We interview Cuckfield-based Pilates expert Anaya Grover about why she turned her focus to offering online classes just for men
When did you first take up Pilates and was there a reason why you gave it a go?
I started Pilates in 2003 having been told to by a back surgeon or risk having a spinal fusion. The latter choice was a good enough reason to listen to the surgeon and it led me to changing my profession to become a Pilates teacher.
What were the immediate health benefits you felt?
The immediate benefit was a decrease in pain. That was a major lightbulb moment of the power of movement. When we are in pain, we can block movement because we are scared it will result in increasing our pain. Our body goes into protection mode, but the less we move, the more pain we are in. By building my core strength and realigning my posture, I started to feel more resilient, elongated and a by-product was that I was less stressed as a result from doing Pilates (it is a body minded movement practice). One could say active meditation. The long-term benefit is that I could return to playing sports and rarely suffer from back pain.
How quickly did you take things further and want to teach others?
I knew quite quickly that I wanted to teach Pilates. I wanted to be a physio when I was younger and for various reasons went in a different direction at Uni. However, when I started working in a desk-based job, my back really did not like the length of time I was sitting at a desk. In 2006, I enrolled on a Pilates course and in 2007 I qualified. I have never regretted that decision and continue to work on my movement and anatomical education. I am fascinated how resilient the human body is and how movement, good nutrition and lessening stress is paramount to our health.
When and why did you turn your attention to men doing Pilates?
Since becoming a teacher I’ve always had male clients. I think this is because I am a bit of a ‘Tom Boy’ – I used to play boys cricket and later for Sussex Women’s, so I am sporty and accustomed to a male environment. In addition to this, my back injury led me to specialise in more rehab Pilates and I think men can relate to me more than perhaps a teacher that comes from a dance/ballet background, which the majority of teachers do come from. Towards the end of lockdown I set up an online video platform and had a section for men because of having some male clients – and Men Do Pilates just grew organically from there. I niched my online offering to solely men and in October 2021 MDP launched on International Men’s Day. I felt there was a missing offering for men and hope that Men Do Pilates fills that gap. I also set the business up because I was frustrated that Pilates isn’t that accessible to men. Classes are often majority female; held at times that isn’t suitable to men; offer exercises that aren’t targeted to their body and in a language that isn’t easily relatable. I often see men privately for the reasons above, which is also expensive and let’s face it, the majority of the population can’t afford a weekly private Pilates lesson.
Do you think more men don’t realise the benefits of Pilates than women?
This is another big bugbear of mine. Men often don’t realise what Pilates is and how it can be of benefit to them. I see lots of men at the point of injury or surgery having been told to do Pilates by a medical professional. That’s frustrating for me as women are already clued up on these benefits and will do Pilates as a preventative measure. Women are far better at pre-empting, whereas men are more reactive. MDP works on four pillars: Pain, Prevention, Posture and Performance. Hopefully with more awareness building, more men will follow suit and realise how Pilates can support them as they age and help them to continue doing the activities they love to do.
When you launched Men Do Pilates, what was the immediate reaction like?
A lot of people thought it was a great idea and very much needed. The support from the Pilates community has also been fantastic. I can’t deny that some probably think I shouldn’t have niched as I am risking alienating my biggest clientele, women, but I feel very passionately about enabling men to have a healthier future.
How have you grown since the early days?
I’ve definitely become less of a perfectionist when it comes to the videos I produce. There just isn’t the time to keep re-filming videos and when you do that, the videos can seem staccato and clinical. You also lose the fun, ad lib and natural presentation of the videos as well. I think if I was working in the same way when I started filming, I don’t think I would ever publish any videos.
What kind of things do you offer today?
Apart from the online subscription service, I still teach face to face in my private studio – teaching small classes and private lessons.
Do you work with a lot of Sussex sports clubs?
I don’t work as much with Sussex sports clubs, although I have worked with Sussex Cricket and some ex and current Brighton players. Much of my work now is private, but I am looking to work with more sports teams as this is of real interest to me and have a few projects I am hoping will develop over time.
Can you suggest three top exercises we can all do this summer?
You can’t beat the Cat for general back strengthening and mobility. The Side Bend to loosen the side of your body and stretch out your shoulders, and lastly the Hip Roll to keep your back mobilised loosened.
You are based just outside of Brighton – what do you love about the area?
The natural beauty of the South Downs and access to the great outdoors. I like running and dog walking on the South Downs and my husband loves mountain biking there as well. I also love going high for a panoramic view and that feeling that you’re pretty insignificant when you’re standing on top of a hill. Being in nature and outdoors is when I am most relaxed and we are very lucky to live in this part of the Sussex within a short drive or train ride from the vibrancy of Brighton.
We are running a mini summer special, so where are your favourite places to head to during the season?
I love going to Birling Gap at the Seven Sisters for a dip and picnic. Brighton is busy but A LOT of fun in the summer. The beach front has cool bars and a brilliant relaxed holiday vibe. On my list this summer is West Wittering beach in Chichester. I grew up in Sussex and can’t believe I’ve never been.