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Care for the Caregiver: A Conversation with George Mafredas

For those of us who hit the gym, chase the pavement, restore on the reformer or settle into our yoga poses, we are making a decision that goes beyond simply being healthy. In receiving information from our bodies, we are choosing to be better listeners and in turn better caregivers. Today, we reflect on how health can be as much about developing a sense of awareness as it is about developing the tools we need to take care of others. Studio 26 co-owner Jared Kaplan’s long time client George Mafredas shares his story about overcoming body pain, being a caretaker to both his parents, and the ways Pilates has helped him face those challenges. What brought you to Pilates/personal training and how long have you been training?

George Mafredas: About a year before I had started, a trainer at the gym was telling me about the benefits of Pilates, but I never pursued it. Then when I came to NY, my chiropractor told me that my lower back pain was not spinal, but that the connective tissue on my spine was scarred. [He said] it would lose its flexibility when it got really cold outside. He suggested that I try Pilates and introduced me to Jared Kaplan.

Studio 26: When Jared first met George their main goal was to get him out of the lower back pain he felt by improving his strength and flexibility. Their first real measurement of success was evident in that the time between sessions where he would feel back pain started to diminish. George began to spend less and less time at the chiropractor. As a very consistent client, Jared feels that “George has a clear sense that his training is continuing to keep him out of pain, but it is a lot bigger than that. It plays a pivotal role in his life.”

What does self-care mean to you and why is it important? What does self-care look like in your life? GM: At first, taking care of myself was about outward appearance. I wanted to look good...no, I wanted to look GREAT for other people. As I got older and became HIV positive, my doctor told me about the importance of endorphins on the immune system. As I’ve gotten older [this knowledge] has expanded. I use fitness to feel better. I no longer have back pain and I have become much more flexible that I ever have been. I use [my training] to get rid of stress in my life. I was taking care of my mother who had Parkinson's disease, and in her last week the muscles in my upper back locked up on me. I made an appointment at the studio (it was Jo-anne Lee, Jared was away) and we did this amazing combination of Pilates and yoga. After two sessions I had gained mobility again.

S26: George has earned the title of “Divo” when training with Jared, not because he’s high maintenance, but because he has become super aware of himself and his body. Jared calls this developed awareness a sophisticated engagement with one’s self. “He’s aware now about his body, how it works, what anger does muscularly to him and he’s able to self correct more and more.” They use their time together to look at the physical effects of what’s happening in George’s life. “Awareness gives you choices, both internally and externally. If you’re reacting out of habit, then you’re a slave to those reactions, whereas when you’re aware of those reactions then you are consciously making a choice.”

What does taking care of others look like in your life?

GM: Currently I am taking care of my father who suffers from dementia. The first few weeks were extremely tough and everyone told me to "Take care of the care giver." I knew that meant to keep doing what I am doing. Once I got people to watch after my dad, I went right back to a schedule of working out 4-5 days a week*, including Pilates twice a week. It has made a huge difference in how I feel not only physically but how I feel emotionally.

S26: “If your battery is drained, you don’t have anything left to give someone else,” Jared says. It isn’t just the physical juice one needs to take care of others; it’s the mental and emotional. When we become attuned to how our bodies react under stress, we become good listeners, and the best caregivers are those who listen well. “This listening teaches us when we are able to be there for someone else, and about engaging what you have to offer someone else in that moment.”

As George keeps learning more about his body through Pilates, Jared says their next goal is to work on expansion and becoming aware of patterns of tightness. “Tightness can be a manifestation of emotions. Just think of the phrase holding a grudge. Our goal will be to connect to those places so we can unlock them and move freely and more efficiently.”

As we go through the ebb and flow of being caregivers to one another, whether it’s family or simply for the people who share our space, I leave you with this quote by Golda Poretsky as a reminder. “Do something every day that is loving toward your body and gives you the opportunity to enjoy the sensations of your body.” Perhaps in that enjoyment of our bodies we will find the strength and desire to help others find enjoyment in theirs.

*George regularly sees personal trainer Eli McAfee and IMT practitioner Jennifer Whittemore , both members of our Studio 26 family!

Blog by Ana Chavez