By Hannah Sheinberg
I’m a Florida transplant who prefers pointe shoes to Pumas. I enjoy waking up around lunchtime. November Project, founded by two former members of the Northeastern crew team, is a grass-roots phenomenon whereby participants get up in the middle of the night (OK, 6:30 am), indifferent to the New England weather conditions, and try to conquer a workout. On Wednesdays, this means the concrete steps of Harvard Stadium in Allston. Obviously, we don’t seem like a perfect match.
Nonetheless, my morning begins with me shivering under the stadium entrance in a cotton pajama top, since I don’t own any long-sleeve workout shirts. The pros start to race up the steps, while the newbies stand in a dark corner exchanging free hugs as instructed. I suspect this may turn out to be my favorite part, mostly for the body warmth.
After the lovefest ends, I stand at the bottom of the stadium’s asthma-inducing steps. Regulars usually climb up and down the entire 37-section stadium, while beginners are expected to finish 19 sections. Basically, we’re jogging up mini mountains to jump-start our morning. I go in thinking I’m prepared, since my apartment is a third-floor walk-up. So on my first section, I sprint up past the marathoners and Runner’s World cover models, feeling like I just won American Gladiators.
By the third section, I feel the need to keep repeating aloud that I’m going to puke. I even attempt to lie down on the cold cement, hoping that none of the 400 other attendees notice—but the fact that I’m accompanied by a photographer, who’s now doubling as my motivational coach, doesn’t exactly help me blend in. I only make it through a whopping nine sections in one hour, learning that you’re supposed to pace yourself. But as a bonus point, I never actually end up vomiting, though my legs are such mush that I may resort to racing old ladies for a seat on the T.
Unfortunately for me, November Project likes to go online to publicly shame members who miss sessions. They’ve already tweeted at me to come again, so I may have to go into hiding, or finally purchase proper winter workout attire.
November Project meets on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at various locations. Visit november-project.com to learn more.
By Matt Martinelli
Fifteen women and I are in a mirrored studio with music set to blare for 60 minutes of action. The first move is to the left, but I’m out of step almost immediately. We’re moving in an eight-count. You would think that would make me right once every eight times. You’d be wrong. My comfort zone ends at any exercise that doesn’t include sitting on a stationary bike beside people reading the newspaper. Piloxing, taught by Ali Baldassare at Beacon Hill Athletic Club in the North End, is far outside that zone, with its combination of pilates, boxing, dancing and rhythm. Rocky marathons notwithstanding, none of those elements are familiar—especially not the rhythm part.
After three minutes, we start jumping jacks. I’m out of rhythm, but I complete the moves. We shift to pushups, also doable. I still have a chance to salvage this, but my optimism vanishes when we strike ballet poses. Ali yells out: “Both arms in the air, right leg up and bent toward your left knee.” Then it’s Superman poses with arms straight ahead. I’m like Jimmy Olsen, surrounded by Wonder Women. Every time Ali shouts, “Hold that pose,” my leg touches the ground, reflexively doing the opposite. But by the eighth time, I do actually hold it.
Next, we’re boxing: Punch to the right, to the left—only I go right when everyone goes left. I almost connect a direct hit with Ali. Two punches later, she nearly hits me in the face. I dig deep for every Rocky move I remember, tuning out the whirl of the workout. I imagine the ringside announcer: “And now, the heavyweight champion of the wooooooooorld!” Ten seconds later, I’m out of rhythm and three inches from connecting a punch. We’re only 15 minutes into class.
More ballet poses, boxing, stretching and falling out of rhythm follow. For the final 20 minutes, we’re on mats, which is slightly easier. The end is in sight, but the final five minutes require crunches…while doing scissor kicks…while rotating left and right. My feet flail wildly. I look around to see 15 women, at ease with this challenging workout, and I can almost hear the Rocky announcer: “And now, the worst piloxer in the history of the wooooooooorld!”
Piloxing class is offered at Beacon Hill Athletic Club. 85 Atlantic Ave., Boston | 617-742-0055 | beaconhillathleticclubs.com
By Jacqueline Houton
As an erstwhile psych major and daughter of a psychiatrist, I’m way more at home with talk of neurotransmitters than of chakras. So it’s with slight trepidation that I lug my long-neglected mat to Kundalini Yoga Boston in Inman Square. My yoga exposure amounts to little more than a college course taken for my Phys. Ed. requirement, conducted in a mustily carpeted annex with more focus on the physical than the metaphysical. But the latter gets plenty of play at this studio, home to classes like “The Art of Self Elevation” and “Kundalini Yoga for Love and Prosperity.” Known as the “yoga of awareness,” Kundalini yoga pairs kriyas (sequences of poses) with breath work to awaken latent energy, often depicted as a serpent coiled at the base of the spine. This is far crunchier fare than I’m used to, but perhaps it’ll soothe the weird neck ache I woke up with this morning.
Arriving for the 90-minute class “Power Kundalini Yoga and Gong,” I receive a warm welcome from owners Siri Bani Kaur and Siri Ram Kaur Khalsa, both outfitted in flowing white raiment, turbans and dangling earrings that catch the sunlight sifting through the cozy studio’s outsized windows. The garb is meant to attract radiant energy, a similarly attired attendee says, which might flummox me more if they didn’t, in fact, look so darn radiant.
Siri Bani Kaur—also known as Cindy Ludlam, an artist and art educator as well as a certified Kundalini instructor—starts class with spine-stretching warm-ups and a mantra: “Ong namo guru dev namo,” meaning “I call upon divine wisdom.” As a bonus mantra, I go with “Embrace the ridiculous,” advice from a smiling classmate that comes in handy during Breath of Fire, a nasal-breathing technique that on me sounds like Breath of Hyperventilating Warthog.
Kriyas go surprisingly quickly (except for one deceptively simple pose that leaves my outstretched arms feeling like lead). Then comes meditation with that eponymous gong. As a tightly wound Type A, I’ve never been good at quieting my mind, but focusing on the sound—booming one moment and shimmering delicately the next, more like a symphony than a single instrument—helps me shush it a bit. By the time we sing the closing blessing (or mouth along in my case), that neck pain that’d made turning my head nearly impossible this morning has dissolved. Not enough to make me a believer quite yet, but I can see why Gisele’s a fan. And who knows? I might even sing along next time.
Kundalini yoga is offered at Kundalini Yoga Boston. 186 Hampshire St., Cambridge | 617-868-0055 | kundaliniyogaboston.com
By Andrew Rimas
Although, honestly, it is. When I walked into the Bar Method’s clean, bright reception area above Clarendon Street, a dozen women looked at me with approving, slightly inquisitive smiles. I changed in what seemed like an underutilized men’s locker room before staking out a corner of a ballet studio softened with plush, spongy carpeting. I was the only man in a class of about 20 students, led by co-owner That’s why my customary workouts involve abusing my triceps with metal weights and running until my lungs feel like they’ve been put through a cheese grater. It never occurred to me that squeezing a smallish volleyball between my thighs could bring to mind one of the stations of the cross, but the Bar Method upset a lot of my expectations. The first of which was that this is a workout for girls.On the subject of exercise, I’m an anti-Benthamite: Only through the most excruciating pain can we achieve the greatest good.
McKenzie Howarth, who cuts the ideal figure of a sculpted motivational leader. A leader who will make your calf muscles shake like they’ve come off a weeklong bender in Vegas.
“We work muscles to the point of fatigue and target one muscle group at a time, then
move on to the next group,” McKenzie explains. “The result is that each muscle group is exhausted.”
Starting with a series of leg and arm lifts, we move to plank position before a bout of weight-hoisting. The guiding principles are repetition, correct posture and mercilessness. Within five minutes, I find myself straining my deltoids in a position reminiscent of a mime imitating a speed skater, but events take a truly savage turn when we stretch our legs on the barre. Turns out, my limbs are as flexible as basalt. When we strike second position—feet splayed, one hand aloft—and repeatedly raise ourselves on our toes, my legs start to revolt. This isn’t a sweaty, panting workout, but it’s the only time I’ve ever seen my quads behave as if they’ve received 50,000 volts.
At the end of the hour, my abdominals feel like they’ve been shorn off. Even my pecs—normally a subject of minor pride—hate me. As we’re putting away our mats, one of my classmates assures me that I’ll be feeling the aftershocks later that night. This may be a workout for girls, but it’s decidedly not for sissies.
Barre classes are offered at the Bar Method. 234 Clarendon St., Boston | 617-236-4455 | boston.barmethod.com
By Sarah Hagman
I’m not one to normally venture into the unknown. I research, I plan, I prepare accordingly. But Animal Flow is its own beast. A rare hybrid of Parkour, break dancing, gymnastics and a host of other activities (including circus feats), it’s not something I could grasp from the description alone. The class’s promo video features the program’s shirtless inventor skittering through a forest, which only leaves me further wondering what I’m getting into. It also prompts more than one person from my office to ask me where they’d hold a class that requires swinging branches and fallen trees.
That would be at the Dartmouth Street location of Equinox. With instructor Todd Skoglund leading the pack, Animal Flow is a new concept in the ever-evolving world of group exercise—although it might be said to be an evolutionary step backward, as it’s purportedly designed around the way our bodies are built, and how humans began walking on two legs six million years ago. Prepare to be low to the ground, on all fours and occasionally upside-down for a good portion of the 45 minutes.
I become very familiar with the ape pose, a killer low squat that burns the thigh muscles, yet is considered the “resting” position that students return to again and again. Between trying to remember what it feels like to have sensation in my legs and realizing I’m in desperate need of a pedicure—note that I had to take the class barefoot—I attempt to concentrate long enough to learn the individual poses. Beast, crab, scorpion. I literally am out on a limb here, alternating and then simultaneously raising arms or legs or both an inch off the ground. It’s hard to think of any other instance when it hurts so much to move so little. After incorporating conditioning workouts into each animal’s stance, I (try to) transition from pose to pose in a yoga-like fashion as Todd calls them out. The session is normally capped off by moving in a herd together, but we run out of time—though I suspect you’d need to watch out for errant legs from people, like myself, who temporarily forget the difference between their right and left when under physical duress.
I leave the session wondering just how athletic our fellow primates are. Scientists generally say they’re twice as strong as we are. That makes sense now. But at least I can use my opposable thumbs to schedule a pedicure.
Animal Flow class is offered at Equinox. 131 Dartmouth St., Boston | 617-578-8918 | equinox.com