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Client of the Month: Lena C.

Lena is ninety-four years young.  She is Aspire's oldest client and is a jaw-dropping inspiration to people a third of her age. Consistently cheery, energetic, and positive, her strength and balance have dramatically increased in the past year.  She's the matriarch of a beautiful family who has made Pilates a part of their lives.  We are honored to teach two of her grandchildren who love the challenge of physical training: Shannon, an energetic, talented 17 year old dancer and Curtis, a hard working, self described "sports fanatic".  We also love working with Loretta: Lena's strong, supportive, and compassionate daughter. This is three generations at Aspire, and we're having so much fun!


lenaLena began at Aspire a year ago with back, knee and shoulder pain.   She had been taking John Muir's balancing class for several years, so she was excited to "up" her level of fitness by adding Pilates to her lifestyle.  I quickly saw that Lena absolutely embraces life and never lets discomfort in her body slow her down. "There's no need to complain and sit around being a grouchy old lady,"  Says Lena. " It's better to get out and do things".  We started slowly and carefully, beginning by strengthening the muscles that would decrease her joint pain and help prevent falls.   After a few weeks, her pain level decreased as her strength, flexibility and balance increased.  She soon began exclaiming, "I tell you, I have no pain!"    


After six months at Aspire, Lena added exercising with a neighborhood personal trainer to her fitness regimen.  Now working out four days a week with Pilates, Balancing Class, Personal Training, and doing homework with resistance bands, she's made a fantastic improvement with her strength, balance and comfort in her body.   She feels strong and accomplished.



lena-2All my clients know that my ex-professional dancer self suffers greatly when teaching at 9:00am.   As I whimper and drag myself out of bed to my shrieking alarm, my misery quickly turns to a smile when I realize that it's a "Lena morning."  Simply put, this walking ball of joy is the best part of my week.  Her huge smile, firm hugs, and exuberance for life awe and inspire me.  


Lots of love, Lena.  To many more beautiful moments of hugs, smiles, and outrageously silly Conga line dances! 





Client of the Month: Joanne A.

Joanne exudes kindness and an exuberant joy. Like being around a bright light, she is genuinely one of the sweetest people that I have ever met.


I started working with Joanne seven years ago while volunteering at the Wellness Community (now called the Cancer Support Community) in Walnut Creek.  This incredible organization, which supports folks undergoing cancer treatment, attracts incredible people like Joanne. Having survived deadly ovarian cancer, she was giving assistance and providing inspiration to those needing her enthusiasm to give them hope.    


joanneMickyEars"When you deal with people who may be dying, you realize how important life is, even if you never realized it before.  I needed to make my life count."  


Realizing that she had more living to do, Joanne created a "bucket list".  As she began checking things off this list, she was led to Pilates.    As a new student at Aspire, we started working slowly and carefully to build her strength, flexibility and balance, as well as rebuilding some of the body mechanics that were causing her pain.  A few months into training, she had a revelation.  "The strength and confidence that you gain from Pilates changes your life.  I gained a lot of strength in my body, but I also found abilities that I never knew that I was capable of."


Although she was never very active before her illness, Joanne has now walked a three-day fundraiser and has walked/run eight half marathons to raise money for cancer organizations.  While participating in these races, Joanne notices that most of the women experience a lot of soreness and pain.  But Joanne travels with her Pilates props and her pain prevention exercises and marvels,  "I can't believe that nothing hurts!"   


Joanne serves as an inspiration for other runners during these difficult races, and often encourages exhausted participants younger than she.  "People tell me that they can't finish the race.   I tell them, 'That's not true. I'm old, I've had cancer and I'm doing this. Just keep going, you can do this.'"  Even at her advancing age, she sees no reason to stop walking/ running in these races that bring her joy and help raise funds for worthy causes.  


As Joanne's proud Pilates teacher, I sometimes catch myself giggling in admiration while watching her on the Reformer.  This 66 year old Pilatista has near perfect form, beautiful grace, and works out with heavier weights than I do.  Her new-found fluidity, strength and great body mechanics are a mind-boggling testament to the power of seven years of two weekly Pilates classes.


With Joanne's new lease on life, she also loves making children happy at her fun job at The Disney Store.  She passionately knits beautiful scarves and bakes heaps of delicious, sweet treats (of which I benefit from greatly, along with her close relationship to Disney's Princess Tiana).  From first-hand experience, people around Joanne feel supported, loved, and showered with sunshine. "Typewriter Hips", or not (an exercise that she'd gladly skip), Aspire lights up when she walks through the front door. She brings a kindness and warmth to every class. 


Congratulations, Joanne!  To many more half marathons (wearing Micky Mouse ears) while you race for the cure!


Concord's Small Business of the Year



awards blog post pic 1




On May 10th, Aspire Pilates Center was awarded Concord's Small Business of the Year by the Contra Costa Council.  Along with businesses from 13 other Contra Costa cities, Aspire was recognized as making a real difference in the community by mentoring others, leading by example, being innovative in the industry and giving back to the community.





I am so humbled to receive this award.I love helping our community get in shape and reduce back pain. And we absolutely love bringing the performing arts to Contra Costa County. I think it's incredible that we were honored for doing what we love. A huge thanks to the Concord Chamber of Commerce for this special award. Thank you to our incredible clients for being such a huge inspiration!


Tonya Amos & Donald Martin, Jr. at Business of the Year Award Ceremony

Remember when we were kids and we had to walk to school "uphill, both ways"?

smart exersise picRemember when we were kids and we had to walk to school "uphill, both ways"?  We played Hide and Go Seek, Freeze Tag, and climbed trees?  Those daily physical activities were brain builders and we didn't even know it.    Science is discovering that routine exercise makes our brains more powerful in general, and same day exercise sets us up for success that day.  That means that kids who workout before school have a huge jump start on learning.
Just as exercise builds stronger muscles, it also builds stronger brains.   It increases oxygen and nutrient-rich blood flow throughout the body (including the brain), which creates healthier tissues.   And it seems that through the production of brain bolstering proteins, exercise actually helps produce new brain cells and creates new neurological connections that translate to other activities.  


This means that an exercised body equals a brain primed for success.  Studies show that kids who workout right before school perform better cognitively, have significant improvement in both math and language skills, problem solve better, have a longer attention span, improved memory, and process information faster.  They are also better behaved and less fidgety in class, have more motivation and confidence, have less anxiety and stress, and are in a better mood; all of which impact classroom performance.  And because exercise is brain building, it allows adults to learn better while delaying the cognitive decline that accompanies aging.


So exercise routinely to build muscular strength and long term brain power.   Super charge your brain by exercising the morning that you need to ace that school quiz or nail that work presentation.   And make your kids walk to school "uphill, both ways" (or at least, jog around the back yard).  It sets them up for academic success.


Are you getting enough sleep?


Sleep blog pic 1Sleep experts tell us that most adults need about 8 hours nightly of sleep.  The body repairs itself while sleeping, and it's essential for a good mood, sound judgment, focus, and safety.  Getting enough sleep also means that our skin looks healthier, we have better energy, reaction time, agility and coordination.  We know that too little sleep can cause depression, memory problems, weakened immunity, weight gain, and an increase in the perception of pain. 

With our busy, overstimulated lives, it's all too common to shorten our hours of rest or toss and turn all night.  Try these tips to get the rest that your body and mind crave: 
  • Limit caffeine to early in the day.  A healthy, afternoon snack can give a needed burst of energy without the insomnia.
  • Exercise regularly.  This will improve your sleep and life in general.
  • Swap your lunch for dinner.  Eating a light meal at night helps your body prioritize for sleep vs. digesting a difficult meal.
  • Have a consistent bedtime routine.  A cup of chamomile tea, warm bath, or a good book go a long way to ease you to sleep.  
  • Purge your brain.  Keep a pen and paper next to your bed to "pour" the buzzing thoughts out of your head and onto paper.  Stashing these "open loops" for safekeeping will soon make way for the "zzz's".
  • Turn off the computer.  Computer usage before bedtime may keep you awake counting sheep.  A decrease in Melatonin (which is necessary for healthy sleep cycles) has been linked with the artificial light of our computer screensAdd a couple of these healthy sleep tricks for restful nights and happier days.  If you still don't feel rested after consistently getting a good night's sleep, check in with your doctor.  Sweet dreams!

Health is Wealth


WEALTH WEALTH BLOG PICThe holiday season is full of fun, delicious food, and hanging out with friends and family.  We may have the of best of intentions to exercise and watch our budget in December, but our goals quickly depart with the sparkly lights, chocolate, and champagne.  During all of the fabulous festivities, we often stop working out and create a mountain of gift wrapped debt.  After witnessing our bodies and finances spiraling out of control in December, January ushers in the post-holiday blues of needing to "fix" whatever is not right in our life.

Want a tactic to cut down on your holiday spending, while increasing your physical activity?  "Dollars For Workout Minutes" is a way to link your gift spending with how much you exercise.  Start by assigning a dollar amount with a minute of exercise.   For example,  "For each dollar that I spend on gifts, I will workout for one minute."  That means that a twenty dollar holiday gift needs twenty minutes of exercise, while a fifty dollar gift needs fifty minutes.  Track your purchases while shopping so that you know how much workout time you've earned.   If you're mall shopping, much of a purchase may have already been paid off in exercise, as you possibly walked for forty five minutes to find that perfect gift.  If you're internet shopping, you will be more cautious before hitting "purchase" and will escape your chair to get your heart rate up.

"Dollars For Workout Minutes" will help keep an eye on both your waistline and your pocketbook during times of frenzy.   You'll minimize impulse buys, choose your gifts wisely, and be encouraged to move your body.   And come January, it won't take months and months to get back on physical and financial track.


Linking your finances with your fitness will help you discover that your health truly is your wealth.  Happy Holidays!


Core Strength for Athletes


Core Training is all the rage because of its deep strengthening and back pain management.  The Pilates Method, developed over ninety years ago by professional German boxer, Joseph Pilates, sets the Gold Standard for Core Training.  When adding this secret weapon to increase whole body strength, flexibility, balance, and injury prevention, athletes see a profound shift in their sport. 


alison     athletesjosephp    anton


Joseph & Clara Pilates' work has been embraced by athletes of every sport, including Venus & Serena Williams, the New Jersey Nets, and closer to home, the UC Berkeley Golden Bears, who all use Pilates as an integral part of their training.  Specialized spring-resistant machines (Reformer, Trapeze Table, etc.) enable multidimensional, dynamic strengthening that targets the body's deep muscles that stabilize the joints. Pilates uses short reps, powerful eccentric (lengthening) muscle contractions, flexibility interwoven with strength and balance, and a focus on healthy body mechanics. Pilates uses an "inside out" approach to strengthening, which creates a new body awareness and an efficiency of movement that allows athletes to harness previously untapped power.


When training, an athlete's body should be challenged dynamically by utilizing many alignments. Athletic movements are not simple or two-dimensional.  This means that traditional bicep curls, pushups, and abdominal crunches don't translate well into the multidimensional power, agility and injury prevention needed for hitting, tackling or tumbling (which require rotation or torsion in many planes with force).  Add this to the speed increase that comes from accessing new power and flexibility, phenomenal Plyometric work, and correction of faulty body mechanics, and Pilates makes a perfect training regimen for athletes.


Road Trip Stretching - The Alphabet Game Revised

Are you taking a family road trip this summer and need ways to pass time in the car? What's great entertainment for the kids that will also keep your body and mind from turning to mush on long stretches of highway?  Play the old familiar alphabet game, but with an athletic twist.   Finding the letters of the alphabet on passing road signs and bumper stickers can be lots of fun.  To bring movement into the game, stretch various body parts when you reach vowels.     
road trip streching blog pic
Start with the vowel "A".  "A" is for "Arch".  With your eyes on the road, gently contract your lower abdominals to support your spine, then gently arch your upper back and chest up towards the ceiling.  This creates a gentle stretch in your upper torso, reversing slumped posture that causes neck and back discomfort.   

      "E" stands for Elevate.  Elevate (shrug) your shoulders several times, taking down tension in the neck and shoulders.  

      "I"  stands for "Inhale".  Taking several long, full breaths helps "reset" your core muscles and brings down stress levels. 

      "O" stands for "Open".  Open and close your fingers and toes several times.  This activates and stretches the smaller muscles of your hands and feet that get stiff on long drives.  

      "U" stands for "Undulate".  Gently wiggle your torso and hips up, down, and all around, decreasing discomfort in the lower back, shoulders and neck.  

      For "Sometimes 'Y'", reach your arms over your head in the shape of a "Y" (or as high is comfortable for your shoulders) and stretch like your morning yawn.  Only use one arm at a time if you are driving! 


This physical version of the alphabet is great family time that helps keep your body and mind nimble over long distances.   And you'll be pleased with the fewer times that you hear that all too famous phrase, "Are we there yet?"


Client of the Month


"Mary Jane L." 

 mary jane l. pic 1    mary jane l pic 2


At the age of 72, Mary Jane had aches and pains, low energy and was "feeling old." She had suffered for 20 years with neck, upper and lower back pain, and for 10 years with leg and foot pain. After being prodded for months by a friend who was convinced that Pilates could help, Mary Jane walked into Aspire a year and a half ago cautiously hopeful.


Before starting Pilates, Mary Jane took very fast, shallow breaths, held her shoulders up high as if they were her earrings, and her tail bone was painfully curled underneath her torso making her balance quite precarious. As with many seniors, falling was a very real fear for Mary Jane.


"Tonya took me under her wing when I began taking classes," remembers Mary Jane. As with all new clients at Aspire, we started slowly and carefully. Because of her intense pain level, Mary Jane was patient with the slow foundation that we began establishing in her body. 


Starting with the Core (the deep muscles that help stabilize the spine), we began building the strength and flexibility needed to impact Mary Jane's body alignment.  By focusing on the strength and flexibility for good hip and spinal mechanics, Mary Jane's lower back pain soon went away. We soon began re-programming her shoulders to move well, which reduced the pain in her neck and upper back. With the addition of the Chiropractic "magic" of Dr. Adam Benjamin, Mary Jane is now feeling better than ever. "Today, I feel as though my entire body is healthier than it has ever been," says Mary Jane.

One day Tonya walked into the studio and Mary Jane was slapping her feet into the hardwood floor.  A shocked Tonya exclaimed, "What are you doing?! That has to hurt!" Mary Jane grinned from ear to ear and said "I'm so surprised and pleased. I haven't been able to walk on a hardwood floor without shoes for years. I'm stomping around to prove to myself that it doesn't hurt anymore." Tonya gasped, "What?! Stop that!" To which an amazed Mary Jane stomped a few more times and replied, "Nope, I was right. It doesn't hurt anymore. My foot pain is gone."


As we speak, Mary Jane is fulfilling a lifelong dream of a month of adventure in New York City. She's enjoying Broadway shows, visiting the world famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, eating delicious food, and taking in the Big City sights. Mary Jane now has the strength, flexibility, endurance and self-confidence to pound the pavement like a real New Yorker, without pounding down her body. And in the event that she has a bit too much fun one day, Mary Jane now has the self-care skills to instantly reduce her own pain, enabling her to experience new adventures the very next day.  


Mary Jane is a huge inspiration to everyone who meets her at the studio. She has a new positive outlook on life that spreads to everyone around her. And the really wonderful thing is that her Golden Years are now gleaming almost as brightly as her enthusiastic smile.


Congratulations, Mary Jane!  Too many more years of adventure!



Remember our college days when we'd dance the night away? Who can ever forget taking a party or night club by storm with the now legendary Running Man or Electric Slide? Way back then, dancing was social, entertaining and so much fun that we never even realized how hard we were working. 


Dancing is a fantastic workout! Because of the non-stop movement, grooving over a period of five or six songs translates to about 25 minutes of great cardiovascular exercise. Strength training comes with our quads, hamstrings, glutes and Core muscles working overtime to allow us to be fabulous on our fancy feet. The shifting from one leg to the other, forward and backward, side to side, dramatically improves our balance. The undulations and smooth movements of our torso and hips improve our flexibility. And as a bonus, since California is now a "no smoking in public places" state, nightclubs are a much healthier environment in which to master old and new moves while getting a great workout. 

 dance blog pic

But, Ladies, before you dash off to the club for a night of fun and exercise, be sure to put on comfortable shoes. Good shoes are a must to keep your joints in healthy alignment, to prevent slipping, and to spare the balls of your feet from the pounding on the cement. Those glorious but uncomfortable high heels not only can cause injury, but also result in the "I'm so cute, I'll just stand here and wiggle slightly" dance move, which means you won't receive the cardio (and fun) benefits of dancing the night away. Armed with flat shoes, comfortable clothing and a good friend, you'll be ready to pump up the volume, get your groove on and have some fun without hurting.  Now's the time to get out there and show everyone your fancy footwork as you strengthen your muscles, improve your flexibility and balance, and get a solid cardio workout while having the time of your life.