The Shape We’re In

Feature, January 2022

Family Fitness in the New Year

By Courtney Phillips

Photography by Cindy Burnham

A restful void appears where the festive tree loomed. No longer underfoot, shiny new toys have settled into a new home. Nary a stale gingerbread man, forgotten cherry cordial or lowly fruit snack remain in a cupboard stripped bare of excitement. Even the stubborn oak in the backyard is dropping leaves, finally ready for something new. Dutifully, we sorted out luck over a big plate of blackeyed peas, collards and cornbread. The clean slate we crave is now.

A New Normal

In this brave, new world, online subscription services offer a mind-boggling array of fitness opportunities for novice and expert alike. Video games create engaging platforms for kids and families to exercise together. Fitness centers utilize peer-to-peer teleconferencing to connect with loyal clientele. Yet, the supply of pricey equipment has eclipsed demand after a year-long dearth. No longer must we leave the comfort of home to exercise. But we want to. 

Mind and Body

Atop the list of new exercise gizmos and gadgets of 2022 isn’t a gadget at all, it’s a focus on mindfulness. Since 2001, Angie Toman, owner of Living Balance Studios, has strengthened countless minds and bodies with the practice of yoga. 

Until March of 2021, Toman conducted private lessons in a cozy, quiet upstairs suite of McPherson Square. “If you told me two years ago that I would own a group studio, I would have said you were crazy,” Toman said. “A lot of soul searching” resulted in a yoga haven that employs 29 instructors, including Toman, and conducts 50-60 private lessons and 25 group classes each week. Located in the same center, but downstairs in the former home of Morgan’s Chophouse, Toman’s renovated studio opened to the public the very week Gov. Roy Cooper loosened restrictions enough to do so. “Our community needed it,” Toman said. 

Boasting the area’s only hot yoga classes and semi-private Pilates classes with machines, Living Balance also offers a wide assortment of group classes, a kids’ class, a teen class, private lessons and even a free class every Thursday night, aptly named Karma Yoga.

“I’ve always prided myself on giving people a lot of care. It’s a strength,” Toman said. She recounted, for instance, the modifications she recently designed for a client, who sometimes brings a new grandbaby to her private lesson. Toman’s goal is to offer a superior level of care, and while the format of her business has expanded, her philosophy hasn’t changed.

She speaks as passionately about the needs of her older clients, whom she taught via Zoom for much of the pandemic, as she does of the peaceful modalities she hopes to impart upon teens and children who visit the studio. “The goal is to capture the needs of many different populations,” she said. 

For a novice, Toman suggests beginning yoga, gentle yoga or an all-levels class. With so many options, she implores beginners to try a different class if they don’t find the right fit on the first try. Generally, participants should be 12 years or older (except for the children’s class), and for safety, no one under 16 may participate in hot yoga.  

“I want the community to know this is here. I consider myself a healer, and I want this for all different levels, and for all different parts of the community,’’ said Toman. 

A Rare Gem of a Gym

Making a fitness routine work with small children is a challenge sometimes greater than the fitness routine itself. Hakim Isler, owner of Elevo Dynamics on Person Street, has created a solution. The gym, open since 2013, is accessible 24 hours a day for members over 14 years old. What’s truly unique about the Elevo experience is that caregivers can exercise while watching their kids learn Ninjutsu from Isler and his team. 

For years, Isler watched parents sit and watch their students train, too busy to work out themselves, so he enclosed the training hall in glass and flanked it with exercise equipment. Isler’s goal is to promote health and wellness for the whole family in the “dojym,” he said. “Kids love to be seen and acknowledged when they do great, and they are able to see their parent exercising and paying attention,” he said.

Since pandemic regulations loosened, Isler has observed parents keen to be in the middle of the hustle and bustle. Youth ages 4 and older can learn Ninjutsu, an ancient Japanese martial art which prizes mental, emotional and physical strength. “It’s not a watered-down version of martial arts. We use traditional methods that have been time-tested and proven to work,” said Isler. 

Also popular among children and adults at Elevo are the wilderness therapy and survival offerings of Isler’s nonprofit, the Soil Foundation. Afterschool programming, ninja birthday parties and summer camps are available at Elevo to keep kids engaged in healthful pursuits.

For adults 17 and older, Elevo hosts a unique scope of classes, focusing in Ninjutsu, Kali (Filipino martial arts), Silat (Malaysian martial arts), and Tomoi, which Isler refers to as “the grandfather” of popular Muay Thai boxing. “We are the only ones nearby who do what we do,” he said.

For a beginner, or someone intimidated by the unique martial arts offered at Elevo, Isler’s approach is gentler than expected of a fourth-degree black belt. “It isn’t about what I can do or what anyone else can do. It’s my job to meet people where they are,” he said.

Fun things to do right now

Make a list of active pursuits your kids love or might love. Be brave, creative and take advantage of New Year’s specials. Kids over 12 can kickbox with adult supervision at 9Round. Iron Forged Athletics offers a youth program beginning at age 9. Air Born Aerial Fitness has a circus class for ages 8 and older. Trampoline parks offer family specials. Check the offerings of the YMCA, Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks & Recreation, or ask friends for ideas. 

Find an alphabet workout online and, amid groans and giggles, and exercise to the spelling of your kids’ names. Everyone will be rosy-cheeked and less wiggly when it’s over.

Pull out a cookbook and plan a recipe together, incorporating healthy foods prepared in a familiar way. Choose a new or exotic fruit to accompany the dish. Exciting to prepare and eat, pomegranates and persimmons are in season and widely available in North Carolina this month.

For snack time, assemble and present a small, kid-friendly charcuterie of whole grain crackers, cheese, fruit and meat, and watch it disappear.

Herbal tea in a delicate cup, a motivational countdown bottle, and water with frozen fruit, bendy straws or flavor drops encourage busy little bodies and parents to stay hydrated.

Before we know it, Fayetteville will come alive. Parks, gardens and organized athletics will keep us hopping all summer long. For now, we need that January spirit and the luck of black-eyed peas.