Championing sustainable health with Barressential

By Chenelle Fernando

Within a scope of exercises capable of rehabilitating and strengthening various parts of the human body, which could be termed “intelligent”, lie barre and Pilates, and Nare Bandaranayake has set out to revolutionise its practice in Sri Lanka. Nare pursued her undergraduate degree in neuroscience at King’s College in London and moved on to complete her master’s in finance at the University of Cambridge. Today, she is the Founder of Barressential, a dedicated barre and Pilates studio right here in Sri Lanka.

Our conversation with Nare gave us an opportunity to understand the dynamics of the two practices, and below are the excerpts of the interview with The Sunday Morning Brunch.

What inspired you to choose barre and Pilates?

I used to regularly attend barre and Pilates classes in London whenever I could – whether it’s 6.30 in the morning or 7 in the evening. I loved barre and Pilates. After moving back to Sri Lanka in 2016, I looked for some places for workouts in Colombo that could have possibly replaced barre and Pilates, but I found nothing. I like slow, controlled movements with low intensity but under effective exercise formats – things that are healthy for my body. After asking a few people to start the practice here and realising that no one was going, I decided to start it myself. I decided to leave the field of finance and focus on Barressential as my first business venture.

Wherever you go in the world, the best studios you would encounter are the barre and Pilates boutique fitness studios. It was shocking to know that this didn’t exist in Sri Lanka. Here, people go to gyms where men instruct women on what to do with their bodies, but more often than not, men instruct them in a way that’s great for the male physique and not in a way that works ideally for the female body.

Secondly, there are forms of exercise like aerobics and zumba, but those have been known and followed by gyms since the 90s or earlier. In London, those classes would cost £ 5 in a gym, whereas a barre class costs around £ 28. Most people – including myself – are willing to spend on specialised instruction and revolutionary forms of fitness. The premium offering is what we do, but Sri Lanka is still caught up in the old-school ways of exercising. In our barre or Pilates classes, you learn why you use the muscles you use and how you move them – there’s technique, there’s form. We’ve studied anatomy and are highly skilled in what we do, and I think it’s important to be able to come to an instructor and know that they’ve invested their resources to know their craft well.

What exactly is Barressential, and what do you do here?

Barressential is a boutique fitness offering for Pilates and barre. We are the only studio in Sri Lanka to offer group reformer Pilates classes – one of the most revolutionary forms of exercise in the world – practiced by athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo to Bollywood beauties like Deepika Padukone. The maximum number we can have at our Barre studio is 14 people. In the reformer Pilates studio, it’s only five people – each person gets a reformer for themselves. It works as personal training in a group setting.

Moving back to Sri Lanka, you yourself witnessed the lack of awareness in both practices. Could you explain to us what they entail?

Both of these forms of exercise have existed for decades; Pilates for 100+ years and barre for 50+ years. Yet, it’s very revolutionary and still extremely trendy in the West.

Barre is ballet-based, but it has nothing to do with the form of dance. The barres and the positions of the feet are all it has from ballet. This was derived from a ballerina in the 1950s – Lotte Berk – who injured herself and created this form of movement to rehabilitate herself. Therefore, the practice has a very rehabilitative quality and it’s all about connecting your brain to what the body does, thus an intelligent exercise.

Pilates was founded by Joseph Pilates in the time of the First World War over a hundred years ago. He also created it as a rehabilitation method for injured soldiers during the war. Pilates was a boxer and a gymnast. He crafted “contrology” – a movement formed by bringing in western and eastern movement methods. So, there’s a bit of yoga, tai chi, and boxing. Pilates, as it’s now known, has its focus on the core, and core is not just abs; the core is your spine, your pelvic floor, and your shoulders, and reformer Pilates in particular helps improve alignment, posture, muscle balance, as well as core strength and spinal mobility.

Can this form of exercise be followed by anyone? And how well does it facilitate weight loss?

Yes, everyone can do it. I have clients who come to me with disk herniation, knee injuries, and rotator cuff injuries to name a few, and I have clients who are athletes as well. The beauty of these methods is that they both work for anyone, regardless of the age or ability.

If you exercise and eat well, you’re going to lose weight. How fast this happens would depend on your own metabolism, how hard you’re willing to work out, and how well you eat. Fitness in Sri Lanka is marketed on weight loss, but it needs to be marketed better. You don’t need to lose weight; you need to be stronger in your body and be able to do things you do on a daily basis without hurting yourself; you need to be able to be sustainably healthy. The problem really is with fast diets and quick fixes.

The best clients I have are the ones who see the best results by finding themselves grow stronger, the ones with discipline, the ones willing to come two to three times a week and carve out time, and the ones willing to learn the technique in its truest form. Those are the ones who see results. I would never market us as a weight loss programme because it’s a spin term. But what we do here is making you stronger, and that will help you see results.

Scientifically speaking, if we take the minute you work out on your thighs (the largest muscle group), for example, those muscle fibres have to break down. To reform those fibres, your body needs energy. Energy comes from breaking down your fat supply. Ultimately, you realise that you don’t have to jump around for a full hour to get a really good workout. Targeted workouts with great technique are what we all need.

What benefits can an individual attending Barressential acquire?

A great intangible benefit of Barressential is that we have a great community here. We have clients who’ve done 100/200 classes and we’ve gotten to each other very well. We welcome anyone who walks into our studio by name and because our class sizes are small, we can cater to your needs individually, even within the group setting.

Our studio is beautiful and we’ve created it lovingly as an open, inviting space. You don’t feel like you’re in Sri Lanka – and most definitely not at an exercising space.

Talking about the exercises, both forms – barre and Pilates – are great for postural alignment, and good posture is the number one way to get rid of aches and pains. People stand in different ways, and depending on how you stand, sit, move around, and how long you do it for, the muscles change its form, becoming inactive and “unhappy”. Our methods focus on regaining postural alignment by strengthening the deep muscles.

Photos: Saman Abesiriwardana