1 of 4
Photo by Isaac Harrell
2 of 4
Photo by Isaac Harrell
3 of 4
Photo by Sarah Walor
4 of 4
Photo by Sarah Walor
Anyone who has ever tried to slip into a pair of skinny jeans or zip up the back of that little black dress in a boutique dressing room knows that shopping can sometimes feel like an awkward yoga practice. Thankfully, Carytown offers a wealth of opportunities to take your vinyasa out of the changing room and into the studio with yoga, Pilates and Barre fitness providers. More than 40 health and wellness businesses — including acupuncture, Rolfing and nutritional consultation —make Carytown more than a shopping strip.
"For many years, Carytown has been known for being the fashion district," says Carytown Merchant Association President Raul Cantu. "We have such great boutiques that cater on wellness." From May 5 to 12, Carytown will host a health and wellness week featuring healthy dining specials at participating restaurants and promotional deals at spas, salons and fitness providers. In the meantime, check out these five alternative health providers who are helping to turn the shopping hub into a health and wellness destination.
Eastern Tradition Meets West Cary Street
The wall-sized golden visage of Ganesha, the Hindu remover of obstacles, gazes serenely on a half-dozen women who stand, hands folded and voices joined in chanting a Sanskrit devotional. As they finish their song, the women drop back to their yoga mats and resume poses of strength and grace. Deep, rhythmic, meditative breathing fills the space, and Ganesha's gilded smile comes alive in the morning sunlight flooding the second-story studio.
This is Ashtanga Yoga Richmond. Alicia Golden, a svelte, compact woman who radiates the controlled ease of her discipline, opened the studio in 2006 as a gathering place for the area's handful of practitioners of this yoga tradition from Southern India.
"Yoga is a pretty big umbrella of different forms, and not all of them are movement," says Golden, cataloguing traditional yoga's seemingly endless styles as they're found in India. The familiar body-contorting exercises popular in the West are joined by meditative disciplines and even by traditions that make an art of "being kind to others by doing nice things."
Ashtanga is a nice thing for sure, for both body and mind. A tradition based on a system of movements, a set series of body-strengthening postures that are carefully linked to mind-centering breathing, Ashtanga classes are taught in the mysore style, which is more self-directed than many Americans are used to. Golden and her fellow instructors say little during classes, instead circulating among students to correct posture and form.
Ashtanga is a combination of familiar and unfamiliar yoga disciplines. The physical challenge of the postures tests and builds strength, Golden says. But with practice, the repetition of those postures becomes part of a meditative regimen. Ashtanga is practiced in near silence.
It's that meditative quality of this particular discipline of yoga that first attracted Golden.
"I would say Ashtanga is not necessarily for the masses," she says. "It's very quiet, it's very repetitive."
And it's very rewarding. When the body adjusts and is able to hold the postures of Ashtanga, that's when the importance of the breathing becomes clear. "That's when the good stuff starts happening," Golden says.
Golden also offers Vinyasa yoga classes, which follow a more traditional model of the instructor directing students through strengthening stretches. But it's Golden's devotion to Ashtanga that resonates throughout her studio. "I wanted a place to devote to this lineage," she says. —Chris Dovi
Pins and Needles
Cheerful wind chimes, wafting incense and a simple yet elegant Japanese screen foster an inviting warmth in what might otherwise appear to be just another cold clinical exam room at Five Element Acupuncture.
Located above Secco Wine Bar, Five Element is the practice of Ann Furniss, a former emergency-room nurse who in 2001 traded Western medicine's triage approach to symptom management for the Eastern concept of holistic — whole-body — treatment through alignment of the body and mind.
"A lot of what I do is coaching," says Furniss, a slight woman whose pageboy haircut frames wire-rimmed glasses. She laughs often and as cheerfully as her clinic's wind chimes. "It's talking to people, getting to know them — and what's missing. It's how can I find a way to partner with them to move what's stuck."
What's stuck is the body's natural flow of energy, Furniss says.
Acupuncture, simply explained, is restoring that flow through the insertion of needles into very specific points on the body. Less simply, it's the intuitive and carefully honed craft of the acupuncturist to determine which specific points can be used to link between other points in order to re-establish those natural energy pathways in the body.
Sound hokey? Not according to the Virginia Board of Medicine. In 1994, the state licensing board approved acupuncture under its auspices, and today many of its most enthusiastic practitioners are medical doctors.
Furniss' own introduction to acupuncture — initiated by a nagging knee injury — relieved the issues in her knee but also resulted in better sleep and a new sense of equanimity.
"Your body is always trying to maintain a balance of yin and yang," Furniss says. "That's homeostasis. That's what they call it in Western medicine." —CD
All About Alignment
Rob Miller spends his days mixing pain and pleasure, but he's no masochist. The 47-year-old practitioner has owned Richmond Rolfing in Carytown for 10 years.
Rolfing combines deep tissue massage and osteopathic manipulation to realign the body.
"Rolfers are trained to look at the human body like an engineer looks at a bridge, so we're trained to see imbalance," says Miller, a certified advanced Rolfer. "Human beings are designed to be upright, on two feet and walking, so Rolfers try to make that structure as efficient as possible."
By working with connective tissues — muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc. — Rolfers can fix problems by looking at how the entire body works together. For instance, if a client comes in with a back problem, a Rolfer may see that the problem stems from a collapsed foot arch or because of weak hamstrings.
People who undergo Rolfing treatments might have back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome, or might simply be athletes who want to move better. Because Rolfing covers such a wide range of conditions — including arthritis, scoliosis and fibromyalgia — some people may improve after a few treatments, while others require years of sessions. —RG
It just wasn't working for Katie Gilstrap.
The running, circuit training and personal trainer weren't cutting it.
"I never had fun," Gilstrap says. "Working out wasn't something I looked forward to."
But all of that changed when she was introduced to Barre fitness training while on vacation in New York City last spring. The combination of lively music, fast results and an encouraging atmosphere got Gilstrap hooked. "It became such a big part of my life that we decided to build our vacations around it," she says, adding that she took Barre classes in Los Angeles and Miami in 2012. In January, she opened The Barre Boutique in Carytown.
The technique employs short, high-intensity exercises to get results. Clients primarily use their own body weight during Barre classes, but some free weights are used for arm workouts.
"It focuses on sculpting long lean muscle like the body of a dancer," Gilstrap says. "The technique was developed by Lotte Berk. She was a European dancer who suffered a career-ending injury and wanted to keep her dancer's body, so she developed the foundation for this exercise."
The exercise targets the arms, thighs and gluteus muscles in order to emulate the body of a dancer, and it can be done in group classes or through one-on-one instruction.
"For lots of women, going to the gym can be an intimidating experience, and we try to be the opposite of that, so we really focus on the boutique setting," Gilstrap says. "We focus on inspiring and celebrating success, and encourage folks to feel the burn." —Rich Griset
Given that Ellwood Thompson's Local Market bans food products with certain ingredients, such as nitrates and high fructose corn syrup, it's fair to say that its average customer places a premium on healthy eating. So they might not mind having dietary consultants like Amanda Brentlinger and Jane Wilson pick through their shopping baskets.
Brentlinger's official title at Richmond's landmark natural food store is wellness and product specialist.
But she's also a member of the Association of Nutritional Consultants, and her nutritionist consultancy, Raising Awellness, provides enhanced services to those she provides for free at Ellwood's every day. Likewise with Wilson, a registered dietitian, who gives free clinics three Tuesdays a month.
"I help people determine what supplements are ideal for them," Brentlinger says, "but often I help them with foods that would allow them to avoid supplements."
That may seem undesirable in an employee manning the counter near the well-stocked Ellwood's supplements section, but it makes perfect sense in a store stressing nutrition.
"Someone will come to me and say I need more iodine," says Brentlinger, who may well point them in the direction of the right bottle of pills. It's equally likely that "I'll tell them to put some seaweed in their soup," she says.
Supplements are fuel just like food, and it's important to know how and when to use them — and when not to use them. Brentlinger is a key resource for people on medications, as many supplements can counteract or react with prescriptions.
For instance, Vitamin K counteracts blood thinners, Brentlinger says, and some doctors simply up the dosage on a prescription blood thinner such as Coumadin rather than seek a dietary explanation.
So with all the free advice available at the counter, why seek out Brentlinger or Wilson for private consults?
It's often by going deeper in the weeds that both are able to pinpoint and tailor a diet to the individual, based not only on health, but also on habits and lifestyle that aren't obvious at the supplement counter.
"It allows me to see them in their environment," Brentlinger says, since some things that help understand one's individual nutritional needs aren't really (ahem) the stuff of polite company: "We talk poop a lot in my business — and people are definitely more inclined to talk about that at home." —CD