Meet the women who gave up corporate life for yoga and pilates

Two Kiwi mums explain why they left their desk jobs to teach fitness classes.

Abbylee Bonny, creator of the H+H Lifestyle website

Abbylee Bonny
My background is in PR, events and TV production, and although I loved it, I never felt truly fulfilled while working in the corporate world. After some soul searching, I decided to return to study, and completed holistic nutrition and yoga teacher training courses.
I was looking for ways to merge my passion for both of those areas, along with my knowledge of events and content creation, so I started my website, the H+H Lifestyle.
The Hs stand for health and happiness, which are the two things, aside from love, that I value most in life. When I was looking at the philosophy behind the site, I asked myself two questions: ‘Will I feel happy?’ and ‘Will I feel healthy?’
The H+H Lifestyle is a wellness community that incorporates aspects like whole foods, mindfulness, self-care and gratitude, and part of what we do is host wellness retreats for women, both here and in Bali.
When I think back to how it started, it came from a desire to provide a space for women to connect with themselves, others, and nature, and to help them prioritise themselves when life is busy.
Getting everything started, when it’s your money and your business, was pretty terrifying. You just have to commit, go with it, have faith, and a bloody good plan!
A particular challenge for me was my own self-sabotage. We all have this thermostat of how good or bad we will accept our life to be, and if things aren’t so good, we will focus on making it better.
But it works the other way too; when things get better than you think you deserve, you tend to self-sabotage to bring yourself or your business back down to where you feel comfortable.
So I’m always trying to readjust my thermostat, reminding myself I do deserve more, and I’m capable of achieving the things I want. And being a mother and working – that has to be the hardest juggle of my life!
Currently I’m in Bali with my son and my fiancé. I spend at least three months here each year, often while I’m hosting retreats. My days include emails and writing blogs, surfing and yoga, and I really focus on taking the time to be me.
I’m naturally full of energy, very goal-driven and focused, so taking the time to incorporate some stillness is a key thing for me.
There are so many rewarding aspects of what I do. I love it when I share something on social media and get messages from people it has resonated with, and it’s really special watching things click into place for people who come on the retreats. I think if you don’t feel fulfilled in your life or work, you’ve got to make a change.
You deserve more – work on what it is you need to make your career or life dreams a reality.

Chelsea Kawana, owner of pilates FIT

work and was feeling really sluggish and uninspired. I had never heard of Pilates before, but after coming across a flyer advertising classes, I decided to give it a try. From the very first session, I loved it and have never looked back.
A business definitely wasn’t something I intended on doing, but when I moved back home from Australia I was desperate to find a studio or some form of fitness that gave me the same feeling, and nothing was grabbing me. So I decided to get certified, with the aim of teaching classes to friends and family in my lounge.
Friends invited their friends, and it took only a few weeks after becoming certified before I had so many people I didn’t know joining me for classes at my house, and it hit me that it was time to look for a studio space.
It was a very nerve-wracking time; I had so much self-doubt and constant thoughts along the lines of ‘I don’t have a business or fitness background’, and ‘I don’t have a lot of money behind me.’ But the one thing I did have was the deep down belief that what I was wanting to do was the right thing for me.
On the day we were making the business official, I nearly called it all off as there were so many ‘what if’s’ running through my head. I went through every single dire scenario I could think of, but the passion and determination outweighed all of that and it still continues even now, when the self-doubt lingers.
I have been my own worst enemy and my own best friend. That fear of failing or worrying about what others think of me has been a huge part of it, and was definitely my main challenge.
I have had to learn to hear it but not listen to it. I’ve also learned you really can’t please everyone, and that’s okay.
Opening a studio on the back foot financially was another key challenge, but as much as I hated it at the time, that was a valuable learning curve.
These days, I teach six days a week. Between juggling family life with my husband and children, my own workouts, training new teachers and instructing at events, there isn’t much time for anything else, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Watching my clients’ progress and hearing or seeing how it has changed their life is amazing; I really couldn’t ask for better.
My advice to others thinking of a lifestyle change would be ‘Stop dreaming and start doing’. Set realistic goals, make a plan, and don’t be half in, ever. If you really feel it’s the right thing for you, then why not? You only have one life.