I blame Novak Djokovic.
Ever since WAG featured him on our cover last August (our “S’wellness” issue) and I attended his appearance at retailer Uniqlo in Manhattan before the US Open, I’ve been thinking about jumpstarting my fitness regimen – much the way Nole remade his diet and exercise routines to find the next plateau in his tennis game. (The guy does not have an ounce of body fat.)
Or in the words of Super Duper Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson – and I sense a T-shirt here – “Why not me?”
OK, so I am not now nor have I ever been a gorgeous world-class athlete. But I walk 30 minutes almost every day, lift small hand weights and have done yoga for 20 years. I also follow a Mediterranean diet that I modified with the help of a nutritionist to shave off extra calories. In the opinion of one expert, I am in good shape with no major health issues. So when WAG began receiving emails from fitness centers that had either recently opened or were offering new classes, I thought, “Why not me?”
What follows is my diary of a weeklong odyssey to fine-tune myself not only in body but also in mind and spirit:
Day 1 – I begin my quest for the next level of health by exploring halotherapy, or dry-salt therapy, at Breathe Easy in Mamaroneck in the hope that inhaling finely granulated, virtually pure salt will help my sinus problems and have the added benefit of a little skin exfoliation. (See separate story on Page 30). The space, inside Yoga Sanctuary, is sunny and pleasant, and I find my 15 minutes in the salt booth relaxing. And while I don’t feel the immediate effects on my sinuses – not everyone does – I do feel more open the next day.
From Breathe Easy I head down East Boston Post Road and hang a right onto Mamaroneck Avenue. My next stop is one-year-old YogaSpark, opposite the Mamaroneck train station. YogaSpark offers “yoga, fired up.” And how. The room inside the modern red, black and white space is heated between 90 and 95 degrees. But as noted by owner Lauren Porat – an investment banker turned yoga instructor who studied with power yoga guru Bryan Kest – this isn’t bikram yoga. In that type of yoga, the room is heated to more than 100 degrees, she says, and you’re sustaining asanas, or poses. At YogaSpark, you flow from pose to pose.
I’m skeptical – my hot flashes, my bum right shoulder, my Rafael Nadal knees. (Where’s the rest of Rafa when I need him?) But I decide for once in my life to go with that flow, and what a revelation. As instructor Catie Newman puts the class through its seamless paces, the warmth envelopes me, making it easier, not harder, to transition from one movement to the next. Yoga becomes the watery dance it’s often described as optimally. Because I’m hot – but not uncomfortably so, perspiring lightly – I’m no longer aware of hot flashes or joint problems. (I do modify the handstands but complete all the downward dogs in which the body is in an inverted V, the weight on the hands and feet.) Indeed, I’m not aware of anything but what I’m doing. I am in the moment, the hour flies by and I float home afterward. Forget marijuana. I’m on a yoga high. (914) 630-4988, yoga-spark.com
DAY 2 – A big day and it begins early at Physique 57 in Scarsdale, which opened Oct. 1. Scarsdale is where it all began for co-founding CEO Jennifer Vaughan Maanavi, who studied at the Steffi Nossen School of Dance and was a Scarsdale High School cheerleader. So it was fitting that she should open an intimate pale green space with fab leopard-print carpeting in her hometown, although she also has locations in Manhattan, Bridgehampton, Beverly Hills and Dubai.
Physique offers one-hour classes mixing strength-training with cardio, so that you are lifting small hand weights – I choose five-pounders – or squeezing a small exercise ball while moving rhythmically to music to engage the entire body, taking short stretching breaks in between sets. This was more of a challenge for me than the yoga. But guided by class instructor Brady Dougherty, I was able to complete all the sets while modifying some of the exercises to protect my Rafa knees. By the end of class, my thighs were feeling the burn – but pleasurably so. (914) 722-0570, physique57.com
After Physique 57, I head to ML Strength in White Plains, whose founding owner, Dana Cavalea, was the strength and conditioning director for the New York Yankees. (See story on Page 16). Talk about your major league, high-testosterone environment, complete with AstroTurf carpeting and guys pulling guys by ropes. I’m delighted I’m just here for an interview. But hey, I’m no wuss. I’ve parked at City Center and walked several blocks to ML Strength – in 10-degree weather. I walk back, headed now to the Spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester for some pampering under the skilled hands of Cecile Chapaveyre, the lead of salon services.
A vibrant, independent-minded woman who was born in Toulouse, France, and raised in the central part of the country, Cecile insists that I change into a robe for the experience. Turns out clothes do make the woman, and I relax immediately. (The sauna helps, as do the blue, woodsy surroundings, the Darjeeling tea and later, some Champagne.) At the blow dry bar, Cecile washes and conditions my hair, suggesting a side part to offset my oval face. Then it’s time for the raison d’etre – to experience the makeup of Chicago-based Claudio Riaz, a new line for the spa.
Cecile explains how Riaz, fascinated by makeup as a youth growing up in a female household, began by developing a set of synthetic and sable brushes worth $1,525 that are designed specifically for the contours of the face. They look like they should’ve belonged to Van Gogh. Riaz then went on to create makeup that includes his ingenious all-in-one Instant Face Palettes for fair, medium and dark complexions. (See Chic Choices on Page 80 for more.) Soon I’m rocking a 1960s vibe, with expertly applied eyeliner and a pastel palette. Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up, and off I go to have my photograph taken by WAG Managing Editor Bob Rozycki for the Editor’s Letter on Page 10. (914) 467-5891, ritzcarlton.com
DAY 3 – An intense, rewarding day. I’m at Crunch Fitness in White Plains, which opened last May, for the new Barre Assets class. Crunch – which has all kinds of exercise machines and offers everything from ballet to Pilates to Zumba – also has something new called Videography (hip-hop and jazz) but that sounds a bit too modern for me. Instructor Shelley Kapitulik sets me up on a bike for some cardio and warming up. Then I join Joan Agnassanto’s Barre Assets class for some work on the mat and on portable barres that draws on the ballet principles of lift, elongation, alignment and always, form.
Having studied ballet and modern dance from ages 2 to 15, I find myself back in a familiar world, relishing the taut discipline once more. As we lengthen and strengthen with pliés and ports de bras, I look out of the floor-to-ceiling windows at the construction workers putting up the Planet Fitness across the way. It occurs to me that they may be watching us but also that we may be more fascinated by their dance – on iron balance beams. (914) 328-3311, crunch.com
Later in the day, I drive down to Wainwright House in Rye to meet the new psychic in residence, Joan Carra. (See story on Page 36). Joan is kind and reassuring, and I open like a flower, more than intrigued by the way she reads cards and palms and moved beyond words as she contacts my dead relations. It’s a heavy experience, but I leave feeling as if I have wings.
DAY 4 – I wrap up at Studio 14 in Port Chester, which opened in October. This is a hybrid fitness facility in black, white and lime. For a half hour you cycle in a dark room with propulsive music wearing shoes that clip on to the bike. This is a new experience for me and I’m glad that instructor Laura Grandilli lets us each set our own pace – resting on the bike seat when we have to, though still pedaling – and that Jonny Rothschild, one of Studio 14’s four partners, is biking alongside me.
For the second half hour, I’m on more familiar ground as Janet Muller leads a yoga class in a comfortable green space that signals an experience that complements the biking. Though I’ve done yoga a few days before, there are many different kinds of yoga and I feel just as challenged by Studio 14’s sustained poses as I did by YogaSpark’s warm flow. (914) 690-1414, thestudio14.com.
I realize in a yogic way that my road to fitness has brought me full circle where the end meets the beginning.
Postscript: So what did I learn? Certainly new techniques that I can incorporate in my home workouts, the importance of form in maximizing a workout, the need for sleep, rest and a little pampering as much as proper nutrition and exercise in any wellness program and the role of mindfulness in everything we do.
My fitness odyssey has spurred me to consider joining a class in which I’d have the benefit of an instructor and a community. Its also given me a taste for new adventures.
As Studio 14’s Rothschild put it, “You need to step outside of your comfort zone but not so intensely that you won’t come back.”