimes the last thing I feel like doing is teaching – but that comes back to a plus in that teaching ALWAYS brings me energy, and feels positive.
It’s just the thought of it that makes me sigh if I’ve had a no-napping toddler all day. I’ve always found with teaching (even before kids) I’m usually going to work when everyone else is going home from the office for the evening, and sometimes crave the free evenings that office working brings with it.
How do you find the work life balance?
I am very, very, very lucky to be able to teach from home, I see it only as a huge blessing that I’m grateful for. I used to be a roaming Pilates teacher and there were often days where I would have to cycle from Peckham to Hammersmith to Hackney back to Peckham in one day for classes. I regularly didn’t get home until after 10pm.
Now, when my class finishes at 9pm I am already home, and if my toddler wakes up I’m right there and there’s no guilt or extra exhaustion that comes from being out of the house for ages in the evenings.
There are slight struggles, such as when the boys have totally trashed the place and I have 20 minutes to make it look vaguely respectable for my clients to walk through (we have to walk through my kitchen to get to the stairs to the studio in the basement), it can feel a bit stressful in that respect!
To be honest it’s my other “hat”- the writing and editing – which I find hardest to juggle with the balance. There is always work that can be done in the evening and that can very easily bleed into home time.
What does a typical day look like for you (if there is such a thing!)
I teach two or three nights a week. Usually I have my toddler with me all day on the days I’m teaching, so we do the usual toddler related stuff, parks, running around, hoping for decent naps… then pick my son up from school. I usually teach from 7pm-9pm.
After all my clients have gone I’ll have a chance to say hello to my husband. I try to plan my classes in blocks a few weeks in advance, at the weekend, but often have to amend my plans if someone comes in and tells me they’ve hurt their shoulder, or they’re secretly pregnant – so your brain is always whirring with alternative exercises in case you have to modify or amend things for clients. I try and find time to read up on Pilates books and watch vids/do some practice every day – sometimes this just has to be when my toddler is around, especially if he refuses to nap!
I have childcare for two days so use those for writing or doing an editorial job. It feels sooo peaceful having a full stretch of 8 hours. I’ll take the boys to school/childminder and be home by 9.30am, coffee in hand, ready to turn on the computer and tryyyy not to procrastinate too much as it’s such a finite and precious amount of time to get quite a lot done!
You’re also an author. How did you come to write your book “Pregnancy: the Naked Truth”?
It’s a rewrite and refresh of a previously published book, and the previous author is credited as co-author although I didn’t actually have any communication with her. I interviewed loads of women about their pregnancies which I loved, I’m nosy I guess, but it’s amazing hearing how different and yet how similar everyone’s experiences of pregnancy and birth are.
Did your own experiences of pregnancy/birth help shape the book?
Absolutely yes, and also absolutely no – I firmly believe that pregnancy and birth is a totally unique experience and we shouldn’t be pushed into feeling or thinking certain things are “right”, or be judged for our choices or desires. So what worked for me throughout my pregnancy may not necessarily resonate for someone else. Plus, I had a pretty horrible first birth experience so there was no way I wanted to share parts of that and not be able to control how a reader assimilates my experience into their own anxieties. People hear enough “horror stories” when they’re pregnant.
So this book was about facts, breaking down things objectively and offering all the information that you might need in order to feel informed and most importantly relaxed about whatever might happen… dealing with bad birth experiences, well that’s for another book!
What is your next book about? When is it out?
It’s called The Supermum Myth, and it’s essentially a motherhood mental wellbeing toolkit, taking you through various stages of motherhood and issues that you might face at each stage: in your relationships, your sense of self, your career, which can all have an impact on our self-esteem.
Basically it’s a handbook for how to overcome that annoyingly ubiquitous feeling that you’re not doing a very good job, offering therapies which will help you to notice and then overturn unhelpful feelings, emotions and behaviours.
We all tend to uphold other mums as being the perfect supermum who is doing it better than us and feel crap in comparison… and in actual fact, there is no supermum. We’re all muddling along and this book aims to help you to muddle along feeling less incompetent and depleted. I’m writing it with Dr Rachel Andrew who is a clinical psychologist Dr Rachel Andrew Consultant Clinical Psychologist. It should be publishing in the autumn.
Your Insta feed is full of tips for self care – a Mothers Wellness Toolkit! I really admire your ability to be focused and positive. Is this something you have to work at?
With myself, yes definitely! With other people I’ve always been a glass is half full girl and able to point out people’s strengths, pep them up when they’re down, it’s my natural default setting. But with myself I’m definitely more glass half empty. I’ve been on a real emotional journey over the past couple of years since having Freddie, trying to overturn my own negative internal dialogue etc. Writing this book has actually been incredible in helping me to get there.
But for other people, I’m naturally a cheerleader waving pompoms enthusiastically and wanting people to feel the best they can. I’m only recently getting on board with the fact that I have to be on my own team just as enthusiastically.
Finally, who do you find inspirational?
Oooh… Michelle Obama, right now; number one inspiration for so many reasons. For her wit, grace, style, intellect, courage – not to mention, relationship goals, the Obamas look like the perfect team. Amazing woman. I’m loving strong women more than ever right now – we need to rise up now in the face of the Trumps in the world…
Indeed we do.
Read more about the #YouShouldKnowHer series here…