Who's That Gal: Christina Schwefel, Psychologist, Professor, and Owner of Forme Barre
Name: Christina Schwefel
Occupation: Psychologist, Professor and Business Owner (Forme Barre)
Hometown: West Roxbury, MA
Current ‘hood: Greenwich, CT
Currently reading: Summer of '69 by Elin Hilderbrand
Favorite workout: Forme Method Barre Class
I never leave home without____: Grip socks
Tell us a little bit about your career. How’d you get interested in fitness?
When I was in graduate school in NYC, I realized I wanted to pursue a job outside of the university and outside of my field of psychology. I was very interested in yoga and thought yoga training would be an excellent compliment to my studies, and also a way to decompress and manage stress.
How did you get interested in barre specifically?
I trained in yoga and pilates but found myself longing for more weight training and intensity in my workouts. Barre classes felt like the best of all worlds to me. However, I grew up wearing a back brace for scoliosis, and the traditional abdominal work performed under the barre was prohibitive for my low back and weak core. Forme Method evolved from the Figure Method (a company I purchased in 2016) and intentionally eliminates that entire section of class. Instead, we offer a proprietary blend of core work that safely targets the deepest muscles first before moving to the overtrained and more superficial muscles of the core.
Tell us a little bit about starting your own company. What made you want to found your own studio?
I'm a researcher and I love to absorb and apply new information. I was very intrigued at the notion of purchasing a barre fitness method and then continuously refining it based upon best practices in the field. Exercise can be a science and too often in the group fitness space, it is not treated as such. I wanted to run a company that holds its exercise method to the highest standards of training and prioritizes continuing education.
What’s the best thing about starting your own business?
I would say the best thing is having the freedom to take the Forme Method into new realms and to develop props and sequences as our team sees fit (and not based on corporate directives).
What’s the hardest?
Being a small business, I have to wear many hats at once and that is a significant challenge, particularly as we expand into new markets (we just recently opened on Newbury Street in Boston and in Chestnut Hill).
What skill is most important for you to be successful? Why?
Staying on top of related research and findings is crucial for running this company well. We offer an informed barre fitness method that changes people's bodies safely. In order to continue to do that, we have to stay on top of the field and continue our own education.
You opened your first location in Boston on Newbury street in June and you’re opening another location in Chestnut Hill in August. What made you want to grow Forme Barre in Boston?
I was born and raised in West Roxbury, MA and have tremendous pride in being from Boston. My parents are still there and my entire family is all nearby. It has been a lifelong dream to open a location in the Boston area. It also has terrific synergy with our Nantucket studio, as many of our students on Nantucket travel from the Boston and Chestnut Hill area, where they live the majority of the year.
You’re also a psychologist. Do you see connections between physical and mental health?
Yes, I do! An exercise class like the Forme Method emphasizes slowing down and focusing on technique and moving with purpose. Clients are encouraged to discover and understand their maladaptive posture patterns, and to correct them.
I see so many connections between this process and mental health. Just as we hold tendencies and patterns in our body (leaning more into one leg while standing, or rolling the shoulders forward when sitting), we also do so in our minds. We all have relationship patterns that we tend to fall into -- for example, being attracted to romantic partners that are highly critical -- and until we take time to really explore and unpack these patterns, we are highly unlikely to change them.
Repetitive practice is another way to learn about your body and mind, to make revisions and corrections, and to see transformative changes. When we come back to something daily or weekly, it creates an opportunity for reflection and provides a space when trying something new. All forms of exercise can bring you closer to understanding yourself both physically and mentally. For example, what you couldn't achieve before but can now is as important as how you coached yourself through the progression. Were you kind to yourself as you got back into shape? Made it an extra mile? Added another level of resistance? Or did you suffer through to the accomplishment?
Any tips for quick workouts ladies can do to recenter and destress during the day?
It's always a good idea to check your alignment and engage your core throughout the day. Are your shoulders rolled back and down? Hips even? Pelvis neutral? Can you bring your awareness to your core and wrap your obliques toward your navel as you exhale? Deepening breath and activating the core in everyday positions, like sitting at a desk or standing in a line, are powerful ways to recenter during the day.
Any advice for other professional ladies?
The balance of professional life and personal life can be very tricky. Creating boundaries that work for you can be extremely helpful in maintaining equilibrium. For example, I lose my phone entirely when I am home for the bedtime routine with my children. I put it down and don't come back to it until my fourth child is in bed. It's protected time and I don’t feel bad about it. I do the exact same when it's time to focus on work. I also make a point to carve out some space for myself and do something I really enjoy, which I find is crucial for my well being.
Anything else you want to share?
We hope to see you in our two new studios this year! Our Boston location can be found at 338 Newbury Street, 2nd Floor. And our Chestnut Hill studio is located at The Street. To see our class schedule and all locations, you can visit our website: www.FormeBarre.com.
Lindsay Gardner is an Instructional Designer living and working in Boston. You can follow her on Instagram @lindsaygardner09.