Where are they now?
Donna Furnival embraces Pilates & Movement as a lifestyle
For studio owner and Body Harmonics Education Partner, Donna Furnival, 45, it’s all about embracing and teaching “movement as a lifestyle.” Whether coaching clients, raising children or training teachers, she takes a preventative, therapeutic and functional approach by educating people about how to get better acquainted with their bodies and how to align and condition them to move more optimally—both inside and outside the Pilates studio.
“I think what this work [Pilates & Movement] does that’s different than our typical medical system is that we’re teaching more prevention,” says Donna, speaking from Therapeutic Pilates, the studio she owns in Collingwood, ON—a popular town known for its skiing and outdoor sports—a couple of hours north of Toronto. “We’re not trying to manage symptoms, we’re trying to resolve problems so that they aren’t a problem anymore.”
Finding Pilates through sport rather than injury
Donna’s approach may have something to do with what led her to Pilates in the first place when she was working on refining her bouldering skills back in the early 2000s. Similar to rock climbing, bouldering involves climbing, but on smaller geological formations. Suffice it to say, it requires a lot of strength, flexibility and coordination.
“I got into Pilates a little differently than some. I didn’t come to it because I was injured or hurt or needed to fix anything. I was on a bouldering workshop down in New Hampshire, and the woman teaching the workshop wanted me to improve the way I was climbing on the rocks,” says Donna. “Her thought was that if I could understand movement—more specifically, moving from my solar plexus [core]—then that would improve the way I was moving over the rocks.”
Her teacher suggested she try modern dance or Pilates. So, when Donna returned home to Collingwood, she tried both but was more drawn to Pilates. “With Pilates, I felt like I was connecting with the movement better and understanding my body better.”
From Pilates and movement enthusiast to teacher and studio owner
In 2006, when the studio she was attending was about to close, one of the instructors suggested Donna consider attending a Pilates teacher training program because she had benefited so much from the movement methodology. She did her research and ended up selecting Body Harmonics Education in Toronto.
“I chose Body Harmonics because, from what I had experienced first-hand and what I had learned through my research, they offered a quality education program—one that did an excellent job of making excellent teachers,” says Donna.
After completing the Mat component of its comprehensive Pilates Track, Donna found herself moving to Toronto to complete the remainder of the program (Level 2: Reformer and Level 3: Cadillac Chair and Barrels) to become comprehensively certified.
“It took me six months of intensive in-studio training in Toronto to get my full certification, and then I came back to Collingwood where I did some teaching for this one studio before the owner closed the business altogether,” offers Donna. “Then things just started evolving, and I opened Therapeutic Pilates in 2009.”
Balancing motherhood and business by focusing on private Pilates & Movement
But another momentous thing happened just before she opened her business. In 2008, Donna gave birth to the first of her three children. “It was definitely a very all-consuming time,” she says.
To make things a bit more manageable, Donna focused on teaching clients privately when she first opened her business. She also hired another teacher part-time to help out. “Building your clientele through privates can help lay the ground work for clients and your business,” says Donna. “Working this way not only helps you to make real progress with clients and develop valuable relationships, but it provides you with more consistent hours and a more stable income. It’s an approach I would recommend to others just starting out.”
This sense of control and predictability was also a must as Donna worked to build her business while raising a growing family. “The studio is like another child,” she says. “So, in many different ways, I have four children. And sometimes I can do a great job at how I balance that. And sometimes I don’t … because their needs are different at different times. I don’t know that there is any sort of perfect way to nail that or not nail that,” offers Donna, who says that her “day job” also helps her to connect with her kids—whether that’s helping her son pay attention to his body when rock climbing or spending time doing fun things on the cadillac at the studio.
“It’s a challenge, but well worth it. I love teaching, and I spend a lot of time teaching my kids, whether it is movement, or whether it’s other things. This job helps me be a better teacher overall,” she says.
Moving better and moving forward
Today, like other Pilates business owners who managed to survive the pandemic and reopen their physical locations to clients and students, Donna breathes a sigh of relief and says she feels positive about the future and continuing her mission to help others embrace “movement as a lifestyle.”
“I feel like if we can have better Pilates & Movement educators out there teaching clients more of the information they need to move better, then overall people are just going to have better quality health,” says Donna. “They’ll be preventing illness, injury and pain by resolving problems before they start. And that’s really the wisdom that I want to share with aspiring teachers: To help tip the balance from being a reactionary culture to a proactive one when it comes to health and wellbeing.”
Trouble engaging those glutes? Donna recommends focusing on functional weight transfer
“So the glutes are definitely a hot topic around here, because everybody wants to feel them engaging. But it’s not always that easy. And sometimes there’s a misconception in terms of wanting to clench the ‘butt cheeks’ together in order to feel like they’re working. We try to work with our clients, saying: ‘What if that space could stay a little bit more open and not so grippy? Can you feel a little bit better function in terms of how the glutes are working?’”
Recently, I’ve been using a yoga block under one foot and not under the other when people are lying down and ‘bridging’—helping the client understand that as you start to press onto the block, move the hip out of flexion and get that knee reaching a little bit more forward, the inner thigh in the medial hamstring turns on a little bit better to support how the bum muscles are going to lift you up. And so half of the glute work is in understanding weight transfer, like, where’s the weight moving to? And do you actually have the weight transfer fully committed in that moment?”
Even when I’m teaching someone how to climb a set of stairs, I want to see them really get the weight over that foot so that when the knee starts to straighten, the glutes are going to help support that movement in a more functional relationship. Versus: Here’s the exercise you’re going to do to make your glutes strong. I want clients to think of it more like: ‘How does the glute work to do a good job at the things that happen in your day to day life?’”