LOCAL PORTRAIT: Vanisha of Eat. Sleep. Pilates

Written by: Sophie Taylor

A running injury helped Vanisha Thanawala discover pilates. But when she quit her banking job in the city, her entrepreneurial venture Eat. Sleep. Pilates was born. We met one particularly humid day at Blighty Coffee where Vanisha’s inspiring story unravelled.

Life’s too short. For the first time I have a life that I don’t feel I need a holiday from.

When did you start getting into pilates?

“It was probably about three years ago now. I was training to run the Istanbul marathon and I ran too much on the road. I fractured my leg because I was running too much.”

What compelled you to run the Istanbul marathon? (I ask through a mouthful of carrot cake)

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“I just thought, that’ll be interesting! A run and a holiday at the same time. But when I got injured I thought, oh dear I’m obviously not running correctly and I need to do something else. I had done yoga since I was a kid but that’s stretching, not strength training. So I got a running coach and started doing a lot more core work. I got bored just doing abs in the gym and trying to do single squats. So that’s when I found pilates and started going to some reformer classes. I really enjoyed them and found they were really helping my running, strengthening up my abs and my glutes. But mostly it was fun.”

And how did Eat. Sleep. Pilates all begin?

“Last year I quit my job. I was working in banking for ten years. I thought, I don’t know what I want to do but it’s not this. I went to Central America for seven weeks. One week was a pilates retreat which again, I really enjoyed. So when I got back and still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do I thought, I’ll sign up for some pilates courses to improve my own technique, learn and see what happens. So I did it and loved it and wanted to share it with people. So hence, Eat. Sleep. Pilates was born.”

It’s your baby?

“It is, yes! So as soon as I finished the course I thought, I’ll just set up a website and see if anyone would be interested in doing pilates with me one on one. I had thought about going through other gyms and becoming another one of their pilates teachers. But, meh, I wanted to do something different.

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I’d seen a lot of yoga supper club ideas and thought it was nice. I’d always been interested in doing some kind of charity stuff; I’d run a marathon for charity, cycled to Paris for charity, that kind of thing. So I thought this could be a good fit. I thought I could do pilates pop ups for charity!”

We eat, then the money we raise helps other people to eat.

Why did you call it Eat. Sleep. Pilates?

“I wanted it to be like a way of life. You can really build pilates, even just through your breath, into your everyday routine. The Eat part of it is, again, part of our every day. So at every event there is a pilates and eating component. We eat, then the money we raise helps other people to eat. There’s always a learning component too. I’m a geek, I love learning. I know if I wasn’t doing these events I’d be going to similar events to learn. I love London for that. We’ve had a happiness workshop, a wine tasting workshop and nutrition classes. It’s really cool! I’ve met amazing people who run those parts of the events.”

You can go to the gym or an event and be anonymous. I think that’s such a shame.

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What kind of people sign up?

“Everyone who comes along can learn something and meet new people. Which is really important in London. I’ve got lots of family in London, I’ve always lived here so I’ve got lots of friends but if you come here to work it can be quite lonely. You can go to the gym or an event and be anonymous. I think that’s such a shame. So all the events I run are really small – between 10 and 15 people so hopefully people get to know each other’s names, get a chance to chat, have a glass of Prosecco and talk afterwards. I’ve had a few people who come on their own of course, but mostly people tend to come with friends. But I really want to encourage people to come along and meet new people in a friendly environment. Learn something new and have a good time.”

Do you have a blow out brunch or do you go to the gym? Don’t choose.

“The other philosophy is that as we’re all limited with time if you’re working, you want to see your friends in the evening but you know you should get to the gym. What do you choose on a Saturday morning? Do you have a blow out brunch or do you go to the gym, go for a run on your own? Don’t choose. You can have both. Get a workout, get a nutritious meal and hang out with friends and new people.”

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What’s the next event?

“We’ve had five events so far. So far it’s going well. In a couple of weeks we’ve got one at The Green Rooms Hotel. I try to keep everything as low cost as possible so it’s accessible for people. Doing them as charity events means I can get the events spaces for free.

Again, if I wasn’t running these events I’d be going to them. Last week I went to a meditation event in North London called The Gathering with Will Williams. Last week they had the Hemsley Sisters, a bit of food and some music. There were about 150 people. At the next event they’ve got Ruby Wax talking. It’s fantastic. I’d say my events are more niche, more intimate.”

It’s great to show people some really unique and interesting dishes

Do you have regulars?

“It’s early days. I don’t have a brand behind me. Sweaty Betty used to sponsor the events, they were very kind. And Doisy and Dam, the superfood chocolate company. Slowly the brand will build. It’s great to see new people coming along, who were meeting up with their friends anyway and just wanted something different to do together.

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People are usually looking for new and interesting places to go for food, especially if they’re gluten free. It can be tough to find places. The initial menu from Colombian Kitchen for the upcoming event at Green Rooms, for example, had meat and white rice so I switched it up with wild rice and vegetarian options. It’s great to show people some really unique and interesting dishes that are healthy, with different ingredients like kale and pomegranate or simply using aubergine in a different way. I have never had a Colombian brunch and the menus sound amazing. I can’t wait.

We’re going to have grilled vegetable skewers marinated for two days, wholemeal coconut rice and black quinoa coleslaw. The drink will be a homemade tamarind and lime juice, and the desert is pineapple and raw chocolate sauce sprinkled with cashew nuts.”

In everyday life we tend to be hunched over our iPhones

Woah there

“I know it all sounded amazing. I’m ready to eat it right now. It’s so much more inspiring than my old job. I’ve met so many entrepreneurial types since setting up Eat. Sleep. Pilates it’s fantastic.”

When you say body conditioning, is that like cardio?

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“Pilates can be everything. I try to teach the essence of it. The style I’ve learned has five principles, so we go through these together in the classes. It’s mat based so you’re not jumping around. You’ll work a lot on spine mobility. In everyday life we tend to be hunched over our iPhones, our computers, and sitting on a sofa watching Netflix. So it’s about getting the spine mobile again and working on shoulder and hip mobility. Then we start focusing on the core and the obliques underneath. People want a challenge but to have fun too. I like to keep it functional for everyday life, working on breathing.”

*I discretely try to sit up straight as Vanisha describes crooked spines*

Life’s too short. For the first time I have a life that I don’t feel I need a holiday from.

So it’s just you?

“It is, yes. Venues are always so helpful with sourcing the food. Then I do all the ticketing, the marketing, it’s fun! I’m learning so much; going to talks about social media, instagram and twitter, using tools like canva and pinterest. I’ve developed an alter ego for social media which helps me to share more. I feel much more happier tagging and hash tagging everything as Eat. Sleep. Pilates than I am for my personal use.”

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If you had to give some advice to someone who isn’t happy in their current job and wanted to pursue their real passion, what would you say?

“Do it. Life’s too short. I’m so much happier now since leaving my job. When I graduated I thought I’ll work really hard for a few years then I’ll have climbed the ladder enough to be comfortable, to coast. And then I’ll have all the time in the world to see my friends, to travel the world. But you realise you don’t. I was working form 7am till 6pm, it was really stressful Monday to Friday in the City, trading for a bank. I lived for holidays. Now for the first time in my life I don’t have my next holiday booked. My friends are confused! For the first time I have a life that I don’t feel I need a holiday from.”

Your life must be a lot healthier on the whole?

“Being a little bit active makes you want to be more active. I see that with my mum. She used to need a nudge to go for a walk in the park and now she’s being really supportive, suggesting long walks herself and learning about all the salads and nutritional side of things. Now she cooks with quinoa where previously she wasn’t sure about it. 

I have had some really good advice from a previous mentor: that Rome wasn’t built in a day and things don’t happen over night. However, if you try to plant seeds in people’s minds – little ideas here and there, those flowers will grow and those trees will grow later. Even if that idea is just to sit up straighter, to be friendlier, meet new people and generally get healthier.”

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What would you say to someone like me who’s never done pilates before but is intrigued?

“Firstly, you don’t need to worry because this isn’t bootcamp. It’s definitely for all levels. I’m not going to rush you through anything. It’s a safe and comfortable environment to come to and learn. I send out a checklist of things to remember and to bring like comfortable clothing, come barefoot, bring a bottle of water and just enjoy it! I use a lot of imagery to help people get the movements, like imagining you’re taking off a top hat to stretch your spine and neck upwards.

You can take the ideas away with you in everyday life, like just thinking about your posture at the gym or walking down the street.”

What’s the future for Eat. Sleep. Pilates?

“The dream would be to focus on the Sleep aspect, so maybe start with retreats and go on to host trips away abroad, to the beach. At the moment I hope that you’ll be sleeping better after doing the pilates and eating well.”

As our chat draws to a close I realise I’m no longer hunched over the table and feel about 4” taller. Which, at 5’ 3” is something I could really do with. Thanks Vanisha, I’m already feeling the benefits and I haven’t even got off my arse.

Find out more info and book yourself up for an Eat. Sleep. Pilates event why doncha.

Photos via Eat. Sleep. Pilates and Colombian Street Kitchen instas.

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