I've come to hate the "Holidays." I don't like shopping, baking, or cooking. My desire to socialize drops with the temperature. My job gets more stressful, my kids get more demanding, and I see a definite increase in stupid behavior (my own).
This year, under pressure to spruce up for a black-tie event, I covered my increasing gray hairs with drugstore color that promised "golden brown highlights" but delivered "Rudolph's Nose Red." Bah, humbug! Give me a hot toddy and a long winter's nap. Wake me when it's tax time.
Seriously, we don't have to continue the craziness post-holidays. We can get in touch with our inner self; the one that knows winter will soon pass and bring ... still more seasons of over-commercialized holidays. So we'd better wise up and learn to deal with them in a healthy manner.
Oak Park is full of healthy ways for staying centered in the New Year. Here's a selection of just a few options that can benefit our inner (and outer) selves.
An exercise in community
Jackie Carson-Baldwin looked within herself several years ago, and decided she needed to change career paths. Trained as an electrical engineer, she wanted to do something more personally fulfilling.
"Part of my purpose is to motivate women to take care of themselves," says Carson-Baldwin, now a certified personal trainer. Her business, Temple Fitness, 908 S. Oak Park Ave., is both a gym and a gathering place for women to find support while working toward their fitness goals.
"My ultimate goal is to make sure women feel very comfortable when they come in. At large facilities they sometimes get lost. First and foremost, I want them to feel welcome. We're women who have had life experiences, and we can share that," she explains.
Most of her customers are in the 40- to 60-year-old range, although she told me she has a 70-year-old who comes regularly. Carson-Baldwin has worked with senior citizens at the Oak Park Arms, and at a drop-in center in Chicago. The oldest person to try the machines at Temple Fitness was 92.
Located in storefront space (in close proximity to the siren songs of the Oak Park Bakery and the Hole in the Wall ice cream store), the gym is roomy but has an intimate feel. When I visited on a December morning around 5:30 a.m., several women were already talking, joking, and catching up with each other as they exercised. Carson-Baldwin's office occupies the front of the gym, where she can meet and greet everyone who walks in.
Temple Fitness uses a fitness circuit format that takes about 30 minutes to complete. Participants alternate from adjustable weight-training machinery to cardiovascular movement on the floor. Members who want to do only cardiovascular work can use the treadmill, elliptical, or bicycle machines located outside the circuit. An instructor supervises the activities.
Hand weights, fitness balls, and other exercise tools are readily accessible. Carson-Baldwin has also added classes targeting abdominal strength, balance, kick-boxing, and healthy lifestyle activities. Early in December, Temple Fitness hosted a lecture by a dietician entitled, "The Scoop on Your Holiday Spread."
"People allow stresses to let them lose focus on themselves," explains Carson-Baldwin. "We try to motivate them through December." Members receive courtesy calls if they haven't been coming in, as part of the relationship Carson-Baldwin builds with her customers.
It's easy to try out Temple Fitness, which has a 14-day free trial membership. "If this isn't what you want, at least you've experienced it," says Carson-Baldwin, who describes the monthly membership fee as equivalent to a daily cup of take-out coffee. Members have unlimited use of all machines, and any classes. Women who don't want to join can still participate in the gym by paying a drop-in fee.
For more information, drop in, call 386-6056, or visit www.templefitness.com.
New age classes for all ages
Have you noticed an increase in the "Mind & Body" pages of the Park District of Oak Park brochure? From basic yoga to Qi Gong to Chakra Mandalas, our Big Book of Recreation is getting even bigger with alternative fitness offerings for adults, teens and children.
"We've been offering yoga and Tai Chi for many years. It's really grown in the past couple years, partly due to demand, and partly due to the instructors. It's their passion," says Liz Visteen, director of exercise and fitness.
An employee of the park district for four years, Visteen holds a degree in physical therapy. Her background helps her appreciate the preventative benefit of classes like "Awareness Through Movement/Feldenkrais Method," which teaches students how to release tension in the body, and improve flexibility.
Visteen has tried most of the classes, and told me that while Pilates is a good workout, one of her favorite activities is yoga, especially the end of the class, when participants lie down and just relax.
"That's how I de-stress," says Visteen.
The park district roster of yoga classes rivals Forrest Gump's litany of shrimp dishes. There's absolute beginner's yoga, continuing yoga, intermediate yoga, power flow yoga, pre-natal and post-partum yoga, yoga for kids (ages 8 -12); yoga for teens, start your day right yogaâ€"and more.
One fairly recent change that has helped expand the mind/body program is the space created for mind/body work at the renovated Dole Library, 255 Augusta St. Dole is the site for almost all the mind/body classes.
The floor of the mind/body room is covered with a special mat, giving it a cushy effect. More than 10 instructors teach the range of mind/body classes, some of which include meditation.
The detailed descriptions in the park district brochure are themselves enlightening. I learned that Chakra Mandalas involves guided exploration of internal energy centers (chakras) in the body, using a mandala (a drawing inside a circle). Qi Gong is a low impact activity that links breathing, movement and intention to manage internal energy. Tai Chi is a martial/healing art that uses 24 various postures, which flow together.
Classes start up the second full week of January, so there's still time to sign up. Consult your brochure, call 383-0002; or visit www.oakparkparks.com.
The peaceful power of Aikido
"Aikido is a peaceful resolution of conflict," says Dianne Costanzo, a fourth degree Aikido black belt who founded One Point Center, located at 811 S. Lombard Ave., just south of the Buzz CafĂ©. One Point refers to the Aikido principle of mind and body coming together in a person's "center."
Aikido is a martial art that teaches students to use and redirect the energy of an attack to defend themselves, with the goal of neutralizing the attacker's negative energyâ€"not hurting them back.
Aikido actually has its roots in the Samurai tradition. Advanced students use wooden swords, and along with the typical loose pajama-type pants and wrap-around jacket seen in other martial arts, Aikido attire includes flowing culottes, called "Hakama," which obscure the legs so your opponent can't see where you're moving.
"It's good for everybody, but particularly women. You don't have to be big and strong," Costanzo says.
The peaceful power of Aikido was on display during the teen's class on the evening I visited Costanzo's studio. The instructor, a big strong man, was working with an adult male student and a young teenage girl. After warm-ups, the students began practicing various "strikes" and "holds," alternating the role of attacker and defender. The girl was participating fully, despite the difference in size and weight between her and the men.
The give and take of blocking and redirecting a physical attack provides a workout in strength, balance, and mindfulness. How one stands, where one grips an opponent, the leverage of a move are practiced step by step, then in sequence. Part of the Aikido routine is to slap the mat vigorously when you fall, roll, or are pinned down, as a way to release tension and signal to your sparring partner that the move is completed.
"Aikido is very spiritual because you're dealing with another person. Aikido is a cooperative art," says Costanzo. Experienced practitioners know how to calibrate their responses to partners of different sizes, abilities, and experience.
In Aikido, there are no competitions or trophies. Students' success means success for their teachers, and everyone wants the best for each other. Students can advance in belt level, through promotion testing.
Aikido at One Point Center is available Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Classes run from afternoon into the evening. Visitors are encouraged and welcome to observe any class. For more information, call 383-4711, or see firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wellness at the Y
Looking for a place to find some peace, quiet, and maybe a massage? Look no further than our local YMCA, which has adults-only Wellness Centers for men and women.
Y members can pay an additional monthly fee ($23 for individuals, $42 for a two-adult household) to use the Wellness Centers. For occasional use, there are daily passes for members ($7) and their guests ($12).
Once at the Center, you can use a private exercise area, whirlpool and sauna, private showers (women only), steam room (men only), experience a relaxing massage or sit with a cup of complimentary coffee and tea and just relax in a serene atmosphere.
I have to admit I was surprised when I heard that the Y could be an oasis of calm. As a non-member, my use of its services has mostly been as a guest on lively family nights held in the pool, or roller-skating on the basketball court. But there's more to the Y, and it's all described on the organization's website: www.opymca.org.
"The Wellness Center has been a long-term part of the Y," says Sharon Eckhoff, manager of the Women's Wellness Center. Eckhoff is also one of three massage therapists at the center. To schedule a massage, you need to call ahead (386-6056, ext. 531).
Massages last 30 minutes, and cost $28 for Wellness Center members; $33 for YMCA members; and $38 for non-members. However, non-members have full use of the Wellness Center during their massage visit.
Packages of five massages offer a savings; $120 ($24 each) for Wellness Center members; and $145 for Y members ($29 each).
The Wellness Centers have towel service, and other amenities. If you can't leave the kids at home, the Y offers babysitting for children ages 6 weeks to 7 years. Members can use up to two free hours of babysitting per day per family ($3 per child thereafter) and non-members pay $4 per hour per child. Babysitting is available during specified hours, and parents must stay in the YMCA building at all times. For more information, call 383-5200, ext. 521.