With the significant number of short and long-term benefits to our physical and emotional health, it is abundantly clear that making exercise a regular practice in our life is an essential element of wellness. Exercise – in some form or manner – is one of the simplest and most affordable self-care approaches we can take to improve our physical and mental performance. Whether you are trying to improve a current condition or prevent future problems, we can all reap the benefits of physical exercise and its ability to strengthen the mind, body and soul.
To further encourage us all to incorporate regular exercise into our lives, here are a few of its many benefits: reduces risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer; builds healthy bones and muscles; boosts the immune system and metabolism; lowers blood pressure; improves memory; relieves depression and anxiety; increases flexibility and mobility; boosts energy; enhances sleep; assists in losing and regulating weight.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. Another option is to do a combination of both. A general rule is that two minutes of moderate-intensity activity counts the same as one minute of vigorous-intensity activity.
To begin, find physical activities that you can enjoy. With a growing trend of health and wellness opportunities and experiences, exercise options, both indoor and outdoor, have increased, making it easier for people to have a choice in how they choose to exercise. Once you begin to see and feel the benefits, your motivation will keep you going.
To further understand the vast benefits of both physical and mental exercise, we spoke to three amazing women whose passion and dedication to take care of themselves and others is inspiring.
Natalie Kuhn – The Class by Taryn Toomey
Natalie is the Executive Director and a Founding Teacher at The Class. Natalie’s background in theater and dance and her desire to seek a more immediate connection with a community led her to the dynamic partnership with Taryn Toomey and her role as a founding teacher in their Los Angeles studio.
Food + Mood NYC: How did you and Taryn Toomey meet and what led to your partnership?
Back in 2013, I was working at lululemon to support my theatre and dance career, but more importantly, I was searching for something to love more than what I was doing. Taryn would periodically come into the store and we hit it off instantaneously. My colleague, Emily, suggested I go take The Class by Taryn Toomey, which at that time, was in the gym of her apartment building. I went on a whim, laughed/cried through most of it, and that combo is a powerful one. I think we both understood on another level that lightning has struck between us as friends, and soon that would develop into building a brand. I believed in what she was doing and she saw something in me. Together, like Bonnie and Clyde, we were on a mission. We look back on those years and marvel at the tenacity and stamina and deep sisterhood that pulled us through both personally and professionally.
F+M NYC: Can you explain what The Class is and what it entails, physically and emotionally?
In its most reductive form, The Class is spiritual fitness. I use the term ‘fitness’ in both capacities, as physical rigor and as the agility and capacity for you to tap into your spirituality. Physically, it is repetitive strength training and cardio bursts. Spiritually, it is fine tuning your emotional instrument to be able to handle what life offers you.
F+M NYC: The Class began in New York and has expanded to Los Angeles where you are the executive director. Was it an easy decision to leave NYC for LA? Is the energy and vibe of the community similar to that of New York City?
NK: Personally, I had grown weary of the New York winters after 13 years. I was craving my family, who is all based on the west coast, and some good old Vitamin D. Professionally, I’ve never been more dedicated to a cause, a company, or a leader like I have been to The Class by Taryn Toomey. In that sense, it was one of the most difficult decisions. The differences in our communities are staggering. I’ve adapted my teaching for the community out here, who face different difficulties. In New York, our students are in a pressure cooker of stress and anxiety compounded by the city’s pace. Here in LA, there is a vastness externally that is mirrored internally. I find Los Angelinos hungry for community and connection, while New Yorkers seem to crave peace and solitude. These are of course, hyper generalizations, but the through line remains the same: we are all craving a stronger, deeper, more attuned connection with ourselves.
F+M NYC: Who is this a good class for? How do you see people benefiting from taking The Class?
The Class can be beneficial for anyone who has felt an unwanted feeling and been unsure how to feel it, work with it, and allow it to change. For me, The Class is emotional muscle memory, whose bi product is a strong, lean body. The tools you practice in The Class can be applied to just about any part of your life where you struggle or feel uncertain. The work of The Class offers release, strength, and clarity, both in the physical and the emotional.
F+M NYC: Besides The Class, how do you take care of yourself on and off the plate?
I’m not there yet, but I’m working toward better boundaries with my cell phone and the work/play/accessibility it affords. I try not to touch it until after I’ve had a cup of tea in the morning and about an hour before bed. Cooking is my meditation. My husband, my friends, my family are my reset button. My dog is the daily reminder to get outside and take a walk. It’s all definitely a work in progress.
To learn more about Natalie and The Class by Taryn Toomey, visit https://taryntoomey.com/.
Lauren Porat – Yoga Spark
Lauren, a former investment banker, opened her first Yoga Spark studio in Mamaroneck, NY followed by a second studio in Tribeca, New York City. The classes specialize in hot power yoga and offer an amazing fitness experience in an upbeat, energetic environment.
F+M NYC: When did you first discover yoga and what led you to leave the corporate world and embark on this journey?
LP: I’ve been practicing yoga religiously for about 13 years. I was a frequent runner before that, and really have always loved to sweat! Bikram yoga was my gateway into yoga, but when I discovered the power yoga practice, it changed everything. I loved the combination of the full body active flow, plus the heat. The decision to become a “yogapreneur” was one of necessity. We moved to the suburbs, and I couldn’t find a local studio that perfectly blended heat, a great yoga workout, and a modern, fun, and accessible vibe, so I resolved to create it myself. I thought that if it was successful, the brand could scale, because in truth, there wasn’t really anything anywhere like I was envisioning. And so YogaSpark was born!
F+M NYC: Your first Yoga Spark studio is in Mamaroneck, NY near where you live with your family. What made you want to open a second studio in New York City? And why did you choose Tribeca as your location?
LP: You know what they say about New York – if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere! The Westchester location is an amazing place where people from all over come to sweat. I knew that with a well-established NYC presence, I would be able to positively affect so many more people’s lives, because a New York City brand is, in a way, a national brand. Tribeca in particular was a natural choice because of the incredible space I found, with soaring ceiling heights and a great layout for a boutique fitness studio, as well as the strong focus on community here.
F+M NYC: Can you explain the format of your class? The music you choose plays an important role. Can you elaborate on that?
LP: Every class at YogaSpark is 60 minutes, heated to about 90-95 degrees with added humidity, and an active, full-body workout. Every class is different, so you’re always learning something new at YogaSpark, and you very quickly learn to let go of the expectation of what’s coming next and truly practice being present. Every class is challenging, but accessible – we encourage all levels of experience. And yes, music is very important. Yoga to us is a dance, so we love to play music that makes you want to move, in a variety of genres – everything from pop to rock and roll to R&B to hip hop. We love to throwback once in awhile too! On weekday evenings, we do a BlacklightSpark class, in which the room is dark except for anything white or neon. It’s challenging to balance, but it’s a great opportunity to zone out a little bit more. Every morning we do a “SuperSpark” format which is a combo blacklight/candlelight class, and it is simply magical.
F+M NYC: What do you see as the benefits of hot yoga?
LP: In hot yoga, the muscles get loose almost immediately, so we don’t have to spend as much time warming up as we would in a non-heated class. It’s much more efficient in that way – great for busy people. Additionally, you can go deeper than you would outside the hot room, so you build a stronger practice over time. That muscle memory is very powerful. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the physical benefits of sweat. It’s huge. There is actually an antibacterial agent called dermicidin that your skin secretes in sweat that forms a protective barrier that can prevent illness. In my own life, I only get sick when I don’t practice for more than a day. I’m not a physician, but my experience is proof enough for me – especially given that I’m around so many people and handling their sweaty towels every day! And of course, sweating increases endorphin levels which contribute to a positive mood and sense of well being. Which is why we yogis are generally such a happy bunch!
But on a broader level, because our style is so challenging, it’s also very empowering. There’s a huge sense of accomplishment when you “get” something new, but also a sense of inner strength when you learn to respect where your body is at in the moment. It’s a great full-body-and-mind experience. Physically, we target pretty much every muscle group. Mentally, you have no choice but to focus and find a moving meditation on the mat…there’s really no brain-space for the “to-do” list when you’re in our classes. So for many people, it’s as close to meditation as they’ll ever get. I have seen drastic change in our practitioners. People come in and say that they’ve dropped 30 pounds, or that we’ve saved their marriage and their careers…in the end, the yogi does all the work. We just help them become empowered to do so.
F+M NYC: Besides hot yoga, how do you take care of yourself on and off the plate?
LP: I’m all about balance, but I do find myself saying, possibly too often, “screw it, life is too short.” I like to enjoy myself! Every day I have strong coffee (notice how I lead with that?!) at least 3 liters of water, 3 big (but veggie-licious) meals, dessert, and a glass of wine. I can watch hours of juicy TV like Scandal and Jane the Virgin where the characters keep falling in and out of love with the same people, and it always shocks me. I’m in a band, so I get to sing my heart out at ridiculous volumes at least once a week. I love to cook, but I hate cleaning up. And of course, my family always comes first. I am a crazy swim / soccer mom – I have no problem sitting at endless meets and games. My husband and I have a standing weekly date night no matter what. If I’m guilty of shorting myself on anything, it’s probably not getting enough sleep…but like I said, life’s too short!
To learn more about Lauren Porat and Yoga Spark, visit https://yoga-spark.com/.
Kelli Douglas – The Meditation Class
Kelli Douglas is a former real estate executive turned passionate Vedic meditation teacher. Her extensive training in India and New York City with some of the most renowned Vedic masters in the world has shown her how simple, effortless and effective meditation can be.
F+M NYC: How did you come to discover meditation?
KD: It actually took over 20 years of exploring various forms of meditation and spiritual practices to finally find the one that made a lasting difference.
You name it, I tried it—Kundalini yoga, chanting, creative visualization, singing bowls, and more. It was all helpful, but never the transformative experience I craved. I was never enticed to stick with it either. I was in my head a lot, very distracted by thoughts and often frustrated by that.
I reached my stress bottom about 5 years ago when I was working as a real estate broker here in NYC and also a single mother of a very active toddler. I was having insomnia, frequent migraines, and was basically exhausted. I was literally on the verge of physical and emotional bankruptcy when I was lucky enough to witness a friend’s transformation as a direct result of Vedic meditation. I’d never heard of it before, but the proof was in her progress.
To my surprise, I took to it without hesitation or resistance. I did not know meditation could be so easy and enjoyable- I didn’t have to work hard or focus. The process was natural and effortless. I actually enjoyed it. The thing that I love about this practice was that I didn’t have to wait years to see results. I felt amazing right away and that made it easy to get to the chair and meditate.
F+M NYC: How did your love for meditation evolve from a personal passion to your own meditation studio?
KD: As a meditator, One of my favorite things is to get together with others who are passionate about meditation. I felt there was a need for a home base for the meditation community in New York City and I felt like the Upper West Side was a wonderful place to have my studio since I live in the neighborhood and love it so much. So, I set out to create an intimate, serene space where meditators could gather in the spirit of forwarding their practice. Its a place to meet like-minded meditators, and get ongoing support from me (and each other) around deepening their practice. We also host cool events and workshops that are both educational and inspiring.
F+M NYC: You teach Vedic Meditation. Can you elaborate on this form of meditation?
KD: The Vedic meditation technique is simple and effortless, yet it’s positive effects are immediate. What I love most about Vedic is that it allows you to do YOU. It’s designed for modern living, so you don’t have to become a monk or do anything extreme to reap the rewards. While there are things recommended to maximize your practice, there are no rules, no rights or wrongs that limit your lifestyle. You don’t have to be vegan, or celibate, or get rid of your stuff. It’s a practice for people who live regular lives.
F+M NYC: What are some of the physical and mental benefits of meditation?
KD: So many! More energy, better sleep, more resistance to stress and anxiety, increased creativity and self expression, more positive mood, improved physical health, and improved focus, clarity, memory, and cognition. The science continues to uncover evidence to support the benefits of consistent meditation.
F+M NYC: How often do you recommend someone meditates? And for how long?
KD: Vedic is meant to be practiced twice a day, every day—20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon or early evening. Consistency is key, so again, two times daily is what’s recommended for optimal results.
F+M NYC: Besides meditation, how do you take care of yourself on and off the plate?
KD:I try to eat clean and organic as much as possible. I recently discovered bulletproof coffee, which I make with raw butter and collagen powder that gives me a lot of energy for the day. I try to stay away from sugar, which can really affect my mood, but I do love dark chocolate. For physical wellness,
I love pilates and lucky for me there is a wonderful pilates studio in the same building as my studio so it is easy for me to go there between my classes. I recently discovered biking in NYC. I just got a cargo bike with a special seat for my son to ride on the back. We love to take the bike on the Hudson greenway to go downtown on the weekends. I am a big art fan (I studied art history at Hunter college) so I love to go to Chelsea to check out the latest shows and my son loves the family programs at the museums here in NYC.
To learn more about The Mediation Class with Kelli Douglas, visit http://themeditationclass.com/.