Interview with Anya Hayes aka mama.cheetah

You may know her better as mama.cheetah on Instagram but her other name is Anya! :) MC/Anya's profile is one that has been inspiring me for a while. Not only are her exercise posts motivating (I have recently got back into exercise post baby) but I also love her perspective on life- uplifting, positive but also real!

Name: Anya Hayes

What do you do? How would you describe your working life? 

Mum of two boys, Maurice and Freddie. Writer, editor, Pilates ninja. My toddler goes to a childminder two days a week and my 5 year old is in Year 1. In that "free time" not parenting, I write and edit health, fitness and wellbeing books - I'm currently writing a motherhood wellbeing book called The Supermum Myth. I'm writing it with a psychologist. It's honest, funny but without dismissing big issues, exploring modern motherhood and how we can negotiate the various trials and pressures that we put on ourselves, working out how we end up feeling like a failure and how we can get over that. Presenting a variety of therapies to help overcome issues such as guilt and anxiety, softening into imperfection a little bit and trying to see and embrace joy more. It publishes next year and I'm really excited to be writing it, it's a subject very close to my heart. And then two evenings a week, sometimes more, I teach Pilates in a studio in my basement at home: the ultimate union of mind/body/spirit. It's a good thing I love all facets of my work, as my life-juggling skills would probably be very at home in the circus. Some days the house of cards tumbles, with children's illness or childcare logistics fail I've realised you just have to let the work side fall rather than the mum side. Most days are sustained by coffee and dry shampoo, praying for nap times and a hefty dose of Andy's Wild Adventures. Always striving for that bliss-point balance. 

Did you show any early signs as a child that indicated that you would end up where you are today? 

Good question! I've always loved writing, stories etc, English was an area I loved and excelled in, and when i was at primary school loved performing… I was probably a bit precocious! Always the lead part in school plays etc, that kind of thing. That unashamed self-confidence was a bit sapped in secondary school but the love of literature and writing stories lingered. I've always been a bit of a jack of all trades (master of none..? hmm), and being quite good at lots of things probably meant I didn't find an obvious "direction" early on. I did Art, English, History A levels but my "high-achieving" school didn't recognise Art as a "valid" A level, so I had to do another academic A level as well, and chose Biology…I've always had a fascination with science, the natural world, anatomy, but my brain struggles with it much much more than arty stuff which I've always found much easier to get to grips with. I toyed with studying Psychology but didn't have enough sciences at A level, so after school I went on to do Theatre Design at art college for a foundation year at Wimbledon School of Art, followed by an English Literature degree at Edinburgh University. 

My mum and dad both work in English Language teaching and run drama workshops, presenting at conferences, teacher training, and I've always been surrounded by the "teaching world" and on some level always assumed I would go into TEFL (English as a foreign Language) as a career, which I did for a bit - I taught English in Japan for two years after university. My dad is an ELT author, so again the freelance writer's life seems to be in my bones a bit. 

It makes sense that ultimately all those roads have converged: the love of writing and words, and increasingly focusing on mental health and wellbeing, in my publishing career, and the love of science and movement and teaching in my Pilates career. Generally I've always felt happier when feeling physically fit. The link between physical and mental health and fitness is something that became increasingly obvious and intriguing to me, particularly when applied to motherhood, so my Pilates teaching is becoming more interlinked with my "mum life" as I focus on postnatal wellness and mum physical issues in my classes.

Describe your morning routine

Mayhem…? I'm not one of those uber achieving mums who gets up at 5.30am for an hour's yoga and meditation to feel serene before the house awakes. My boys are up and at 'em by around 7am and we all have breakfast, hopefully there's time for a shower before us all rushing out the door at 8.30am for the school run. If it's a working day, I drop Freddie off before dropping Maurice off, and I'm home by 9.30am, coffee in hand, computer on, and ready to start the day's writing/editing.

I always try to incorporate some yoga or Pilates into my day, partly because i do feel like you succumb much more to brain fog and lethargy if you haven't moved your bones enough and got the blood flowing around a bit.

Where do you get your ideas/inspiration from and when do they arrive? 

Often my writing inspiration arrives at really inappropriate times, usually when I'm in the shower and have no access to a pen to jot things down before it escapes me forever. I am always jotting down notes on my phone if I'm pushing the buggy and something suddenly comes into my brain which I don't want to forget. I don't always succeed…so I'm aware there are lots of great ideas bobbing about in the universe that I didn't get a chance to pin down!

I do find that social media can be a wonderful resource for ideas but also an interesting experiment in the types of mental health issues that I'm exploring to do with motherhood: envy, feelings of imperfection, of not being good enough.

When motivation wavers, how do you get back on track? 

I do get "the fear" about writing quite a lot. Have a bit of a wobble. Feel a bit of an imposter. But then, I look back at projects I've succeeded with (I have had 3 books published) and remember how much I felt the fear with them, and that always gives me a sense that at some point I\ll be looking back on this with pride too. It seems to work as a strategy because once I'm back in the zone things start to flow a bit again. I've had to really develop more of a thick skin when it comes to receiving criticism, as having an editor or the psychologist I'm writing with reject certain things or say that things need to be amended can sting a bit, so I have to take a deep breath, shrug shoulders and detach it from a criticism about "me" to instead being a refocusing of the direction of the work back to a good place, and then I feel like I can find a groove again. It's about not getting derailed but seeing everything as a kind of lock to go through on a canal, might take a bit of time but you'll get through it and chug along happily again for a bit.

In terms of Pilates, sometimes I feel a bit devoid of energy but that's largely due to my children and crazy mum juggles. I always feel inspired when I'm actually practising Pilates and the more I learn about it, the more faith and confidence I have in its powers (that does sound a bit evangelical but Pilates is magic), and I always feel really happy to be changing people\s daily lives for the better.

What is the best thing about your job/lifestyle? 

See above! To be genuinely influencing people's lives and wellbeing positively is brilliant. The fact that I actually make people feel better when they've been to classes, is something that is hard to describe. It makes it always worth while, however tired I've been when contemplating teaching it is always an energising experience.

And with the writing and editing, I just feel very privileged at the moment to be able to have work that I find challenging and really believe in. Which sounds really wanky but there you go! The fact that I can do it around the boys, and can work from home, is all massive bonus and I feel very lucky even when it's all a bit much and feels overwhelming, I never regret what I do in the slightest, or ever wish I did something else. Sometimes I wish it paid a bit more as right now my income basically matches my childcare costs, but I suspect that's a time of life thing, once Freddie is in full time education I'll hopefully have more time and money and it might not feel like as much of a slog!

If you could do something else for the day- what would you do? 

I would love to work in forest school in some way: combine my tree hugging tendencies with my overwhelming hope and desire that the next generation holds the environment more dear than past generations have done for the past 50 years. 

How do you overcome any challenges in your working life?

With wine… Erm, seriously…right now my main challenges are less presented by my actual work (which is of course challenging but sometimes feels like a doodle once I actually have time to sit down and do it) and more by logistics of my children getting in the way of me having the time and headspace to do my work. So, I am lucky to have a very supportive partner who is able to take up lots of slack and always does bedtime for the boys, which means I can teach classes in the evenings without worrying about that. Sometimes my toddler is being very clingy and it can be hard to teach in the evening when I know that he's up and upset. But, this too shall pass...

How do you celebrate your successes? 

Wine…? I'll be very very proud of myself when this book is finished, it feels like a bit of a labour of love, like birthing a baby! So I will probably crack open some prosecco and treat myself to a facial or something. Some me time, self care. It's all about the self care...

Do you have any tools/resources or rituals that you couldn’t live without? 

The internet, we completely can take it for granted now but yes I couldn't do my job without it. I do have a kind of Pilates/yoga breathing and movement ritual which I always do when I'm feeling "stuck", it seems to unstick and release my body and mind.

Which books from your bookcase would you recommend? 

For fertility issues: The Baby Making Bible by Emma Cannon, I worked on it when I was an editor at Macmillan ages ago and I knew then that it was an amazing book even though I wasn't in the world of baby making at all yet. I still refer to it now whenever I need to feel balanced and check in with mind and body, even through I'm DEFINITELY not in the market for making a new baby! it's a book that presents Chinese medicine wisdom and applies it to modern health in a very simple and lovely and useful way.

Life After Birth by Kate Figes, and What Mothers Do by Naomi Stadlen. Both great books about motherhood that all new/experienced mothers should read.

Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali - again, one to refer to for the "This too shall pass" mantra moments of parenting.

And, a work of fiction that is extraordinary in its beauty and depth, William Boyd Any Human Heart. I've had his latest "Sweet Caress" beckoning me from my shelf for months now but haven't had the time to read it. Maybe that will be how I celebrate finishing this book: reading a book for pure pleasure not research!

What are your daily essentials to make you feel ready? 

Lipstick. Everything is better with bright lipstick, particularly if you're sleep deprived. Laptop. Phone - although i hide my phone in another room when I'm writing. Lovely workout wear from Sweaty Betty or similar always makes me feel good and ready for teaching.

What advice would you give your teenage self? 

God….just relax you are actually amazing and really don't know it. No one is judging you as harshly as you judge yourself. Appreciate your glow, be kind to yourself. Be kind to yourself most importantly - I wish I'd been kinder to myself. 

Where would you like to be in 5 years time? 

Still doing the same thing basically! I would like to train as an NLP (neuro linguistic programming) practitioner and add that as a string to my bow. Increasingly I'm realising that in order to fully address mental health issues you need to have a holistic approach and enable people to understand their physical manifestations of mental health "stuff" - those tight bits and aches and pains often have an emotional root - or pains and aches can become an emotional issue -  and helping people to notice their body and how they are feeling, encouraging better movement patterns as well as better thought patterns, can have a huge impact on happiness. 

So bringing those two elements together, I'm starting to visualise mothers' wellness evenings and ultimately retreats. I would like to think that in 5 years' time I'll be still writing, teaching Pilates, and enhancing mums' experiences of motherhood through lifting their self-esteem, offering space for connecting honestly with other mums, for releasing tension in body and anxiety in mind, overall lifting mood, trying to spark a bit more joy.

My books:

Pregnancy: the Naked Truth is out now.

My Pilates Guru published in 2012, A Little Course in Pilates published in 2013.


My website Pilates in Peckham SE15 Thanks Anya! 

Mention 'mama.cheetah' to get 20% off my Strategy Session until the end of November 2016