Candace Adachi is one of those people who can turn heads without even trying as she walks by. With a spring in her step and a dazzling smile to match, she radiates self-confidence and well-being, and it comes as no surprise to learn that she is a professional fitness instructor. She says, however, that this joie de vivre has not always been so apparent in the past.
Sports and fitness have always been an important part of this New Zealander’s life. Originally from Wellington, she competed at the national level in both athletics and gymnastics as a child in the 1970s, and has participated in various marathons here in Japan. While she knew that keeping active played a vital part in overall health, it wasn’t until she encountered the Pilates exercise regimen that she really understood the intricate relationship between physical and mental well-being that results in a total connection of the body and mind.
Developed by Joseph Pilates in Germany in the early decades of the last century, Pilates is a body-conditioning routine that promotes flexibility, muscle strength and endurance. Special emphasis is placed on spinal and pelvic alignment, breathing and developing a strong core, or center.
“In Pilates, your mind is engaged to the same degree as your body,” Adachi explained. “I had the gym, and my running and weight training, but something was missing. I wasn’t feeling relaxed and physically whole after my workouts. Pilates has changed that, and I feel much more balanced.”
After experiencing the benefits of Pilates firsthand by taking classes and training courses in Tokyo, Adachi traveled to Kuala Lumpur two years ago to gain certification as a licensed instructor of the international method Stott Pilates, which has branches around the world. She now conducts classes in English at a studio in downtown Tokyo and offers outside sessions on the beach near her home in Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture.
Adachi first arrived in Japan in 1991, a typical 20-something enjoying the time-honored tradition of what generations of young Kiwis fondly refer to as their “OE” (overseas experience). However, Adachi began her foreign adventures much earlier than her contemporaries, at the tender age of 14, when she left her parents and siblings to move to Britain.
“I was very close to my grandparents growing up. My grandfather left the U.K. as a teenage solider during World War II and then settled in New Zealand. But after retirement, he and my grandmother decided to move back to spend his last years with his remaining brothers and sisters,” she recalled. “It sounded very exciting to me, and I asked if I could go, too.
“We left on a Russian cruise liner and I haven’t really lived in New Zealand since then. Of course, I knew I’d miss my family and school friends, but even then, I think I had this natural ability to look forward to the future rather than dwelling on past regrets. This has always helped to propel me forward in life.”
Adachi settled into high school in Britain and then studied early childhood development, using her skills as a stepping-stone to indulge her wanderlust as she worked her way around Europe, the United States and Australia as a nanny, before eventually arriving in Japan.
“It was simply another stop for me — I was going to teach English, save some money, then move on. But I met my husband through mutual friends and ended up staying,” she said.
In due course she became the mother of two young sons and her own needs took a back seat. “I never gave up physical activities completely — we did things like hiking and body boarding at the beach. But it was all about the kids when they were smaller, and I just never seemed to have the time and energy to do things for myself.”
While Adachi stresses that she has never regretted her decision to become a full-time mother, she sometimes wished for more community support.
“Back in the 1990s, when my boys were small, mothers basically stayed home with their children full time until they went off to preschool. There were no drop-in child-care centers where I could leave my kids for a few hours,” she noted, her expression growing wistful at the memory.
Adachi says that frequent overseas trips with the children helped maintain her sanity during those years when her sons were very dependent on her. She was hitting the trail while her youngest was still in diapers, traveling around Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Fiji. “We didn’t stay in typical family accommodation. We were backpackers, traveling as cheaply as possible. My kids have tramped through the jungle, ridden elephants and gone down the Mekong River in an inner tube,” she said.
She considers this time and money well spent: “Travel is an education in itself. While parents around me were investing in things like juku and other after-school classes, my kids were out seeing the world. I truly believe those experiences have helped them develop an appreciation for other cultures and ways of living, and this has stayed with them into their teens.”
After her youngest son started kindergarten, Adachi resumed her career as an English instructor, and currently teaches part time at a private elementary school. As might be expected from such a vivacious personality, her classes are lively and active. “I find great joy in working with the children. There’s lots of movement, music and dance when I’m in the classroom,” she said.
Heading into her mid-30s, Adachi came to the painful conclusion that she had neglected her own health and fitness while focusing on her children and work. “I had gradually gained a lot of weight and it was affecting my social life and my mental outlook,” she explained. “Something had to change.”
She credits a renewed focus on her own needs, coupled with regular workouts and improved eating habits, with allowing her to shed the weight, and subsequently celebrated her new lease on life by taking up marathon running at the age of 40.
Around the same time, Adachi was introduced to Zumba — exercise routines incorporating dance and aerobic elements and usually performed to lively music — and went on to train as a Zumba instructor.
Adachi saw a way to combine her twin interests in fitness and English teaching, while also giving back to her local community.
“I started teaching Zumba in English to local young mothers,” she said. “I can still remember how isolated I sometimes felt at that stage of my life, and I wanted to provide an opportunity for mothers to do something good for themselves, and bring their kids along, too. It worked on many levels.”
This commitment to helping others feel fitter and happier continues to motivate Adachi now as she works with her Pilates clients. Classes are deliberately kept small, offering participants personalized instruction. Pilates instructors receive training in physiology and anatomy, allowing them to identify an individual client’s posture and alignment issues.
“There’s no perfect body type — we all have some kind of imbalance. I can modify the exercise to suit each person,” Adachi said.
She points out that it can also help prevent the risk of injuries from other sports, saying: “As a marathon runner, I was having trouble with my hips and knees, but these have dissipated since I took up Pilates. I also recover more quickly after marathons and intensive training sessions.”
While her beach Pilates sessions are open to the general public and both sexes, Adachi reserves her studio classes for women. All sessions are conducted in English, making them particularly appealing to foreigners or to Japanese interested in using English in a real-life setting. Her clients run the gamut, covering all ages, body types and fitness levels.
Adachi empathizes with foreign women in Japan, who may often feel larger than they really are alongside their typically smaller and slimmer local counterparts. “It is easy to compare ourselves with others, and see things in a negative light. But all body shapes can look beautiful if they have good posture. This leads to moving more easily and feeling better,” she said.
She also insists that age is no excuse for not exercising, stressing that “there’s no reason just to sit around all hunched over just because you’re getting older.”
After a recent Sunday class in Tokyo, a group of Adachi’s students shared their experiences with Pilates. “Instead of the ‘no pain, no gain’ mindset so many approaches to fitness take, Pilates is about working with what you have and at a pace you are capable of,” explained one woman, as the rest nodded in agreement.
They noted that the benefits of the exercises stay with them throughout the day, helping them walk taller and feel more aware of their movements. “I also enjoy the social aspect of getting together with other women who aren’t ‘skinny minnies’ — I feel encouraged by everyone else in the class,” another student commented.
“I’m not a purist,” said Adachi. “I’m not going to tut-tut over how people live their lives. I slip up, too. Sometimes I don’t make good food choices and gain weight. But the thing with fitness is that it’s an ongoing lifestyle. It’s never too late.
She flashes her megawatt smile: “The best time to start is whatever stage you are at in your life right now.”