Pilates – Physical and Mental Wellbeing in the Community

Article in The Looker magazine (issue 260)

I was approached by Andrew South of the Folkestone , Hythe and Romney Marsh ‘Looker’ magazine www.thelooker.co.uk, to write an article ‘Pilates – Physical and Mental Wellbeing in the Community’ about the importance of health and well being during lockdown, and how we adapted our business to continue working through this period. You can read the full article is below. You can also pick up a copy of the magazine in The Looker Shop (Sweet Memories) in Hythe, or click below to download issue 260.

Click here to download The Looker issue 260 as a PDF. Please note this is a large file (39Mb).

Pilates – Physical and Mental Wellbeing in the Community

From a vague notion of a distant virus, to a growing feeling of foreboding, to a sudden, abrupt and complete termination of our Pilates business; as lockdown commenced in March, my husband and I wondered how we would financially survive the pandemic and support our Pilates clients. Our story is one of rapid business adaptation during these challenging times, but for our clients, the stories are those of maintaining physical and mental well-being, and are as diverse as they are compelling.

Since German gymnast Joseph Pilates created his unique set of 34 moves during the 1920s, Pilates has evolved into a modern, well researched and highly effective form of exercise. As a long-serving fitness teacher and trainer, with 30 years’ experience in a wide range of exercise disciplines, I was drawn to Pilates when I discovered that not only is it extremely beneficial for you, addressing postural and muscular imbalances that can cause pain, and reduce functional ability, but also that people really enjoy doing my style of Pilates, I think because it is so accessible – at any level of fitness and age. It has been amazing to share my classes with for example – three generations of one family in the same class; sports athletes and couples all enjoying Pilates together.

The ability – through Pilates – to become more upright, poised and toned, and hence happier and more confident, means that Pilates is also a fantastic way to maintain good mental health, so important at this difficult time. That is without the community and social benefits that being part of a group of like-minded people provides. So, as Mat and I began to re-engineer our Pilates classes, my concern was also very much with my clients – people I have known in some cases for many years, and care about deeply – and how they would cope with this important piece of their weekly routines suddenly gone. Our solution for both ourselves and our clients – to take our business online – may not be unexpected. How we should best achieve this was, however, a matter for careful consideration.

In a sense, necessity really was the mother of invention, and the imperative to respond quickly was a powerful motivator to bring some normality back to my clients’ lives through their Pilates. Fortunately, with a Ph.D. in Information Technology and two decades’ experience as a web designer and photographer, my husband and business partner Mat was well placed to quickly appraise our options and identify an appropriate course of action.

Ultimately, rather than simply ‘dipping our toes’ in the ‘virtual water’ so to speak, we felt that our best chance of success as an online business was to face this head on, and produce a premium subscription service with high production values and a range of content delivery options. We also wanted to look beyond lockdown, too, to something sustainable for the future. And so, at a time when our instinct was to hang on to emergency funds, we invested money in camera, sound and lighting equipment, as well as software for our online platform!

I can’t pretend that things weren’t rushed. With our existing clients asking for some Pilates to fill part of their lockdown days and keep them exercising, we had no choice but to assemble a solution in a couple of weeks; one that might ordinarily have taken many months to plan and launch.

Central to Jane’s 24/7 is high quality, full hour recorded Pilates classes, with a new class released every week. Clients therefore benefit from a growing selection of classes to choose from (over six months’ worth now), which they can take whenever they like, as many times as they like. In addition, we run weekly live online classes using Zoom, plus harder Pilates ‘challenges’ and lovely relaxation sessions, too. For variety, we regularly recorded outside during the summer months in beautiful locations. And to add more value to our product, we also bolted on free additional extras including an extensive database of Pilates moves delivered as short recordings, and even weight control resources and a discussion forum.

Communication was key during lockdown, so we emailed regular newsletters, and spoke to new clients. We also posted regular videos on Facebook to motivate and inform a wider audience of the benefits of Pilates, gave nutritional advice and information on how to remain positive over a difficult time.

But what we hope truly sets us apart from our competition is the ‘personal’ nature of our recordings, and the reassurance of working online with a known and trusted instructor, along with my passion for teaching and looking after my clients, even virtually.

At the same time as raising the bar in terms of video quality, we have deliberately chosen to record classes in complete sections, without cutting and splicing, resulting in a much more ‘live’ experience, complete with all the humour, quirks and occasional slip-ups, too! We believe it’s the human touch that people need and value when they are alone at home and not in a class.

Our wonderful clients signed up to the ‘new Pilates normal’ in greater numbers than we had hoped, and we recruited many new clients, too, some from much further afield in our newly expanded global market, meaning that our efforts were not in vain, our gamble paid off, and we came out of lockdown stronger and happier physically and mentally as part of a big Pilates family!

I was touched and inspired by so much positive feedback, especially in the initial weeks of lockdown, and the months that followed, saying how our work was making a really big difference to them. I am truly humbled that, as all the personal dramas played out in my clients’ lives during lockdown, I was still able to offer some of the community and togetherness that we all need so much.

With summer replaced by autumn, and infection rates inevitably rising again, bringing with them increasing restrictions, we look to the future with confidence. Now offering both face-to-face and online delivery of classes – with special offers for those who do both – our clients can seamlessly switch between the two, as and when they need to –24/7 Pilates!

Pilates – Physical and Mental Wellbeing in the Community, by Jane Mackenzie

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