This week, I had the privilege of interviewing Bonnie from Swai Pilates Studio in Perth to delve into the realms of body image, health and entrepreneurship. She is not only revolutionising our perception of our bodies but is also aiding women in their journey toward self-healing.
Personally, I have always been a fervent admirer of Pilates; it has significantly contributed to enhancing my posture, fortifying my pelvic floor both pre and post-pregnancy and overall, it has left me feeling rejuvenated. Nevertheless, my journey with exercise wasn’t always this harmonious. In my teenage years, I stumbled upon Pilates as a means of sculpting my physique for a brief stint as a model. I graced the runway, necessitating a fit into sample-size garments, which led me down the path of an unhealthy fixation on calorie intake and exercise. Or as Bonnie would call it the toxic body image and diet culture.
To say that I was merely fixated on body image would be an understatement. Rising at the crack of dawn, even before school commenced, embarking on a 3-kilometre morning run, returning home feeling disoriented, only to embark on a 30-minute Pilates session. In addition to this rigorous regimen, I would walk to school, adding an extra 5 kilometres to my daily exercise routine. My ambition was to emulate the top models, so I barely nourished my body. My calorie intake rarely exceeded 1000 calories a day. In fact, I cringe when recalling an encounter with a classmate who remarked, “You used to count calories during lunch.”
At this juncture in my life, I was 17 years old, towering at 188 centimetres, and fluctuated between 59-60 kilograms; during the peak of the fashion season, I even dropped to 57 kilograms. I found contentment in doing my daily measurements. At the height of my modelling season, my size 8 formal dress was excessively loose and I had the ability to encircle my hands around the tops of my arms, effortlessly closing my fingers together. Reflecting on that period now, I firmly believe I grappled with a mild eating disorder.
Tragically, it appears that this affliction affected numerous millennial women; myself included. In my interactions with women through the blog, I have come to realise that at least 30% of us have endured some form of body image issue, an eating disorder, or an unhealthy relationship with our bodies.
Like myself, Bonnie had a challenging relationship with her body during her formative years. She grappled with body image issues and endured an eating disorder for many years, subjecting herself to unrelenting self-criticism. That was until she became a mother and found herself compelled to establish a connection with and nurture her physical self, she swiftly uncovered the profound link between our minds and bodies. This realisation ignited a desire within her to guide others toward restoring healthy relationships with their own bodies. This is how Swai Pilates Studio came into existence.
“I ardently believe that the most vital relationship one can cultivate is the one they have with themselves. The synergy between the mind and body is inherently beautiful, but I believe that many of us experience a disconnection between the two. It has taken me years to comprehend that our bodies do not define who we are. Instead, they house our essence and provide us with the vessel to carry out the tasks we are here to accomplish. At the core of my work is never the pursuit of altering one’s physical form, but rather the quest to fathom what one’s body is communicating and to create a space where individuals can be seen, heard, and fully embraced – celebrating every facet of themselves.”
As a mother, she understands the constraints of time and the propensity to go through life on autopilot. However, her studio operates on a different premise. She has cultivated a community who do more than just attend her classes as a routine checkbox; they engage in a holistic approach encompassing the mind, body, and heart. Bonnie offers an environment and an entire experience where your daily or weekly movement transcends the confines of a mere hour-long class. SWAI has evolved into a collective of individuals who hold each other accountable, providing unwavering support and encouragement. It transcends the realm of strangers practising Pilates a couple of times a week.
“As an individual, I embrace the ‘come as you are’ philosophy, welcoming the raw, unfiltered authenticity while eschewing any semblance of superficiality. I believe this ethos has permeated SWAI as well. Whether you’re navigating a challenging day and need to show up exactly as you are, this is the space where you can do so without judgment, apprehension, or the fear of disappointing anyone, or even worrying about your children picking up on it–just come as you are, and we will work from there. When you’re embraced for who you are, you’re free to delve deeper, explore the surrounding circumstances, and chart a positive course forward.”
Teaching and practising Pilates brings immense joy and fulfilment to Bonnie. What ignites her spirit are those “aha!” moments in class when clients discover that their bodies can do more than they ever imagined. It’s a profound connection between body and mind, reinforcing the idea that our bodies work with us and, for us, never against us. These moments also apply to her personal practice, where challenges are met with curiosity and a plan for growth.
But her passion doesn’t stop there. She believes in nurturing a love for Pilates from a young age. She’s introduced the “Next Gen” category of classes, including homeschooling sessions and classes for kids aged 5-12 and 12+. These classes are designed to instil body acceptance and appreciation in children, setting the foundation for a positive relationship with their bodies.
The heart of her work lies in the success stories of her clients. These stories come in all forms, from clients regaining the ability to put on shoes without pain to those experiencing the return of sensation and mobility in once-limited limbs. One particular success story is Maz’s. In 2013, nine months after the birth of her first child, Maz bulged and ruptured a disc in her back. This pinched nerves and resulted in an almost total loss of control in her left leg. After three caesarean sections, Maz found herself with a weakened pelvic floor and the onset of pelvic floor prolapse. She needed urgent physical help. The women’s physiotherapist suggested to Maz to start doing pilates in order to regain strength in her pelvic floor. That’s when she reached out to Bonnie. At the end of October 2022, Maz started pilates sessions with Bonnie. By February 2023, she had gained almost full control of her pelvic floor. Not only did Maz see improvement in her pelvic floor, but she gained almost full recovery in the mobility of her legs and close to the full loss of the permanent pins and needles in her legs and abdomen from the pinched nerves. Maz had not experienced this in years.
Creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for individuals of all fitness levels and backgrounds is paramount in her fitness studio. The golden rule here is simple: “Honour your body.” This rule applies to everyone, encouraging them to embrace their unique paths, celebrate their achievements, and acknowledge areas for growth. In her studio, there’s no room for comparison, only acceptance of differences that make each individual amazing.
Bonnie remains curious about the human body, movements, and pain points, keeping her open to new knowledge and better ways of helping her clients. In addition, she mentors upcoming Pilates instructors, staying connected to the industry’s evolving and emerging needs.
The road to entrepreneurship is paved with setbacks and obstacles, and Bonnie is no stranger to them. She launched her business amid a pandemic, only to become a single mum shortly afterwards. However, these challenges have taught her the true meaning of resilience and adaptability. Her philosophy is simple: If it’s not a resounding “F*ck Yes!” it’s a “no.” She’s unafraid to take action, make tough decisions, and remain authentically herself on the path to success.
Giving back to the community is a core value for Bonnie who participates in fundraisers, raises awareness for various causes, and supports local sports clubs. Each year, she lends her support to different organisations, spreading awareness and helping those in need. Exciting plans are in the works to further evolve SWAI within the community.
Balancing personal goals and the demands of running a successful Pilates business is a constant juggling act. Fortunately, her work aligns seamlessly with her personal aspirations. When one thrives, so does the other. She credits her incredible circle of friends and her outspoken daughter for keeping her grounded and accountable. Having an honest and supportive network is her secret to finding balance and achieving success.
So embrace your unique journey, and let the joy of movement guide you to a happier, healthier you!