MADONNA DOES IT. Uma Thurman does it. Courteney Cox does it. Rumor even has it that David Letterman does it. But long before the celebrities caught on, Zayna Gold was doing Pilates ó and loving it.
She loved the body-conditioning exercise so much, in fact, that she parlayed it ó along with more traditional fitness methods like cardio and yoga ó into a thriving business. In 1989, Gold launched Boston Body in a small studio on Newbury Street. Sheís since closed that location but has opened three others: a two-floor, full-fitness facility on Boylston Street in Boston; a Pilates studio in Newton Highlands; and, most recently, a Pilates, yoga, and healing-arts studio in Newtonville.
Q: Why fitness ó how did you end up on this path?
A: I feel like such a weirdo saying it, but when I was in high school, I would take the audio tapes ó you know, there werenít videotapes then, so the records or whatever ó I used to have all these different fitness-exercise-, dance-exercise-type things, and literally I would do them in my bedroom. There was no aerobics movement, there was no anything. I was, like, obsessed. It was so bizarre. And I was so into it; I used to read everything I could get my hands on, anything to do with movement or the beauty of dance. I was just so interested in it.
Q: Was your family into exercise?
A: No. In no way at all. My family is like typical Jewish intellectuals who are like, this [head] is completely separate from this [body]. So I donít know where I got this. I really have no idea. I mean, I took ballet when I was a kid, and then in college I got my hands on Joseph Pilatesís books, his book of the 10 basic exercises, and I literally did them myself every day. And I was just so into it. I used to help my friends with exercises; a friend of mine who was a martial artist, I was teaching him Pilates when I was, like, 19 years old. I took a lot of dance, but I was never a good dancer; I was one of the klutzes in class. I started taking a lot of Pilates at that point from a real good teacher. I took, like, three hours of dance a day for a long time, but it was more just that I liked it. I would never have thought that I would go into anything exercise- or movement-related. And then it was about five years after college, probably, and I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, and someone said, "You know, youíre always moving around and exercising and doing martial arts or dancing and you always sound so excited; why donít you do something like that?" And thatís how I started doing this. I did private training in peopleís homes, and I taught classes. I just had tons and tons of clients, and then I opened up Boston Body.
A: I always felt like, even though I mightíve looked like I was in great shape, and I always have looked really graceful and all that kind of stuff, itís always been hard for me. Itís never come easy for me; my thighs were never perfect, that kind of thing. And I really wanted a place where people could come and work their butts off and feel really accepted. It sounds like such a cliché or so corny, but I just felt like the places I taught in, they were either for people really out of shape, or they were for people who were in great shape, but there was almost like, I donít know, like a competitiveness. And what I find in Boston Body, itís unbelievable how nice everybody is. Youíll have somebody whoís older and out of shape next to someone who looks amazing, and theyíre smiling and talking. I really think itís an empowering way to work your body, because you feel accepted, and you can work at your own tempo.
Q: What are the challenges of running this business?
A: Oh, everything! Being a mom and doing it is so difficult. [My sons] are 13 and 15. So thatís been really, really hard. I opened my business right when my kids were really little. Itís been really hard because Iím a very hands-on mom, so itís always, like, that feeling of the balance. And I was a single mother for years of that, so I was doing everything on my own, and that was really hard. But now itís fun.
Q: What exactly are the "healing arts"?
A: I have really bad colitis and the drugs donít help me ... I have been going to acupuncture for my colitis for about three years. I decided to try acupuncture, which is a healing art, instead [of surgery]. When I went to acupuncture, I believed that it wouldnít help me. But a friend of mine told me to death, and I just didnít want her to bitch at me anymore. So I figured, Iíll try it and shut her up. And all of a sudden I was able to reduce my medication. I havenít been on medication for almost three years. I do it twice a week. If I start doing once a week, my colitis, within about two weeks, starts spiraling out of control. Really, I donít believe in it, as a scientific Westerner. But I know itís working, because my body tells me it is. So I really have a strong belief, personally, in the healing arts.
I brought the Thai massage in [to Boston Body] because I believe that so many of peopleís physical, emotional, spiritual ailments have to do with, you know, their energy is blocked, and they donít take the time to take care of themselves. So I wanted to make sure that, along with the physical and wanting to look good, that it would be a spiritual place as well, because I think thatís crucial to any kind of physical health and beauty. I am actually so excited about the direction that Iíve taken Boston Body right now, because I just wanted to incorporate all the things that have helped me in my life, and kind of share that, and be around people who are motivated to do the same kind of, you know, self-awakening or whatever you want to call it, that I was. And also look good.
Q: How would you explain Pilates to someone whoís never heard of it?
A: Well, itís strengthening your muscles, and at the same time incorporating stretching throughout each exercise, and learning how to work your body in a very strong way where thereís no impact on your joints. So itís a series of very choreographed exercises from Joseph Pilates, where your trainer is looking at your body, and telling you what you need to do with your unique body in order to do the exercises properly. Itís a way of hearing what your body is saying to you and feeling your body each step of the way.
Q: Why do you think it caught on in Hollywood?
A: Because it really makes you look different. It really does. Itís always been really popular in the dance world. It was always kind of a subculture, either people who had a lot of money or the dance world, so it almost felt like this little cliquey club. I think it just makes people look so different that thatís why it caught on. And anyone can do it.
Q: How does it compare to power yoga, which is also very trendy now?
A: Power yoga is like, boom, boom, boom ó youíre moving, youíre sweating. Well, Pilates, on an advanced level, is just as hard as something like power yoga, but itís just very serene. Different personality types are going to go for different styles.
Q: What are the biggest changes youíve seen in the fitness market since youíve been doing this?
A: Women were just so prissy. Just the idea of even being strong was so foreign. Now weíre doing the things that I started out loving, but with strength. Thatís one of the things about my approach to Pilates thatís actually different than the traditional one: I really believe in women being strong. I firmly believe that if a woman doesnít work for strength, she canít change her body. Especially as we get older ó like, you canít have great arms unless youíre strong. And I just think psychologically, women should be strong. So I really work toward that. So if some woman whoís 60 or 70 comes to me, I say to her, "If you want to come here and have me just have you breathe for an hour, I can give you to one of my other trainers. Thatís not me; Iím going to make you strong." And women love it. Iíve never had one person look at me without saying, "Oh, that sounds great!"
Q: So many gyms are opening up everywhere, but Americans are getting fatter. Whatís your theory on what weíre doing wrong?
A: I think first of all weíre all working too much. Fast food. None of us have time to cook, none of us have time for that old-fashioned, sit-down-to-dinner. Weíre grabbing breakfast bars. So I think thatís some of it, all the processed food. And I think along with working too hard, weíre all so disconnected with the amount of stress that weíre putting ourselves under. And you know, everythingís done for us; like, instead of walking somewhere, you hop in your car. Electric can openers ... whatever the electronics are that we all use. Remote-control windows.
Q: Whatís your favorite exercise?
A: My favorite exercises are any that I feel like I canít do perfectly. Because I really like to push myself. Thatís just my personality. And, up until three or four years ago, those were my least favorite.
Q: What about least favorite?
A: My least-favorite exercises are anything where Iím not pushing myself. I hate, I hate, I hate exercises that are not full-out.
Q: Have you ever watched a Richard Simmons video?
A: I have to say, I love Richard Simmons! Do you know why? Because I swear to God, Iíve never been fat in my life, Iíve always done well in my life, but I feel like inside me thereís just this obese loser or something. I donít know how to say it, but Iíve always felt like, even though Iíve never been there, Iíve always felt that expression, "[There] but for the grace of God go I." I cry when I watch Richard Simmons. I love Richard Simmons. I love him because to me thereís nothing more beautiful in life than unconditional love and acceptance, and to me, that is the most healing thing in this world, and he is a truly accepting person, of himself and others. To me there can be nothing more beautiful than that.
Boston Body is located at 364 Boylston Street, in Boston; 1183 Walnut Street, in Newton Highlands; and 46 Austin Street, in Newtonville. Call (617) 262-3333. Tamara Wieder can be reached at twieder[a]phx.com