Orsolya (Orsi) Nagyistok started the year fresh in 2020. She left a personal training job at Aspria, a posh Brussels Spa, at the end of 2019 to open her own yoga and Pilates studio. She dreamed of having a startup company. And after ten years in the fitness industry, she was ready. She even found a local hotel to collaborate with her, allowing for expansion plans. “The idea was that in March, I would move the studio into [the hotel location], and we were going to co-create something.” Everything was falling into place.
Then COVID-19 happened. Like so many start-up business owners, Orsi had to find ways to adapt and keep her business afloat. She kept her studio as a home studio, called Orsi Yoga Pilates, and began to figure out how to keep working during the four month European lock down. Orsi bought some equipment and began filming video classes in her home studio. By the time the lockdown was over, she posted more than 60 videos (!) on her website, https://www.orsiyogapilates.be/. (Spoiler alert, some recommended videos are linked below.)
I spoke to Orsi over Facebook Messenger while she was visiting her family on vacation. A petite brunette with a dimpled smile, Orsi exuded the zen confidence of a yoga and Pilates expert when talking about her craft. That’s no surprise, given her 500 hours of yoga training (Budapest, Hungary and Gao, India), Stott Pilates Certification in Mat, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair and Barrel (Brussels, Belgium, Budapest, Hungary, and Los Angeles, California, USA), and bodyART® certification (Hungary). This lady has been around the yoga and Pilates block!
But you could also see the uncertainty and frustration of a small business owner trying to adapt to a completely new reality. “That was a really complicated time because moving to online requires a technical background in terms of understanding light, understanding the microphone, understanding the camera. So I was having a struggle with that because I did not do this before and I was not planning on it. I have a little studio and I wanted to grow it before the corona virus. I had an agreement with a hotel and I don’t know if it’s going to come back.”
Some videos came out too dark. On one video, the battery died and Orsi had to re-film it. Some just weren’t the quality she wanted. She’s since removed several of the videos as she learned how to better edit and light the videos. It took a lot of time, and time is money for a small business owner. The effort “requires more than instructors have in their skill set.”
I asked Orsi if she saw the her fitness business moving to virtual over the long term. “It’s hard to say how much future I see in this online thing.” While she will continue to stay online as a marketing tool, she doesn’t see it as a real moneymaker for a small business owner like her. “It is helpful in that it allows clients to understand my work and find my location.” But the time commitment associated with making online content—preparing, filming, editing, making perfect, uploading—is a huge time investment. “Fifty percent of the videos I did—something always happened…. It’s a bit hard because you know that you need to work on something for years before you get an income.”
But it’s not all bad. Moving online has triggered some creative ideas, especially as Orsi had to translate moves that required specific equipment to a virtual environment. For example, Orsi replicates moves typically performed on a Reformer using a swiss exercise ball (hamstrings and calves), exercise bands (arm strengthening), and a towel (core).
She’s even developing her own blend of Yoga and Pilates, called “Viny-Pilates.” “Viny-pilates will be a mix between Pilates and vinyasa yoga. So obviously it is going to contain a lot of abdominal and back strengthening exercises.” Orsi plans to develop both shorter and longer classes, and she’ll have tutorials of difficult exercises.
As her online presence continues to develop, Orsi wants to create packages on specific focus areas, “like 10 videos on Viny-pilates, 10 videos on the backbends, and probably a package of HIT Pilates. … [With] the video series, I will dive deeply into a certain topic.”
Orsi also developed alternative ways to present her classes. In addition to the home studio and pre-recorded, online videos (donation requested using Ko-fi), she offers outdoor Pilates and yoga classes in nearby Cinquantenaire Park on Saturdays (15€), live online 30 minute classes (7€) and private coaching either in her studio or online (60€). She also will organize corporate classes either in person or online, in both French and English.
Despite the ways in which the virtual environment has expanded her reach to clients, Orsi is careful to note the importance of a balance between learning and practicing online versus the benefits of in person training. Private lessons and small group classes allow Orsi to focus on more specific problem areas or goals–for example, people who want to master the backbend or work on a shoulder injury. Online classes can only take you so far. “The younger and healthier the individual is, the more beneficial is a group or online class. If you’re injured or older–also before and after pregnancy–private instruction is best.”
She also likes the flexibility of using her equipment (a hefty investment, to be sure) and drawing on her combined yoga and Pilates background to tailor a training session to the individual’s needs. “It has really great benefits. It could happen that a person is absolutely fit but has a particular problem.”
“Besides the corrections, usually the presence of the teacher is motivating for students, also the presence of the group…. [O]nline can be complementary though.”
And so, Orsi looks to the future when she can have more balance between working with the clients and growing her business through digital channels. She’s hoping to plan a yoga retreat to India this winter and one to Greece in the springtime. “I am hoping for the time when we can still get together and still travel is returning.”
During these difficult and uncertain times, small business owners are often the hardest hit–but they can also be the most resilient. For those of you who want to see Orsi in action, check out the video links below. And don’t forget to follow Orsi on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter.
For body conditioning (10-minute strength):
For yoga (30 minute stretching and 60 minute vinyasa flow):
For Pilates (60 minutes, with props):