Pilates in Costa Rica

Pilates in Costa Rica

It wasn’t but a couple weeks after the Pilates Roundtable in West Palm Beach, that I booked a flight for Costa Rica. The three week trip was part of my plan to decompress and take some time off for the summer. I enrolled myself in a Surf, Photography and Spanish program through School of the World in Jaco (one of the more popular beaches located in Central Pacific Coast). There I planned on brushing up on my picture taking skills, learning to surf and perfecting my Spanish accent. I checked one bag on the plane and boarded feeling a sense of wonderful learning opportunities in the horizon.

I arrived 4 days early prior to my “lessons” starting as a way to scope out the scene. That’s when I took a day trip to the nearby beach of Playa Hermosa just 5K away. I had heard about its beauty and uniqueness. I had no idea where to tell the cab driver to drop me off – so he picked a spot on the beach right near a smoothie bar that looked more like a Balinese hippie shack. Perfect! I took in a delicious “Energizer” smoothie full of ginger, orange, limes, carrot juice and apples.

As I lay on the beach, not having a clue of where I was, it felt surreal. There was something magical about this place. The waves looked intense and a little intimidating I must say and the black volcanic sand was super hot. There weren’t many people around, just a lot of beauty. Taking in the geography of the place, I noticed that there is beach on one side of the only road that goes through town populated with little beach cabin hotels and restaurants (no taller than 3 stories) and tropical rainforest met with a tall mountain on the other side of the road. When the intense sun got to be too much, I searched for some “shelter” and of course another smoothie. I found an internet cafe at the top of one of the tallest buildings in the 350 person population town, and decided to check out the view and cool off a bit. It was there that I spent another 3 hours, just mesmerized by the beauty of the beach, the power of the crashing waves and the tranquil vibe that can send anyone into an immediate “Pura Vida” attitude. It was here that I knew I found something special…

Well you know how the rest goes, once you stick around long enough, skip your return flight home and decide to make the big move and sell all your belongings from abroad on Craigslist (Yes, I will miss my beloved high ladder barrel, but I think I made some people really happy in Minnesota), the stars have to align just right and provide you with something that makes it all worthwhile.

I found that opportunity at Las Olas Hotel in Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica. They were not using the 2nd floor deck of their restaurant which overlooked the beach. It’s an open air rancho that receives terrific breeze and shade built out of the most beautiful wood in the world, Almond. The deck is large enough to host an 8 person class with room for the Cadillac I had hand built here. We host 3 classes everyday, offer chair massage and are really striving to educate the local and visiting surfers on how to better warm up their bodies and develop in-home Pilates routines for their own self study.

As soon as I approached the owners about the opportunity to rent their space, they had a group of 3 visiting Wave Hunter girls from California ready to take classes that next day. I had a deck, the beautiful environment, but no mats, no props- nothing. I ran all over the nearby towns in search of some mats and ended up finding bath mats! Yes, we did our first week of classes on small clips of “magic carpet”. We’ve since then imported (via two or more visiting trips back to the US through checked luggage) foam rollers, exercise balls, nice thick workout mats, springs, my Pilates Stick and a massage chair. We’re all suited up and professional now.

The target market, as I mentioned are surfers from all over the world. Their bodies are almost the exact opposite of a typical client accustomed to a desk, driving a car and many other positions that put your body in a slouched forward flexion. So it’s been interesting and positively challenging to create routines for these bodies used to so much extension in their lumbar and cervical spines.

Surfers, and especially our local population, often times think they can receive all the training they need from just being in the water. Because their lifestyle totally depends on the timing of the tides, to even begin to accommodate their schedules and convince them that they need additional training to be stronger in the water is a challenge. Our marketing and promotion in this case really needs to be focused on the tourists. The studio offers 3 ($80) and 5 ($130) day packages consisting of a combination of classes, massage and private training. But the question becomes how do you teach to a new body and give them an energizing workout in just one session?

We have found that quickly being able to assess the client’s coordination skills and what their body may need based on their previous activity can determine how to run the session. With each session, I want my clients to feel like they’ve been able to move their spine in all planes of motion, like they’ve been able to “turn off” their larger muscles and be challenged by smaller more deeply seeded movements and experience the spirit of the work by achieving a rhythm. We always start with asking how their bodies are feeling that day. We give the client an explanation of what Pilates means to us and what we want to accomplish in the session and then go into a few fundamentals from there. If they can take one or two things away from each session as a learning tool to better improve their quality of life (i.e. how they breathe, how they move their neck) then I know I’ve completed my responsibilities as an educator.

A private and a class are almost the same thing when you have spur of the moment scheduling, so we charge the tourists $15 per class or $30 per week/unlimited to encourage repeat business. The locals pay $50/month unlimited and their package also includes a postural assessment. This allows us to have one on one time with them to speak to their bodies strengths and weaknesses before entering a group class. If a local wants to try a class, the second one is free, the first and a la carte from there is $8 each. These prices, as you are probably thinking, are below market price, but with the achievement of getting them up on the deck to experience the work, we are able to cross sell our massages easily and those are $1/minute, much like a typical Pilates market price.

Word of mouth is and continues to be the greatest marketing asset. I try to walk around and visit with the hotel and restaurant owners and set up a time for them to individually experience our services. Another referral partner is our local surf camps. Often times, they are looking to add an extra activity onto their client’s camp schedule and also partner up with services that would complement their surfing.

I try to keep the studio bustling as often during the day as possible, offering surfers who are hanging out near the studio to try this or that stretch or allow them some time to play with the “toys” . . . foam roll those IT bands!!! This makes it attractive and less intimidating for those wanting to express their curiosity.

Many have been exposed to the idea that Yoga is the complementary workout to surfing, but Pilates also does a fantastic job of dynamically preparing the motor neuron connection and coordination for the speed in which they have to react when in the water. Many of our Pro surfing clients prefer to do the Pilates workout prior to surfing session.

If you are considering the idea of starting your own studio or program inside an existing space, I’d love to hear from you. I’ve done it several times in many different scenarios. The opportunities are abundant; all you have to do is access the will and desire to begin to launch your “dream.” I’m so glad I took the risk and I go home so satisfied knowing that every day’s small accomplishments are a big step in the direction for living my life in the way I want. With a small business, you have more of the control, less management obstacles and the ability to keep things simple. I stick to what I know and I sure have found that it’s lead me to amazing places and spaces. You can do the same!

I’m hosting a How to Start up Your Own Pilates Program Workshop in Playa Hermosa at the studio to train other instructors on how to strategize for their own implementations March 5th-10th 2010. Email me at [email protected] if you are interested and I’d be happy to send you details about the all inclusive packages, starting at just $70/day. If March 5-10th doesn’t work for you, then we will arrange a few days that better suit your schedule. Pura Vida!