Shari Castelli: 5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Can Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing
We are all stuck in a comparison trap! Our social media feeds (and our minds) are constantly bombarded with images of perfect bodies, too-pretty-to-eat salads and tropical landscapes. It’s no wonder we aren’t satisfied with what we look like, how we eat, or where we live. This all feeds into the belief that “we’ll be happy when” XYZ happens, and in the meantime, our lives are passing us by! Try to limit your social media time (Apple’s new feature is great for this) and unfollow accounts that make you feel less than. Every time you want to reach for the phone to scroll, text a friend, take a walk or just inhale and exhale. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s a very simple way to shift your perspective and free your mind.
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Shari Castelli.
Shari Castelli has a deep knowledge of the boutique fitness and wellness industry, having spent the past five years supporting boutique studios and gyms as the Director of National Accounts at ClassPass. Due to the massive impact she made on studio partners, Shari was promoted to ClassPass’ Director of Partner Expansion, where she’s helped 45+ fitness partners globally expand their footprint and open new locations. Shari also has firsthand experience as a coach from her time as a boutique fitness instructor at As One Fitness in New York City as well as her Level 1 Nutrition Certification from Precision Nutrition. She holds a B.A. from New York University and currently resides in Orange County, California.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
I’ve always been pretty active, but had never attended a single boutique fitness class until I started using ClassPass in 2014. A ClassPass membership gives you access to 30,000 boutique studios and gyms worldwide — but most importantly, it takes all of the guesswork and intimidation out of finding and booking a class. I used to force myself to go to the gym and knock out the same routine, which was inefficient and uninspiring. Now, I can adjust my workouts based on how my body feels or what my specific goals are week to week. From the second I finished my very first group class five years ago, I knew I had found something special — and I haven’t looked back since!
The opportunity to join the ClassPass team entered my life when I was feeling stuck in my startup job and looking for a career that merged my interests with my skill set. I came on board as one of our first Studio Happiness Managers back in 2014, eventually working my way up to the Director of National Brands role. I now lead our global Empowerment and Expansion Program, which helps our fitness and wellness partners expand with the help of ClassPass’ proprietary data, strategy, connections, and capital.
Over 1,600 classes at 200+ studios later, I’ve not only made boutique fitness my career via my work with ClassPass, but I’ve become a 7x marathoner, a group fitness instructor and a nutrition coach in the process.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I’ve had so many interesting experiences working with and attending classes at studios over the years! Last year, I spent a month in Singapore helping bring ClassPass abroad to new markets, and it was a very exciting but exhausting time. The team was working around the clock to get everything in place for a successful launch, and between the time zone differences, jet lag, and just missing the comforts of home, my body and mind were taking a toll. Exercise has always been an enormous stress reliever for me, so I decided to book a last minute cycling class at a nearby studio. I clipped into my bike, and 45 minutes later I felt more like myself than I had in weeks. After class, I went up to the instructor to thank her, and found out that she actually used to teach at one of my favorite cycling studios in NYC! We bonded over shared friends and our mutual love for our favorite vegan restaurant in Union Square, and made plans to grab lunch the next day. I love that story because it’s such an incredible reminder that something as small as a shared workout can bring people together — no matter how far away from home you may be.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
When ClassPass first started adding wellness experiences to the platform, I was super excited to experiment with all the different offerings. From cryotherapy (where you stand in a very cold chamber set to a temp of -122ºF for 3 minutes) to infrared sauna (which heats you from the inside-out and detoxifies your body), there were so many new ways to level up my recovery and calm my mind. I finally settled on a sound bath class, which I legitimately thought was going to involve water in some way. It’s embarrassingly obvious now, but I had no clue — I actually expected to get wet! Come to find out, sound bath is really just a focused meditation where you let the sound waves “wash” over you in order to more easily enter into a meditative state. Now, I can’t go without my weekly sound bath — and I love to laugh at myself thinking back to how little I knew just a couple of years ago.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
In my day-to-day work Director of Partner Expansion, I work directly with studio owners and general managers to help them to maximize their revenue, create actionable expansion plans and ultimately grow their business in a sustainable way. We’re excited about the incredible growth of the fitness industry in recent years — but we also know that there is so much more potential to get even more people working out globally! Though specific genres or movements may come and go, fitness and wellness is here to stay. My work behind the scenes has helped to launch over 45 new studio locations around the world, which translates into many thousands of people getting off the couch and into class — often for the first time ever!
Specifically, I’m particularly proud of the fact that 50% of ClassPass users are brand new to boutique fitness, and 70% of them try a new fitness genre as a result. It’s incredibly rewarding to work for a company whose motto is “every life fully lived” — and I’ve experienced the magic of this first hand from my own journey and that of my clients and friends. When I wake up in the morning, I look forward to speaking directly to small business owners and fellow fitness lovers who are trying to create positive change in themselves and the people around them.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The one person that comes to mind for me is a running coach that I met at Mile High Run Club, a treadmill studio in NYC that has been incremental in my marathon training over the years. His name is Coach Michael, and he is still one of my favorite instructors out of the hundreds I’ve taken class with because his passion is palpable. More than the physical training, Michael helped me believe that I could be a better and faster runner. In addition to the workouts, he spent extra time sharing his knowledge, creating custom race plans, and introducing me to a community of like-minded people (many of whom are still my best friends). During class, Michael would create simulation workouts based on upcoming races, matching the music as well as his speed and incline cues to mirror the actual course. He gave me the tangible tools I needed to toe the line with confidence, and in the process, helped me run my fastest ever marathon at an 8:20 per mile pace — faster than I could have ever imagined when I first started. Of course, the lessons I took away from his classes were about so much more than running!
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
- With all of the new research and info coming out on health and wellness, there’s a huge problem with information overload. Everyone wants that slight edge, and most people essentially try to do too much too fast. Then fitness becomes so overwhelming that we often end up doing nothing. When they’re overwhelmed, I tell my clients “not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” You don’t need to crush a workout 5x per week, buy expensive adaptogens to mix into your coffee or have the latest running sneakers that propel you forward an extra 4%. Those things only matter when you’ve essentially exhausted the much simpler and arguably more important things: move when you can, eat as healthy as you can, and focus on consistency — not perfection!
- We are all stuck in a comparison trap! Our social media feeds (and our minds) are constantly bombarded with images of perfect bodies, too-pretty-to-eat salads and tropical landscapes. It’s no wonder we aren’t satisfied with what we look like, how we eat, or where we live. This all feeds into the belief that “we’ll be happy when” XYZ happens, and in the meantime, our lives are passing us by! Try to limit your social media time (Apple’s new feature is great for this) and unfollow accounts that make you feel less than. Every time you want to reach for the phone to scroll, text a friend, take a walk or just inhale and exhale. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s a very simple way to shift your perspective and free your mind.
- We forget to have fun and enjoy the process. I totally agree that you have to challenge yourself to change yourself, but at the end of the day, the best workout or eating plan for you is the one that you can sustain in the long term. You’ll be much more successful if your workout plan is one that you look forward to, or if you can create a community of friends that you work out with. I love inviting friends to class with me via the ClassPass app because it adds accountability but it also makes the whole experience more social, which creates meaning beyond just burning calories. It’s much harder to skip a 6am workout if I know my friends are expecting me to show up.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”?
- Slow down to speed up: This was the hardest lesson for me to learn, but something that was crucial for my long term health and well being. I used to think that if 5 miles was good, 10 miles was better — now I know that sometimes, less really is more. If I am feeling tired or just losing my love for running, I’ll prioritize sleep and swap my 5K for hot yoga. After a couple of days, I am usually excited to run again instead of dreading it — which almost always translates into a faster and more efficient workout!
- Pick your big rocks: You can’t have it all. If your goal is to work your way up to doing an unassisted pull-up, your routine will look different than if you want to run your fastest mile. Pick your big rocks (the goals that matter the most) and put those in your jar first so they don’t get compromised, After that, you can see what else you can add to your routine. This extends out of the gym as well: if your #1 goal at work is to get that promotion, you may have to sacrifice some work-life balance in the process. Figure out what matters to you and prioritize that first!
- Start before you’re ready: If everyone waited to begin something until the felt truly ready, nothing new would ever happen! I think this applies to everything from starting a business to becoming a parent to deciding to get healthy. You don’t have to have the perfect plan or know exactly what you need to do next month — or even tomorrow! Instead, if you just focus on doing the next right thing (making your next meal a healthy one or booking today’s workout), you will quickly be on your way to a much healthier life.
- Prioritize relationships: It’s ironic that we live in a world that’s more connected than ever, yet we’ve never felt so alone. Technology makes the world seem small, but it can also result in feelings of isolation. I used to think that scrolling Instagram meant that I was keeping up with my friends’ lives, when in fact, I was sitting alone in my room starting at my phone instead of actually reaching out to them. Now, I have standing weekly phone calls with friends that live in different cities, and a calendar reminder to call my Grandma every Sunday. Scheduling in your relationships seems a bit extreme, but I’m more in touch with my loved ones now than ever!
- Go outside: The Japanese have a concept called “forest bathing” where people spend time in nature as a restorative therapy to combat the stresses of life. I always heard about the power of nature, but never really understood the magic until I started spending more time outdoors. In my experience, nothing shifts my mood faster than watching a sunrise or sunset, staring at the ocean, walking on a trail, or even just feeling the grass under your bare feet. And it doesn’t have to be the most picturesque setting: if you live in a big city or can’t plan a trip, just take a short walk to a nearby park after lunch to disconnect. You’ll be less stressed and more productive as a result.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
Mental strength is one of the biggest benefits of daily exercise. When you get through a challenging hike or work your way to the top of the leaderboard in a fitness class, you become stronger physically and mentally — and this feeling carries over into other areas of your life. Suddenly an intimidating project at work seems less scary because you know that you were able to make it through a bootcamp workout or held your own during cardio dance class. For me, building my physical strength and stamina has carried over to every other aspect of my life.
Next, the physical health benefits (unrelated to weight loss) are immense. Exercise reduces the risk of several diseases, of course, but it also helps prevent depression and dementia as you age. Recently, one of our members reached out to let us know that exercising regularly has helped her to get an autoimmune disease under control. Not only did the exercise help, but once she discovered new ways to work out with ClassPass, she was more motivated to eat healthier and commit to her overall wellbeing. Sometimes trying something new can be the tipping point towards lasting changes across all areas of your life!
Third, exercise is social, and strong connections are absolutely crucial for long term health. Social exercise can be as simple as going for a walk with a friend, or as thrilling joining 50,000 other runners at the New York City Marathon (my personal favorite). Moving together also creates stronger bonds more quickly — which means that the person next to you in spin class may end up being a friend outside of the studio, too, based on your shared experience!
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
If I had to give a short answer to this, I would have to say squat, plank, pushup. I love that they are functional and that you can do them anywhere, anytime. That said, I always stay away from giving hard and fast recommendations. We are all so different, and so are our goals. Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach, I would encourage you to focus on different movement styles each week in order to find what works for you. For example, if you’re just looking to add some exercise, I would start by trying one cardio workout, one strength class, and one recovery class (or wellness experience, like meditation) each week.
The specific exercises or classes you choose are up to you — but the best exercise you can do is the one that you will keep doing! Pick things that you truly enjoy, and don’t be afraid to mix it up. This is also crucial if you already work out but are feeling uninspired. If you’re sick of your daily running route, try a treadmill class! If you’re in the mood to have a little more fun, swap boxing class for Bollywood Cardio dance. Even better if you can incorporate some functional movements that get you out into nature, like a morning kayak tour that will work your arms and core along with your mind? Look for movements that you truly enjoy, rather than the most trendy classes in your neighborhood.
In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?
The best advice I can give is to get to know your own body. Everyone is different, and your approach to recovery (just like nutrition) should be tailored to you. That said, there are some tools you can use that tend to help your body recover quickly from exercise. The first is to have a good post workout meal — with a good source of protein — within 30 minutes of working out. This is especially important post-strength training, which breaks down your muscle tissue before building it back up to make you stronger.
When you do experience delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS (which usually happens 24 hours after your workout session), try to get some light movement in. It sounds counterintuitive, but the worst thing you can do when you’re sore from a workout is to sit at your desk or lay on the couch all day. A brisk walk or some light foam rolling will stimulate your muscles and actually help you feel better. An epsom salt bath is also a great idea to relax your muscles and your mind!
If you want to take things up a notch and really speed up your recovery, we have actually added several recovery options on ClassPass including stretching classes, deep tissue massages and cryotherapy, so I also recommend checking those out!
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I love nonfiction! My favorite book, which I’ve listened to (usually while running) many times over the past few years is The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. It’s a work of nonfiction that recounts lessons from historical figures about how they turned negative roadblocks into the impetus for great success. Holiday just released another book called Stillness is the Key, which is similar but focuses on how notable people have actually slowed down in order to think clearly and unlock their full potential.
Interestingly enough, the two books have mirrored my personal journey over the past decade in a very real way: The Obstacle is the Way spoke to me when I was training for my first marathon and desperately trying to break into the fitness industry. I was very focused on building mental toughness and grit. However, since moving from New York City to Southern California last year, I’ve undergone a shift in my mindset. I’m now focused on slowing down and allowing myself to create space in my life for rest and introspection. Ultimately, I believe that you need to have a balance of both these qualities to be successful — you must know when to push through vs. when to release. It’s something I am still working on, and these books are great resources!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would focus on the simplest idea that can make the biggest impact: kindness. In many ways, it’s becoming more mainstream to talk about mental health, inclusivity and connection these days, but it’s also a divisive and difficult time for our country. If everyone tried to be kind to each other, it would make such a huge impact in both big and small ways. I practice this by smiling at people when I walk down the street (though this sounds crazy coming from a former New Yorker!) or introducing myself to the new person who may feel a little intimidated in class. If I can help someone feel less alone and get a little surge of dopamine (or “helper’s high”) myself, why not?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
The phrase “whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right” (attributed to Henry Ford) speaks to my soul. It’s a simple concept: the way to speak to and about yourself matters. There’s a reason why this idea is cliche, and touted by some of the most successful people in the world… because it’s true! This does not mean that in order to be successful, every single thought you have about yourself has to be positive. Even the most successful people have doubts, fears and insecurities — it’s part of being a human. However, since learning that “I am not my thoughts” — meaning that I don’t have to believe every little thing I think — I know that I have the power to literally switch the script. This phrase has gotten me through everything from my mom’s cancer diagnosis to a Spartan race to a public speaking gig representing ClassPass at a massive fitness conference.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I am a total fangirl of Alexi Pappas. She is a Greek Olympic athlete, which is how I was introduced to her, but she’s also a filmmaker, a writer, actor, and so much more. I love that despite reaching the highest levels of competition for distance running, she doesn’t let that one (incredibly impressive) thing define who she is. This was such a powerful lesson in my own life, because there was a time in my life when my identity was wrapped up in being a runner. Then, when I got injured I essentially had an identity crisis because I didn’t know who I was without my daily miles. Now, not only do I mix up my workouts via ClassPass — but I also make sure to nurture a variety of interests and habits in my life.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
My instagram handle is @whatsharisees, and that’s the best way to follow me… but I have been taking my own advice and stepping away from posting a bit lately :)