Check out our interview with Koa Fit trainer, Ryan Tara. Scroll down to learn more about Ryan’s philosophy and how he is helping people improve their lives both physically and mentally. Also, try Ryan’s Kettlebell Twist at home to help ignite your core and improve rotation through the body.
Tell us about yourself personally.
I grew up in Boulder, and was raised by two parents who have been involved in health and wellness most of their lives. I was very fortunate to have been exposed to many different approaches to health from a young and age, and have always been fascinated by the body and how we maintain optimal vitality.
As an adult, I have had the opportunity to study and live in Europe and New Zealand. Experiencing other cultures, and approaches to health, has greatly informed my approach to exercise and manual therapies.
I have always loved movement and sports, and greatly value the fact that I get to continuously be in motion in my work. What’s more, I get to share my knowledge with others to help them find greater ease and vitality in their own lives. What a gift!
How did you start training? What interested you?
My first desire to teach others about exercise and movement came around the same time I started doing massage. I was always involved in one sport or another from a young age, but it wasn’t until I started doing Qi Gong that I experienced the relationship between movement and health. My martial arts and Shiatsu teacher, Ron Timm, was a big inspiration for me. His personal physical ability and teaching encouraged me to push myself further than I thought possible, and then to want to share that experience with others. After several years of study in martial arts, and Eastern healing modalities, I was curious to learn more about the human body.
I went on to study Exercise Science and Western approaches to massage in New Zealand. At university I started working more with clinical populations, and began to see that I could have a big impact on the health of my clients. I got very excited to think that I might be able to help someone out of chronic pain, or help an elderly person balance better such that they might avoid a fall and prolong their life.
For me this work is always interesting, because it is always changing. Every person is so unique, and even one person’s needs can change in a moment. Our understanding of the human body, and how to optimize health through exercise, is always changing and growing. The goal is always to bring the best of my current knowledge, try to identify where the person is and their needs, and then provide a supportive and safe environment for positive change.
What is unique about your style of training and bodywork?
I think the fact that I studied in other countries offers me a different perspective, especially my experience of Eastern methods of health. Not only does this mean that the exercises and manual therapies I apply may look and/or feel different, but there are differences in my philosophical approach to the body and corrective exercise. In martial arts, the distinction between hard and soft (opposing/yielding) styles are sometimes made. I think it is fair to say that both my training style and bodywork would fall into the ‘soft’ department.
For example, I am not a believer in the aphorism “no pain, no gain”. On the contrary, I might say “no pain to release to pain.” This is not to say that we intend to continually avoid things that are painful, but rather how to find an intelligent way out of pain. For me, corrective exercise is a lot about helping someone find greater efficiency in what they are doing. It is incredible how easy or challenging the same move can be, depending on how we orient and use our bodies.
I also believe that the mind is an often undertrained or ignored with respect to physical training. I approach this from a martial arts perspective (i.e. Yi leads Ki, or Intention leads Action), as well a scientific approach to Motor Imagery (visualization). One of the unique aspects of my training style is that I apply exercises that challenge and develop the mind, in conjunction with the body.
As it relates to bodywork, one of my teachers, Kishi Sensei, would often refer to the “one percent”. He would say that while we might be 99% bad, there is still one percent of good. The focus of my work is to bring that one percent to the forefront of our experience. For me the one percent represents the bodies’ ability to heal itself. I truly believe that the body has an intelligence for its own correction that far surpasses anything that I know. I see my job as a way of supporting and facilitating that process. One difference might be that I spend a considerable time on what is functioning well, as opposed to what is not.
“The natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well” – Hippocrates
‘If you are not attached to things or goals,
Beyond attachment you will be serene.
Originally, you are full of ki
And ki is naturally flowing and working.
Then sickness is not necessary.
If your body knows this through experience,
Your actions will be founded on serenity,
And you can observe reality.’ – Akinobu Kishi
How have you helped the people you have worked with?
I think the greatest help I have been to people is help them see that they have some degree of control in how they feel. My goal is always to try and teach people that there are tools they can learn and apply for themselves, to create a sense of autonomy with respect to their health. Over the past ten years, I have worked with thousands of people either with bodywork and/or exercise prescription. I know that many of them have experienced relief from pain, and greater ease of movement in their lives. The most satisfying thing for me though is when I see someone apply something I have taught them in a new or different way. To me that shows that they now have a greater level of control, and are better able to handle whatever physical challenges might arise.
For the past two years, I have focused heavily on working with seniors. It has been incredibly rewarding and at times very difficult. Many of my clients are in their late 80’s or 90’s, and often have serious health issues. I have been amazed at how much some of them have changed! One client in particular stands out; he is 87yrs and we have worked together for almost two years. His goal initially was to improve his shoulder so that he could write his name, in the appropriate “Palmer Method” cursive. He had lost the ability the lift his arm in front of him, almost completely. I am happy to say that he can now lift his arm to shoulder height, unassisted. His balance has improved, he lost weight, and his overall vitality is much higher. Almost every week he comments, “I didn’t used to be able to do that!”. I don’t know if he will ever write in cursive the way he would like, but working towards that one goal has given him a host of other health benefits that have improved his life dramatically.
What’s your favorite part about training?
There are many things that I appreciate about this job, but probably the thing I love the most is that I get the opportunity to have a positive impact in someone’s life every day. Sometimes the goals are substantial, and the progression slow, but every day we get a chance to help people improve in some way. I know from personal experience, what an impact pain and discomfort can have on our lives. It’s something that we often take for granted, but our health is our most valuable asset. Without it, life is hard to enjoy. Whether it is a sore neck from sleeping wrong, or hip pain following a replacement, it’s all pain and it all interrupts our lives. I find it very rewarding when I can help someone reduce their pain, or achieve something that they didn’t before think was possible.
What are you working towards or want to accomplish next in your career?
I am always trying to deepen my understanding of the body, and how it responds to different exercises and movements. Recently, I took a workshop focused on breathing. I feel this is an aspect of exercise that tends to be overlooked, despite its fundamental importance. I am also very interested in learning more about how our thoughts impact our physiology, and how that influences exercise capacity. This is a fairly new field of research, but is already showing us how important our thoughts are with respect to correct motor execution. I am currently working with how to best implement mental exercises in my training programs and classes. The other goal I have is to make this information more accessible, in order to help as many people as possible!