Alona Casanave: Immigrated to U.S. with $149, now owns Williamsburg yoga studio is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.

Alona Casanave (Brandy Centolanza/WYDaily)
Alona Casanave (Brandy Centolanza/WYDaily)

Back in 2000, with only $149 in her pocket and without knowing any English, Alona Casanave immigrated to the United States.

Today, she is settled in Williamsburg with her own business, Smart Bodies Pilates, which celebrates its grand opening in a new location on November 4.

Casanave, who is Russian, grew up in Uzbekistan. Seeking a better life for herself and her ten-year-old son, Casanave moved to a Russian neighborhood in New York City. A few months later, at the recommendation of friends, she relocated to Williamsburg. She started out in town working at Sal’s By Victor, whose employees warmly welcomed her. The restaurant was where she met her husband, Tony.

“God bless [the owner], taking me in without speaking any English,” Casanave said. “I had bills to pay, food to put on the table, and a son to take care of.”

Casanave eventually learned English through classes from the Rita Welsh Adult Literacy Program and sought a new career path, thanks to a painful bout of scoliosis, which she had suffered from since she was a teenager. A friend who was a Pilates instructor suggested Casanave give Pilates a try.

“The unique movement healed me,” said Casanave, who loved the exercise so much she decided to undergo training to become an instructor as well. In 2007, she opened a studio in her home, with one of her neighbors offering to be her first client.

“She really encouraged me,” said Casanave. “This is my nine-year anniversary. This is truly a blessing.”

Casanave specializes in one-on-one training with patients who are rehabilitating after an injury, with an emphasis on scoliosis management, osteoporosis management, and multiple sclerosis.

“I like to use my own experience with scoliosis to help others,” she said. “I like to fix problems. When people come to me and can do something after a session that they couldn’t do before a session, that makes me feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. To help people accomplish something they could not do before is extremely satisfying to me.”

Casanave points out, however, that it does take dedication on the part of her clients.

“I’m like a GPS and I can tell you where to go, what to do, but you still have to maintain your car,” she said.

Casanave has also taught Pilates classes at other studios throughout town. Her studio, Smart Bodies Pilates, will reopen at the Williamsburg Business Center in November and will include classes in Yoga, Qigong, and Meditation in addition to Pilates. She will also have massage and energy therapists on staff.

Beyond Pilates, Casanave also has a passion for karate. She trains at Shorin-Ryu Karate of Williamsburg in Lightfoot.

“It’s always been my dream to do karate, and I love it,” she said. “When I am doing karate, I forget about everything else and I am just in the moment.”

She also has a passion for cooking and her family, which now includes her husband, three sons, and two grandchildren. Casanave says she feels blessed to have found her way here to Williamsburg.

“I love everything about Williamsburg. The people here are so nice. I love all the kindness in Williamsburg. Williamsburg truly is my home,” she said.

Read more profiles of local residents in WYDaily’s new section In Our Hometown