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Once overstretched, Pilates studio owner finds her niche

Hayley Sullivan has been a hip hop backup dancer, a restaurant server and a nanny in Manhattan.

"One of the things that's a blessing and a curse about me is I'm always into five different things," said Sullivan, an Amherst native who graduated a decade ago with a dance and marketing degree from the University at Buffalo. "At one point I thought, 'I think I want to be a chef,' and I was working tons of hours at a bakery.

"I was trying a lot before I found Pilates."

Sullivan, 32, dabbled in the fitness form in her late teens but became immersed in it while in the Big Apple, after she landed a job as a receptionist with Erika Bloom Pilates.

Bloom operated a single studio at that time, and now owns locations in New York City, the Hamptons, Connecticut and Los Angeles. She became a teacher and mentor to Sullivan, who returned to Western New York about six years ago and worked with Pilates clients at the former BAC Eastern Hills location and Stretch Pilates in the Northtowns.

Sullivan opened her own studio, Long + Lean Pilates (longandleanpilates.com), about five years ago. She has since grown her space at 515 Elmwood Ave. to include five reformers, a trapeze table, rollers, half barrels, bolsters, balance discs and small weights.

Six fellow instructors help her teach a variety of classes and work with individual clients. Next month, she looks to continue to mentor to others by offering her second Pilates teacher training.

"If you're sitting on the couch, feeling like your back hurts and you should move, Pilates is good for you. If you run every single day, Pilates is good for you. Everybody should be doing Pilates," said Sullivan, who almost two years ago married her husband, Chris, an estimator for a precast stone company. The couple has twin 7-month-old sons, Hudson and Reilly.

Q: You offer reformer classes. What are they like?

Hayley Sullivan, owner of Long + Lean Pilates, works with client Jane Gilbride, of Amherst, on the trapeze table in her Elmwood Avenue studio. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

A: The reformer equipment has a spring-resistance system. You can go for the most challenging workout you've ever done or you can keep it super simple, go really slow and focus on little, intimate details on how the body's working. The equipment is slightly better for people with injuries. Everything in Pilates can be customized but the reformer gives you an infinite amount of ways you can modify.

We have clients who are younger, older, injured, healthy. We have a lot of clients who also go to a spinning studio and do different workouts, and like to come here to balance it out. We have people who come to us because they're out of physical therapy and they have a herniated disk, or something like that, and need a more gentle workout.

There's a misconception that Pilates is all stretching and it's not – but we do focus on mobility here. We are restoring your body to its natural alignment and ability with fun, challenging workouts.

Q: What is a typical class like?

A: We call our classes all-level because we can always modify exercises for beginners. The standard reformer classes are 55 minutes long. Every class starts with a calf stretch because all of us have calves that are too tight. That's really important for posture and alignment, and your health. From there, we scan the whole body. We move the spine in every which way…

Another misconception is it's all core. It certainly is not. Because of the way the springs work, you're almost always – if not always – using your core, but it's not just crunches and reverse crunches and planks. It's using your whole body and finding the energy and the power from the core.

Q: What about rates?

A: Our private sessions are $55 if you're doing single sessions but we do packages. We can do five, 10 or 25 and, depending on which packages you buy, it's less per session. Group classes are $22 for a drop-in rate. We also have packages. It's $180 for 10 classes. You can take at least three classes a week, you want to do the unlimited classes, which is $150 a month. We also offer an unlimited month with Barre Centric because we have a lot of clients who do both.

Q: Talk about the upcoming teacher training.

A: We do a really full schedule of classes, which is part of the reason the training came up. I needed teachers.

There are two sets of people who could take the training: people who are interested in teaching Pilates and anyone who's serious about their Pilates practice and wants an in-depth analysis, an intimate knowledge of the exercises and how the body is moving in the exercises. We focus a lot on alignment and biomechanics. Any physical therapist, yoga teacher or personal trainer would benefit from it.

Q: What will the training be like?

A: Training starts on May 26 and runs into July. It costs $2,500 and focuses on mat work and the reformer. It will probably be six weeks. We might need to add a weekend or two. It'll be weekends only, Saturdays and Sundays. They'll be pretty long days. We'll start with anatomy, biomechanics, postural analysis. From there, they'll learn fundamental exercises and restorative exercises. They'll learn both classical and contemporary exercises.

Q: Your maiden name is Sunshine, an Americanized version of a Russian name. What was it like to have that last name?

A: You've got to be friendly because everyone, everywhere you go, has something to say about the fact that your last name is Sunshine. I got very used to it, and I liked it. It was fun and I miss it. My husband and I joked that I had twins because I missed the public attention of the last name Sunshine and wanted strangers to still talk to me when I was out.

Q: What was the funniest thing you've ever heard with that last name, and the thing you heard that made you think, "I wish you hadn't stopped to say hello?"

A: I heard lots of clichés but the funniest thing happened when I was a Buffalo Jill, for a very short period of time. I went to get my free tanning that I was supposed to get. They denied me, and later told my coach that they didn't believe I was a cheerleader with the name Hayley Sunshine, that I was making it up.

I've been asked, "Were your parents hippies?," as though my parents chose my last name. I heard that a lot. When I got into this field and people saw my emails, a lot of people thought I just decided to use the name for fun, as a stage name. But people are mostly nice about it.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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