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.
After only one year of serving as a destination for alternative fitness options, Houston Press named Ekam Yoga Center the Best Yoga Studio in its "2010 Best of Houston" issue. The health-conscious, eco-friendly, ghost-free studio lets prospective students sign up for a bevy of mind-body courses, including the calorie-burning Latin rhythms of zumba, the mind-clearing, tension-melting of meditation, and the muscle-bendiness of a yoga class such as hot yoga, gentle yoga or prenatal yoga. If you are a new student, you get a free Intro to Yoga course, offered weekly on Wednesday nights, to help you acclimate to poses and ready your mind for an episode of Criminal Minds. Almost 20 courses are offered weekly and classes begin as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 7:30 p.m.
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.
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.
Instructor Cindy Weller—who holds master-level certifications from Pilates Method Alliance and Pilates Academy International—and her team of nationally certified instructors draw on more than 500 hours of training as they lead private and semi-private Pilates classes. Limited class sizes reduce the chance of getting several students who share the name "Agapithe" and let instructors focus on customizing each workout. When teachers aren't leading sports-performance, rehabilitation, or men's classes, they whip physiques into shape with the Redcord suspension system, mat Pilates, reformer Pilates, tower Pilates, yoga, and ballet classes.
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.