The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - KELLI KENNEDY

NEW YORK — It would be easy to brush off fit­ness guru Taryn Toomey’s The Class as an­other hip­pie trend, but you’d miss the magic. (She sprin­kled crushed crys­tals un­der the stu­dio floors, which she says is de­signed to draw out en­ergy.)

You’d also miss stargaz­ing at celeb devo­tees like Naomi Watts, Jen­nifer Anis­ton and su­per­model Christy Turling­ton Burns.

Within min­utes, the mu­sic swells, the mir­rors in the 85-de­gree heated room be­gin to fog and sweaty pony­tails come un­done as par­tic­i­pants per­form five gru­elling, un­in­ter­rupted min­utes of squat jumps while Toomey un­leashes oc­ca­sional ex­ple­tive-laced in­sights.

“We’re re­ally us­ing the phys­i­cal body as a metaphor to deal with what’s out there,” said Toomey, a for­mer fash­ion ex­ec­u­tive for Ralph Lau­ren and Dior, who opened a luxe stu­dio in Tribeca in Jan­uary.

The goal of her 75-minute class is to train the mind to cre­ate new ways to re­spond — rather than re­act — to chal­leng­ing ex­ter­nal trig­gers. Other spir­i­tual work­outs gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in­clude the in­tenSati Method, Qoya and Equinox’s Head­strong. Yoga and tai chi have drawn from these prin­ci­ples for years, but a new crop of work­outs in­cludes more than car­dio and strength-train­ing moves as many fit­ness buffs seek more than a six-pack from their work­outs.

Toomey leaves a mo­ment at the end of each song to stop the phys­i­cal move­ment and en­cour­age par­tic­i­pants to re­flect. “How are you feel­ing, not what are you think­ing?” she asks the class.

Head­strong uses high-in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing and chang­ing stim­uli to chal­lenge the body and brain. The first three sec­tions of the class fo­cus on stretch­ing, agility and in­ten­sity; the class ends with a 15-minute guided med­i­ta­tion.

Qoya founder Rochelle Schieck in­cor­po­rates lots of free move­ment into her women-only work­out that refers to “move­ment as medicine.” It’s the least phys­i­cally chal­leng­ing of the bunch and is good for be­gin­ners, but it has a pow­er­ful emo­tional take-away.

Each Qoya class has a theme. If the theme is free­dom, par­tic­i­pants are given a mo­ment to re­flect on what it feels like when they don’t feel free. Then they ex­press those emo­tions through free-form dance. Schieck says there’s im­mense value in ac­knowl­edg­ing un­com­fort­able emo­tions like fear or anger and “let­ting peo­ple em­brace their whole­ness in­stead of pre­tend­ing I al­ways feel free.”

Part of the class in­cludes a few min­utes of shak­ing, which is de­signed to shake fear and dis­com­fort out of the body to calm the ner­vous sys­tem. The class ends with a fun, chore­ographed dance that might in­clude kick-boxing moves to “Eye of the Tiger.”

Both Toomey and Schieck fol­lowed a sim­i­lar jour­ney in cre­at­ing their work­outs. Yoga wasn’t enough for Toomey, who longed for more fire and car­dio. Schieck was a yoga in­struc­tor but also felt some­thing was miss­ing. She tried pole danc­ing classes and loved its phys­i­cal­ity, but kept get­ting in­jured.

“Women kept say­ing as I was just de­vel­op­ing it, ‘I’ve been wait­ing my whole life for this,’” said Schieck, who has trained some 300 Qoya teach­ers.

Na­dine Abram­cyk, a 38-year-old small busi­ness owner and mother of two, at­tends one or two of Toomey’s classes a week, call­ing it her “per­sonal ther­apy.”

The change was so dra­matic, her hus­band started go­ing.

“I had a very cathar­tic ex­pe­ri­ence with it. ... It re­ally isn’t about the phys­i­cal for me. It’s re­ally about the men­tal com­bined with the phys­i­cal. It’s so mul­ti­di­men­sional in that way and does some­thing that reg­u­lar ex­er­cise can’t.”

Natalia Mehlman Petrzela is an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of his­tory at The New School who is re­search­ing fem­i­nism and group fit­ness. She spent years work­ing out at the gym, “but as a fem­i­nist, I was so dis­ap­pointed in the cul­ture and the lan­guage ... there was this dom­i­nant lan­guage, ‘This is for your bikini body, what did you eat last night, how many inches did you lose ladies?’ It just fell short in many ways of the much broader, deeper po­ten­tial of what ex­er­cise can mean to women.”

Petrzela started teach­ing the high-en­ergy car­dio and strength In­tenSati Method, which in­cludes vo­cal af­fir­ma­tions. “When you’re sweat­ing, your heart is pump­ing (and) there is science that shows you’re open or par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble to your mind­set,” she said.

In­tenSati, cre­ated by Pa­tri­cia Moreno, starts with an af­fir­ma­tion re­minder that you can choose how you re­act to things. The class in­cludes squats, lunges, side round­house kicks and punches while chant­ing some­thing like “I am strong.”

“I felt I fi­nally had the words to ex­press some­thing I’d been feel­ing but didn’t have an out­let to,” said Petrzela.


New York celeb fit­ness guru Taryn Toomey leads one of her fit­ness classes in New York.

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