People have varying attitudes towards food. Some people cherish it as a major source of pleasure. Some struggle with eating too much of it, and others are simply obsessed with it. I myself am the type of person who’s relatively uninterested in food. I don’t cook, I eat mostly take-out, and I don’t know much about recipes, restaurants and what makes a meal memorable. For this reason I’ve always found the world of “foodies” somewhat intriguing and mysterious. I learned a little bit from “Julia and Me” (with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep) which taught me that Julia and Julie loved butter and spent a lot of time in the kitchen.
The last thing I would have imagined is that a lot of foodies are as addicted to exercise as they are to food. Recently a Bar Method student named Beth Griffin, who happens to be a foodie, set me straight. Beth is a “food blogger” (another phenomenon heretofore unknown to me) with gorgeous photographs and great recipes at http://www.sweetlifekitchen.com/
. We met at a
teacher training session in L.A. where Beth was training to be a Bar Method instructor. Foodies, she told me, tend to love exercise, and they blog and tweet about it all the time. When I looked her up on twitter at http://twitter.com/oursweetlife
I saw that she had tweeted to a friend: "I've made it MANDATORY MONDAYS at #BarMethod, it makes my week so much better & I can burn off wht I ate thru the weekend!"
Another Bar Method studen Diana Hossfeld has a popular food blog
“I eat, I run, I write, I read I Bar Method, and then I do it all over again. (especially the eating part)…"
“A new way to look at dessert: how many Bar Method classes is it worth?"
”Abs still sore from Bar Method class on Wednesday night – nice change from usual source of stomach pain (eating too much)”
Then it hit me: Food. Exercise. Of course they go together! Where have I been? Foodies need exercise to burn off what they eat. Plus, foodies love physical sensations (butter on the taste buds for example) and exercise, plus its aftereffects, happen to be physical sensations.
To find out if my new theory was right, I asked another foodie who is also a Bar Method-ite to tell me how she feels about exercise. Her answer told me that I my assumptions are right on.
“The more sugar I eat the more time I spend at the Bar Method!” Jamie Cantor told me. Jamie is the owner of Platine Cookies at http://www.platinecookies.com/
- an amazing, highly reviewed bakery with sweets and savories based in Culver City. She also has been a Bar Method teacher for six and a half years. She confirmed the pleasure-seeking link between eating and exercise: “Chocolate contains some chemicals that interact with the brain to make you feel good. In a similar vein, good exercise sends endorphins that can boost your mood as well. So I really see a connection between being a foodie and a Bar Method junkie!”
Diana of “Diana Takes a Bite” came clean about the addictive appeal of combining working out with eating: “The hunger factor plays a role in the link between physical activity and ‘foodie-ism’,” she said. “Exercise – especially intense exercise – makes us hungry. And food always tastes better on an empty stomach.” Like Jamie, she is also up front about the “calories in/calories out” factor. “I turn to exercise as an antidote for my less virtuous eating behavior,” she admitted.
Foodies, I’ve decided, are some of the most enlightened people around because they’re experts at appreciating the simple pleasures of life. “I've been known to buy one pound boxes of See's chocolates -- for myself,” Diana freely admitted to me. “Sometimes I even have the counter girls wrap them up like I'm giving them to someone else.” Who but a foodie could conceive of such a wonderful act of pleasure-seeking whimsy? Cheers!
I love music, like a lot of people. When I’m working out, rhythm and melody inspire me to move gracefully and to feel strong inside and out. One reason I love the Bar Method is that it is an exercise form that resembles music itself. Like music it has an orderly structure, an intense focus on form, and it has drama.
Last month I was delighted to get an email from a professional musician who gave me her expert view of these similarities. Margaret Wacyk is an award-winning concert pianist, composer and writer who has performed at New York City’s Carnegie Hall and other cities in the US and Europe. She is the founder of a music school, lead artist in numerous classical CDs, and is working on a book on playing the piano. Even with her busy career she finds the time to take four-to-five Bar Method classes a week at the Bernardsville studio in New Jersey.
“I see so many parallels,” Margaret wrote me, “between the methodology of the Bar Method and that of music: Focus, small range of movement, and intensity on each and every repetition, which in music translates to being intentional and shaping each note you play.”
Like Margaret, I think that the Bar Method is unusual in the realm of exercise techniques in its musicality. Bar Method exercises use simple rhythmic units -- “on-tempo,” “pulses,” “in threes,” “two-counts,” and others – just as songs and concertos do. These simple tempos when combined into phrases create an infinite number of patterns. Our human brains love to follow such patterns, whether we find them in a song or – for us Bar Method lovers – within the design of an exercise sequence.
The Bar Method also shares with music its devotion to form. Music sculpts melodies, while the Bar Method shapes bodies. “Meter organizes musical time on the small scale, while phrasing organizes musical time on the large scale,” writes Robert Jourdain in his book, Music the Brain and Ecstasy. The Bar Method is similarly built of “sets” (exercises) that require focused precision and that, like musical phrases, end with a final dramatic release. According to Jourdain, listening to melodies makes our brain more alert. Bar Method's precise, structured choreography has the same awareness-enhancing effect on its students’ minds.
Finally, music and the Bar Method share the ability to make life feel beautiful and ecstatic. (See last week’s blog DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: THE INNER WORKOUT
for more on the intensity students experience under their seemingly calm exteriors.) In this realm where exercise and music meet, Bar Method classes can create a cathartic experience for its participants.
”The Bar Method has not only changed me physically,” Margaret told me in her email, “but it has really proved once again, that all great principles connect and stretch interdisciplinary lines. Thank you.”
Here’s a question I get asked sometimes: How can such a simple-looking workout stay fresh, and even get better over time? Take a Bar Method class, and unless you’re a first-time student, you know that you’ll be doing about ten types of exercise in a set sequence, that this sequence will stay pretty the same and that you’ll be performing small, precise movements during most of the class. This quasi-mathematical approach to exercise would not on the surface seem exciting enough to keep people coming back for months and years. But for most Bar Method students, that’s exactly what it does. The longer they do the workout the more interesting it gets relative to other forms of exercise. “I’ve had a real problem sticking to most exercise programs,” a Chicago student named Christina told me. “but I really enjoy this.” Other students like Kate Forte, a TV writer/producer, tell me simply, “the more I do it, the more I fall in love.”
What’s going on in a Bar Method class that has this effect on people? Last week a Bar Method Chicago instructor named Mandy Rinder took it upon herself to find out. Mandy had just begun teaching the Bar Method and felt she was having trouble connecting to her students. To gain insight on how her students were feeling during each exercise, she decided to chronicle her own emotional journey through class.
What Mandy wrote sheds light on the inner thrill ride most Bar Method students are really on underneath the often calm surface appearing on their faces. Mandy’s inner world while doing the class is a rugged landscape inhabited at different moments by self-doubt, challenge, ego, individual artistry followed by flashes of camaraderie. It is scrappy, mysterious, layered, and at times funny. Here’s a selection of her “dispatches from the edge:”
Push-ups: “I still feel a moment of doubt or worry at the beginning of each set that THIS is going to be the time I’m going to have to drop back down or stop entirely. I want to feel a huge rush of exhaustion and pride at the end...”
Thigh-work: “I think everyone knows and views 'thigh' as sort of a ‘test’…the image of egos dripping off the walls of the studio seems applicable. I again feel that tiny moment of self doubt at the beginning of the set, and often it flashes again during particularly challenging sets, as I wonder if I am going to have to come out of the position or work higher…This is immediately followed by that rush of adrenaline and excitement that stiffens my resolve to keep going.”
Seat-work: “I literally feel like a sculptor creating my body. It is a very individual part of class for me. Everyone is working on their own individual piece of art, and there is less of the camaderie that I feel during thigh or say flat-back.”
Fold-over: “I think of fold-over as kind of the redheaded stepchild of seatwork. I used to hate fold-over, probably because it feels more ‘blunt’ and less subtle and beautiful than the other seat exercises. Over time I have developed a grudging truce with fold-over, pretty much because at some point I realized that it really worked. It’s kind of a scrappy little exercise, and because it works my booty AND burns all that extra fat, I will accept it as a means to an end.”
Curl: “The exercise feels very layered to me, like you are unlocking different levels of the exercise. Curl almost feels like a dive to me. You just keep going deeper and deeper into the exercise.”
Back-dancing: "Back-dancing for me is honestly like a little party at the end of class. It’s fun and kind of funny and the music is fun PLUS it is the end of class. I want my clients to have a blast during back-dancing and get a jump start on that ‘post workout’ glowy feeling.”
Your terrain might look different from Mandy’s as you make your way through class. Even so, if you’re a regular student, you probably travel an inner landscape that’s just as colorful as hers, and that gets more interesting with each class you take.
Exercise is good for our mood. This we know this from experience and hearsay, and scientists agree. Exercising, they found, reduces depression and anxiety by releasing mood-lifting hormones such as serotonin and endorphins, and that’s not all it does to make us feel better. Exercise relaxes tensed up muscles, increases our body temperature (which according to experts reduces stress), takes our minds off problems we may be obsessing about, and gives us a sense of accomplishment.
It follows that different kinds of exercise work on us in different ways according to which physiological after-effects they’re best as producing. Running is famous for generating endorphins, yoga for relieving stress, lifting weights for making us feel better about ourselves, and simply going for a walk for brightening up our day.
Does the Bar Method produce its own special mood enhancers? According to hundreds of students who have told me their personal stories, the answer is overwhelmingly yes. Here is one story from a San Francisco student named Tracy: “I’m turning 50 in September, but taking the Bar Method makes me feel much better about my newly approaching decade --- physically, psychologically, and sensually,” she wrote me. “As a psychologist spending my days seeing patients and doing therapy, it’s been a most appreciated therapy for me.”
Another student named Cheryl had a similar outcome: “This is the first time in my life (and I am 43 years old) that I have felt this good about myself. I am short (5'3"), but Bar Method has made me feel taller, more lean and sculpted and even my posture is better. I have a positive self image now and feel great. “ A Los Angeles student in her 20s wrote in that “these classes are like magic!! They've helped keep me sane, limber, and mentally and physically happy too!”
My own experience as a new student of the Lotte Berk Method in the early 80s was dramatic. I was in my 30s and very shy. I also did not like the shape of my body. Yoga and jazzercise had not changed my body as much as I’d hoped, so I started Lotte Berk with only body sculpting in mind. I could not have predicted the enormous change in my state of mind I ended up with. After a few months of classes, a new, more confident and outgoing person began to emerge from my old persona. I got a better job, began to date, and eventually got married. Today after decades of classes, I credit The Lotte Berk Method, and the Bar Method after it, for transforming my self-esteem and spirits.
There are several components within The Lotte Berk and Bar Method workouts that appear to have a unique power to lift our spirits. First, for women at least, the Methods’ exercises fix physical problem areas that can cause private grief. Hips, inner thighs, seat muscles, posture: I know these female body issues get dealt with big-time in a Method workout making women feel and look and feel prettier and stronger.
Second, the interval training format used by the Bar Method generates a level of intensity even greater than you get with running or boot camp classes. (Read more about the benefits of Interval Training
.) The feat of taking on such a challenge gives students a shot of empowerment along with a dose of endorphins generated by the intense exercise. When students walk out of the studio after finishing a class, they take with them both a new outlook and a measure of uplifting triumph. Add that to the serious stretching exercises performed throughout class, and it is clear how much stress reduction the classes offer.
I wasn’t surprised to learn recently that several rehab centers send their recovering patients to the Bar Method and Bar Method is a favorite among many AA communities. “Maybe it’s really sweating out toxins or more of a mental thing,” a young LA student speculated. “Whatever it is, it feels REALLY good.”