There’s a tranquility and a calm that permeates through this place where women and men both gather throughout each week to not only strengthen and tone their bodies but to reflect and be in touch with themselves and their daily lives.
There’s a serenity.
You can feel it.
“Some say, ‘It’s my happy place’ or ‘I feel safe here,’” says Angie Toman, 55, who opened Living Balance Studios in 2013 on the second floor of McPherson Square along McPherson Church Road. “And that’s what I want.”
She’s passionate about her business and helping her clients. You can see the passion in her eyes, the squint of her nose and the bright smile that breaks out when Angie Toman talks about yoga and Pilates classes and the experience of a connection of mind and body and spirit.
What began as private instruction in her home and the homes of a small group of clients has grown from additional space on the second floor in 2015 to what today is Toman’s business with four studios in what once was Morgan’s Chop House restaurant. She has a staff of 23 instructors and a clientele of more than 1,000 members.
While many similar businesses were shuttering their doors because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Toman and her staff opted to continue classes via Zoom.
“They thought they would be closed a few weeks,” Toman says about other yoga and Pilates businesses.
But the health pandemic persisted.
“Most couldn’t pay their rent,” Toman says. “We were lucky. Most of our private clients stayed on Zoom with us. Some bought packages ahead of time. I took out a PPE (Paycheck Protection Program) loan. We were hustling. We were able to keep a money flow going.”
But the credit, Toman says, for her business survival and growth belongs to those who had been clients before the pandemic.
“The thing that saved us was the loyalty of our clientele,” Toman says. “They wanted us to survive.”
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A legal eagle
Angie Toman wasn’t always a certified yoga instructor.
She was a lawyer.
Born in Springfield, Ohio, her family moved to Eustis, Florida, where her father was in the trucking company business, her mother was a third-grade schoolteacher and Angie Tomas was salutatorian of her 1986 high school class and competed in the Miss Florida Scholarship Pageant at age 18. Her talent was tap dance.
She pursued her education at Fordham University in New York City.
“I wanted to be a dancer,” she says, adding she was inspired by Broadway musicals such as “42nd Street” and “Jelly’s Last Jam.”
Her father, she says, would pay her tuition to Fordham, but only if his daughter would pursue a career as a physician or a lawyer. She graduated in 1990 from Fordham with a degree in political science and a minor in French.
“I still don’t know anything about French,” she says.
She enrolled in law school at Florida State University, earning her law degree in 1994.
“I always enjoyed debate club growing up,” Toman says. “I liked analyzing things. I said, ‘OK, I’ll go to law school.’ I had a vision of being a high-powered lawyer in downtown Orlando and at one time wanted to one day be a U.S. Supreme Court justice.”
With law degree in hand, her legal career took off.
“You could work in the public defender’s officer or the prosecutor’s office in Orlando, and I fell in love with the work of being in the courtroom,” Toman says. “I ended up going back to Tallahassee and working with the public defender’s office.”
By night, she was teaching jazz dance and tap at a Tallahassee studio.
She became an adjunct law professor in 1996 at Florida State University and a full-time professor in 1997. Toman worked at Florida State four years before moving to Fayetteville in 2001 with her husband.
She left her legal career behind.
Fitness, yoga and Pilates
“We knew we would be moving after 9/11 happened,” Toman says about giving up her career in the courtroom. “I didn’t want someone else raising my children. I wanted to raise them.”
She worked out at Renaissance Day Spa in Eutaw Shopping Center, which also had a day care center.
“I would take my kids and put them in the Renaissance day care,” she says. “I was already doing fitness instruction, and one of my military friends told the director I was a fitness instructor. I started teaching yoga and Pilates there in 2001.”
Yoga and Pilates enthusiasts in the community were hearing about Angie Toman, and they were calling. She would drop off her children at the Montessori School, then drive to clients’ homes and teach private yoga and Pilates lessons from 2001 to 2005.
With her husband in judge advocate general’s school at the University of Virginia, the couple moved to Charlottesville, where Toman found a gym and was hired as a yoga and Pilates instructor. She also worked at a pediatric medical center for long-term patients.
“I would offer classes to parents,” she says.
From Charlottesville, the couple would find themselves in Washington, D.C., for the ensuing four years, where she would teach yoga and Pilates to private clients at her home.
Reflection, meditation and wellness
The couple returned to Fayetteville in 2011 and, after a divorce, Toman gave thought to moving back to Florida when she decided to open Yogangie Fitness out of her home.
“And I went to some homes,” she says.
Toman opened Living Balance Studios on the second floor of McPherson Square in 2013, serving 40 clients. She leased space for an adjacent studio in 2015 with five additional instructors and 100 clients. Toman, then with a staff of 21 instructors, expanded to the old restaurant, where today you’ll find more than 1,000 clients.
“Yoga is a workout that affects you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually,” Toman says. “One of my friends describes yoga as a ‘work-in’ rather than a workout. A lot of my clients come for the physical, but people are starting to realize the breathing calms them. When they are having a negative thought, it is all right to say, ‘Let me take a few breaths.’”
It can be a time for reflection and meditation.
Yoga instructors offer prompts.
“Give yourself some grace,” they’ll cue a client. Or, “Be kind to yourself.”
There is a calm throughout a yoga class.
“People have a lot going on in their lives,” Toman says. “They come here and know somebody ‘is going to take care of me for an hour.’ They don’t have to do anything or think about anything.”
They also can take yoga classes in the “hot studio” of 102 degrees, where Toman says the muscles stretch more easily in the warmth and where clients like to feel the sweat and the relaxation of the muscles.
Vicky Greene is director of Pilates, where you will find clients who wish to tone their bodies and strengthen muscles that support the spine.
“Joseph Pilates was the father of Pilates,” Toman says. “His belief was if your spine is healthy, you will be healthy. It is a form of exercise that strengthens muscles by lengthening them. Anyone who comes to us with back issues, we always recommend Pilates.”
Stretches can be done on the Reformer mat or the more strenuous Cadillac. There’s also the Wunda Chair. Toman says Pilates can be good for those suffering with osteoporosis, spinal stenosis and scoliosis.
Yoga and Pilates classes are daily, with instruction at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., the lunch express at 10 a.m., 6 p.m., and 7 p.m. And Toman says an 8:30 p.m. class is coming. There are Saturday classes at 9 a.m. and Sunday classes beginning at 9 a.m. and throughout the day until 7:30 p.m.
It’s not just yoga and Pilates, either.
Instructors offer Reiki or subtle body clearing; nutrition counseling; life coaching; and prenatal and postnatal doula support. And Tai Chi is offered on Thursday evenings.
“The idea is that eventually,” Toman says, “the studio will be a ‘one-stop shop’ for wellness modalities.”
Toman plans to add yoga teacher training with 200-hour certification program in August.
There’s a tranquility and a calm that permeates through this place, where women and even some men gather to not only strengthen and tone their bodies, but to reflect and be in touch with themselves and their daily lives.
There is, if you will, a serenity.
“Some say, ‘It’s my happy place,’” Angie Toman says. “And that’s what I want.”’
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at email@example.com or 910-624-1961.