“This series of articles is about women who inspire me. Some of them I have known for some time, others I have admired from a distance over the years. All of them share the same characteristics. They are warm, kind, courageous, fun loving people. They are generous of spirit and they are supportive of other women.”
People don’t know how happy we’re designed to be,” Susie Turner told me when I first met her. My immediate, rather uncharitable, thought was, ‘What is she on?’ Admittedly I was going through one of the tougher periods of my life, and feeling a bit down.
‘Feeling down’ is a sentiment that has been quite alien to Susie in recent years. She has taken some pretty severe knocks, but manages to stay resolutely positive and upbeat. Her big brown eyes sparkle with a zesty brilliance, her smile is bigger than Texas.
Since that first meeting 12 years ago, when a friend recommended I seek her out for some stress busting, I have come to appreciate Susie as one of the most positive people I know. She is without doubt an inspiration to those around her.
A co-owner and master trainer at Suna Pilates in Auckland, a business she started 15 years ago, Susie is also a holistic lifestyle coach, a nutritionist and kinesiologist. She is a one-woman powerhouse, and viewed as a guru by the hundreds of people she’s helped over the years.
“There is beauty in being able to give and help others,” Susie says. “And the better I am in both body and mind, the easier it is to help others. I used to be righteous but I’ve learned it’s better to be kind than right.”
So where does Susie’s upbeat nature and desire to make a difference to others come from? In part, it can be credited to her upbringing. Adopted at birth, she was raised by parents who taught her resilience even in the face of adversity. Her mum fought breast cancer four times, and still “puts everyone above herself”.
Susie has always disliked being one of the crowd, and as a teenager she wanted to save the world. Now in her 30s, she realises the world doesn’t need saving. “It is exactly as it needs to be for us all to learn what we need to learn.”
Has she always been this positive and philosophical, I ask, or is this something she’s learned to be?
She pauses for a moment to think. “I’ve always been this way,” she says slowly, “but there was one period when I plummeted.”
It was after university. Susie, a keen snowboarder, was living in Canada, but her time on the slopes had taken its toll. At various times she’d broken almost every bone in her body, including her back and neck. She suffered severe migraines, and morphine was a constant companion.
It was then she discovered Pilates. Its focus on core strength and posture was just what Susie’s shattered frame needed. But before she could really heal, she became pregnant to her partner at the time. He wasn’t ready to become a dad. “One night he went out for cigarettes and never came back,” Susie says.
Susie returned to Auckland to her mum and dad. By this stage she had decided to start the Suna Pilates studio, and her parents mortgaged their house to help her. Four weeks before the studio was due to open she went into premature labour.
Identical twin boys, Brodie and Max, were born at 23-and-a-half weeks. They didn’t survive.
Susie hit the wall.
Then she went looking for help. It was at this time she came across the work of holistic health gurus Paul Chek and Dr Cliff Oliver. She began to train her mind as well as her body. Paul asked her to list 10 things she was grateful for. “I could only manage three,” recalls Susie. “Snowboarding, cigars and whisky. I knew something had to change.”
She realised she had been trying to bury herself in work, setting herself up to 50 things to do in a day, so she didn’t have to analyse how she was feeling. “I realised I needed to be nicer to my body, to nurture myself. Now, there are never more than three things to accomplish in a day.”
She read everything she could find about stress. She learned that being in high stress in utero – which she undoubtedly had been, given her birth mother was just 16 and unprepared to be a mum – meant she would be more vulnerable to the stress response: fight, flight or freeze.
She learned to be aware of her body and mind – and slowed down. “I trained my body like a dog, I was consistent,” Susie recalls. “I made a conscious decision to drive under the speed limit, not run, eat slowly. I worked on my breathing, and followed an organic diet.”
To look at her today, it’s hard to believe Susie, now a mum-of-two, has experienced such challenge and heartbreak in her life.
She’s perennially bright and breezy as she helps others at the Suna Pilates studio. She knows all her clients by name and closely monitors their progress. Suna offers a holistic approach to fitness, from nutrition and exercise to chiropractics, acupuncture and kinesiology.
“If we make the body strong and functional around the correct posture, then we sleep better and our organs work well,” she says.
“Kinesiology has taught me that people struggle with being present,” she says, pointing out that many are stuck in the past. “People have to accept the fact that the past is just stuff that has happened. You can’t change it. You also have to accept responsibility for it. Take it on board for you… it’s not about others.”
Susie’s holistic approach to wellness came about gradually over a number of years. It was inevitable really; the more she studied, the more she came to realise the body and mind are inextricably linked. You can’t address issues in isolation.
She explains kinesiology by saying, “I’m like an electrical engineer. Cars have fuse boxes run by a computer, basic kinesiology finds the blown fuses in the human body and pokes them back in. Muscles go from weak to strong.”
She has done incredibly well with her business – which differs from many in its holistic approach. However, Susie is adamant she is driven more by a desire to help people than by commercial success. “I don’t even think about it,” she says with a shrug.
Outside of work, Susie has passed on her philosophies, right down to her passion for organic produce, to her family – husband Mike, an air traffic controller, and their two boys, Hunter, 10, and Beau, three.
She might appear to have the perfect attitude to life, but she concedes she still has to work at it. “I have that monkey in my head – I overthink,” she says with a rueful smile. “I need to practise being present, being ‘in the moment’.
“Being afraid of not being good enough is part of the human condition, but we all need to remember we are awesome just as we are.
“If you want to get good at tennis, you practise every day. To get good at positive thinking, you do it every day.”
Susie has taught me a whole lot about myself. About how my body and mind operate as one – and particularly about how damaging and unproductive negative thoughts can be. I’m practising being ‘in the moment’ too – and it feels good! And the regular Pilates is, I find, invaluable for keeping this ageing body supple.
As to Susie’s hopes for the future, they are, unsurprisingly, totally in line with her values. “My goal is to be and stay unapologetically me. To be in the present, to accept things the way they are.”
It’s a goal we could all take on board.
Words by: Judy Bailey
Photos by: Sally Tagg
Hair and Make-up by: Glam Squad