Pilates in the Grove builds a culture of health

woman smiling christa gurka coconut grove pilates

Christa Gurka at Pilates in the Grove. Coconut Grove, September 2021. (Kevin Arrieta/VACO)

Gurka’s Pilates studio stretches muscles, opens hearts.

“It’s not just about the reformer,” says Christa Gurka, owner of Pilates in the Grove, a wellness and fitness studio she opened on Virginia Street in 2010. “The best thing is the community that’s developed around the studio.”

The reformer — a traditional piece of Pilates equipment — is the cornerstone of the exercise method that fitness legend Joseph Pilates developed in the 1920s. With an emphasis on low-impact flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, Pilates accommodates all age groups. “It can be done from 7 to 77 or even 97,” says Gurka.

But Gurka has done more than just strengthen and stretch bodies — she has built a culture of health centered in the Grove.

A Pilates journey to Coconut Grove

Born in New York, Gurka moved to Miami at the age of seven. Always an active athlete, she would eventually run track and play volleyball at Ransom Everglades School.

While studying Physical Therapy at the University of Miami, she discovered Pilates. Over time, she came to recognize the benefits of Pilates-based physical therapy. “It grew organically,” she recalls. “I used Pilates as part of rehab tools. Patients loved the method so much I’d send them to other studios. It took off much faster and bigger than I thought it would.”

Gurka opened her first Pilates studio in Miami Beach. When her second son was born, she moved operations to the Grove for its walkability and sense of community. “Coconut Grove was the perfect place,” she says. “An outdoorsy community that loves to bike and walk. It’s where I wanted to raise my family.”

She knew the Grove lifestyle well from her teen years. “After school, I’d get lemonade at A.C.’s Icees in Kennedy Park,” she remembers. “He’s still there. I walk my dog there now.”

Pilates and community potential

pilates reformer people arm exercises

Exercise on a Pilates reformer. (Courtesy of Pilates in the Grove)

Gurka designed Pilates in the Grove in neutral colors to feel “casual and inviting” for the Grovites of all ages who benefit from the sessions led by a dedicated team of instructors. And after five successful years in the Grove, she expanded into neighboring South Miami.

Pre-pandemic, Pilates in the Grove also offered stand-up paddleboard fitness on Biscayne Bay off of Kennedy Park.

Covid-19 prompted a shift. Pilates in the Grove adapted safety protocols in the studio and developed an online program. Gurka was especially concerned for populations that would lose mobility. “I wanted to create a platform for them to stay healthy, move and socialize,” she notes. “We offered virtual telehealth and figured out a way to get everyone moving and stay connected.”

After 11 years, her clients have become friends — not only to her — but to each other. “It’s become a form of social exercising,” she says. “Now we have groups that walk on weekends together. Sometimes they have breakfast after class.”

Health culture also extends beyond the reformer. Gurka sits on the board of the Barnyard Community Center in West Grove. Loyal clients also get involved and join in projects such as book bag drives for local schools. Pilates in the Grove has also sponsored Barnyard fundraising event at The Kampong.

Gurka’s studio also offers teacher training and up to nine scholarships a year. The return on investment in fitness entrepreneurship — compared to traditional college costs — is considerable and a way to empower women in business.

“There’s not a whole lot of diversity in Pilates,” she says. “I wanted to eliminate any barriers for entry. Many of our trainees are moms who want flexible careers and to bring health and wellness into their communities. Knowledge is power.”

Community into alignment

As an exercise method, Pilates focuses heavily on skeletal alignment. For Gurka, alignment is also about collective vitality. “If for two hours a week we can create an environment where people feel good, positive and hopeful, they’ll in turn spread that energy out to family and friends,” she says.

Alignment doesn’t happen overnight, but Gurka is on her way. “I hope to be one of those businesses in the Grove that’s been around forever,” she says. “One of those businesses that aligns with the community.”

What is your passion?
My passion is to teach others that they have the power within them to live the life they desire and accomplish the things they want to do.

What do you love most about the Grove?
I love that it is a welcoming, friendly and relaxed community.

What makes the heart of the Grove beat?
The people — and their dogs! When you’re in the Grove, you see the same people walking their dogs. You know them. You know their dogs.

What is your superpower?
Connection. I feel like I can connect with people on their level, meet them where they are, and assist them from where they are.