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Meet Keira Cumberland of Pilates Collective SLO in San Luis Obispo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Keira Cumberland.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Keira. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up moving my body A LOT. Since the age of three, I was enrolled in dance classes and was always very active in dance and other sports like soccer and track and field until the end of high school. After high school, not really sure what I should major in, I auditioned to be a part of several college’s dance departments including the dance department at Cal State Long Beach. I was accepted and I thought it was a great fit. During my time, I soon realized- while I was a good mover and decent dancer- the likelihood of becoming a professional dancer seemed slim. Luckily, CSULB offers a great program called Dance Science, its sort of a mix between Dance and Kinesiology and it really started to shape the way I viewed exercise. I began to learn that its a science, the body works in amazing, complicated ways and that you can really begin to break things down, troubleshoot and improve movement. My mentor at CSULB, Karen Clippinger, who ran the Dance Science program also hosted a yearly Pilates certification program. I had my eye on that program for a couple of years before officially applying, being accepted and enrolling.

Long story, short. I loved Pilates. I loved teaching Pilates, I loved doing Pilates and I was ready to share it with the world. Right out of my certification I applied at different gyms and began teaching. I wasn’t able to support myself by just teaching so I sought out management positions for Pilates Studios including a position with Equinox South Bay where I took on sales quotas and learned about numbers and marketing. I guess it was my first “real job” out of college. It was a steep learning curve as a young professional. Meaning it was hard to ask for what I wanted, to be patient, to manage others, to manage clients, to know myself. But I guess, you have to start somewhere!

Skipping forward about a year and always on the lookout to better support myself financially/making sure I am creating different options for myself, I started looking at graduate schools. Both of my parents hold advanced degrees, so it felt like good path. I took two preparatory courses including the LSAT and GRE. I decided on the LSAT, two things fueled my decision: 1) My father was an attorney, he has loved his career from its inception, he’s good at it, made good living and I figured I share the same genes so I should be successful in it as well; 2) the LSAT required no math.

At the same time, I moved home and landed what I still consider the best job I probably ever had, working for MINDBODY, Inc. while living at home and learning about all things tech sales. Working in tech was so interesting, fast-paced and I learned a lot about the art of selling.

But my LSAT scores would expire at some point and I felt called to go back to school, to try new things and embark on the endeavor that is law school. I attended Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. I don’t have much to report about law school other than, I sat A LOT and really worked on my discipline. I remember I had to calendar “brush teeth” before bed. If it wasn’t calendared, it wasn’t happening. For a brief period during, I taught Pilates at Equinox in Beverly Hills while in law school. Something got messed up with my financial aid and luckily Pilates was a part-time gig that came with a free gym membership in a beautiful area and I was never happier.

Skipping several years, it took me 3 times to pass the California Bar. I’m sure this time was a defining moment for me. It takes a lot to put your life on hold, literally, to study, to be knocked down over and over again and to get back up and try again. I learned a lot about what I’m made of at that time. I remember my dad saying “I don’t know if I could have done that myself.” He probably would have done the same thing, but it’s nice to hear when people acknowledge your residence.

After taking the CA Bar for the third time, I moved to San Diego to get a break from working in law, studying for the bar and decided it was time to go back to my roots for a bit. I taught Pilates and was able to support myself by managing several of the original Club Pilates locations.

After passing the bar, FINALLY, it was time to use my license. I had trouble finding a job that I was qualified for as a new attorney, while also doing something that felt like I was making a difference. I only got ONE job offer (from what I remember), and it was located back where I grew up, working for a non-profit helping people find relief from eviction. It was too perfect to pass up even though it meant I had to leave San Diego.

The first three weeks of my first attorney position were challenging. I felt overwhelmed and unqualified. I told myself- I need to make it 90 days. I need to make it through the holidays, until January 1. I got a calendar and I started marking off the days.

I don’t really know how to explain the next part. I guess during my, let’s call it a “freak out phase,” I was searching for commercial space for a Pilates studio on craigslist. I can’t tell you why I was doing it, how I was doing it or what the real plan was. I was so afraid to practice law, I went back to my roots- I knew I could run a Pilates studio and I thought- if I end up leaving this firm, I need a source of income.

This isn’t a unique event. I had always looked for a space to call a Pilates home. I did it right before law school as well. I may even have the “Pros and Cons” list I originally wrote: Pros to open a Pilates studio in Pismo Beach vs. Pros to going to law school.

I found a space, I truly couldn’t refuse. It was the price I would have paid for an apartment (I was supposed to be moving out of my parent’s house), and it was only a year lease. It was a beautiful space that looked like an art gallery with bright lights, glass doors and bamboo floors. It was in the back of a bridal accessory company (shout out to Untamed Petals), and I thought: if not now and in this space, then never. Against any of my friends and family’s advice, I jumped on it. Nothing happened in that space for months and I didn’t know if I would keep it. I just knew I had a backup plan and a place to feel like myself.

I made it 90 days, I marked off my calendar at Legal Aid and started to feel more comfortable in the practice of law. I eased into my new life. It all changed drastically at the turn of the year. January 11, 2017, my dad suffered a life-altering stroke during our weekly walk to a coffee shop near our house. There are 1 million things I could say about the stroke, but here are the things I find most relevant: 1) my father is still alive and despite some physical challenges and life changes he is doing remarkably well and is still making progress; 2) I now trust that there is a greater force putting me where I need to be, because it cannot be coincidence that all the closed doors or forks-in-the-road lead me home, a mere 3-months before this catastrophic and unexpected event; 3) I have never been more grateful for my strong body so that I could physically support my father who could not sit up, stand up, walk, communicate with others, transfer himself from wheelchair to chair to bed to shower; 4) I realized that during his recovery, while watching the nurses, Occupational Therapists, and Physical Therapists, I had these skills- I could help my dad in his recovery. I knew how to move bodies, to troubleshoot bodies and I now had a space I could do it in.

For about six months, the studio, now known as Pilates Collective SLO was a haven for me and my dad, we would go several nights a week- nothing was more important for his recovery than movement. I still worked at Legal Aid. I found that during a crisis, nothing is more important than stability. My coworkers and the work kept me supported and grounded and I ended up staying with that job for about 2 years before I decided to focus on the studio full time. I told myself the same things when making that decision later: if not now and in this space then never.

My dad and I used to come to that space, in the dark after a full day of work. At first, I would wheel him in his wheelchair, to the small but beautiful studio in the back of the bridal accessory company. By that time, I had two reformers in the space. Now, my dad (still my client) drives himself to the studio, puts up his handicap placard and walks with his cane to our appointments. Pilates Collective has now taken over the full space, added more equipment and instructors and even opened a new location this month in the same town.

We offer many different types of Pilates, movement and breathwork meant for all people from all walks of life. We offer Pilates for neurological conditions such as stroke while also offering more traditional forms of fitness ranging from classical pilates as created by Joseph Pilates to more contemporary perspectives.

In short, I couldn’t have really planned all this and thats what I always remind myself of now. I am in a good place that makes sense but by no means did I plan any of these events or outcomes. I go with the flow and I appreciate that it somehow all feels right. The things I plan for in the future, likely won’t be exactly what happens but I trust I’m where I’m supposed to be. I also trust that I know what I’m doing, that I am resilient, that I am strong and disciplined. I support others and therefore I am also supported.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Biggest obstacles were working to pass the California Bar and sort of losing myself in the process. Running a business has its own challenges including learning how to manage people and go with your gut. However, running your own business forces you to be decisive- you have to make decisions, you have to show up every day and put everything you have into it. There isn’t another option!

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I am so proud of Pilates Collective SLO mainly because of the amazing instructors we have and what they offer our community. I feel we have a unique perspective on movement. Our practitioners are intelligent, intuitive and they are aware that fitness is about much more than just the body, the weights, the heart rate or how long you can hold a plank; it’s about the individual as a whole- their state of mind, the hormonal state, their response to stimulation or movement. I feel we have a unique perspective in movement, we watch how the brain is reacting to movement.

We specialize in several things including but not limited to classical pilates, Pilates for neurological conditions, Foundation Training, and breathwork.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
This is a tough one. I’m glad I’ve had so many different experiences and that I didn’t deny myself those experiences. As I’m getting older, I’m realizing that I should really savor each experience because they last for a fleeting moment in your life and that it’s hard to go back once you’re past it. I’m learning that things will always be changing and I have to be okay with that, appreciate the good and know the bad won’t last forever.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Asia Croson Photography

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