“We were always kind of told we’d need to go it alone,” says Aoife Casey, Owner and Clinical Director of Your Body Physio & Pilates, which opened in the heart of Balgowlah Heights last year.
She was referring to her University lecturers in Ireland – a country with an incredibly strong Physiotherapy education system, but lacking in job opportunities for the graduates it produces. “They essentially engrained the idea that we would likely need to take our skillsets to Australia or New Zealand – I guess I proved them right.”
But Aoife proved them wrong initially, landing Physio roles in two of Ireland’s leading private hospitals. She also learned and began practicing the art of Pilates, which quickly became her second career passion. Armed with her skills and experience, she set sail to Australia with her now-husband in 2016 and quickly settled into her adopted home of the Northern Beaches.
“I fell in love with the community straight away,” she says. “It was so tight-knit but so welcoming, and immediately I felt at home despite being thousands of miles from where I was born and lived my whole life.”
Aoife began working in private practice – another new step in her career – in Dee Why soon after arriving. Physiotherapy was, and is now, on Australia’s long-term skills shortage list, which paved the way for Aoife and Oisin to make the community a more permanent home. She brought Pilates into the practice too, and quickly grew her client base and became a central person in their health, wellness and exercise journeys.
“Working in private practice is incredibly rewarding. Clients or patients often come to you from a very vulnerable position, where they’ve had an injury that has had an incredibly negative impact on their life. Being able to not just help alleviate that in the short term, but put them on a long-term path of strength and recovery is the most rewarding thing.
“Pilates ties into that perfectly,” she says. “The way we’ve exercised or even moved until recently has been very linear. We’re always moving forwards, bending down, moving in one direction, and that leads us to ignore other movements such as our back or side muscles. It’s like learning to drive on a straight road and then encountering a roundabout! We need to do more turning, twisting, bending, and Pilates introduces that and gets us moving in all directions.
“It’s incredibly holistic, it corrects a lot of the issues that come about through normal life – sitting at a desk, picking up kids who get bigger every day – and gives an all-body, including the mind, workout.”
Seeing the impact of Physio and Pilates on her clients led Aoife to realise it was time to go it alone, which led to the opening of Your Body Physio & Pilates in October last year. Like any new business – particularly one opening in the midst of the pandemic and all its uncertainties – it didn’t come without its challenges, and Aoife had a whole new set of skills to learn.
“There are always reasons not to do something – is it the right time, the money, coronavirus. It felt like the right time for me despite anything else, and it was time to do it. There was so much to learn – finding the right place, accounting software, dealing with so many suppliers at once, painting, trying to install timber flooring, so much more. But honestly, I’ve loved it!”
One of the key challenges was getting the equipment Aoife needed, in particular, high-end Reformer Pilates machines, which had grown in popularity considerably during lockdowns around the world. She’s still awaiting an order of a number of machines made six months ago.
Rising to the challenge and not willing to compromise on the quality of Reformer, Aoife has taken a different route to getting in on the game – keeping an eagle eye out for other studios and instructors selling, jumping in a rental van, and loading up on podcasts to get the best equipment from Bathurst and other faraway places when the opportunity arises. This has led her to develop private and semi-private Reformer classes, with bigger classes on the horizon.
“Reformer, and Pilates in general, has been particularly popular among mums in the community,” says Aoife. “It’s different things for different mums – some enjoy the opportunity for some down time, some for the social aspect and to connect with other mums in the community, but increasingly we’re actually seeing Pilates become a family activity.
“Mums come in with their kids or teens [10 and up] and do the class together. It’s an incredible bonding experience and I didn’t expect it to be such a big feature.”
Looking ahead, Aoife is keen to keep growing the studio, adding new services and features, staff members and bringing her hands-on, holistic healthcare approach further into the community. She’s also networking with other business owners, particularly women in the community, to help encourage others who might be considering going it alone.
“I wouldn’t say it’s easy by any stretch. It’s a rollercoaster as well – I still go through waves of ‘I’m smashing this’ and ‘why the hell am I doing this?’. But ultimately, I’m confident in what I’m doing, the support network around me and the community I live and work in.
“People want to support you here, to help you get to where you want to go. Anyone in the Northern Beaches who is considering giving it a go should know that.”
Aoife Casey is Owner and Clinical Director of Your Body Physio & Pilates in Balgowlah Heights. She is a qualified and experienced Physiotherapist and mat, reformer and pre and post-natal Pilates instructor, offering a range of classes to suit all mums and families.