The story of how Santhosh and Nita of Leap Wellness Studio decided to switch career from pottery to Pilates

Santhosh leans backwards, from a swinging hammock, till his head almost touches the floor. Nita uses a TRX cable, suspended from the ceiling, to hold a plank. Then we go downstairs to meet their in-house skeleton for a class on anatomy. Cirque du Soleil goes to medical school? Well. The Leap Wellness Studio does operate on an intriguing formula. Constant change, with an unchanging core. In layman’s terms, that means you can’t escape learning the basics. But you do get lots of new toys.

It’s a seductive approach. Especially for today’s fitness-conscious customers, with their high expectations and short attention spans. Though if you talk to Santhosh and Nita, you’ll gradually realise it’s more of a co-incidence than a deliberately planned formula. After all, Leap is the product of both their personalities.

“We were into fitness for ourselves,” says Nita, adding, “We met at NIIT. And went on to worked with computers for five years. After that we went through a lot of different things. We did landscaping, pottery, sculpture…” However, through it all, they never stopped experimenting with different styles of working out. Nita watched her brother Kamlesh Futnani, choreograph fitness routines for his aerobics classes, and eventually got a Reebok fitness certification herself. Santhosh learnt Shoringji Kempo (a martial art with some similarities to Shaolin kungfu) from Nita’s other brother, Kirti. They both did a teachers’ training course at the Sivananda Ashram. When pottery clients started asking the couple for fitness advice, they finally considered switching careers. “The pottery business was becoming too big for us, anyway,” says Santhosh. “When we got an export order of 10,000 pieces, we stopped. We like being ‘hands on’. We want to be completely involved.” So they began working as personal trainers. “We would go to clients’ houses, help them set up gyms… We worked from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday doing this for almost 10 years,” says Nita. Along the way, she started getting interested in Pilates.

A conditioning routine, Pilates is practised to build flexibility, strength and endurance. It emphasises on developing a strong core, which improves body alignment. Today, Leap Wellness uses Pilates as the base for everything they teach. “Because it all comes down to alignment,” says Nita, “That’s why we have a skeleton in the studio — to explain to clients how the body works.”

In 2007, the couple decided it was time to start their own studio and went to STOTT Pilates in San Diego to study for five months. “We didn’t really have the finances, but decided to take a leap of faith.” Today, they’re the city’s only Pilates studio. “There are very few in India, because it’s not very viable commercially,” says Santhosh. “Qualifications are expensive. And we’re constantly updating ourselves. So it’s been slow in terms of profits,” says Nita. Right now Santhosh teaches a version of yoga with Pilates, using vinyasa an element of ashtanga. Nita does workouts like NIA (a blend of yoga, martial arts, and dance), Booty Barre (with dance-based movements inspired by the ballet training bar) and Zumba. And of course, there are Pilates classes, both on the mat and with a range of equipment.

“We travel every year, so we know what’s happening. So we can talk the same language as trainers around the world,” says Santhosh. They’re now introducing the workout du jour: HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, which includes Tabata, a popular exercise strategy that alternates short intense sessions with 20 second (or less) recovery periods. The studio currently attracts a lot of already fit people who want to improve their performance. Nita says, “Pilates is a phenomenal add-on. If you’re stagnating with your workouts or a sport, it’s usually because of a lack of core strength. You have Pilates for golfers, runners, equestrians…” However, they say that the exercise has something for everyone. “It’s about mind-body fitness,” says Santhosh. “This gives you the poise of a ballet dancer with the strength of a gymnast.”

Leap Wellness is at 1, 2nd Cross Street, Seethammal Colony Extension, Teynampet, Chennai, Call 4231 6531 for details.