After one look at the pristine pools packed with toys, and it?s no surprise why La Petite Baleen?s four San Francisco?area swim facilities are so popular with kids. What may be surprising, however, is that the flourishing network of schools started humbly in the backyard pool of John Kolbisen and Irene Madrid.
In 1979, the public school teachers were brainstorming ways to integrate their passion for educating kids with their love of the water. Starting with their own three children, some neighborhood kids, and their logo?Waverly the Whale, John and Irene began teaching swim lessons with a rather progressive philosophy: They approached swimming not just as an extracurricular activity, but as a means to boost self-confidence, build friendships, and learn to overcome fears.
More than 30 years later, La Petite Baleen has become a renowned family of schools, partnered with the U.S. Swim School Association and the Swim for Life Foundation. Part of the success has to do with how children are grouped. In weekly sessions, pods of tots of similar age, skill level, and personality evolve at a similar pace?earning individual achievement ribbons as they do. Kids make friends in the group, and the recurring scheduling means that they can stay enrolled with their new buddies indefinitely or until they grow their own dorsal fins. Each location?s indoor pools are kept at an inviting 90 degrees, in an attempt to make even the most timid student to feel comfortable in the water. Perhaps most importantly, the teachers participate in ongoing training designed to encourage empathetic, yet firm teaching methods.
Juicy Liberty Sanchez and Steve23 traveled separate, yet intertwining paths before becoming partners in life and in yoga. Juicy was hooked on Bikram yoga after her first class in 2001, during which she fell down many times, but continued to rise to the challenge, both literally and figuratively. As time went on, she grew more interested in yoga than in her erstwhile law career. In 2005, Juicy asked Steve23?making ends meet as an artist?if he wanted to attend a Bikram teacher training with her. It was then they discovered that they had almost met on several occasions in years past. The rest, as they say, is history: the duo became the owners of Bikram Yoga in the Mission in 2006 and was married the following year in Honolulu at another Bikram teacher training. The bright turquoise and orange studio is a vibrant, funky homage to their Latino heritage and Indian culture, complete with murals and artwork painted by the teachers and students.
They and their team of certified Spanish-speaking instructors help perpetuate a yoga method developed by Bikram Choudhury. The sequence of 26 postures, performed in a heated studio, works to stimulate and strengthen every nook and cranny of the human frame. The hot surroundings are designed to loosen muscles, promote flexibility, and add authenticity to karaoke versions of "Hot Blooded." Within the 1,500-square-foot yoga room, up to 70 students become more limber beneath an electric-blue ceiling painted with white swirls that resemble clouds.
When the climbers of Planet Granite say that community anchors everything they do, they have a history of outreach to back it up. After Castle Rock State Park appeared on California?s closure list, Planet Granite?s team quickly organized a fundraiser to save the sanctuary. They pledged $10,000 in matching funds, threw an auction, scheduled guest speakers, and obtained support from companies such as REI. In one night, they raised $20,725.
This kind of response has typified Planet Granite?s team since opening its first facility in 1994. One of the first climbing gyms in the country, Planet Granite has expanded to three gyms in Belmont, San Francisco, and Sunnyvale. The diverse array of climbing resources at each location led Popsugar to name the gym conglomerate one of the top five in San Francisco in 2011. At the Sunnyvale location, members scale 25,000 square feet of climbable surfaces that ascend from low bouldering terrains to 60-foot walls.
In keeping with their commitment to community, the staff tailors instruction and climbing routes to every ability level and affinity for hand sweatiness. They also supervise each gyms? fully equipped fitness centers, ranging from CrossFit to yoga, which provides a peaceful counterbalance to the full-body workout of rock climbing.
AstaYoga's instructors have learned over the years that a purely physical approach to yoga can lead to disillusionment with the art. That's why their studio devotes itself to cultivating both the physical and spiritual well-being of its clientele. Each of the teachers studied under Larry Schultz, the creator of the Rocket Vinyasa System, which fuses detailed breathing exercises with meaningful poses. The yogis also practice pure Vinyasa yoga and lead Pilates classes, and all of their sessions are accessible for practitioners at any skill level to follow Larry's vision of dissolving the hierarchy between beginning, intermediate, and advanced students and teachers. The studio also manufactures new yogis and gurus with their teaching courses, some of which take up to 200 hours and all of which require the student to defeat their teacher in a yoga dance-off.
The serenity of AstaYoga's classes is heightened by AstaYoga's tranquil studio. The storefront space is expansive with a comfortable waiting room, hardwood floors, and a large workout space in the back. And to further the mental well-being of their clients, the staff cultivates a friendly, community vibe by encouraging clients to socialize before or after class in their lounge or bamboo garden.
The Polk Street Gym is a boxing gym. It telegraphs its pugilistic philosophy to fitness by center-staging a large, full-size boxing ring just inside the sidewalk storefront windows that stretch from matted floor to lofted ceiling. Both aspiring sparers and everyday Joes, who only have thrown punches at dollar stealing vending machines, train like boxers. Members jump rope, run hills, hit bags, and shadowbox. These drills and exercises firm not just boxing skills, but also general cardio and strength capacity. With 29 classes to choose from, men and women, kids and adults find a fighter's heart in circuit training or boxing classes.
Dublin-bred, former Golden Gloves champion Simon Redmond leads a roster of trainers who are all current or past Golden Gloves champs, whose knuckles turn food, jaws, parking meters, and all they touch to gold. After immigrating to San Francisco in the mid-90s, Simon trained and fought for several years before opening a gym with a partner. At the start of 2010, Simon broke off on his own to open Polk Street Gym. He strives to whip people into shape through boxing, affirming his mission and his passion by writing that despite broken ribs, a broken nose, burst eardrums, and spilt blood, he has loved every minute of his boxing lifestyle.
Not everyone could draw parallels between the mysteries of the human body and the ornately patterned ceiling of a hotel in Tunisia. But chiropractor Kirsten Hill sees the resemblance; for her, the sacred geometry of the nervous system and the designs found in art and architecture are not so different—they both reflect an innate balance and carefully constructed harmony. Dr. Hill's unique perspective is reflected both in her work, which revolves around restoring balance and harmony, and in her office space at Dance With Life Chiropractic. In the Healing Rooms—a wood-floored area with natural light, colorful artwork, and soothing music—Dr. Hill and her team of skilled massage therapists promote healing with adjustments and a variety of massage modalities. Students attending health workshops and dance or meditation classes walk through a round-topped door that resembles both the entryway to a Moroccan palace and the imprint left by a helmet-wearing Kool-Aid Man.
Dr. Hill extends her passion for healing by serving the Bay Area community; she volunteers her adjusting services and health expertise at various events in San Francisco and is a regular wellness speaker at Business Networking International.