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Debut meets: entrepreneur and pole-fitness instructor Akila Cristiano

What better way to delve into women’s March than by recognising and celebrating the women setting a stage for us to celebrate ourselves and each other?

Meet Akila Cristiano, entrepreneur and pole-fitness instructor creating a community for women through the art of pole dancing. As founder of Pranayama Pole, she is committed to bringing women together and allowing them to express themselves unapologetically, without judgment- not to mention, give them a serious full body work out. “I wanted to create an inspiring space for women that was more than just a fitness class.”

Last month, the Debut team spent a Saturday afternoon getting to know the actress turned entrepreneur and partaking in one of her pole classes. Instantaneously putting to rest any uncertainties we might have had, with her excited and cheerful spirit. We began the class together with some of her regular students.

“I think that there is something incredibly empowering about doing something that is against the norm or something that perhaps people may question- and I love being able to make my students feel that too. To me, it’s really important to ensure that they feel supported, uplifted and free to explore their sensual side in a safe environment, without feeling like they’re going to be judged. I think we as women are so scared now to leave the house by ourselves sometimes, especially if we’re somewhat “dressed up”. If I’m going out to a bar and I’m wearing heels or whatever, I feel uncomfortable because I feel like guys are going to catcall me or try and chat me up when I don’t want them to, unfortunately, this is the world we live in at the moment, that is a fact. But when you come to my class you are free to be totally you; you can explore your sensual side and not feel like there’s eyes on you or any bad judgement.”

Her purposeful venture to create a space that was comfortable and allowed women to feel secure while they express and explore their sexuality was undeniable, as was her passion for her students. Each one of us came out of the class feeling a sense of revival as if we had just spent an hour meditating rather than determinedly trying to hold our weight on a pole with just our upper body strength. I guess that’s because more than anything the class was an hour of escapism from each one of our day-to-day lives.

“The word ‘Pranayama’ is essentially the practice of controlling your life force energy- it’s about renewing your life force- your energy source- and that’s something I want my students to feel whenever they leave my class. I want them to feel like they have renewed themselves.” Akila tells us sitting down to chat with us after her class, making more sense of why she chose such a fitting name for her business.

We couldn’t help but wonder if she was always entrepreneurial, “I’ve always felt I’ve had it in me to make a difference in some way, do something that meant something to me and other people. I suppose I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset, but it hasn’t necessarily been in terms of just running a business. For me, it’s more so about what I could do with my ideas to change something and make a difference in people’s lives.”

In the past 7 months, the 27-year-old self-starter – who began her journey determined to create a pole-fitness class unlike the rest – has gone beyond her expectations of holding and running one class a week, into establishing Pranayama Pole a high-demand dance studio all while holding several sold-out classes weekly.

“I did one class called Pole Flow shortly after I graduated from drama school, I loved it and it reminded me of a Creative Movement class I’d taken at drama school where essentially you were allowed to express yourself and your emotions through movement. As much as I’d loved finally finding a practice I could incorporate creative movement into, I found the class to be quite cliquey and competitive. After trying a few different classes across London, I ended up buying a pole for myself, started practising at home and thought to myself- I’d love to make it a possibility for girls to be able to go to a pole class and really enjoy it. I thought; I’m going to create a space where girls can feel amazing, the way I would have liked to feel when trying pole for the first time. That was it, it all happened so quickly, it was a small idea in my head, and I didn’t think it was going to go this far, I thought I was going to do one class a week and that was it.”

With her mission to break the stigma around pole-fitness, continue to grow her community of body-positive women and make as many girls as she can feel sexy, Akila endeavours to expand in multiple locations. “I’d love to have a base in South, East, North and West of London, that would be so cool.” As well as broaden her classes and workshops that go beyond just pole “I want to introduce more monthly workshops that allow us to explore our thoughts on sexuality or self-love or whatever it may be, I want to bring the name Pranayama to life.”

It was an exhilarating experience for us all to try pole-fitness for the first time. Akila has exceeded her plans to put together classes that go way beyond fitness, we can’t wait to see what she does with Pranayama Pole next and we’re certainly looking forward to our next class.

Interested in booking a class at Pranayama Pole? Book online at http://www.pranayamalondon.com

Follow Pranayama Pole on Instagram at @Pranayamapole

Want to know what Akila gets up to next? Follow her on Instagram at @Akilacristiano

Words by Flaka Dula

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