Personal Trainer and Owner, Movement for All
She Inspires Others to Improve Their Mobility — and Quality of Life
One of Cindy Senk’s first experiences with yoga wasn’t a positive one.
Her back was very painful on the right side. “The yoga teacher came up in my face and said, ‘you can do better, you can do better’” — but not in an encouraging way, she recalled.
“It was almost hostile — this in-my-face attitude,” she went on. “I was really taken aback by that. I felt like, you don’t know me; you don’t know my health history; you don’t know what I’m feeling. I wanted to say, ‘get out of my face,’ but I didn’t — I just stepped back, and I never went back to that yoga studio.”
The experience drove her when she launched her own fitness and training practice, Movement for All, 20 years ago.
“I decided I would never be that teacher. I would never put someone in that particular place,” Senk told BusinessWest. “My philosophy as a teacher is to educate and empower my students, my clients, to make the choices that feel right because they feel it in their body. They know how they feel.”
That philosophy has led her not only to success with Movement for All, but 40 years of successes with specific populations, like people with arthritis, older individuals, and clients with cognitive challenges — because she understands that everyone, no matter their challenges, can thrive when they’re not treated in a cookie-cutter way.
Kelly Gilmore understands this. One of three clients who nominated Senk as a Healthcare Hero, Gilmore, a department chair at West Springfield High School, was hospitalized with a condition that diminished her mobility, stamina, and overall physical and mental state so severely that she couldn’t return to her teaching position.
“None of the numerous medical specialists that I continued to see regularly could offer a path toward improvement, beyond pain relief,” she wrote. “I set out to find a healthcare/fitness professional that was committed to helping me restore my health, strength, and mobility. Cindy offered exactly that. She met me where I was and created a personalized plan to move me to where I needed to be. She empowered me to take charge of my healing, unlocking the power inside of me, one step at a time.”
Starting a yoga regimen sitting in a chair, rather than on a mat on the floor, Gilmore began, within the next few months, to move freely, climb stairs, and go on walks. “Most importantly, I was in charge of my classroom again, offering my students the energy and vitality they deserve from their teacher.”
That’s real impact on clients with real problems. Multiplied over four decades, it’s a collective impact on the community, especially populations not always served well, and it certainly makes Senk deserving of being called a Healthcare Hero.
Senk traces her passion for helping people to her childhood — in particular, her experiences with her younger brother, Bobby, who was born with cerebral palsy in 1955, long before the Americans with Disabilities Act codified many accessibility measures.
But Bobby had his family.
“My mother was a real advocate for him,” Senk recalled. “And we grew up in this environment in Forest Park where Bobby was one of the gang. We would accommodate him if he had trouble keeping up because of his crutches; we would just get him in a wagon and drag him around the neighborhood. He was always just part of the group. There was no, ‘well, Bobby can’t do that, so we can’t do it.’ It was never like that. It was always, ‘how can we creatively include him?’ And I think that’s really where this passion of mine comes from.”
Senk has had her own share of physical challenges as well; she was diagnosed with spinal issues at age 18 — issues that led to a lifetime of arthritis and have given her unique insight into people with similar problems, and led her into decades of advocacy in the broader arthritis community.
She’s never been free from arthritis; in fact, the day she spoke with BusinessWest at her home, Senk said she woke up with a lot of pain.
“My philosophy as a teacher is to educate and empower my students, my clients, to make the choices that feel right because they feel it in their body. They know how they feel.”
“It was just one of those days, you know?” she said. “So I started my gentle yoga I do every morning, I got in the shower, I was moving around my house, I had a class online that I teach, and then I had a client. And now I feel 1,000% better from when I woke up at 5:30 because I’ve been moving for six hours.
“It comes down to wanting to help people be functional, be fit, and have tools they can use to help themselves with whatever challenges they’re facing. And I think my passion for that came from a young age. Everything kind of flowed from all that: discovering how movement helps me and sharing that with others. Because I know how much movement helps me.”
Senk started her career with group exercise like step aerobics and regular low-impact aerobics, and later started practicing yoga to help her back — her main arthritic trouble spot. That was 35 years ago, and yoga has been an important part of her practice ever since.
“I have my basic certification, but then I have specialties in yoga for arthritis, accessible yoga, subtle yoga, and I use all of those to put together whatever program I need for this particular client in this particular class. I feel lucky to have a lot of tools in my toolbox.”
It’s been gratifying, she said, to help clients discover those tools, especially those who didn’t think they could achieve pain relief and mobility.
“A lot of times, in the beginning, people that are in chronic pain are very tentative about movement because they think they’re going to hurt worse,” she said, adding that she draws on her experience as a volunteer and teacher trainer with the Arthritis Foundation — and her own experience with arthritis, of course — to help them understand the potential of yoga and other forms of exercise.
“It’s the idea of the pain cycle, where we think, ‘oh I can’t; it hurts,’ so we move less, and then we hurt more,” she explained. “The idea of movement breaks that pain cycle. You’re giving the power to the client through movement. It’s a journey that I’m on with them.”
It’s a good idea, Senk said, for people in pain to first see their primary-care doctor or a specialist to find out exactly what’s wrong and what their options are, whether that’s yoga, an aquatic program, a walking program, or another activity that can keep them mobile.
“She met me where I was and created a personalized plan to move me to where I needed to be. She empowered me to take charge of my healing, unlocking the power inside of me, one step at a time.”
“There are more than 60 million of us in this country who have arthritis — and that’s doctor-diagnosed, so a lot of people probably have arthritis and are not doctor-diagnosed. And it’s not just older people; it’s kids as well. It’s very pervasive, unfortunately. So you need to get the knowledge first, and then, if you want to move and exercise or whatever it may be, you need to find a professional who knows what they’re doing.”
Living Her Passion
Senk’s four-decade career as a fitness professional has brought her to commercial fitness settings, hospitals, senior-living communities, corporate environments, and the studio she runs out of her own home. She has also taught as an adjunct professor at Holyoke Community College, Springfield College, and Manchester Community College, in addition to 25 years of volunteerism with the Arthritis Foundation and her role chairing of the Western Massachusetts Walk to Cure Arthritis for the past three years.
That’s a lot of passion poured into what essentially boils down to helping people enjoy life again.
“The bottom line for me is to just encourage people to find things that are helping them stay functional, whether it’s a gym they love to go to or a more private type of setting like I offer here,” she said, noting that her home studio also includes outdoor activities and virtual classes.
“I think it’s important for people to find where they fit, where they’re comfortable. And if they go to a gym or they go to a yoga studio and it’s not their fit, just keep looking. Find your people. Find the people that really speak to you and that will support you and not judge you and not put you down because maybe you can’t bend as much.”
She said she loves hearing clients say they were able to take a vacation and hike without falling down, ride a paddleboard, even reach up into the cabinets at their cabin.
“I live for stuff like that. As somebody who has arthritis and chronic pain, I know it can be very easy to get in the bubble of your own head and say, ‘I can’t move today … right?’ But when I’m having my class here and I’m focusing on them, that takes a whole other attitude. It takes me out of my own pain space, if you will, and helping other people uplifts me. It just brings me joy and helps me feel better. It really does.”
It certainly has helped Lisa Borlen, a teacher at Valley View School in North Brookfield, one of Senk’s nominators, who shared how working with her has given both her and her mother a new outlook on life. Looking back to her recovery from surgery in 2021, she emphasized how Senk makes everyone feel welcome.
“I was still in a sling when I returned to yoga, and Cindy offered suggestions for poses from seated in a chair to standing against a wall,” she recalled. “My safety was her utmost concern. As I grew stronger, she made adjustments to the practice. I could continue to practice yoga with my class and I always felt supported. My physical therapist and surgeon were pleased with my progress and thought that the yoga classes were instrumental in my recovery.”
Susan Restivo, a retired Springfield teacher who also nominated Senk, joined Gilmore and Borlen in stressing that Senk is not only a teacher, but a lifelong learner, and that informs her work in the community.
“She is doing what she wants — what she started doing as a big sister, never knowing that helping her brother would be the start of her journey of serving others,” Restivo wrote. “Way back then, there was no equipment or an understanding of services for those that needed a Cindy Senk.”
That equipment and understanding are available now, though. So is Senk, and a lot of people are living more active, more pain-free, and happier lives because of the way she lives her passion.
“People say, ‘oh, you’re 70, you should retire, you should slow down,’” she said. “But I still feel like I have things to offer. I really do. I feel like I have people to help, ways to be of service, and I still have a lot of energy to do it. So that’s what I do.”