The Inspiring Mother of Three Behind Sydney’s Innovative New Pilates and Wellness Space - The Grace Tales

The Inspiring Mother of Three Behind Sydney’s Innovative New Pilates and Wellness Space

We recently hosted our latest Grace Talks event with Dr Oscar Scerrallach at Bodylove Pilates in Sydney’s Woollahra, and like most of our guests, were completely blown away by the calming, stylish and welcoming feel of the Lane & Grove-designed space which boasts natural light, a modern and clean design and an undeniable sense of warmth thanks to the soft pastel tones, beautiful photography and incredible flower installations on display...

Pilates instructor and founder of Bodylove, Ali Handley, has created a space that not only welcomes fitness enthusiasts, but seriously nurtures both beginners and new mums to pilates, and that is no easy feat in the usual fast paced and somewhat daunting world of fitness. “I always wanted Bodylove to be so much more than just a place to workout. I want it to be a holistic wellness experience. What I’m finding so interesting at the moment is discovering the powerful collaboration that can exist when two complementary disciplines are combined like Pilates and Acupuncture and finding a way to offer this to my clients.”

Handley first launched Bodylove as an online programme while living in New York, but her main aim was to always turn the concept into a bricks and mortar space when she eventually moved back to her hometown of Sydney. Now with three kids in tow, Handley is relishing in the opportunity to focus on her beloved Pilates as well as more modern and innovative versions of pre and post natal fitness and wellness. If it sounds like Bodylove is a lot more than just another Pilates studio, that’s because it really is.

Here’s more from Ali on how her time in New York influenced her foray into the health and wellness space, why Bodylove is so different to other workout studios, and how Vedic meditation plays an integral role in managing the daily juggle of business and babies…

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Tell us how you discovered pilates and what it did for your body/mind/life?

My family are all pretty sporty and growing up in Sydney, exercising outdoors was a big part of my life. As I got older I was looking for some kind of strength training to complement my cardio workouts and tried mat Pilates at a studio in Bondi Junction and fell in love. Then in my early 20s I got arthritis and found that Pilates was the one thing that really helped with the pain. The exercises could be modified to work around the weakness and help me stay mobile and strong.

You established Bodylove Pilates while living in New York, what took you to the US and how did your career path change from fashion and PR to health and wellbeing?

I was working at Saatchi & Saatchi managing their PR events when my then boyfriend, now husband, decided to take a transfer to New York and asked me to go with him. It was 2009 and the GFC had hit so unable to get a transfer through Saatchi, I ended up working back in Fashion PR and knew pretty quickly that I wasn’t happy. I was searching for a sea change. I wanted to do something I was truly passionate about. I had been going to lots of Pilates classes all around the city thanks to the launch of Groupon (it was the newest thing back then!) and loving them. One day after chatting with one of the trainers about their job, I knew I had found my calling. I got my certification and have never looked back. It was the best decision and I can honestly say that I really do love my job. I wouldn’t trade my experience in Publishing and PR for anything though – it has been immensely helpful over the years!

Bodylove Pilates is now based in Sydney’s Woollahra - what prompted the move back home and was opening up your own studio always the plan?

When we moved to New York we weren’t married, we were living in a tiny place in East Village, enjoying everything the city had to offer. It was supposed to be for two amazing years and then we’d be home. Fast forward 9 years, we had two small children, living in an apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, we wanted another baby and I hate the cold – it was time to move home. I had been dreaming of owning my own studio ever since I became an instructor. Over the years I was planning and distilling exactly what it was I would offer at my studio. I knew I wanted to one day move home to Australia so I put off opening something in New York and focused instead on continuing to study and on my private pilates business. In 2015 I launched Bodylove Pilates online as a stepping stone to a bricks and mortar space. It is an online studio women could access anywhere, anytime, featuring 300+ workout videos for women who are pregnant, postnatal & beyond.

The interior design and decorating plays a real part in the overall experience at Bodylove Woollahra - how did you come up with aesthetic and style?

I was inspired by lots of New York spaces I had visited and I I have a very extensive pintrest! But actually it was very much a group effort. I feel very lucky to have worked with an incredible bunch of talented women. Importantly Deb Quigley and Margot Lane from Lane&Grove who have done an exceptionally beautiful job on the interiors. They just got exactly what I wanted from the get go and helped me fight for things (like the doors and floor) that I was super passionate about. My gorgeous friends – Jordana from Wilder does the floral installation – which is updated every 6 weeks and Elise Hassey’s photographs of Joshua Tree and Puglia are the exact right light and hues.

Ali Handley second from the left.


Your specialty and passion lies in pre and post natal pilates, and you have three children yourself - how do you make time for exercise right right now and what do you prioritise?

Exercise is my medicine and I need it to stay sane so I try to squeeze it in as much as I can. At first with the new baby, I focused on seated deep core breathing and reactivation while I recovered from the pregnancy and I walked pretty much everywhere. My baby girl is 5 months now and I’m trying to get in three classes a week. For me right now with the new baby and two other kids I stay away from any intense cardio and enjoy the strength and toning i get from Pilates.

How would you suggest new mothers approach exercise after giving birth? Any tips on what to do and when?

I encourage women to begin healing as soon as possible. I believe, depending on the birth, you can start as early as day you get home from hospital. I’m not talking about doing F45, but rather focused breathing exercises that repair, reactivate and rediscover the muscles of the deep core. I actually created an After Birth Training Program that was filmed during my genuine postnatal recovery after the birth of my son. All you need is about 10 minutes a day for the first 6 weeks, beginning first with simple core workouts, slowly building to include upper and lower body strengthening. I also make sure I walk lots – my strong advice for new mums is to give jogging a miss for the first 6 months to avoid joint damage and pelvic floor issues.

How do you approach the daily juggle with running your own business and motherhood? Any tips/tricks/mum hacks you can suggest?

Last March, after a lot of encouragement and a generous gift from my brother,  I  did my Vedic meditation course with a wonderful woman, and mother called Jess Ossie and I believe it is this daily practice that has been crucial during this period of my life when there is so much going on. It has 100% helped me stay energised, focused and with just enough adaptive energy. My eldest daughter started school this January, my youngest daughter was born in February and we opened Bodylove Pilates in May so it has been a busy first half of the year but I try to prioritise my family, work after the kids go to bed and surround myself with supportive friends and family.

What did you miss about living in Australia while in New York?

My family, friends and as a total beach lover i missed North Bondi. Living away makes you realise how lucky we are to have grown up with such beauty at our doorstep.


What do you miss about New York?

We made a lot of wonderful friends in New York who became like family so I miss them of course. There is no city like New York. The pulse of the city and the promise of opportunity is intoxicating. I can’t wait to go back.

Your classes at Bodylove seem to embrace more than just body movement, with acupuncture and wellness workshops also added to the schedule. What do you think is next for the evolution of modern wellness hubs such as Bodylove?

I always wanted Bodylove to be so much more than just a place to workout. I want it to be a holistic wellness experience. What I’m finding so interesting at the moment is discovering the powerful collaboration that can exist when two complementary disciplines are combined like Pilates and Acupuncture and finding a way to offer this to my clients. We recently did Pilates & Pins which was something new and I think really resonated. We’ll be doing it again for sure. I’m dedicated to continuing to offer new experiences through workshops and events. Watch this space.