new york

THE SUN, THE MOON, AND THE TRUTH CANNOT HIDE

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Karen was my last client for the day. We met at seven sharp, right after Steve.

Karen was an obese woman I trained twice a week. She was thirty years old, weighed 250 pounds, and was 5’ 2”. However, these numbers don’t say anything about her as a person. She was a painter who owned her own gallery in Manhattan. The serenity in her eyes and the way she smiled for no reason introduced her to me before she even told me her name.

She had been married for more than five years to someone who was in good shape. I knew this because her husband came to pick her up after our sessions. The conversation we had the first day we met left me pondering about life for days.

I asked the same question I asked every client before we began the program: What are your three main fitness goals?

Karen said she only had one goal: to enjoy the workouts.

I recall looking into her eyes as if she had not understood my question. I rephrased it, and this time I was more specific.

“I understand, Karen, and I will ensure that the exercises will be fun, but what I meant was, how many pounds do you want to lose?”

Again, she answered with a smile and said she didn’t care about the weight; she just wanted to feel good during and after the workouts. Furthermore, she said it didn’t matter if she didn’t lose any weight at all. Her peaceful eyes and joyful smile reinforced the truth of her words.

I could not believe this woman and how out of touch with reality she was. She was obese, for God’s sake! She could actually die of a heart attack at any moment, and my mind refused to believe that anyone could be at peace with a body like hers. It couldn’t be possible.

I insisted. I tried to force her to make a deal with me, and asked her to agree on losing one to two pounds per week.

Once more with the same serene, happy look on her face, she replied that I didn’t understand her. Patiently, she repeated that she was fine with her weight and that she enjoyed her work. She was a person who loved and was loved by her family and friends. Her life was a blessing, and she was grateful for what she had. There was nothing else to be added or removed to make her happier. The workouts with me were just to get her body moving while she had some fun.

I wasn’t amazed by her attitude, because I neither understood nor believed in what she was saying at the time. Nevertheless, after our encounter that day, I went home thinking about her, and I remembered a thought I’d had when I was a teenager, one that had returned many times throughout my life.

I would die young.

I believed I would not reach the age of thirty, despite being physically healthy.

Perhaps intuitively, I knew that my heart could fail at any time because of my lack of understanding of what life was really about: love and kindness.

I am convinced that Karen became my client for a reason—to teach me that to be healthy is to be loving. She trained with me for almost a year, and never lost any weight.

Karen was the healthiest client I ever had.

 

Much Love!

Valeria Teles

CALLING FOR FITNESS AND SPIRITUALITY

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My six o’clock client was not a regular. A fellow female trainer had had to leave due to an emergency, and asked me to take her client that day. I filled in for her as a substitute trainer.

Steve was a fifty-seven-year-old businessman who seemed to be under a great deal of stress. I could tell this just by being around him for a few seconds. He gave me a serious, almost intimidating impression, and breathed heavily. We were introduced in a hurry by the other trainer as she ran out the door.

Steve looked at me with an expression of quiet impatience. He was in good shape and looked strong. His chest area was well developed, leading me to think he must have been lifting heavy weights for years. I could tell he was very proud of his chest.

Before I could ask him about his training routine, he gave me the workout for that day. His program had only four exercises: barbell bench press (155 lbs — 12 reps), incline chest press (50 lb dumbbells — 12 reps), floor push-ups (20 reps), and incline dumbbell flies (20 lbs — 12 reps). If you understand something about muscle-group training, you will notice that Steve’s workout had only chest exercises.

I looked at his program and said enthusiastically, “Great! Let’s do it!”

I set up the barbell and began the first workout on the list. I was ready to spot him if he needed it, standing close to the bench behind his head. As he ended each rep, I cheered him on by saying things like, “Great job, Steve. You’ve got it! Nice work! Keep the energy! You can do it! Wonderful! You are doing it right! Don’t give up! One more left! Nicely done!”

In truth, I was talking to myself. I needed to hear my own enthusiastic words, given the day I’d had. I noticed something unusual when I took a glanced quickly at Steve’s face to make sure he was okay. He was looking at me and smiling as he lifted the heavy weight. He’d finished lifting without saying a word, but he smiled. I didn’t exactly understand the reason for his happiness, but I was glad his serious and stress-filled expression was gone.

 

Considering he was a new client, I didn’t feel comfortable enough to begin a conversation about my early insights into fitness and kindness. Nonetheless, I asked him trivial questions, which he didn’t answer. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy interacting with others when I’m with them. I like separating things: There is a time to be fully alone, and a time to be fully with others. In a trainer/client relationship, there are moments to focus on the exercise, moving and breathing properly, and also moments when we can talk.

 

Steve’s behavior was making me feel incredibly awkward. Concerned but trying to stay cool, I followed him around with my cheerful chatter. His behavior didn’t change. The studio was quiet; there were only a few people working out with their trainers. No one seemed to notice how uncomfortable I was around Steve.

Once again in my life, I felt stuck. I didn’t want to stay there, but I couldn’t leave. I tried to stay calm and do my job well.

We went through the workouts. In the end, Steve was sweating, still with a smile on his face. Before we said goodbye, he asked for my name again, then mentioned that he liked my training style. He also inquired if I could train him from that day on. I politely explained to him that my schedule couldn’t fit another client.

In truth, if my heart had not begun to guide me toward fitness and spirituality, I would have accepted his offer. 

Much love!

Valeria Teles

 LIFE OR BODY TRANSFORMATION?

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Diana was next. We met at five in the evening.

She came in ten minutes early and hustled past me on her way to the locker room, saying, “It’s been another busy day. Give me the hardest, most beast-mode circuit you’ve got, Valeria.”

My energy was very low at this point. I really didn’t want to train another client, especially a high-energy person like Diana. She was thirty-four years old and exercised every day in the morning before she went to work. Her jogging sessions lasted an hour. She usually met me in the late afternoons for her weight training.

Today was an upper-body session. While she lay under a sixty-five-pound loaded barbell, doing twelve reps of military presses, I asked her, “What is the most important thing in life to you, Diana?”

She was so focused on her reps that I wasn’t sure she’d heard me. As usual, she was having a serious conversation with the barbell. We didn’t tend to talk much. Her workout mood had always been to get the job done as well as possible and then leave the studio.

A few seconds later, she put the bar back on the rack. The next exercise was ab work, and she knew it. We had the circuits programmed in advance. She moved briskly to the yoga mat on the floor to do a set of twenty reverse crunches.

Her breathing was heavy. The circuit was intense. She was never happy with anything light or easy. I was still waiting for an answer to my question as I kept track of the number of reps, but I didn’t ask it again.

On the floor, while doing a quick stretch—bending her knees close to her chest while keeping her legs together—she said, “The most important thing to me is to keep moving forward through the days. When I wake up in the morning, I have a to-do list in my mind. I just go through it naturally. It’s a clear, focused, and precise daily plan I accomplish by the end of the day.” She finished her answer by the assisted pull-up bar, after fifteen reps.

Diana had been moving fast for the last thirty minutes. She performed all her exercises with the same focus and precision as she checked off her to-do list.

“Do you like your job?” I asked.

She was so focused on her spider plank ab work that her favorite movie star would have gone unnoticed had they walked by us. Sitting on the mat, wiping her face, she said that she got her job done, made great money, and was proud of herself. She worked out hard in one of the best fitness clubs in New York, and could afford my high personal training fees. She laughed and added that she ate out all the time, traveled, went out with friends for drinks; serious relationships and love were too complicated to give attention to.

You know that feeling when there’s nothing you can say to someone because they’re too busy listening to their own thoughts? That’s how I felt.

After we finished the workout, I reflected on how Diana’s life was not that different from her to-do list. It was programmed. She’d been in a cycle of living according to rehearsed habits, and her life had turned into a running race with no finish line or winners, an existence driven by nonstop actions. There was no space left to even think about love.

Diana followed the exercise program and ate clean while training with me. She achieved the fit and athletic look she wanted in three months. Her body composition transformed, but I wish her life had, too.

Much Love!

Valeria Teles

FLAT BELLY ONLY!

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My next appointment was with Destiny at noon.

She called to say she would be almost twenty minutes late. I stared out at the street from the studio. There were many things going through my mind that day, even though my feeling of unhappiness was not connected to any of them. It was cold and windy outside, and I expected Destiny to come rushing in any minute.

Destiny was one of the most cheerful clients I had. She always went straight to me with a big smile, and gave me a tight hug and a kiss before we started training. She was a mother of two kids, taught school, and was overweight. Destiny was a high-energy woman with a very unusual fitness goal: to lose belly fat only. She trained with me three times a week.

When we met two months ago and I asked her about her fitness goals, she told me her husband would love to see her with a smaller belly, wearing the new pink swimsuit he’d bought for her that summer. She shook a colorful water bottle and took a sip, adding that she knew she was a bit overweight, but she liked her voluptuous body—except for her belly fat. Her husband had said all she needed to do to look great was lose belly fat.

It was not the first time I’d heard this kind of fitness request from a client, and I was used to it. I proceeded to explain to her that spot reduction was not possible with exercise and diet, and that while working out with me, she’d lose fat in her body overall, not only around her belly. Despite this, she was excited to get started. I don’t think she understood me.

We started training from that day on. She was doing great. Destiny had lost almost twenty pounds so far.

After a long, melancholic wait by the window, she came rushing in. She looked serious and worried. It was the first time she didn’t greet me with a hug and kiss. I hoped nobody had died.

We sat down on the sofa in reception. I faced her, but she looked down. She said she’d wanted to meet me in person to say something important. She didn’t want to send an email.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

She said she couldn’t do it anymore; I had helped her reduce her belly size and feel better, but she’d noticed that her thighs and buttocks were shrinking, too. It wasn’t what she’d expected. She was looking down the whole time, about to cry.

I listened to her quietly. I didn’t have much to say.

Destiny thanked me, then stood up and walked away.

 

Much Love!

Valeria Teles

 

 

TIRED OF BEING ALONE

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When I met James for our first assessment session a few weeks back, in the same private fitness studio in downtown Manhattan where we’d be meeting today, he said to me, “I want to look like you.” I remember hoping he meant to look fit and healthy, not ripped and starving while wearing high heels, as I was in my online competition pictures. James had found me through my website, where I’d posted these images.

He needed to lose about twenty pounds. Taking care of his health seemed to be a priority for him. However, he mentioned he had just broken up with his girlfriend, and that his main goal was to get in shape before joining a dating website.

I was meeting him for our fifth session.

“How are you feeling, James?”

“I am very well,” he replied, but there was a sad look in his eyes that told a truth his words wouldn’t. His heart was broken.

“Let’s get started.” I gave him some warm-up exercises. James was an easygoing, friendly person, and I instantly felt comfortable talking with him about matters of the heart. So I asked him, “What is the meaning of life to you?”

“What a big question for a Monday morning,” he said, trying to concentrate on his plank hold. After a moment, he added, “I think the meaning of life is to be happy.”

“What makes you happy?” I asked, curious.

“I’d like to have my girlfriend back,” he said, looking at the floor.

“So your girlfriend gives meaning to your life?” I ventured, trying to express my doubt.

He was quiet for a moment. We moved on to the squat rack. Eventually, he said, “Well, for that, she needs to understand me better and love me for who I am.” He looked at himself in the mirror and squeezed his belly.

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean, that way she would complete me and I would be happy. I like having someone to share my life with. The special moments, you know? Someone to travel with, talk to, sleep with, go out to dinner with, and maybe have a child with. A partner. This is who I am. I’m used to being with someone. It’s tough being alone.”

James’s last sentence didn’t make sense to me. “In my opinion,” I told him, “knowing who you really are requires being alone. Being with other people because we are used to it is only another way to escape from knowing ourselves.”

How ironic it was that I needed to hear that, too!

By the time I’d finished sharing my thoughts, James had squatted for ten minutes. He’d burned quite a lot of calories, and had his hand on his chin in the Thinker’s pose. I left our session hopeful, wondering if he’d understood what I’d said, and pondering it in my own thoughts as well.

Before our meeting the week after, he sent me his picture. He was standing in front of the mirror and showing his belly. The message read: Look, Valeria! I have lost three pounds already and my belly is looking smaller. You are amazing! I am going to sign up for a dating website today—I am tired of being alone! I will see you later.

Much Love!

Valeria Teles