Thinking Outside the Box
By Erika Nickless, Education Coordinator & Teacher Trainer, Natural Pilates
When COVID-19 brought the world to a grinding halt in March of 2020, employers and employees had no idea what to do. Small businesses were hit especially hard. We all had to get a little more resourceful, and a lot more comfortable doing everything from home.
At Natural Pilates in Los Angeles, Owner and Master Trainer, Laura Wilson, was forced to temporarily shutter her four studio locations. Feeling responsible for her large staff, she immediately jumped into action and set up daily online Mat classes (on a then-unknown platform called Zoom). It was difficult to find props at that time, so she made goodie bags of bands, balls and weights to distribute to clients and encouraged us to use household items in a pinch. “Need free weights? Use water bottles!” (or wine bottles, she sometimes joked). She sold some studio equipment to clients who wanted to continue Reformer and Chair sessions from home. Laura also started NPTV, an online platform for classes, which now includes thousands of hours of content on all Pilates apparatus (https://www.naturalpilatestv.com).
In June of 2020, the state of California allowed certain businesses to re-open. Natural Pilates was ready with masks, gloves, gripper socks, sanitizer and electronic temperature takers at all locations. Laura has two young children at home and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis several years ago, so she was especially concerned with safety. Reformers were spaced 6 feet apart and curtains were placed in between each machine. Late cancellation charges were waived to discourage people from coming to the studio sick. Laura’s mother is a great seamstress, and she sewed vinyl coverings for all Reformer and Tower straps, so they could be easily cleaned. Classes and privates were spaced 15 minutes apart to allow for thorough cleaning in between sessions. It felt a little like Pilates meets science fiction, but everyone was elated for something that resembled normal.
That new normal lasted only one month. In July 2020, Los Angeles County closed bars, restaurants, gyms and salons. Everyone at Natural Pilates – clients, instructors, and administrative staff – was crushed.
But Laura began thinking outside the box. Natural Pilates’ West Hollywood location had an outdoor patio that was sometimes used for Mat classes and photos. Within 10 days, she had moved all eight of the studio’s Merrithew V2 Max Plus Reformer Towers from inside to outside. Voilà – Natural Pilates in the open air!
As time moved on and the pandemic continued, there were many additions to the WeHo Outdoor Classroom: bed sheets and tarps were put on each night to protect the equipment from the elements, then later tents were installed to further shield clients and the equipment from sun, rain and wind. Additional Reformers were added as the classes became more popular. Southern California is blessed with very mild weather year round and little rain, so the outdoor classes were a big hit… so big that Laura began looking for other outdoor spaces. Many businesses were suffering during this time, especially tourism, so she looked into hotels.
Enter the next NP outdoor location: The Luxe on Sunset in Brentwood. The valet parking lot stood empty, and there was space for a “private room” by the pool. In September of 2020, Laura moved all the equipment from the Natural Pilates Brentwood studio location to The Luxe Hotel.
Two years later, these two outdoor spaces remain favorites of both Natural Pilates clients and instructors. Although we have since re-opened our flagship Beverly Hills location for indoor classes, and will soon open two new locations (in Sherman Oaks, CA, and Soho, NYC), many of our clients prefer doing “Pilates al fresco.”
The pandemic completely changed the world as we know it, but it also taught us – about ourselves, the people close to us, and people on the other side of the globe. The Natural Pilates family is very grateful to Laura for thinking outside the box, for demonstrating creativity and resilience in the face of the complete unknown, and for making the seemingly impossible, not only possible, but amazingly successful.