Releasing SHAME

Me at my healthy weight. At my lowest low I was more than 40 pounds less than in this picture. I’m sure everyone could tell I wanted to die, even though I acted like everything was fine.

“Have you ever actually been obese?” she asked, kind of scowling with her head down, looking ashamed.  I understood where she was coming from – I was taking this woman on as a new personal training client and it seemed to her after she took a look at me that I would not be able to relate to her state of obesity.   She was right, in a way; I have never experienced the feeling of having a lot of extra adipose tissue on my body.  I have, though, experienced a significant amount of shame about my body, deep and pervasive.  It has nearly killed me.  It is one of the reasons that I do what I do – I want to help individuals to heal their relationships with the physical part of themselves from which they have, for whatever reason, disconnected.

I don’t remember a time in my childhood when I was without deep shame.  Sexual abuse scarred me quite young and left me feeling dirty, ugly, wrong, and humiliated.  Isolated by caregivers’ denial, the unresolved and undiscussed issues became deeply ingrained in my being and my status as a victim became apparent to more predators.  In middle school my inner pain and sense of worthlessness, as well as my need to control my life in some way, caused me to choose to develop anorexia nervosa and bulimia.  Yes, I chose it.  I remember watching a movie in health class about it, how this girl basically just melted herself away, disappearing into death bit by bit in front of everyone’s eyes.  It seemed like a solution – her problems ended because she died and then everyone finally understood that she had been too sad to live, which seemed like validation.  I wanted relief and I wanted validation.  ‘I can do this,’ I thought.  ‘I’m going to do it and somehow that is going to make everything okay.’  Even though the girl in the movie died in the end.  Or maybe because of that.  It wasn’t about being thin, really, it was about trying to get away from the pain inside.

Walking down the street looking like a skeleton makes people’s faces do weird things when they look at you.  Like sometimes they looked like they wanted to cry, sometimes they looked mad, sometimes they looked like they might be sick.  This, plus the self-judgment I had about the private grossness of my bulimic behaviors drove my shame to a new high.  Even though I felt a weird sense of success about “controlling” myself to such a degree by either not eating or not retaining food, I found myself truly hating my self and especially my body more and more.  It’s like the theme of self-hatred ran through the back of every single thought about the past, present, or future.  I started taking lots of drugs, drinking heavily, and having unprotected, promiscuous sex, basically treating my body like a garbage bin.   I felt sick constantly.  I ended up losing more than a third of my healthy body weight as well as much brain power and many friends who couldn’t stand to watch this happen.   I dove completely into my slow dying process and everything else faded for several years.  

But I didn’t die, not yet. A miracle happened instead: in my case, love.  I got pregnant (during a time when I had enough weight to menstruate), and I started feeling this amazing warm feeling inside, the beginnings of happiness.  My life started to take on meaning and relevance and for the first time I really truly wanted to live forward, to see my future. I wanted to be present and healthy for my daughter and I wanted to raise her to love and appreciate her self.  Small steps, itty bitty baby steps, one at a time, I regained my health and sense of self. One meal at a time, one thought at a time, over years and years, the huge ship that had seemed doomed started to turn.   I learned to appreciate that my body had carried me through everything and even birthed another human.  I learned as much as I could about the workings of the body and …well, here I am.  

Shame does return sometimes.  It is important for me to know my triggers and to take care of myself emotionally when I encounter them.  It is even more important for me to continuously monitor my internal self-talk to make sure I am not using shaming ideas or language but instead deliberately choosing positive, motivating words in my head and out loud.  Coaching others in this way reinforces this healthy pattern, conditioning those new neural pathways over and over so that they can overcome what was with me for so long, what almost destroyed me.  Shame does not help any0ne, but the permission to stop shaming ourselves can be life-changing.  So yes, I understand shame, and I strongly believe that you can release yours too and learn to love your body for life.  

And my client?  She has lost a healthy amount of weight and more importantly, she loves her body and takes care of it every day because she wants to.


Posted by Laura, 0 comments

Healthy Choices and Professional Peer Pressure

 – Modeling cutting-edge common sense in the workplace


If there is one factor primarily to blame for the obesity, chronic pain, and general fatigue that seem to be epidemic in our Western culture, the “sitting factor” would be the one.  We are taught early in school to sit for long hours so that we can smoothly phase into a grown-up job where we will sit for even longer hours, all to the detriment of the one-and-only body that we have.  If this seems a bit backward to you, join the club.  We work in order to support our lifestyles, but if our work is literally pulling down the quality of our actual physical life then you’ll have to give something up before your body gives out.  No, I’m not suggesting you quit your job, just encouraging creative scheduling along with intentional, healthy choices for healthy workdays – use my client V’s example.

V is a very hard-working, tightly-scheduled college professor, mother of 2, spouse of 1.  For a few years she has been working at getting in better shape and has indeed grown much stronger overall, but in the past summer she really pulled it up a notch.  Looking at where in her schedule she could make room for more movement, she found that a 10-minute bike ride daily to and from work would be feasible one or two days per week.  She set aside six weeks to do some personal training with me and she attended a couple of group exercise classes each week for those six weeks.  Her results were dramatic and demonstrated the value of the increase in activity…but as the six weeks ended and her new school schedule started, the same problem arose.  Going into this semester she had a few time-efficient exercise strategies built into her day- things like one-legged squats in the office and always taking the stairs – but the return of that old familiar hip pain after the first two weeks let her know that the return to more desk time was still a problem to offset.   With the fall conference coming up, V knew she needed to make a plan or 3 days of lectures could turn into 3 weeks of misalignment and pain, besides the fitness lost.  V had worked too hard to get her fitness up and she wasn’t willing to let it go; she ended up not only making a plan to keep herself healthy but also found a way to model healthy and practical professional function.  Here’s one of the creative things she did:

V examined the entire conference schedule a few days before she left and determined one session each day which seemed least essential.  She then planned a walking meeting with her intern for the same time, complete with agenda and objectives.   V reported that she and her intern both felt not only revitalized in their bodies with this physically-active working style but also that they accomplished a lot of important work in that time.  V chose health and got increased productivity as well.  Let me repeat that for emphasis:  V CHOSE HEALTH AND GOT INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY AS WELL (  Hmmm.  Now that seems sustainable.  Smart.  Strong.  Strategic.  Of course, to get to this point, V had to release some of her misinformed beliefs about fitness and how they can fit into her very busy life.  She had to embrace the idea that the prioritization of her own health was logical and correct, although her socialization in Western society would suggest otherwise.  She also had to stand apart as a leader, firm in her conviction that her choice was sound and would also benefit her colleague.  

Now that V has found and enjoyed this new level of fitness, no one is going to take this away from her! She is 50 and she’s on fire, looking younger and more agile week by week.  Learning how to make healthy choices is one of the major challenges for all of us, but a little planning can go a long way!


Need help with your busy-life fitness strategy?  Call me today!  269-207-5471

Posted by Laura, 0 comments

10 Simple Things to IMPROVE YOUR POSTURE

    1. Wake up, reach up!  First thing in the morning, reach to the sky and hold for a few breaths
    2. Set a timer to stand up every hour if possible – if possible, do the Egoscue Overhead Extension for 30 seconds
    3. Lift and support that big ol’ brain – keep the head from drifting too far forward toward computer/book/phone by being aware.  Also, learn and do the Bruegger’s Manuever whenever possible
    4. Strengthen your glutes and core  – both are essential for ideal posture and both are weakened by prolonged sitting.  Try the Glute Bridge when you have time to get on the floor, or do the Butt Builder throughout your day
    5. Get regular massage and/or learn SMR (self-myofascial release) techniques like foam rolling
    6. Set up your environment in a positive ergonomic way – lift monitor, use seat cushions, stability ball and back supports
    7. Put up pictures of ideal posture (babies, top athletes, healthy elderly, etc) so you can learn to assess your own.  Better yet, find a baby and copy their movements!  Really!
    8. Stand on one foot instead of two whenever possible – keep knees extended but not hyperextended
    9. TAKE THREE DEEP BREATHS (or more!) – the diaphragm is a key component of spinal stability and movement, so breathing as deeply as possible is a way to truly exercise your posture muscles.  Picture your diaphragm as an umbrella opening on your inhale, filling the space under and between your ribs on all sides.  HINT:  laughing does the trick and makes you feel good, too!  Which leads us to….
    10. THINK UPLIFTING THOUGHTS.  Learn to observe the connections between your mind and your body in this very direct way.  Start with something simple, like “I can do this” or “I’m standing with confidence”

Look for postural training events at Firehouse Fitness in Kalamazoo each month!  This month’s seminar is Saturday, September 23 9:30-12:15 (click the link to see the Facebook event)




For more ideas on how to boost your posture and the rest of your fitness, read the Body Love blog and call me for an assessment – 269-207-5471


Posted by Laura, 0 comments

On Getting “Carried Away”

I am, admittedly, an emotional person.  Actually, this tendency toward over-feeling is one of the things that makes regular movement so valuable to me; it helps process those emotions through my body.  After all, emotions are a combination of mental behaviors (thoughts) paired with particular, measurable physical responses – every single emotion is expressed in the body in some way!  (  ;  For sure, the sweat and deep breathing of a hard workout can be a good way to siphon off excess tension, not to mention the feel-good endorphins that are released after sustained exertion, but it is also true that too much emotion can wreck a workout and even contribute to injury and illness.

When we have lots of emotions going on, we humans don’t always think clearly or make sound decisions.  It’s not always easy to listen to the signals of the body and pay attention to them with focus when there is so much else going on in the head.   Most athletes know the exuberant happiness associated with winning and the crushing sadness of defeat; however if they contemplate or anticipate these emotions prior to their event, they could be pulled completely off course by not only losing focus but also by altering the body’s own environment through chemical changes!   A version of this happened to me a couple of weeks ago actually.

On the day of my event, I had big emotions, mostly excitement, perhaps a shade of apprehension, and heart-lifting inspiration.   The event was Senior Olympics Track and Field, and when I arrived I could barely contain my grin as I looked around at all the amazing people who had come to do amazing things.  Some of the athletes were amateurs like me and some were international competitors in their events, all mixed in together.  I wanted to meet other athletes, I wanted to try things I had never tried before, and I wanted to watch everything!  I mean, how often is it that a person can watch an 80-year-old champion

This is high-jump champion Ed teaching me how on the morning of the competition

do the high jump? (That’s Ed in the picture coaching me on how to run up pre-jump).

Of course I had to watch and talk and learn! It was so inspiring and my heart felt so warm!  So I rode those emotions and let them drive me….right past my warm-up time.  Oops.  Yes, I failed to warm up adequately because of being excited and so got hurt in my very first event.  It would have been much worse, actually, had I not listened to the wisdom of my informal coach-for-the-day, my daughter Shima – I wanted to limp through my other events just to get the medals and the competitive high for my ego, but she assessed the situation with a cool head and advised me to rest my injury and enjoy the day.  Note to self, that is another important function that we do as trainers and coaches, to give an objective and realistic analysis of what is appropriate for each client, each day, without being influenced by the emotional state of the person whether that is over-the-top enthusiastic or under-the-bridge depressed.  In this way we also can help shift these big emotions through the energy we direct to the activities at hand; in fact one of my favorite things about being a trainer is seeing someone leave in a good mood after they came in feeling down.   And though n0t as thrilling, it is equally important for me to be able to recognize over-enthusiasm and help to focus it without losing the positive drive.

Back to my personal lesson, IT WAS A WONDERFUL DAY, ONE OF THE BEST EVER, AND I HAVE NO REGRETS.  I will, however, make sure to keep my emotions in check in the future, focusing them in a positive way to get the job done and not skipping any steps that I find less than thrilling (ahem, athletes, I’m talking to you about the tedious or boring things you don’t like to do, like warm-up and stretching).  I will listen to my body and determine with a clear head what it needs; if I cannot do so, I will seek out the opinion of another professional.  I will direct my thinking with intention and my self-talk with words that are upbuilding and empowering but not unrealistic.  If you do the same, before long you will be using your workout to change your willpower instead of using your willpower to change your workout.  Now, who wants to join the Olympics with me next year?


Thanks to Coach Shima for the encouragement as well as the reality check


Posted by Laura, 0 comments

Letter To My Body

My body and I have been through a lot in our lifetime, for sure, and we are hopefully to have many more experiences together in the years to come – after all, I’m only 50.  I am feeling an extra measure of gratitude this summer for this relationship, so I think it’s high time I did an official shout-out.  Body, this one’s for you.


Dear Body,

I just want to say how much I appreciate you.

Besides everything you have carried me through to get to this point, the triumphs and pains and pleasures and injuries, you make every new day I experience possible, every single thing I need and want to do.   You move me toward my goals one literal step at a time:  you take me to work and to play and to the market and you bring me back home again.  You let me see, taste, hear, smell, and feel my environment.  You lift me up to face the world and be a physical presence in it.  You let me know when I need recharging because you wilt like a flower.  You send yellow flags of pain when something is not right so I can make adjustments.  You support my career completely:  I use you to demonstrate mechanics, to energize workouts, and to work pains out of others.  You have even grown my children inside, and for that I am the most grateful! So much I take for granted that my body carries on.


Body, everything in my life depends on you.   I know things aren’t perfect.  Still, thank you.  Love, Laura


Olga Kotelko, winner of 750 Gold Medals at age 91 performing the long jump. And she wasn’t always an athlete!

This summer I have called my body forward more than ever, and it feels really good (in an achy, oh-my-glutes sortof way). When I found out a couple months ago that a body 50 years old can be in the Michigan Senior Olympics, I signed up even though my body wasn’t totally convinced.  In the first couple weeks of training my body was ‘talking about it’ quite a bit (translate “sore as hell”) but it adapted after a few weeks like our bodies do.  At about the same time I also decided that I would walk or bike around town instead of driving most places, so my body has been further challenged by a significant increase in activity at all times of the day, any time I want to change location.  At times it has been tough, but as my body’s health increases so does my intrinsic sense of well-being and so even the sore muscles feel good. In one week I will be at the MSO Games in the excellent company of athletes all there to celebrate their Bodies – and thereby the continuance of their physical life – through friendly competition and mutual inspiration.  Some of these athletes may be in their 90s doing things like long-jumping – things that the uber-profitable geriatric-focused medical industries would never want us to believe possible.  (see the example of Olga Kotelko, for example, the nonagenarian sprinter who inspired me years ago and shifted my whole idea of aging)  It will be a living affirmation – my body will be in a sea of bodies whose owners enjoy them and want to keep doing so throughout the duration of their lives, people who aren’t giving up on themselves simply because the mainstream culture tells them it’s time to do so but are instead celebrating their very physicality.

Take a moment to celebrate your body in your own way today!  It feels good.


Want to increase your body appreciation?  Write your body a thank-you letter.  Include a tone of  compassion,  statements of acknowledgment, healthy intentions, and forgiveness!  Read it often and/or continue writing.  

Over 50?  Check out the extensive list of sports in the Senior Olympics in your state.  In Michigan there is everything from 3-on-3 Basketball to Frisbee Golf. 

Posted by Laura, 0 comments

Pro Tip: Waking Up Inactive Muscles

As a trainer, I see people beat themselves up a lot during the first few sessions because of a perceived lack of conditioning, because it feels too hard.  They sometimes think they just need to suck it up and get used to it, and in all fairness there may be 2% truth to that.   HOWEVER.  Fitness results from progressive conditioning, and conditioning is not about just sucking it up!  It’s about science, really, and knowing the hows and whys can positively change not only your results but also the experience you have on the way to hitting those goals. Most people are familiar with the concept of progressive conditioning when it comes to muscle load, ie. adding weight and reps over time, or cardiovascular endurance, ie. adding a little distance each week to your run.  But did you know that some strategic attention to the nervous system can actually boost your efforts to a whole new level?  Yes, a little bioelectrical planning in your workout can go a long way!  Here’s why:

Our bodies are meant to conserve energy for survival, so if a muscle is used infrequently or is inhibited from its function for some reason, the body will only send the minimal amount of neurological (and other) energy there.   Muscles are made up of units that fire to create movement, and what happens in a dormant muscle is that only some of the muscle units actually fire, like only a couple people on a team doing all the work to score in a game.  Let’s take glutes as an example, because we all sit so much, which positionally stretches and inhibits the glute muscles, rendering them inactive for most of the day.  So we sit at the office for 8 hours then head to the gym for our Butts and Guts class because we’ve heard about how important glute strengthening is.  Somehow, though, our glutes never seem to change, never seem to get stronger, and definitely only feel sore on the rare occasion.  We are doing the work but not receiving the benefit where we want it.  In fact, because the body still makes an effort to accomplish the action, other muscles entirely will habitually compensate for the inactive muscles, making those muscles perpetually overactive, which is a problem unto itself (the hamstrings, for example, often “take over” for inactive glutes to accomplish leg extension, leaving the hammies always needing a stretch and the glutes always needing to wake up).  The answer is in training our nervous system to recruit more team members – motor units – from the bench so that the whole group is involved every time, which not only boost performance but, because of the increased energy output – metabolism as well!  Directing a certain muscle to fire more completely requires initiating patterns of movement that isolate* the activity of that muscle particularly and then repeating that pattern over and over until the electrical system is primed to send impulses to not just a few muscle units, but to the whole team.  Once the muscle is firing well in an isolation exercise,  more complex patterns which integrate the particular muscle action with other body movements may be used effectively.  I have seen time and time again that individuals who have never even been able to feel their glutes working before (in spite of having done squats, lunges, and donkey kicks galore) are able to feel them plenty after “priming” the electrical system first by recruiting the maximum number of motor units and then doing the more integrated moves like squats and lunges after everyone is in the game!  I regularly use banded monster-walks to get my glutes going before I practice sprinting, otherwise they will stay dormant and my hamstrings will do all the work.

So next time you think maybe you just aren’t trying hard enough, consider that you may just need a bit more strategy.  Train hard, yes, but also train SMART to save both time and frustration and to have the best results!

*For a great glute isolation series, check out this from the Brookbush Institute or make an appointment with Laura today!




Posted by Laura, 0 comments

PERSONAL TRAINING FOR $11 PER SESSION? You’re kidding, right?

You want to break through that fitness plateau, but high-quality, effective personal training seems like a luxury you can’t afford.  UNTIL NOW.  In July and August of 2017, you can share your 1/2 hour personal training session with one friend for $16.50 per session or with two friends for just $11 per session at Firehouse Fitness!  Email or call 269-207-5471 and use the code FITFRIENDS to get started today!

Posted by Laura, 0 comments

don’t miss our POSTURE WORKSHOPS – JUNE 24th “Posture 101” and “Foundational Feet and Knees”


Posture 101

You weren’t born with poor posture, but your modern lifestyle seems to have given it to you.

Good news: A well-designed corrective exercise plan can progressively restore ideal length and tension to the muscles which support – and, sometimes, distort – our healthy postures.

Join us on Saturday June 24, 2017 at 9:30am for a dynamic, interactive workshop hosted by Laura Sprague, CPT, CES.


  • Gain an understanding of your unique postural distortion issues through a personalized analysis
  • Learn how to care for your overtight musles through guided practice of self-myofascial release techniques and stretches
  • Strengthen your underactive muscles by discovering and practicing activated isolation exercises
  • And more!

Workshop participants will receive access to discounted personal posture training packages. Limited spots available; don’t miss this opportunity!

For “Posture 101,” register here.


In the second of six interactive Posture and Movement workshops at Firehouse Fitness, we will explore how the base of our body effects everything above it. The fitness and flexibility of your feet could be the key to unlocking your knee pain, lifting your posture, and relieving your neck tension.

  • Learn how to identify your stance patterns and to track how they play out all the way up the body.
  • Learn how to release muscles that are habitually working too hard, taking over for other muscles.
  • Learn exercises to activate “sleeping” muscles that are crucial for stability and ideal movement.

Start your personal posture project from the ground up!

Special offer: Take the Posture 101 class the same day (9:30am) and receive a special fitness gift!

For “Foundational Feet and Knees,”  register here.



Posted by Laura, 0 comments

When Exercise Hurts

Do you shy away from exercise because the initial discomfort is too great? Do you have a hard time sticking to an exercise routine because you think your extreme soreness is telling you that it’s too late, too much, too far gone? You’re absolutely not alone in feeling this way, and yet exercise is so important to every aspect of our health that we need to learn to manage that initial uncomfortable starting period so we don’t feel like we’re killing ourselves trying to get healthy. We also need to listen to our bodies, feel how they are responding, and know – from trial and error along with observation and education – when enough is enough and how much is actually needed for healthy improvement. The key is to frame post-exercise soreness as an indicator, a signal to you of a need for increased strength somewhere, rather than some vague punisher that you get because you slacked. Here’s what I mean:

A couple of weekends ago I had an extended workout with some muscle groups that have not worked in that way in years and years – I gardened. Yes, just that. It felt like all the muscles in my hands and forearms had turned into chunks of hot burning lava. Now, I know some of you garden all the time, and that’s really the point, because you probably don’t feel like your hands are going to fall off when you are done. Your muscles are conditioned! After a full weekend of digging and hauling and pulling I was barely able to hold my water bottle and I found myself wondering how people do this all the time. But really I know that there’s nothing wrong with me, my hands aren’t a lost cause by any means; they just need more attention! With fitness, it’s all about gradual conditioning. That means repeating the patterns of strengthening until the body adapts – which it will. Our bodies are absolutely amazing at coming forward when we call. Did I overdo it by shoving 2 years worth of yard work into one weekend? Certainly. Would you be overdoing it if, as someone who has not been exercising regularly, you jumped in too hard, too fast? Yes, you might. The soreness will not do much damage, really, but rather the discouragement that happens is what we must overcome. The discouragement can take your whole fitness train off the tracks, but the soreness just says, ‘hey – slow down a little.’  So we have to learn how to talk to ourselves around that soreness. No judgment and definitely no quitting. Just steady, solid, self-loving coaching. Now that I know my hands and forearms aren’t getting much exercise in my normal day, I will add in more strengthening moves for them on a regular basis, one weed and flower at a time. Every tiny thing I do to strengthen my hands will be more beneficial than what they were getting before I became aware (which was basically nothing). I want to use my hands for my entire life so I am grateful to have discovered this area of weakness that I can begin to fortify them lovingly. So, body-loving reader, what is one SMALL thing you can do today to start building your strength? Pick how you want to be stronger and start with just one step, then do that again the next day, and the next day, and before you know it, it will be as easy for you as gardening.

Image result for garden hands

Posted by Laura, 0 comments

The Stress-Relief Tool That’s Been Hiding In Your Back Yard

Hey Buddy, can I borrow that for a sec?

Your neck hurts, your knees hurt, your elbows hurt… Maybe your body is so full of aches and pains that exercising for fitness seems like an impossibility. Professional body work may not be in your budget and your job may be making your pain worse each day. How can you get out of this unhealthy trajectory?

Don’t worry! There’s lots you can do to start unraveling those knots today. All you need is the right tool – something hard enough to move tight tissues but soft enough for the skin to endure. There’s a whole commercial fitness sector devoted to these tools for this self-myofascial release, with products ranging greatly in design, size, and cost. For instance, the foam cylinder featured in the picture to the left cost $20 and is very effective, yet I know someone who paid $80 for a fancy model that does not really get the job done.  The hard blue ball in the picture costs $20-$25 typically and is the perfect size and density for tight calf, pectoralis, and hip flexor muscles; however a hard tennis-type ball found at your local pet store – or in your back yard – can do the job just as well at a fraction of the cost! (Real tennis balls are a bit too soft and small for most people but will do in a pinch.) So ask your pooch friend to borrow that toy before it’s too slobbery and start relieving your stress today by practicing these 3 release techniques.

When you find a spot that’s especially tight, roll back and forth on it a bit. Ideally you will stay on each “hot spot” for 30-120 seconds, or until the muscle can be felt loosening up and not burning anymore. Yes, it hurts at first, like a sports massage, but done with regularity this can give your body the relief it needs to keep you moving forward! Follow the same technique for the three areas that are bound up on almost everyone due to our shared (un)activities of over-sitting and video entertainment: hip flexors, calves and lats.  Spending just 5 minutes a day addressing these tensions can put the spring back in your step!

Calf release, great for anyone who walks, sits, or drives a car.

Lat and Pec Releases near armpit, great after a day of computer work

Hip flexor (“sitting” muscles) release, because WE SIT TOO MUCH AND WE ALL KNOW IT

Posted by Laura, 0 comments