Merrithew® Lead Instructor Trainer
Matwork & Reformer, Cadillac, Chair and Barrels, ISP, ZEN•GA® Mat & Reformer, Total Barre®, Halo® Training
MBA, ARAD, Certificate of Higher Education in Dance Education, Instructor Trainer for Antigravity® Aerial Yoga & Suspension Fitness, Certified 200-hour Yoga Alliance teacher, Gyrotonic, Gyrokinesis, Gyrotoner
Co-founder, Breathe Pilates
Cholthicha Srivisal was studying for an MBA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and dancing semi-professionally on the side when she slipped a disc in her back. Her doctor recommended that she train her core to help with the injury, a prescription that led her to Pilates.
This is her story.
As a child, Cholthicha Srivisal dreamed of being a ballet dancer. In the early 1990s, she was living that dream, dancing semi-professionally with a ballet company while studying for an MBA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston when she slipped a disc in her back. Her doctor recommended she train her core, a prescription that led to her discovering Pilates and a new career path, though that wouldn’t manifest for a number of years.
Cholthicha’s MBA had been financed by the Bank of Thailand, and after she graduated she returned home to work at the bank. In her off-hours, she continued her Pilates practice as a student. In 1996, she was headhunted by a financial company in Singapore, and she relocated to take up the new position.
For the next 15 years, Cholthicha worked in the finance industry, and practiced Pilates on the side. But during the last five years of her finance career, she knew she wanted a change. “I wanted to do something else,” she says. “The benefits of Pilates that I discovered made it a natural progression to train as an Instructor and become an Instructor Trainer,” she says.
Cholthicha began training to become a STOTT PILATES® Instructor in Singapore, then moved to Toronto to train at the Corporate Training Center. In 2007 she became an Instructor Trainer. Because of her training and employment history, Cholthicha was confident that she was capable of running a business, so when her future business partner Sandra approached her after a workshop and asked if she was interested in starting a business with her, Cholthicha’s answer was yes.
In 2011, they opened Breathe Pilates. “I love teaching,” Cholthicha says. “But I’m even more satisfied in helping someone become an Instructor,” she says. “The idea that I could do that full time by opening a studio was appealing.” The time between deciding to open a studio and actually opening it was just a number of months. “We had a few meetings and then said, ‘let’s just do it.’”
“At the time, Pilates in Singapore was still quite new,” she says. Breathe Pilates was one of the first Pilates studios in the country. Because of this, Breathe Pilates is now the frontrunner of the Pilates industry in Singapore.
But before Breathe Pilates could assume that status, Cholthicha and Sandra had to figure out how to compete with other fitness businesses. “Singapore is so cosmopolitan that the fitness industry was already quite developed, and health and wellness was one of the main businesses when we started,” she says. They had to educate a market that wasn’t familiar with Pilates or what Pilates could do. So they offered free classes, held studio open houses, and advertised Pilates not as a substitute for different forms of exercise, but as a performance enhancer that could help execute those forms of exercise better. This was especially important in the yoga market. “It was a collaborative approach,” says Cholthicha.
Because of the initial investment in renting and renovating a space, purchasing equipment and other related costs, it was almost a year after opening that Breathe Pilates saw a profit. Though a relatively short time, “it felt like forever,” says Cholthicha. Her schedule was packed, working a full-time job in the finance industry and teaching after office hours in the evenings. “I had two phones,” she says. “One for banking and one for Pilates.”
“I feel like I have more energy now than when I was younger,” Cholthicha says. “Running a business keeps you on your toes.”
Breathe Pilates currently focuses on rehabilitation and partners with a local physiotherapy clinic. The physiotherapist that owns the clinic refers clients to Breathe Pilates, and Breathe Pilates refers clients to him. “I’ve known him for a long time,” says Cholthicha. “I trust his work and I trust his integrity.” Cholthicha is also an IT for ZEN•GA and Total Barre, and works elements of each into her Pilates classes.
One of the current challenges for Breathe Pilates is finding qualified Instructors to teach. Singapore has strict laws that enforce quotas of local hires and foreign hires, requiring a rough ratio of four local hires per foreign hire. “I have to turn down the majority of foreign applications I receive,” she says. The problem is that it’s difficult to find qualified local Instructors. Pilates is still not seen as a viable career path to many. Cholthicha’s own family was also worried about her success in the fitness industry. “I told them, just wait and see. I didn’t go to MIT for nothing,” she says. “That’s why it’s so important to me to train local Instructors.”
Her advice for anyone considering starting their own studio? “Don’t give up. If you have a dream, and you have goals, just stick to the plan. There will always be people who will tell you that you’ll fail. Sometimes you’ll have to operate as if you’re a robot, completing step 1, step 2, step 3. But don’t give up halfway. Stick to it.”