Home Feature Getting to the centre of strength and health

Getting to the centre of strength and health

Kanienhtawaks Lauder suffered chronic back pain her whole life, but found a saviour for her pain in Pilates, which she now dedicates her days to practicing, promoting and teaching in Kahnawake and Kanesatake. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)

The gym at Step by Step Child and Family Center is full of movement during lunch hour Tuesday. The over half-dozen adult students stand, lie, crouch and squat in a semi-circle around instructor Kaniehtawaks Lauder while their arms and legs stretch and strengthen.

The class’s guide, Lauder, is on a quest to grow the burgeoning Pilates community, so students get the benefits she did when she first started practicing the core-strengthening exercise.

“My pain,” said Lauder as to why she instantly embraced Pilates. “I enjoy it so much that I want people to move better and with more ease because my family, we all have back pain.”

Lauder, along with her sister Jayden and mother Isabelle Nicholas, was always active, but also battled chronic injury.

Staff and students at Step by Step are strengthening spines and getting their Pilates on thanks to energetic and passionate instructor Kaniehtawaks Lauder. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)

“Even though we were athletic, I would still wake up and put heat sacks on our back because of how much pain we were in,” said Lauder.

Pilates has enabled Lauder to do other exercises such as crossfit that she wasn’t able to do in the past.

Pilates is now Lauder’s mission, not to mention her business, as she teaches classes at the Kahnawake Youth Center Tuesday nights and Kanehsatake CrossFit Thursdays, in addition to the one she does at Step by Step.

“It’s more than teaching the class,” she said. “It’s what my world revolves around right now, just feeling better, moving better, being able to work out better. Falling asleep without back pain and waking up not with back pain… I feel less pain and more free to move.”

Step By Step was awarded a Community Health Plan Initiative grant to incorporate different types of movement in the classroom, in addition to offering the class for staff on Tuesdays.

“A lot of what she’s doing is in relation to prevention,” said pedagogy and resource services coordinator Melissa Lasante. “We might not see a direct impact as behaviours are happening, but we’re giving children and teachers strategies that will help support them when they are in crisis.”

The one to five-year-olds at Step By Step are not getting full Pilates lessons complete with leg lifts, crunches and criss-cross sit ups, however.

“I go to each classroom for 15 to 20 minutes just to get them moving, focus on their breathing, and just get their little bodies moving,” said Lauder. “It’s fun, but it’s a lot of imagery. It’s about making moving fun. It’s really important for their bodies to warm up because they’re in classrooms all day.”

Learning how to do basic breathing, stretching and moving techniques also gives teachers and staff tools they can use throughout the workday.

“So when the child is later having a crisis, we can remember, ‘okay. Let’s breathe together. Let’s stretch,’” said Lasante.

Lasante explained that when a child is in crisis, first staff needs to support the child having any kind of difficulty, and then help them and their classmates relax as they re-enter the classroom.

“If we have the opportunity to engage them with breathing exercises and whatnot, then it builds the relationship and allows them to go back into the classroom in a more positive frame of mind,” she said.

Lasante and supervisor of program services Sonia Nicholas added that the benefits of movement and exercise like Pilates lead to better mental health, cardio vascular strength, emotional stability and other aspects of physical well-being. In addition, having exercise that is not competitive is a great addition for growing children.

“There’s no competing in how to breath properly,” said Nicholas with a laugh.

Nicholas is Lauder’s aunt, and knows about her niece’s battles with ADHD, and how easily she can relate to children unable to sit still in classrooms all day.

“It’s natural for her to be with the children,” said Nicholas. “She can’t sit still herself, so this is great for her… That was a big point was that she can relate and having them know that she can’t sit still.”

Lauder is teaching her second 12-week session at the youth centre that runs until March 26. The course is included in a youth centre membership, but drop ins are welcome at $12 a class. She was at Kanehsatake Cross Fit last night where she began her teaching career after completing the certification course in December 2017.

Almost everyone who takes her classes is doing it for the first time.

“People don’t know what Pilates is coming into it a lot of the time,” said Lauder. “I maybe had three or four people over the past year that had taken a Pilates class or were aware of what it was.”

Lauder hopes to teach all ages from the very young to bed-ridden elders to athletes to those just wanting to get in shape.

Her hope is that practitioners will incorporate what they learned in classes to their everyday lives.

“When you’re getting older, the first thing you do when you fall is break your hip,” she said. “That’s what I’m avoiding people doing, from slouching and having horrible posture. To being able to build a stronger core, to lengthen and strengthen your spine.”

The teacher used the metaphor of a home to illustrate how the practice works.

“I’m going to consider my arms and legs like windows and doors, you can easily fix those,” she said.

“It’s not so easy to fix a foundation of the house… I want to build a stronger core to be able to perfect your posture. To be able to live better, to move easier, to just breathe better… I just want to make people feel better by moving.”

Reach, stretch and strengthen to build your core. Take a Pilates class and you’ll understand. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)


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Daniel J. Rowe is an award-winning reporter and photographer originally from BC. In addition to journalism, he produces and edits a Shakespeare-inspired blog and podcast called the Bard Brawl. His writing has also appeared in the Montreal Gazette, Canadian Press, U.S. Lacrosse magazine and elsewhere. His facial hair rotates with the season, and he’s recently discovered the genius of wearing a cowboy hat. He wrote for The Eastern Door from 2011 to 2019.