At each of its 31 area locations, the YMCA of Greater Houston pursues a mission to bring health, wellness, and personal growth to communities. Kids leap into activities ranging from swim lessons and youth sports to a teen Youth & Government program that stirs up confidence and leadership abilities in students, preparing them for mudslinging student-council campaigns.
Zumba, ballroom dance, and Les Mills group exercise classes shake up adult workout routines, as complimentary childcare frees up parents to pursue fitness goals. Meanwhile, adult sport leagues such as basketball and racquetball result in friendly competition and hyper-literate team names inspired by obscure philosophers.
While many neuroendocrine physiology scientists are up to their elbows in hypothalamus, Sara Turk uses her scientific credentials to foster a more holistic approach to wellness. She traded in her lab coat for a pair of yoga pants and spent the next phase of her life studying under celebrated yogis such as Anusara yoga founder John Friend and Sadhana Yoga Chi guru Doug Swenson. Boasting an understanding of yoga's many forms as well as a penchant for mediation, nutrition, and cross-training, she became a teacher and opened Cherry Blossom Studio with her sister. Turk's hard work and passion eventually earned her the opportunity to serve as a yoga ambassador with the popular athletic-wear company, Lululemon.
Turk and her seasoned team of instructors cater to students from all fitness levels within a spacious studio replete with gleaming hardwood floors and tranquil, green walls. Patrons who'd like to extend the peaceful notions discovered during their yoga practice can swing by the studio's boutique, where they'll find ecofriendly soy candles, eye pillows, and organic cotton leashes for spirit animals.
Dance fitness is already fun, but for her own classes, Amy Ell at Vault Houston sets her sights a bit higher. Literally. Aerial dance classes can help students get in shape and try something they might not have even considered before, all while having a blast. In aerial fabric, beginners can get a feel for the swaths of cloth aerial dancers use to suspend themselves, and build their upper body and core strength as they practice climbs, locks, and tricks. In Air-Tone, Amy combines Pilates, yoga, and aerial hammock exercises for a conditioning workout like no other, while in trapeze classes students learn to fly with the greatest of ease. And in aerial hoop, students learn to navigate a suspended metal hoop while building upper-body strength and preparing for next season's gigantic-earring trend. In every class, teachers spot and offer modifications to students while stressing strength-training and flexibility to ensure each maneuver is as safe as possible.
At Pilates South Texas, a trained and certified team works with small groups of students to improve their core strength, flexibility, and overall wellness. The studio practices an invigorating, no-impact method of pilates, which is designed to restore the natural curves of the spine while lengthening and building muscles to support the world-weary skeletons of yogis of all skill levels, including prenatal and post-rehabilitation athletes. In addition to developing lean and fluid musculature, mat classes will work to improve students' circulation, breathing patterns, and flexibility, allowing them to break into banks late at night to feed the endangered animals living in their safe-deposit boxes.
Sunlight streams into Rising Hearts Yoga Studio through the floor-to-ceiling windows as Hanif Hekima leads a group of familiar faces through an 80-minute class. Hanif, equipped with almost 40 years of yoga experience, has created a peaceful studio in which dedicated yogis further their practice and leave their home-entertainment systems lonely during six-week sessions. Students may attend up to five classes per week, and each session is tailored to students of a similar experience level, creating communities of yogis as they flow through the classes as a group. The studio’s six-week sessions are also punctuated with retreats and workshops that whisk students away to idyllic rolling hillsides and meadows full of bluebonnets for intensive meditation and deepening of yoga forms.
What inspired you to open a group fitness studio?
As instructor who worked in a gym for several years, I encountered many people who maintained their membership strictly to attend one or two group classes. Thus, they were paying for equipment and programs that they did not utilize. Consequently, I saw a need for a studio that would offer people such as that—as well as the many that do not like the large gym setting—a place to take great fitness classes at a much lesser cost and more intimate environment.
Have you seen any of your students or gym members undergo an inspiring transformation? If so, tell us about it.
From a physical standpoint I have definitely seen weight decrease and strength increase in many clients. But a notable transformation I have witnessed is actually a more mental one. A specific client shared that attending GroupFit classes has "brought a new light into her life." She shared that she feels more confident and is more willing to socialize in groups. And weight was not the issue at all. In fact, she was possibly underweight when starting classes. But, as her physical strength grew, so did her self-confidence. Her husband also attends classes and she has noted that being able to go to classes together has brought new light to the family as a whole. Thus, the "family" feeling of GroupFit is also a positive element of the studio.
Certifications: ACE Personal Trainer, Zumba (Toning, Gold, and Zumbatomic), R.I.P.P.E.D., Piloxing, Pilates (Reformer and mat), PIYO, TRX Suspension Training
Favorite Workout: Currently, Piloxing
Favorite Athletic Shoe: Asics
Philosophy: In order to change your body, you have to change your workout.