From Neuroscience to a New Barre Biz!

Pilates and I don’t go way back. In fact, exercise and I don’t go way back. I was the kid in school who never ran, who never played a sport and who got picked last for all the team games. I was always skinny so the need for exercise evaded me for most of my years. Since university, long hours in investment banking meant that I began to suffer from back pain, then knee pain and soon after, all sorts of little niggles & aches that wasn’t appropriate for a woman in her mid 20s.

One day after work in 2012, I remember heading to a Pilates studio near Liverpool Street and getting on the Reformer for the very first time. Lacking in strength (and in trust that the machine won’t spew me out), I remember second guessing every cue of the instructor. But not long after I was hooked! I finally found an exercise that my body could do without getting hurt and that I enjoyed. I moved on to the fast-paced Reformer sessions at the HeartCore studio chain and was physically challenged to the maximum of my limits by difficult choreography & flow.

A little later on, I met – what would become my first love – Barre. I used to religiously attend four times a week (adding a Reformer session somewhere in there when I could). During this period, I was planning an eventual move back to Sri Lanka and entertained the idea of opening a Pilates studio. Time constraints with a 15-hour work day meant I had no time to pursue certifications or hash it out any further: so the dream was shelved.

In 2016, after 13 years in London, I took a leap of faith, left my cushy job in finance and moved back to Sri Lanka. My hopes & dreams were idealistic. For the most part of 13 years, I only knew my country during vacations. I wanted to give back to my nation – build schools, educate children, empower women. It didn’t take me very long to realise that those things remain an undone task in Sri Lanka due to a reason: lack of funding, bureaucracy, red tape and self- serving interests of others resulted in me beginning to question my move.

One day during this uncertain time, I remembered my dream of opening a Pilates studio and thought to kick start the process. A quick calculation showed I did not have the capital to open a Reformer studio. Pivoting fast, I decided that Barre would be the least capital intensive, fail-quick option. Thus on February 26th 2017, Barressential was born. I conducted market research, built an email list of interested potential clients and built a website all in one week. The demand was there; I now had to deliver!

Having a Neuroscience background, I already had a solid foundation in Anatomy & Physiology. Building on this, I pursued my Barre certification with the International Ballet Barre Fitness Association and began teaching classes first at my father’s office (and then at my home) for four people at a time. I remember feeling slightly unsettled by the nerves & the strange sensation of having people look at me and responding to my every word. I had a piece of paper with the entire routine in my hand, I held on to it tight, and taught. As my confidence as an instructor grew, class sizes grew from 4 to 6 to 8 people.

Within three months into commencing operations, I realized I wanted to grow our offerings to include my initial dream of Pilates. A Reformer was still a far reach but Mat Pilates was a possibility. I undertook training under the amazing Radhika Karle in Mumbai, India and completed my Balanced Body Mat course in June 2017.

As the only Pilates and Barre outfit in Sri Lanka, it was an uphill task of tilling unbroken ground to raise awareness amongst potential clients as to the benefits & the intelligence of each method. The city was still mired in Zumba, Aerobics and gyms with niche fitness limited to TRX and yoga offerings.

My aim from the start was to be as professional as the studios in London that I frequented. I was the first studio in Sri Lanka to incorporate MINDBODY to automate the bookings providing flexibility and ease to our clients. To date, I remain committed to small class sizes promoting maximum attention to each client. Our motto is “first do no harm”- we want clients to be strong, not injured by participating in our classes.

As a one-woman operation for a long time, I was everything from janitor to CEO: I built and continue to maintain our website, work our social media accounts, teach classes and maintain our finances. Six months ago, we welcomed our first hire: a fantastic client advisor to help take some of the load off my hands and in 2019, we add our first full time Barre instructor to our team. Our family is growing!

I am a strong believer in life-long learning and have embraced this in my role as a Pilates instructor. In the last year, I have specialized in Pre and Post Natal Pilates & Pre/Post Rehabilitation Pilates enabling me to work with clients with varying conditions, disabilities and diseases. In fact 70% of our work is now on a one on one basis with these clients and the improvements in their quality of life has brought immense job satisfaction to my life.

I started out with a dream of bringing Reformers to Sri Lanka and in 2019, we opened our studio doors with our very own Allegro 2 Reformer with Tower and are now on our way to becoming the first & only Reformer Pilates fitness offering in the country!

In this two year journey, the greatest joy has been the community that has built itself around Barressential. In the words of a client, we have become “a family. We share a great bond. We motivate each other & help each other to be better. When one is absent, we check on each other. As a result, we are a happy group of ladies who has each others back and Nare has ours.” I have found clients who have stuck with me through thick & thin – and for that I am forever grateful.

Today, I’m a long way away from my prior life in analyzing other companies & deciding on investments. Today, I am learning to BUILD a great company that will empower our clients to be better: physically & mentally and creating a company that will enable our employees to achieve THEIR dreams! People without a vision perish and my goal is to see us flourish.

I look around and I am incredibly grateful for the clients that recognized the difference in what we offered and loved our community. I am grateful for support from friends & family. I am grateful to God for breathing life into my dreams and helping me aid others in their pursuit of wellness – away from aesthetics and delving deeper into holistic health.

My wish is for more Sri Lankans to embrace Pilates for its myriad of benefits not just for the body but for the mind. Its ability to gently empower a client towards strength, stability and balance and its focus on breathing and relaxation is without rival. I wish to play a part to propogate Pilates & Barre within this island so that one day, I can look back and know I have run the race & completed it well.

Nare Bandaranayake

About Nare Bandaranayake

Nare Bandaranayake is a neuroscience grad turned finance professional turned entrepreneur & Pilates/Barre instructor in Colombo, Sri Lanka. After 13 years in London where she worked in large cap banks and asset management firms - she moved to Sri Lanka to pursue more holistic interests and opened Barressential, the first dedicated Barre & Pilates boutique fitness offering in the country. Find Nare: FB / IG: @barressential