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Balancing Act

Unique, personal reasons draw people to Fayetteville’s small yoga and Pilates studios: the need to unwind, the desire to gain flexibility and strength, the search for an alternative to traditional fitness routines or just the hankering to try something different. But whatever the reason, many who seek out these special places, these mind-body studios, say they find the same things: true tranquility and real physical and mental benefits that keep them coming back for more.

Without a doubt, our modern way of life, with its harried pace, constant white noise and frenzied bombardment of information and chatter that plays in our ears, in front of our eyes and within our minds 24 hours a day leaves little room for peaceful pursuits and stress-free moments. Just finding a quiet place in our world, in our lives, can be tough. More and more people are discovering, right here in Fayetteville, that they can find the calm they seek because savvy business women – who believe in the power of aligning mind and body – are providing them with places to do just that.

There are now two yoga studios in Fayetteville, Om Yoga Studio on Hay Street downtown and Breathing Space off Raeford Road in Haymount. And the city’s first Pilates studio, Pilates of Fayetteville, opened earlier this year and has since grown into a bigger building on Ferncreek Drive off Raeford Road. Business is booming – serenely, of course. Each studio offers its own personality, but each caters to both men and women, young and old. Just keep an open mind. And be willing to reconnect with yourself.

The need to find stillness, says Lisa Lofthouse, is one of the main things that draws people to her classes. Lofthouse teaches yoga at Breathing Space, the business she and friend Charlotte Sessoms, a massage therapist, opened in January 2005. Lofthouse said many of those who discover the little white house with blue shutters come for one reason. “I want to learn how to relax,” they tell her. For many, relaxation does not come naturally. They just don’t know how to slow down, and part of her job is teaching them that skill.

Walk through the front door of Breathing Space, and you’ll be greeted by soft music. You might visit for a massage, but the seven ladies there also offer chiropractic care, alternative skin care programs and even business coaching. Or you might go straight to the yoga mat, as I did. I am no yoga aficionado, but I have been to enough classes to know I love its gentle movements, its deep stretches and its conscious breathing. Lofthouse teaches in a long, carpeted room with many windows. It’s off the kitchen and feels comfortable and homey. It was a gentle class with a period of meditation at the end, which was why I chose it. I am discovering that my frantic mind responds to intentional meditation. I left so relaxed I was a bit dazed.

At the end of most of her yoga classes is a period of deep relaxation, Lofthouse said. Some beginners – but not me, I love it – don’t last through those final few minutes. They can’t lie still that long. They can’t fight the urge to move on and get out. Not being in constant motion feels uncomfortable. The distractions of the world tend to draw us outward, Lofthouse explained, but yoga returns the focus inward, directing our awareness to the breath and the body. By focusing on breathing, or on tensing and releasing the muscles, it shuts out mind clutter.

Yoga is a noncompetitive, gentler form of exercise. But be sure not to show up for your first class with any expectations or preconceived ideas. You don’t need special clothing. You don’t need to be extra flexible or super skinny. You don’t even need to be able to sit cross-legged. “That’s OK,” Lofthouse said. Yoga positions can be adapted to suit each individual, and it is all about working with yourself, not competing with others.

Many people seek yoga instruction in order to help with an ailment. Susie Godwin started taking yoga classes with Lofthouse when Breathing Space opened. She had been hearing for years that it would help with her fibromyalgia, a condition that causes severe, constant pain and fatigue. She found that it does all that she heard it did and more. She takes classes at least four times a week.

“Most people are surprised at how good they can feel,” Lofthouse said, “that something they found was so simple could feel so good,” she said.

Susan Franzblau was 52 when she took her first yoga class with Andres Josephs at the Fayetteville YMCA 13 years ago. “Then I just didn’t stop. That’s it,” she said. She liked the way she felt after yoga: stronger, more vibrant, more relaxed. Franzblau, a professor of psychology at Fayetteville State University, calls herself a natural teacher. She loves to teach, so it wasn’t long before she transitioned from yoga student to yoga instructor.

Franzblau bought a building and moved to downtown Fayetteville in 1997. There she realized she could take her love of yoga one step further. She opened Om Yoga Studio on the bottom floor of her building in 2001. She started with six students, all friends. “Now seven years later, we have hundreds of people a week,” Franzblau said. “It just became its own entity.”

Yoga gets at every muscle in the body, Franzblau said, as well as the connective tissues, the joints and the lymphatic and digestive systems. But it is much more than a physical practice. Franzblau also said sometimes the simplest pose, Shavasana, or corpse pose, which is simply lying on one’s back, is the most difficult for newcomers because, as Lofthouse also said, it requires stillness. “With Shavasana, you are in the present moment, with your own breath, your own body,” Franzblau said, “without criticizing it without commenting on it … in stillness and joy.”

Yoga is for anyone, Franzblau said, for those who are healthy or those who may be dealing with arthritis or back pain or illness. At Om, the classes are taught in a long room with wooden floors. Students face a beautiful, intricate painting on one wall. There are no mirrors. The lights are dimmed. Students remove their shoes before entering the room. There is a respect for place and for people. I have taken several yoga classes at Om, and I am anxious to try the Saturday morning meditation, a guided meditation led by Franzblau.

I am a seeker. But I’ve yet to give Pilates a try. I did stop by to get a feel for it, though. The atmosphere at Pilates of Fayetteville was quite lively, with some animated give and take between the six students and their instructor, Chris Cardona, during a recent advanced class. Cardona walked around the class, straightening someone’s posture here or feeling for tight tummy muscles there. I watched for just a few minutes before I decided that I definitely belonged in a beginner’s class. At one point, the ladies in the class balanced atop a half-moon shaped device called a barrel. They held their bodies in a V-shape, with legs straight up and out. It was not for the faint of heart — or for those with untrained abs.

Malinda Craven and Cardona opened Pilates of Fayetteville in January in a 900-square-foot space off Fort Bragg Road. The two met in a Pilates studio at a local gym. After a couple discussions over lunch, they decided to put their talents together and launch the business. It has grown so quickly that they had to find a new location after only seven months. Their new space off Ferncreek Drive more than doubles their instruction space. As many as 35 or 40 students will visit the studio each day for private or group Pilates instruction. The studio offers both mat classes and machine classes. Newcomers receive individual instruction to make sure they understand how to do the exercises properly.

Pilates is a type of exercise, developed and promoted by a German-born man named Joseph Pilates in the early 1900s, which focuses on bringing the mind and body together to improve strength, flexibility and posture without stressing joints or adding bulk to the muscles. Its popularity has skyrocketed in the last decade. Cardona, who moved to Fayetteville from Tampa, Fla., a little over a year ago, said Pilates studios are everywhere there.

Craven is an entrepreneur who owned a travel agency and a real estate business in Fayetteville before getting into the fitness business. But she has always loved exercise. After her first Pilates class, she was hooked. She said it gave her a good workout without stressing her body like some other forms of exercise. That, she added with a wink, has become more important as she approaches 50. She has also found that the new business has satisfied her longing to provide meaningful help to others. Since the studio opened, Craven has become certified to teach Pilates, too.

One of Craven’s clients, Jo Ann Bishop, comes in for a private session twice a week. She is 75. Bishop said she has always been active. She walks. She line dances. She does aerobics. She thought Pilates sounded like something she would like to try. It has helped with her coordination, posture and balance, Bishop said, and has strengthened her arms. It has also made her more conscious of her breathing, both in class and out.

Pilates takes concentration, Craven said. It forces students to focus on different muscles, different parts of the body and one’s breathing — all at the same time. In Pilates, you have to leave your distractions outside, Craven said, and truly turn inward to reap all of its benefits.

Bishop swears by it. But it isn’t always easy. She has a special name for her instructor.

“I call her ‘Killer,’” Bishop said.

Craven doesn’t mind. “At the end of every session, Jo Ann says ‘Thank you, Jesus,’ ” Craven said.

But she keeps on coming back.

For more information about studio hours and locations visit our Web site.