Practitioner Spotlight: Tara Wilson
Tara Wilson is a woman of many talents. Not only is she one of BodaHealth’s Pilates instructors, she’s also a fascial stretch therapist, kinesiologist, exercise physiologist, retired professional dancer, wife and mother. We sat down with Tara to get her thoughts on movement, recovery from injury, strength training, and navigating the many challenges of being a mom while rediscovering balance, acceptance, movement and self-care. Join us for our latest Practitioner Spotlight on Tara Wilson.
ER: In your own words, how would you describe what you do for people to help them bring movement in their body?
TW: I help people move better, and in turn, feel better. I help find and restore balance in their body and help them find the tools that best suit them to help achieve those goals. And some people like to optimize their performance beyond restoring movement and balance. So I can also help with that.
ER: How did you get into doing Pilates, fascial stretch and Kinesiology?
TW: I started as a professional dancer in film and TV. I did everything from ballet to Bollywood to ballroom. My love of movement started with dance and probably the love of stretching as well which is partially why I now do fascial stretch.
I had some injuries over the years and then I had one quite debilitating injury that made me go into quite a big rehab process. And through the rehab process, I realized how I could help other people. I realized how awful it is when you're injured, when you're in pain, when you're limited, how it affects everything in your life and then how amazing it is when you can move again and your life opens up again. I get excited when I can help other people feel good and then I push further and optimize their performance once they're feeling good.
ER: When you were injured, what was that experience like for you? What type of treatments were you receiving, did you seek out the usual types of care like physiotherapy, chiropractic or acupuncture? Did any of the care inspire you to pursue the education you went on to receive after the fact?
TW: Yes! At the time I felt like I saw every type of practitioner there was. I went to chiropractic, physiotherapists and massage therapy. Due to my injury I went from dancing full time to not being able to walk for months. I couldn't dance for a number of years in my recovery process and I had all the best doctors helping me.
I started my rehab with physiotherapy which was very helpful but at some point my physiotherapist told me they would not be able to help me further because they were just temporarily relieving the pain and I had plateaued. So, through the recommendation of my doctor of sports medicine at the sports medicine clinic, I started seeing a sports medicine specialist and chiropractor. And I also started seeing a Pilates instructor who was also a physiotherapist. It was the combination of clinical Pilates with the physiotherapist and chiropractic care that pushed me to the next level.
The chiropractor I was seeing was also giving me rehab exercises and doing treatments like active release - which is similar to what I do now as well. I do soft tissue release, which is very similar to active release. So it was the combination of the Pilates, chiropractic, physiotherapy and hands on muscle work that really got me going. I started training myself to dance again in the pool. I started with the water up to my neck and then worked my way down.
ER: You are a kinesiologist, a fascial stretch therapist and Pilates instructor? How would you describe all of these treatments, and how do all of these therapies work together?
TW: Kinesiology is a really broad subject. It is the study of human movement and there are a lot of different ways to look at it and different ways I can help people. So I try to add various other tools and ways of helping people beyond just the basic kinesiology knowledge I learned with my degree.
I added clinical Pilates because I was already doing it myself and it helped me so much. So I just started training and getting my certifications in Pilates while I was getting my kinesiology degree. Then I started teaching and I found clinical Pilates such a supportive tool in rehab situations since it really supports and teaches the body where you’re cheating and using the wrong muscles for an action. It really helps you be more body aware of how you are using your body during recovery. When you're progressing, the Pilates equipment can also provide an extra challenge with resistance.
You can get so deep into learning about your body and movement and you can get into some really cool progressions with Pilates. I use a lot of exercises from my kinesiology background that aren't straight up classical Pilates exercises but I'll incorporate Pilates elements to them. There are a lot of really functional movements and other things we do in our daily life that we need to make sure we're able to do properly if the movement is being done several times a day especially. So that's where the clinical Pilates fits in.
When I'm doing anything else like fascial stretch or soft tissue release, it can help restore some of the mobility that's often missing for people. Flexibility and balance can decline really quickly when movement is limited. Also, if you’ve been injured, then you can have further imbalances in the body and your body can tighten up quickly.
Fascial stretch plus clinical Pilates can help bring relief by increasing mobility and increasing strength. As well, I like to personalize what I am doing for each individual client. I like getting to know the client and finding what works best for them, including what ways of learning work best for them. Again - finding the tools they need to best help themselves. So in Pilates we use a lot of imagery, but somebody might not be very good with imagery and prefer for me to be very hands-on while other clients might not want to be touched. So it’s about working with what each client wants and needs.
ER: I've noticed you call yourself a 'Practicing Kinesiologist’ rather than a ‘Registered Kinesiologist’. I think most people recognize the title ‘Registered Kinesiologist’. Can you tell me what the difference is between registered and practicing?
TW: Good question. Although Kinesiology is registered in other provinces, it is not yet registered in British Columbia. Therefore, at the moment, all Kinesiolgists in BC are actually called “Practicing Kinesiologists” rather than “Registered Kinesiologists”, and as such, they should have their University degree, as well as be a member of one or both of either BC Association of Kinesiologists (BCAK), or Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP). Of which, I am a member of both.
BCAK requires a university degree in Kinesiology to be a member, and CSEP requires additional extensive training and certification beyond the university degree, in order to be a member. Both uphold requirements for continuing education, and following a scope of practice, code of ethics and obtaining appropriate insurance. These are important to note, as not being registered, means that Kinesiology is not regulated.
You may have heard in the news about some people claiming to be Kinesiolgists when they in fact are not. The reason they have gotten away with that due to the lack of regulation and registration. Therefore, it is very important to make sure whomever you are working with is a member of one or both BCAK and CSEP.
If someone is claiming to be a “Registered Kinesiologist” in BC, that is also a red flag, as it is a false claim in BC. Practicing Kinesiologists, as well as many other members of the health community and general public are pushing for Kinesiology to become registered in BC. Not only will that provide further protection for the community, our clients, and our profession, but will also make it easier when clients are wanting to use MSP and their extended benefits.
Many plans now cover Kinesiology (and would then require the Kinesiologists BCAK or CSEP member number), however, once we are registered (I trust it will happen, as it is in other provinces), it is likely the coverage will be better and include more plans. I think it will be much more clear when we are able to use the title Registered Kinesiologist and there will be further potential benefits through extended medical plans that could come from this. Writing to your local MP’s is a great way to help with this.
ER: What is your intake and treatment process when you are working with a client? Do you always start with one modality, such as Pilates or kinesiology or does it depend on what their issue is?
TW: I like to learn as much as I can about my new clients; who they are, how they live, their medical history, what brought them in to see me, what their goals are and then figure out the best way to help them with a personalized program. So depending on what is going on with them I might start with Pilates, facial stretch or a simple kinesiology assessment with guidance around that.
Also, if I feel like they need more help beyond me, then I'll definitely refer on. Over the many years of working, I've been fortunate to work with a number of great practitioners, and that's why I love being in a holistic health clinic like BodaHealth; we can all work together to help our patients because there are a lot of ways our treatment modalities complement each other.
ER: Are there any specific injuries, imbalances or pain that you tend to treat a lot, or that your style of treatment works really well for, such as low back pain, herniated disks, osteoarthritis, rotator cuff problems, core strengthening, or injuries of that nature?
TW: I always find that I am good at treating injuries that I have of course personally experienced - due to my understanding of the associated pains and challenges, as well as what various treatments might feel like, and how I feel about them. So, with that said, I enjoy helping others with back injuries, as I know how much this type of work has helped me!
I have also had ankle injuries, and am currently working with a number of clients who have had ankle injuries as well and the same with shoulder injuries. Not all of these injuries are the same as mine of course, however, they had initially drawn my interest, and I just expand my knowledge in these areas as I work on them.
Core strengthening is fun because everyone can benefit and be challenged to some degree in that area. After having an emergency C-section with my child, postnatal care became that much more interesting to me, as I dug even deeper into the research and experimentation with my own recovery, which also ties into the core strengthening.
I have been working with a number of clients with knee issues as well. After suffering from a concussion, I had a better understanding of what my clients are going through and what they are experiencing, and I feel I am better able to help them because of it. As well, I learned things about some of my other clients that have not had concussions but are dealing with pain, emotional or neurological issues and are sensitive to certain things like light, sound and other over-stimulus, as I was with my concussion. From that, I learned better ways to help those clients feel most comfortable and work with me from a state that is most conducive to restoration and healing.
Osteoarthritis is not something I have personally experienced, however, having had close family members that have, I have done my fair share of research into it, as well as have a personal understanding of how it can affect peoples lives. I have had family members and friends undergo surgery for osteoarthritis, and I feel excited about helping clients hold off on, prepare for or recover from surgery.
Fortunately I have not had to personally experience any of the illnesses or chronic diseases that some of my clients have had, but the more clients that I work with, the more I have a better understanding of what they are going through. How medications can have affects on their ability to exercise and on them in other ways for example, mentally and emotionally.
The more I talk with these clients and get to know them, the more I want to help them and am excited for them to improve their lives through exercise. There are so many beneficial things we can do, and I just love helping my clients through their challenges. Most simply put, whatever pain someone is in, that is probably my most favourite thing to help people with.
It is not so much the specific injury or illness (I actually like to continue to learn, be challenged and therefore grow), it is more that I want to help people get out of whatever pain they are in, and be able to best enjoy moving their body and enjoy their lives. From there, if a client is not in pain, it is always exciting to refine ones abilities and push the body to do things that we may not think we are capable of, or too old for, etc. That is another area I like to work within. At the end of the day it is about helping my clients feel their very best.
ER: Can you speak a bit more about Fascial Stretch Therapy and how it can help people with their health and recovery goals?
TW: Well for one, it's definitely not stretching your face [laugh]. I have had people confuse the word fascial with facial before! Fascia is connective tissue that literally wraps around pretty much everything in your body; your muscles, organs, joints, nerves, all of your blood vessels. It supports and helps create form.
It's also a communication system between all of those tissues. I usually describe it like the clear layer of tissue between the skin and muscle of a chicken breast. Also, there are different layers of fascia and they run in, through, and around the tissues of the body. So when we have stress or injury to certain areas, the fascia can crumple up and around a muscle or a set of muscles and then the tissue is not sitting properly or stuck together and possibly not getting the proper flow of fluids or messages to the muscle fibers. Consequently the muscles and nerves are not able to work properly. Fascial Stretch helps to release that. It works by releasing from the joint outwards - a restorative type of stretching. Most of the work I'm doing with clients is a calming, relaxing pain-free type of stretching can be deep, but not painful.
ER: How popular is Fascial Stretch Therapy? Where does it come from?
TW: It actually started with a dancer - a woman named Ann Frederick. She was at the University of Arizona and she started working with varsity athletes there. In ‘97, she did her thesis on stretching, and collaborated with her husband who is a physical therapist. She started working with him with stretch therapy and over time it developed into what we know today to be Fascial Stretch Therapy.
ER: I have heard you say that you believe in a holistic approach to healing. I was wondering if you can speak to that a little bit. What does that mean to you?
TW: For one, I don't just look at one small zoned-in area of the body on its own. I look at the whole body and see what's going on - see how you're standing, what your posture is like, what your core is like, how you are breathing, what your daily life is like, how you live, and if there is anything you are doing that has an effect on what we are working on.
I also look at your fascial lines. So I'm looking at your body as a whole as well as what's going on in your life, too. It is really important because you spend an hour or so with me maybe once or twice a week, and then you go out 24 hours a day for the rest of the days you have in between and there's a whole bunch of stuff going on that can affect how you're feeling.
It’s important to get to know the person I am working with and the body in front of me. I try to get as much information as I can at the start, and information often comes out as we're working together. If there's any way I can help to make positive changes, I will make suggestions and guide my clients through these changes.
ER: You mentioned you have some interest in working with moms or pregnant women. I was wondering how your work can help people who are new or expecting moms?
TW: Women who are pregnant can benefit a lot from Pilates and from exercise in general, as long as it is done properly. When I was pregnant, I fell in love with Pilates all over again. It felt so good to move! I think a lot of people get scared about what you should or should not do, and I like to focus on what you can do. To embrace these temporary changes as an opportunity to learn and enjoy the process.
It is not only a special time, but an important time for the mother and for the baby to take care of their own health, and that includes physical activity, unless contraindicated. There is a lot of new research that's come out about the benefits of exercise during pregnancy, and there is some pretty exciting and helpful information out there. For example, the new Canadian guidelines highlight that conditions such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes can be decreased by up to 40% from exercise.
Also a lot of it is individualistic. You really have to feel and listen to your body. For example, if you're starting to feel lightheaded or unwell, those are strong cues to stop when you're pregnant. It's not the time to push yourself. It will all change over the different stages of pregnancy too.
At first you're going to be able to do more and then it is going to taper off over time. But there are still a lot of movements you can do, especially with Pilates. You can do a lot of great stuff for preparing yourself for the actual childbirth like working on pelvic floor health, opening up through the hips and strengthening through the back and opening up the chest. As well - there are many things you can do that will set you up for your best recovery after the birth.
I also think it is very important to source out the support one needs to take care of their bodies postnatally. I found that there was not a lot out there for the postnatal period (although this is changing), and I love to work with mothers at that time as well. There is so much helpful information out there and I enjoy being able to give it to my clients and support them during this special time. There are numerous benefits to exercise during pregnancy, but it is especially helpful and safe during this time to work with a professional, such as myself.
It's surprising to a lot of women that they can be so active. For example, pregnant women should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week (again, unless contraindicated). A lot of people don't think you can do all that. A helpful place to start (besides working with someone such as myself) is to check out the 2019 Canadian Guidelines for physical activity throughout pregnancy on the CSEP site.
ER: On that note, when a woman is pregnant her body is flooded with hormones - one of which makes us really flexible: Relaxin. You do so much work with stretching and fascial stretch. How does that play into your practice? How do you ensure a woman during pregnancy that she doesn’t overstrain or overstretch and hurt herself?
TW: I'm someone that's hypermobile and I get that it feels good to stretch. Sometimes that can be a challenge for people when pregnant. Yes, relaxin is running through your system and we want to be aware of that so you don’t damage the joints, ligaments, etc... so this is something I like to educate my client on and again, work with their individual body.
As a good general recommendation, I suggest people stretch about 60 - 70% of their maximum. When I was pregnant, I felt in my pregnancy that I was holding back quite a bit, but I'd rather hold back and stay in a safe zone. Because of the relaxin, this is one of the areas where listening to your body can sometimes be challenged, and where working with a professional can be helpful.
ER: What about women recovering from pregnancy? What kind of postnatal work do you do?
TW: With postnatal women, there are so many movements we can do, especially for pelvic floor health - which I find is often not discussed enough. I also can help by creating a realistic fitness routine. I speak to many moms and they just get so busy all of a sudden with being a mom that they don't get the time to take care of themselves.
For me personally, after pregnancy I tried to multitask as much as I could and make time for physical recovery, as well as rest. For example, I would carry my baby in the carrier and do Pilates exercises, or let him crawl around and on me while I did my exercises on the floor. The growing baby can be a great additional weight to work with in your routine. Which was when I realized I could do this with other new moms as well.
I teach moms how they can find the time and what they can do even when they are on their own. Also, I can support them when they see me in session, by holding the baby if there were certain exercises we do that they cannot have the baby on them. So there is a lot of ways they can get moving again and feel better. It’s not just about pushing through pain or stiffness or discomfort.
ER: On that note, being a new mom yourself, how has that changed your fitness routine? What do you do to stay active and what other advice do you have for new moms?
TW: It's ever-changing depending on what age and stage my little guy is at, and also how I am feeling (and how much sleep I am getting!). And each mom is going to have a different experience with that, and will just have to work with where they are at.
I was not sleeping much for about the first year, so I was just being easy on myself and doing little bits as I could. This is important for people to know - every bit counts and you can break up your workout through the day. It doesn’t have to all be done at once. I sometimes just commit to 10 or 20 minutes of movement, but once I start, I am motivated to keep going.
Some days it is simple walking and maybe it's carrying my baby while walking, maybe it's putting him in the stroller or it could be just a couple of minutes of Pilates work on the floor. If I can get into the studio, even better. I don’t always get as much time for exercise as I used to, but I make the most of the time I have, and I make a priority to find enough time to be healthy and feel my best.
I like to mix it up when I can, and some weeks I get a lot of variety, and some weeks, I just have to take what is most easy for me to do with the time I have. I do some activities while he is having a nap and I also incorporate him into a lot of my movement. I like to find “moments” for movement as often as I can, and that was especially important and helpful in the beginning.
These days, now that he’s a toddler and is starting to walk, we dance a lot together - and even as a family, with my husband. I also hold him and dance - he loves it! Recently we also started working out as a family with his dad as well. We're working on squats and jumps and some yoga moves - “downward dog” is his current favourite. So you can make it fun to do as a family.
One great piece of advice I got from my mother friends was “make everything an exercise”... you don’t always have the same free time to do your workout. But, you are being very active just being a mom and taking care of your little one. So, for example, if you are bending down to pick something up off the floor… why not make it a squat or a lunge? You can focus on form and control and challenge your body in these little moments through the day.
It's also just a process of letting go of ideas of what I was prior to having a baby and acknowledging where I am now and just being kind to myself - focusing on staying healthy and strong and feeling good. That can be easier said than done at times, I will be honest, but it is still important to focus on. Once going through the whole process, you realized how amazing the human body really is. It is important to remember and honor that in ourselves. This body I am in gave me the most precious gift I could ask for! I think that is more than enough reason to start with loving the body you have. I can tell you that your little one definitely loves and appreciates you just as you are.
ER: You already have so many skill sets and roles, and you are constantly reinventing yourself and adding more skills. Just wondering what's next for you professionally? Are you planning on doing additional studies or courses or do you want to evolve in a particular area with your practice? How do you see the next few years rolling out?
TW: Well, like you mentioned, I've been inspired to work even more with expecting moms and postnatal moms. One thing I love about my job is that there are lots of different challenges. It's never the same. Each person I work with is different and I have worked with so many interesting cases and situations. So, I'm always learning.
If I have a client that has an illness I haven’t worked with before, I’ll research it and figure out as much as I can to help them the best I can. The more I work, the more I realize there's just so much out there to learn! There's so much I would love to learn.
I think what’s next for me is learning shockwave therapy, which we offer here at BodaHealth. From there, we’ll see. There are just endless numbers of ways to help people. And like I said, I don't think there's one specific treatment for everybody. So the more I can learn the more value I can offer from an individualized perspective.
ER: On a closing note, is there anything else you would like to tell people: if they're moms or expecting moms, if they are dealing with an injury or if they are just curious about Pilates or fascial stretch or anything else we talked about?
TW: It really depends on the person and what they need. But know there is help out there. Not everyone is aware of all of the help and options they have. I really care about helping my clients and I want them to know I care and I get it.
Having been through some pretty big injuries myself, I know what pain is like and know how it can affect your life. For expecting or new moms, I know what that time feels like - I’ve been there. And I am willing to work with you wherever you are at.
If a client comes in and they're just not well and not in a good mood, that's OK. We'll work with where you're at, but know there is help here and you can get better. I encourage everyone to reach out and get the help they need. Whether it's me or someone else, just know you are not alone in this.
About Tara Wilson
Tara obtained her bachelor's degree in Kinesiology at UBC, and went on to achieve the gold standard of certification in training, as an Exercise Physiologist at the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology (CSEP-CEP). Tara, a member of the BC Association of Kinesiologists (BCAK), is certified in manual techniques that she uses on their own, and alongside Pilates and movement training, to help clients move optimally.
To learn more about Tara, visit her full bio and stay tuned for more Practitioner Spotlight interviews from the BodaHealth team.