Elaine Hayes is an inspiration. The new mom and founder of MNTSTUDIO is gracious and friendly, focused and ambitious. When we first visited Elaine's gorgeous studio in San Francisco, we immediately felt at home in the fresh, inviting space. There is a clear sense of support and community, like it's a place you really want to spend some time. The classes are challenging, yet accessible, and the workout left us energized, sweaty, and a bit sore the next day. Just how we like it. We love Elaine and MNTSTUDIO, and we can't wait to go back.
Below we share a peek into her background and daily life – Meet our Muse: Elaine Hayes
Tell us about MNTSTUDIO.
Founded in 2013, MNT is the go-to for effective, safe, and upbeat Pilates and Barre classes. Rooted in the classical principles of alignment and precision, MNT classes incorporate contemporary techniques to allow for a challenging yet approachable and enjoyable fitness experience. Centered on community and with a holistic approach to wellness, MNT focuses on addressing the whole person through nutrition counseling and community-building events. My mission through MNT is to empower each and every individual to transform their lives for the better through movement, self-care, and community.
How long have you been practicing pilates and how did you start?
I’ve been practicing Pilates since I was 15, so that’s 17 years! I discovered Pilates through dance when I was in high school and quickly noticed the benefits: I felt stronger, taller, and was pain-free. I also noticed that my dance technique significantly improved. From that moment on, I was hooked.
Did you have a different career prior to entering the fitness and wellness realm? Or has your job always been in this space?
I followed a pretty traditional path until I decided to pursue Pilates as a career: I was always very into school and got good grades, then I went to UC Berkeley for undergrad, worked in finance for a little, and then went to law school. It was after my first year in law school that I started asking myself if what I was doing was really in alignment with who I am as a person. After some soul-searching, I realized that becoming a lawyer was not my calling, so I took a leave of absence to explore other options. It was at this point that I decided to enroll in a teacher training program to see how that would feel, and the rest is history!
You started MNTSTUDIO in 2013, and it has grown and expanded into a seriously beautiful space and supportive, engaged community. Congratulations! Can you tell us about your initial idea, how you launched, and how you've seen the studio transform over the years?
MNT had very humble beginnings: I started in the spare room of my apartment that I shared with my then-boyfriend, now-husband in 2010. I had one reformer and would see one client at a time, but pretty quickly through word of mouth my schedule became very full and I was seeing over 60 clients a week. After about a year of doing that, I knew I needed to expand because I was constantly turning new clients away and I realized if I wanted to have a real impact, I couldn’t stay small. So at that point I started looking for a commercial space. I had no financial backing and was very young (25 at the time), so no bank or big commercial landlord would even consider me. I ended up subletting a small space that was part of a bigger building in a part of San Francisco that at the time was pretty sketchy. The space needed a ton of work but with a little imagination and some elbow grease we were able to transform it into a pleasant environment. After 3 years of being in business there, the master tenant of the building left. After learning from my landlord that I would either have to leave or take the whole building, I decided to take the whole building and expand MNT in a major way.
MNT stands for "Move, Nourish, Transform." How do you bring these values to your clients, and what do you hope they gain from the experience?
MNT is much more than a place to work out. I believe that for any wellness regimen to be sustainable, you need to have support and a community to help you feel that you are part of something bigger than just yourself. At MNT, we’ve built an incredible community of supportive, mostly-female individuals who are passionate about wellness and living their best lives. We do this through community events, raising money for causes we believe in, and offering space for members to connect in community. In addition, we also offer nutrition counseling, because the reality is that it doesn’t matter if you work out 7 days a week, if you don’t have a healthy relationship with food (and yourself), you’re not going to feel good. By bringing fitness, nutrition, and community together, I believe we set our clients up for long-term, sustainable success so they can continuously transform in any way they choose.
In your opinion, what’s the most important thing to remember as an instructor? What’s the most challenging part, and what’s the most rewarding?
As an instructor, you are there to not only teach an amazing class, but to hold space. That means that you have to let go of whatever is going on in your life and be fully present. There’s no room for being grumpy or low-energy, because your class is relying on your to bring the positive vibes and energize them to get through a tough workout. So I’d say one of the most challenging aspects of being instructor is just that: needing to give your all regardless of what’s going on in your life. On the flip side, that can also be the most rewarding and that’s for two reasons: 1. It forces you to be fully present, which is a luxury in this day and age of instant accessibility through emails, social media, text messages, etc. 2. Being there for your clients in that way is extremely fulfilling and personally helps me find a lot of meaning in my work.
How has the experience of creating MNTSTUDIO changed you?
Before I started MNT, I wasn’t sure I was “allowed” to follow my dreams. There was a part of me that was embarrassed and felt like I was a failure for not finishing law school and wanting to pursue wellness as a career path. But over the years, and through the struggles of building a business, I’ve gained confidence in who I am and my ability to create something out of nothing. There are times when I’m at the studio and I’ll stop to just look around me: I see people chatting in the hallways, bustling in and out of class, laughing with the receptionist, kids in childcare playing with our staff, and I can’t believe I built it all. I honestly have to pinch myself at times. So I’d say what’s changed the most for me is my belief in myself and my ability to make my dreams a reality.
You recently became a mother. Another congratulations! How did you incorporate this change into your life? Was it difficult to make room for a new role, while maintaining your responsibilities as founder of a studio? Has your perspective of entrepreneurship changed?
THANK YOU! Before I dive into the logistics of being a working mom, let me just say that Leo (my son) is the single best thing that has ever happened to me. He has cracked my heart open in ways I never thought possible and made my life richer, fuller, more beautiful in every sense. All that being said, being a “mompreneur” is no easy task, and I find myself wondering what I did with all my spare time before I became a mom. The only way I’m able to do it all is with a lot of help. I have a wonderful part-time nanny who takes care of leo for 25 hours a week, and on the work side, I have an incredible team that runs the day-to-day operations of the studio. That gives me space to focus on the big picture so I can grow the business in various directions. I also have an incredibly supportive husband who is also a very hard worker but always makes time to help with Leo whenever I find myself in a bind. He’s my go-to whenever I have an event or weekend work commitment to go to. :) Before I became a mom, I was worried that once I had my baby I wouldn’t want to continue with the hustle of owning and running a growing business, but what’s actually happened is the opposite. Leo has given my life so much meaning and this has actually boosted my drive in that I am more motivated than ever to continue building an amazing company. All that being said, I don’t want to make it seem like I have it all figured out. Most days I don’t get to the end of my to-do list, sometimes I have to say no to opportunities, and once in a while I disappoint someone. But accepting that I am not perfect has been a major gift that motherhood has given me, and furthermore, I’ve come to understand that being an imperfect person and mom and accepting myself as I am is good for my son to see. My hope is that by growing up with a mom who accepts herself (most of the time), Leo will accept himself too just as he is.
What does a normal day look like for you?
My days vary greatly, but on a day when I go into MNT it looks like this:
- Wake up at 5:50am and meditate (see details below), then get dressed and get Leo up and all of us fed. Our nanny then arrives at 8:30am, and I leave for SF (we live in Menlo Park, which is a suburb about 30 miles south of SF). Depending on traffic, it can take up to an hour for me to get to work, so I usually take calls while I drive, or I’ll listen to a podcast to feed my brain. :)
- Once I get to MNT, I usually have a couple of meetings (sometimes internal with my team, sometimes recruiting, and sometimes with other brands/entrepreneurs)
- At around 12noon, I’ll take a break from my desk to either teach a class or take one, and then grab a quick bite to eat usually over a lunch meeting. I leave SF by 2pm so I can be home by 3pm to relieve our nanny.
- Leo naps until around 4pm, so from 3pm - 4pm, I’m usually catching up on emails or working on some projects I have going.
- From 4pm until Leo’s bedtime at 6:45pm, it’s Mama and Leo time! We go to the playground, run around the house or yard, play with the dog, play with his cars… I try to completely focus on him and soak up this quality time. It’s truly the highlight of my day.
- Once Leo goes down at 6:45pm, my husband, Mike, and I usually will sit together for a little while dinner is cooking to catch up on emails for a few minutes. After about 7:30pm, we try to unplug so we can talk and connect, sometimes over a glass of wine.
- We try to go to bed fairly early, around 9:30pm. My favorite thing in the world is reading in bed, so sometimes we’ll go to bed extra early just so we can read and unwind. And then the next day we do it all over again!
How DO you handle it all? Any secrets to share? Can’t-live-without morning routines or magical power snacks? Any mantras or practices that keep you going?
Besides exercise and therapy (ha!), here’s what I do every morning that helps to keep me sane:
- Wake up at 5:50am. Use my tongue scraper and brush my teeth. Drink 24 ounces of filtered water with lemon juice and a pinch of pink Himalayan salt.
- Meditate on my couch with my favorite blanket for 10-15 minutes.
- Write down my intention for the day and 5 things I’m grateful for.
- Put Leo’s bottle in the bottle warmer while doing yoga stretches for 5 minutes.
- Get Leo up and give him his bottle, snuggle, read some books.
- Put Leo in his playpen while I take a shower and get dressed/put on some makeup.
- Breakfast: Depending on whether my husband Mike has left for work already, I’ll either make scrambled eggs for all of us or just Leo and me. I also came up with the most delicious twist on bulletproof coffee: 1 cup heated cashew milk, 1 packet of Foursigmatic Mushroom Coffee, 1 TB coconut oil, 1 scoop Vital Proteins collagen. Throw it all in a blender and enjoy. It’s so good and gives me a ton of sustained energy without the jitters
I also take a lot of supplements, including a probiotic, high dose of fish oil, Vit D, Vit B12, and a whole slew of others. I haven’t had a cold in over three years and I attribute that to all my supplements as well as eating well and being a freak about washing my hands - ha!
What’s your favorite music to play in the studio?
I love house music. :) So anything by Calvin Harris, David Guetta, or Kygo. I’m always on the lookout for new music and spend what little free time I have searching for great new songs.
How long have you been in San Francisco, and what’s your favorite part about living here? What would a perfect SF day look like?
I lived in SF for six years after college, and then moved to the suburbs three years ago. I love the Bay Area in general because I feel that there’s so much access to everything. From an intellectual standpoint, we’re at the forefront of what’s happening in tech and innovation, which I find exciting and awesome to be in the middle of. Practically speaking, I love that we’re a short drive to the beach, wine country, or mountains, but there’s still that urban and edgy feel (in SF, not in the burbs ha!). I also love the focus on health and wellness. People like to take care of themselves and I love that the focus is not on appearance but rather feeling good and living your best life.
For my perfect SF day, I would probably turn to my friend Margaux’s SF VitalGuide where she shares the scoop on the best of the best in each major city. As she suggests, I would start with a class at MNT, followed by brunch at The Plant, then walk around the Embarcadero and check out the Ferry Building, then a coffee from Blue Bottle. After a little while of taking in the view, I’d lunch at Bouli Bar (they have the best salads!), then drinks that evening at The Vestry.
How would you define your personal style? Do you like to keep your studio / street wardrobes separate, or do you integrate, embracing the athleisure trend?
On days when I’m not in the studio, if I’m not about to work out you can usually find me in a dress or jumpsuit. Because I am so often in workout clothes for work, getting dressed is actually really exciting for me and I love being able to wear “real clothes.” That being said, I have a ridiculous collection of workout apparel, including some gorgeous items from Belle Force, which I absolutely love, so I guess you’d say that no matter where I am, street or studio, my style is feminine but classic, with a little edge once in a while. :)
Cook, order in, or out to eat? Any favorites?
I love to cook and one of my current favorites is making salmon pockets in the oven. It’s so easy and takes almost no time at all. Here’s how you do it: Place a salmon filet in the middle of a piece of parchment baking paper, then throw in some chopped veggies (my favorites are bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes). Drizzle with ghee or olive oil, lemon juice, and some garlic. Then fold the paper over and create a dumpling-like shape crimping the edges until you end up with a sealed pocket. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes and voila!
What is one thing you wish more people knew / understood about pilates? Any misconceptions you’ve encountered?
Pilates can be intimidating and often gets the reputation of being “for dancers.” What many people don’t realize is that Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates, a man who was also a boxer. That means that although Pilates can help dancers prevent injuries and improve their technique, it’s actually for everyone – anyone can do Pilates, no matter their size, age, fitness level, or gender.
We share an appreciation for embracing our feminine fortitude and encouraging that in other women! We like to use the motto “be the belle” as a reminder to be the very best version of ourselves that we can each day. What does “be the belle” mean to you?
I love being a woman and all that it entails. For me, “be the belle” means being strong AND feminine at the same time. I think we are often taught that these two characteristics can’t coexist, but I believe that we can be feminine, kind, empathic, and loving, while also strong, assertive, badasses who go after what we want.