Mind Over Matter

who are they, what you should know & five of their favorite Philly things

by Patry

Starting a business is not for the faint of heart, but Jennifer Holford and Natalye Cohen were determined to provide the Old City community with an inclusive, empowering studio for all fitness levels. 

Now in a larger space at 113 North Bread Street, they offer yoga, barre, strength classes, and recently added rebounding — a fun cardiovascular exercise done while jumping on a mini-trampoline. Visit their website to sign up for your next class! 

We sat down with the two power-houses to learn what it took to open their own fitness studio, and asked them to share their five favorite Philly things. 

Meet Jennifer & Natalye

Tell us a bit about yourselves, what brought you to the fitness world and how do you know each other?

Jen

I have always been active, although I never played sports. In fact, I studied painting and art history in college. After graduating, I worked in the restaurant industry full-time for a few years, until my fiance had enough! He was the one who opened my eyes to the possibility of making fitness my career — he saw that it was already a huge part of my lifestyle and encouraged me to get certified to teach yoga. From there, things sort of snowballed and I got certified to teach barre and do personal training. When you are genuinely in love with what you do, things tend to fall into place naturally. After quitting the restaurant industry, I was offered a job managing a studio that no longer exists, which is where I eventually met Natalye!

Nat

A healthy lifestyle was always a part of my life growing up. My dad was a big gym-goer and introduced me to weightlifting. I got into group fitness classes because they were a fun way to add cardio into my workout routine. I was introduced to yoga while I lived in Tel Aviv — it helped me heal from a back injury that kept me out of my normal group classes. My yoga instructor talked me into joining a teacher training he was about to start. When I moved back to Philly a few years later, I started taking classes at a yoga studio in Old City, the neighborhood where I was living. I eventually started teaching classes and met Jen, who was also a teacher there and managed the studio!

What brought you to want to open your own studio? 

Jen

I always knew that I wasn’t meant to work for someone else. I like to be able adapt and evolve as I learn more and as the needs of clients change, and owning your own studio gives you the ability to do that. I get a lot of joy out of owning and running my own studio. I get to know clients on a very personal level.

Nat

You could say it happened out of necessity and two crazy motivated ladies. The studio where Jen and I met was closing because they couldn’t afford the rent anymore. One of the owners planned to reopen at a different location, but didn’t have a set place or date. Jen and I didn’t feel very optimistic that it would happen, and we knew Old City would be left without a place for people to take yoga and sculpt classes. We didn’t want that for the community, so — with a ridiculous amount of motivation and hard work — we found a location, ordered all the equipment, put together a schedule and got the studio running in one week.

Why did you choose Old City?

Jen

I chose Old City because I had worked very hard to establish a fitness community there while managing the studio that ended up closing. I had made great connections with many people in the neighborhood and I grew to love the area. Natalye and I both wanted to keep that community alive, so we did!

Nat

There are two answers to this. The first Jen included above. The second is that I was actually raised right here in Old City. When I came back to Philly in 2017, I moved right into Old City and walked along the same streets as when I was a kid. Being a part of the growing local community was very important to me.

What were the biggest challenges?

Jen

For me the biggest challenge was staying motivated when only two people would show up for class, and reminding myself of the bigger picture. It’s easy to be hard on yourself the first year of running your own business because it is a huge learning process and things take lots of time and dedication to grow.

Nat

Decision fatigue was and still is one of the biggest challenges. So many little decisions go into figuring out how to make your business succeed. We only have one room in our space and multiple styles of classes. This leaves us constantly debating which times to put yoga, sculpt, barre and rebounding classes that best fit our clients’ schedules. It sounds silly, but Jen and I find ourselves debating for hours whether we should do a 5:45pm or 6pm class. Going through these decisions during the pandemic became even more challenging as clients moved, jobs were lost, attendance drastically changed week to week, and no one knew what the next day would bring.  

Why is Mind Over Matter different from other studios in the area?

Jen

Our instructors are trained in many different forms of exercise, and I think that really shows in our classes. It’s great because they have a huge repertoire of moves that they can constantly pull from, and it helps them to look at their classes from outside the box. 

Nat

I think what makes us the most unique is the energy you experience when you come to the studio. Our mission is to create a space that feels welcoming, comfortable, non-judgmental, and non-competitive. A place where everyone feels at home and it doesn’t matter how old you are, what your fitness level is, what brand of clothing you wear, or how good your hair and make-up looks. We’re all so over-stimulated by social media, constantly telling us to be someone else, act a certain way, look a certain way. Mind Over Matter really is a community and a safe space to be yourself, away from that pressure.

What is something you’re excited about for the future of Mind Over Matter? 

Jen

Coming out of the pandemic, I am excited to see people getting back into the studio. We recently moved into a much larger space at 113 Bread Street, and our goal is to grow into that space. Since moving into this new location, and with the help of Dana from the former Free House, we have added rebounding classes to our schedule. I am thrilled to see that they have been well received, and I hope we can continue to add to our current offerings and grow the business back to where we were pre-pandemic. 

Nat

Right before the pandemic, the studio was growing rapidly. We were starting to outgrow our location so much that we had to start doing a few classes a week in different spaces! Obviously, like so many other businesses, we have taken quite a few steps back because of the pandemic. I am excited to see Mind Over Matter recuperate and rebuild as the months go on. We are now in a much bigger location that accommodates more people. When classes were packed at our old location, the feeling inside the studio was so incredibly powerful. The energy our community created was inspirational and full of strength, support, and courage. I can’t wait to see how much stronger that gets in our new location.

If you could offer advice to someone who dreams of opening their own fitness studio, what would you tell them?  

Jen

If you believe in what you are offering to others — do it. But make sure that you are ready to give your heart and soul to it. Although money is a necessity, it cannot be your driving force. In the meantime, learn as much as you possibly can from other businesses and from your clients. 

Nat

Opening your own business, regardless of what type, is hard. It takes a lot of dedication, patience, and responsibility. You have to be ready to give your all, work every day, and learn (a lot). There is so much that goes into running a fitness studio aside from being an awesome instructor. It’s so important to educate yourself on all of it so that you can know all the ins and outs of your business. But also, ENJOY your hard work! Be a part of your community, take classes at your studio, collaborate with your teachers. It creates a deeper connection with your clients and your staff, and makes you a better teacher.

Five Favorite Philly things

Jen

photo cred: @amanophl

Favorite Restaurant

It’s adorable and the food is consistently good.

photo cred: @philamuseum

Favorite Tourist Attraction

I’m an artist, so the Philadelphia Museum of Art never gets old for me. I also love going there for a walk and heading down to boathouse row when I have free time. 

photo cred: @walking_philly

Favorite Neighbhorhood

I love walking around Fitler Square, in awe at how beautiful the houses and the streets are. People are always out and about, and there are many cute cafes. It just feels so peaceful. I walk through the area frequently, so I always try to take different streets.

photo cred: @ericmiller_photography

Best Hidden Gem

I like doing things that involve being outside, so I would say the Shofuso Japanese Garden! It’s so beautiful. 

Favorite Local Businesses

Most of my favorite businesses are food related. .. No surprise if you know me! 

Cafe Ole is my all time favorite place to enjoy brunch or lunch — their shaksuka is the only one you will ever want to eat again.

 I’m now also obsessed with the chocolate croissants and donuts from Oui Pastries, plus the owner is super sweet.

Royal Boucherie is another great one that I like going to for cocktails or dinner!! They always have great oysters, and their steak and frites are delicious. 

Nat

photo cred: @zahavrestaurant

Favorite Restaurant

I have a special place in my heart for Zahav. Obviously, the food is YUM and the staff is awesome, but it was also my dad’s favorite place and I went there with him a lot.

photo cred: @franklinsquarephilly

Favorite Tourist Attraction

Mini-golf at Franklin Square

photo cred: @parnca

Favorite Neighbhorhood

Great restaurants, bars, cafes, and super cute streets!!

photo cred: @nemirestaurant

Best Hidden Gem

 Nemi would be the most “hidden” spot I know. It’s a newer Mexican spot that opened in Port Richmond and it’s awesome!

photo cred: @bleumartiniphilly

Favorite Local Business