Do unto others SOUNDS good. It even has a certain ring to it. That is until someone smashes into your yoga mat. Let’s face it. Blocking the mirror in your Gym-of-the-Month Mind Body Burn class tends to obliterate that zen feeling. Knocking gym members’ elbows in Liquid Strength kinda kills that kumbaya spirit.
BLT Meditation: Butts, Legs & Thighs
Gyms are meant to balance out our wintry, sun-deprived, overworked, over-gadgeted, over-stuffed minds. Energize through endorphins. Drop the Excel spreadsheets and work the abs.
Historically, everyone from Augustine to Zoroaster tells us the same tidbits of meditational wisdom: Be still. Empty the mind. Slowwwwww downnnnnn the brainnnnnnnn. Let intuition seep in; let thoughts drop out.
Translation? Count to ten before you grab that Double Fudge cupcake. Watch the paint dry. Do a pretend push up. Guess the number of stitches on your workout hoodie. Visualize a turquoise ocean in Anguilla.
Then go back to pedalling and pilates, pushing the body envelope, working your butt, legs and thighs.
Ancient Greece - From Baklava to Balance
That’s all fine and dandy, until you step into one of those mass market franchises we call the gym.
The Gymnasium hails back to Ancient Greece, where athletes trained for public games and competitions, blending sports with social and scholarly interaction. The gymnasium epitomized BALANCE: physical, intellectual and spiritual. The word, in fact, comes from the Ancient Greek term GYMNOS meaning “naked.”
Guess it was a sort of baring the body, soul and mind in equal proportions. Pretty deep, right? Not so for today’s goliath gym, which has often dripped down, alas, into a pretty shallow entity.
E.G.O. - E.qual G.astronomic O.pportunity
Yup. To the Greeks, balance was all. In virtues, emotions, sports, debates, love and food. (Just check out those equilateral Spanakopita Phyllo cheese triangles). Workouts are great. But they need to be offset by fun, art, music, love, conversation, and chocolate. True, sweating, salsa-ing, spinning, somersaulting and starving have their muscle-building, inch-diminishing merits, but sooner or later, you’ll be craving a bagel, a brownie, or a BLT sandwich. Even those crash smash diets with “all protein/no carbs,” or avocado toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner are way too imbalanced. Everything in moderation.
Aristotle’s “Golden Mean” advocated balance between extremes of cowardice and recklessness, excess and deficiency; in justice, friendship, citizenship.” I‘d bet a baklava that he’d want the same for nutrition — yup, a balance of carbs, fat, and protein. Equal opportunity for potatoes, tofu, short ribs, mayo, and moussaka.
3Bs: Brains, Beauty & Balance
Yup. Most of us, like those Greeks, ideally want symmetry, synchronicity , and harmony. Intuitively, we crave balance, tranquility. The glass is neither 1/2 empty nor 1/2 full; it’s the sum of both, adding up to a whole glass.
And yes, we do strive for equilibrium. Equal Opportunity. Equal Time. Equal Rights. Even Equal Day and Night. So what more perfect time is there to address this issue than today, the SPRING or VERNAL EQUINOX — the day on which light and darkness are pretty darn even.
Heck, they named a whole franchise after the concept of equal night and day, spring and autumn equinox. Wiccans and other neopagans observe the day as Ostara, a festival that celebrates the Spring Maiden, the season’s change from dark winter to brightening spring.
Treading Lightly - What’s in a Name?
Frankly, I don't think most of my fellow Barre Burn and Treadmill-ites were exactly astronomy buffs. And I certainly don't think the advertising executive who named the brand was a rocket scientist or NASA alum.
Equinox or Equinot?
But I DO think he or she put some thought into coming up with a brand that exudes balance, harmony and coincidence of opposites...a name that’s associated with serenity — winter or summer. Something that could appeal to our sense of calm and balm, solitude and serenity, regardless of the season.
However, when it comes to the 21st century gym, I ‘m equivocal about the equilibrium. Call it the EQUI-NOT.
So, with apologies to Seinfeld, what‘s the deal ? All things being equal, the posse’s out on what happened to that sense of calm and balm at the gym. What tipped the scales of gym workout harmony and balance?
We've got a posse of poxes — from medical to literary to hardware. Chicken pox. Small pox. Epoxy glue. Shakespeare's Pox on both your houses. And now there’s an epidemic of a word i’ve coined: gym-pox.
Mission, Fission & Competition
What happens every time I venture into the gym-turned-monster-franchise? I am bombarded with anything BUT harmony. Off-balance is more the name of the game. Classes are so crowded I get muscle cramps from gripping my outstretched arm to avoid being knocked over by a massive, Mastodon-ish elbow.
There’s no “I” in team. And there’s no TEAM in GYMNASIUM. Seems like it all boils down to female competition and femme fury. From Jealous Janes to Wily Wendys and Slick Sarahs, with a sprinkling of Hustling Harrys and Jostling Joes. Less evolution, more revolution.
Kharma of the Kayak
One saving grace, I must admit, is the gym’s rowing element. Okay, so maybe I wasn’t kayaking down the rapids, but the rowing equipment helped me visualize the thrill of paddling down the Hudson River; fantasize my workout on the Harvard Crew Team rowing down the Charles; or in merry England, down the Thames. But even that was stop gapped by the fact that 99% of the time, the equipment was taken. Do we really need more wait lists and wait lines when we already have more than we can handle in class enrollments, doctors’ offices, phone call “on holds” to cable providers, consumer lines, and banks?
Grand Slam - Wham Bam No Thanks, Madame
Talk about locker room antics. More times than my overwrought brain can calculate, while changing into my spandex workout or out of my silk work clothes, I am barraged with a bolt of locker door slamming. I whip my head around, only to see the culprit vanish. No sheepish grin. No mild guilt. No concern for harmony or humanity. Just pure loud, slammin’ selfishness.
Volume, Volatility & Vibrations
Does there really have to be an invasively unending, steady pounding beat of bass dominant, blaring music in every class from Studio Cycling to Best Butt Ever (and believe me the muffled beat is all one can hear above the whirr of air conditioner motors).
Gym By Whim - Rule by Royalty
The mentality of the gym is primarily to cater to the masses; hey, if it worked for Marie Antoinette…let them eat cake, rope, weights, and balance beams….
After my mom died, Zumba saved me. Zumba. Don’t you just love the sound of it? Sounds like a cross between a tropical island and a hip brand of boots. Colombian Alberto “Beto” Perez founded it in Florida in 1999. Apparently he’d forgotten his music for an aerobics class so grabbed a tape of salsa from his backpack. [Perez, along with Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion, trademarked the Zumba name in 2001, two years after Perez introduced his Latin-inspired fitness class in the United States].
And so, I samba-ed and mambo-ed my way from grief to grace. One savvy Puerto Rican Zumba teacher named Jamie saved me from submerging into sadness. If i’d had a daughter, I would have named her after Jamie. Jamie Concepcion - she had it all: the style, the Latin beat, the merengue moves, and the insight. She got down on the dance floor and it was downright contagious. The pulse of Cuban, Colombian, Middle Eastern, African, and Caribbean music was exhilarating. Cumbia, Bachata, Hip-Hop, Reggae. It was indeed a touch of balance... flirtatious, fun, exhausting and exuberant.
When Jamie was suddenly removed from the staff due to lack of "numbers," I talk to the Programming Manager for an entire lunch hour presenting my case like Clarence (or Clara) Darrow defending my ‘Client,’ trying to dissect and debunk the numbers alibi.
From my overthinking but still rational brain, I‘d witnessed huge numbers in the high intensity, 50-minute cardiovascular, toning Zumba class (more than 1/2 full). Only to "Corporate Management," it was 1/2 empty.
My brain was spinning algorithms and advanced calculations to come up with a formula for a successful Zumba class. My soul was crushed, so I followed the teacher clear across town to another gym, all the while continuing my membership.
When they hired another upbeat Zumba teacher, I changed my entire schedule to accommodate the class, only to find out one week later that the class was cancelled and replaced by the rotating AB FABS, R.I.P.P.E.D. and 360 BODY TRAINING — highly intensive, aggressive classes with better numbers.
Trials of Tango (Tripping the Light Fantastic)
I entered a frenzied period of watching DANCING WITH THE STARS, and got stymied by the melancholy of the overabundance of has-beens chosen as guests; but even so, my stamina and curiosity were piqued….I mean, if MARILU HENNER, RYAN LOCHTE AND VANILLA ICE had the wherewithal to learn the tricky dips and intricate choreography, why couldn’t I at least give it a whirl?
I enrolled in salsa, tango, merengue, and lindy…but somehow, the peeling painted walls of my classroom and the lackluster limp form of my motley crew of partners were no match for the likes of Maksim …
After all, I’ve got that Chekhovian, passionate Russian blood. I’d probably be more comfortable in a cherry orchard than on a ballroom dance floor.
Equidistant Equi-Disco Equilibrium
Then again, I’m really a rippin’ disco kid at heart. Where’s that John Travolta when you need him? Alas, disco fever has dissipated. If it were up to me, I’d bring it right back, just to help us snap that elusive equilibrium back into play.
LA DOLCE VITA – BELLA VITA
Yup. I was balance-deprived.
And then it happened. As most random, unpredictable, unplanned, synchronistic pearls of life intersections, one day I decided to seek some solace from a new studio – be it ballroom, boogie woogie or belly dancing.
Zumba was at the top of my list. Since I am big on backwards stuff, and often opt for alphabetical order, I figured why not start with Z and work my way back to Allemande.
In 6th grade, Mrs. Levine introduced us to international folk dances, from the Italian tarantella to the Ukrainian troika and Russian Korobushka, and I’ll never forget those contagious melodies..not to mention the swirling skirts. I was definitely up for dancing...and oh-so-ready to Zumba.
Art of the Zigzag - All is Well-ness
I zigzagged around the net until I found some likely Zumba candidates, landing on the enchanting BellaVita (www.bellavitaworld.com). And what a world I discovered. Feeling like Mia Magellan, I embarked on a harmonic journey, exploring a land I’d never seen… a land where the focus is on the individual. In short, a Wellness Center with customized programs to integrate the mind, body and soul — and to enjoy life!
Bella Abzug, Ciao Bella, & BellaVita.
The founder? A stunning, svelte, salad-loving Ukrainian named Izabella.
The Bellas I admire tend to be feisty and uplifting, from hat-loving heroine feminist Bella Abzug....
...to my luscious Ciao Bella espresso macchiato gelato indulgence...
...to the dynamic Izabella Steele. I figured anyone with an “A” name passes my test: consider Ella, Sia, Chiara, Shakira, and Rihanna.
A woman after my heart, she graciously invited me to join a class. No charge. Her whole (and holistic) philosophy behind BellaVita is spread the joy. And MOVE.
Actions, not just words. In fact, one week I suggested a favorite song for the Zumba class. Assuming she’d nod politely and then quickly forget about it, I was over the moon when she mentioned she had a surprise for me at the next class. Yikes! I almost fell down when I heard the first chords of Stand by Me in the final Zumba dance.
The mission of BellaVita? Eureka! Balance -- mind/body/spirit. Helping everyone to “live the best version of themselves.” Unlike pantyhose, there ‘s no “one size fits all.” Instead, an emphasis on compassionate community, as well as a personalized approach to wellness and lifestyle.
There’s a cornucopia of services, from boot camp to life coaching, for both kids and adults. Classes like Yogilates and Extreme Cardio Blast are limited in space. So there’s no smashing of tendons — only tender focus on the individual. No judgment. No bullying. No mind games.
The fitness combo “mash-ups,” one-on-one coaching on nutrition and life action plans, the cardio burpees and muscle toning — it’s all about “improving your fitness, and having fun.”
For me, Zumba and fun are synonymous. Apparently J-Lo, Natalie Portman, Halle Berry, Olivia Wilde, and Eva Longoria agree. The choreography is a fast-paced combo of hip-hop, soca, samba, salsa, and mambo, with a dash of squats here, lunges there, and the most contagious, energizing music ever.
What’s more, you don’t have to be Baryshnikov to do it. If you can’t grasp the steps, the idea is to sweat and, to quote Izabella, “JUST MOVE.” Now we’re talking.
Izabella’s smile lights up the room, and she is the real deal. She lives, breathes and pirouettes positivity, not to mention healthy living. A divine blend of glory, she invokes a blend of Glori-a Vanderbilt and Glori-a Steinem – elegant, young, feminist, stylish, savvy, a real “sister” who is “inspired by her members every day.”
Endorphins, Entertainment & Empowerment
Gloria Steinem says that “power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself.
Gloria Vanderbilt states one of the goals of life is being “in touch with one’s most personal themes -- the values, ideas, styles, colors that are the touchstones of one’s own individual life, its real texture and substance.”
Izabella blends the two Glorias’ philosophies with empowering women’s souls, instilling a personal touch of style, value, entertainment and wellness. In essence, she’s creating a fitness haven with equal time, equal space and equilibrium....a space for compassionate community and true balance.
Yup. You could say I’m done with ersatz gym sales marketing pushers, the ones who shut down some awesome, uplifting classes, despite the fact that they empowered a massive chunk of participants, keeping their mind, body and soul in balance— their chakras positively aligned.
BLOOD SWEAT & CHEERS
Let’s be honest. On reflection, it seems that the agony and anxiety often begins at the first thought of trekking over to the gym.
About half of all gym memberships rely on monthly fees and huge attrition. We all start off with a big bang theory and huge resolutions (especially around January 1st), gung ho on MetCon, TRX and suspension training. But as time —and snow— accrues, weather, fatigue and cooking kaboka squash, brisket and cassoulet recipes take over. Let’s face it. The number of workouts dwindle down, becoming inversely proportional to the dollars you spend on monthly membership installments.
So by March, we’re pretty much munching on an apple core instead of working on our body core. Avoiding the treadmill instead of tackling it.
On the other hand, the team spirit that escalates from a sweaty spin class — maintaining the beat, the stamina, the classmates, and keeping up with the trainer — is contagious, uplifting and a bit cheerleader-esque.
After all, who doesn’t want to be part of the “club”? Acknowledged for finishing some grueling event? We all love to be motivated. I just prefer the zest of zumba to the rah rah of the pedaling gang.
THE DOME OF OM
So here we are on the brink of spring: the Vernal Equinox. Just in time for balance. Harmony. I for one would prefer a one-on-one tutorial in Whatever-it-is-that-makes-one-feel-tranquil. Whether it’s lavender sunsets over moonlit ocean waves, or climbing into a cozy treehouse to write haikus, or sipping scotch in a dive bar, we all should be living La Dolce Vita, the balanced, Bella Vita, the sweet, beautiful life.