Erin May, the founder and owner of the Bodymind Centre, says she is motivated by the desire to help people, and the love of learning.
She founded the Bodymind Centre in 1995 after receiving training in Structural Integration in Colorado. Structural Integration is a type of bodywork that focuses on the fascia (connective tissue) of the body to realign and balance the whole body. “I put an ad in the paper, four people came. That’s been it, people send people,” she says.
Thunder Bay has had a thriving wellness community for decades, May says. “There’s more chiropractors per capita in Thunder Bay, and healing touch, reiki, touch for health, quantum touch, lots of alternative energy work.” Her desire to build a space where people can integrate the body and mind found a receptive audience, and today the Bodymind Centre is in its 27th year.
“This place is called Bodymind, one word. That’s how the Dalai Lama refers to us. The body and mind are not separate. That’s what I’ve stood for, the past 27 years,” she says.
Along the way, she added yoga, Pilates, meditation and other classes to the Bodymind Centre’s offerings. In addition to teaching, she continues to learn, receiving training and certification in a wide range of disciplines. When pandemic restrictions closed down the Bodymind Centre for long periods of time, she returned to her alma mater, Lakehead University, to take courses in psychology and neurophysics.
“I find learning fascinating and I love being fascinated. Whenever there are new interesting things I want to learn about them,” says May. Understanding the neuropsychology of meditation allows her to explain it better to her clients.
The Bodymind Centre, which occupies 6500 square feet. in a building overlooking the Sleeping Giant on Villa street, has become a one-stop shop for wellness. In addition to classes for all ages and all levels of fitness, the centre hosts meditation retreats. Registered massage therapists and a hypnotherapist also provide their services there.
As a business owner, there’s no coasting, May says. “There isn’t a time that I can sit back and forget about it,” she says. “I do have great staff that I can rely on, and I’m not overworking. But everything needs my attention. It’s not a 9-5 job.”
COVID was particularly challenging for May, her staff and her clients. She coped by live-streaming meditation sessions every morning on Facebook. “People would join in and we would do vagal breathing together. Lots of people tell me how much it has helped them sleep, reduce anxiety, and panic attacks.”
Vagal breathing (deep and slow breathing) helps stimulate the vagus nerve, which controls many functions such as your heart rate, digestion and immune system. Seeing how helpful it was during stressful times, May intends to host more in-person vagal breathing classes and retreats in the future.
May says she didn’t have a business plan when she started. “It was a calling. My intention has always been to help people, and help them in every way that I can.”
She recalls a recent client with a spinal injury, who came in for yoga that she could do in her wheelchair. Seeing the client’s “incredible attitude,” May thought she could help her with reformer Pilates (exercise equipment developed by Joseph Pilates). They started private sessions and several months later, the client started walking with a walker. “That’s huge. She can stand in her kitchen and cook dinner. Before, she was always doing it in her chair,” May says.
“I see tons of people come here who aren’t in great shape, get into great shape. That happens all the time. But when you have someone that far along, and you can turn it around, that’s what makes me so pumped up. That’s what excites me. And I want to do it for the next person, and the next person, and the next person,” she says.