Published: January 11, 2020 5:25:11 pm
By Marisa Metlzer
Resolving to get in shape in the new year is an exhausting cliche, as is the fact that no one sticks to the resolve. There are people who are so motivated to exercise that they keep up their jogging or weightlifting routines year-round. And then there is everyone else, a group I fall into.
It’s hard to resist the promise of beginning again and to be just a little more active and a little more lithe this decade.
So I took inspiration from two things. The first was my dog, Joan, who does two or three luxurious stretches daily, and the second is the sheer number of stretch studios that have opened in New York — Stretch’d, Stretch Relief, Lastics and Outer Reach, among them — and around the country.
One could easily conclude that a personal stretch session is the latest status symbol for the wellness set.
Outer Reach’s website maintains that “Stretch is a way to live taller, higher and longer.” Its motto: “Aim higher. Extend yourself.” That sounded like something I could commit to.
“Stretching is the new exercising,” I told strangers at parties. “Stretching is the next Pilates.” Those poor people probably wondered if I always spoke in platitudes.
Outer Reach, which offers one-on-one and group stretch sessions, opened in Tribeca in September. It was founded by Aimee Cho, a founder of the website The New Jock, and Alex Drexler, a founder of the fashion line Alex Mill. The idea is that stretching is not something to quickly run through before or after a workout but rather can be the main event, improving posture and circulation and mobility no matter your fitness level.
It doesn’t hurt that the studio is thoughtfully designed in shades of pale green and brown, which sort of feels like spending time in a scoop of mint chip ice cream. There is a small retail area selling artisanal balms and socks (everyone has to wear socks — your own or the studio’s — along with whatever comfy clothes you want to stretch in).
The individual sessions are done in private rooms with cork-lined tables and blocks. Laurel Snyder, my instructor, wore the mint green sweatpants with a matching long-sleeve shirt that is the uniform of the studio and joked that she gets paid to hang out in pajamas.
All of the instructors have varied backgrounds (dance, personal training, yoga), and all have been trained by Toni Melaas, a dancer who designed the Outer Reach method of stretching and teaching.
The classes at Outer Reach promise a head-to-toe stretch. Or perhaps “toe-to-head” is more accurate because after an initial standing posture, we started with our feet and worked our way up the body.
Snyder would instruct me in a posture — say, a figure four facing a wall with my ankle on my knee and my hands extended for support. The pose is supposed to stretch your hip muscles, and Snyder provided gentle commentary or adjustments to help get the most out of it.
By the time I was on my back on the table, she stood above me to ease me into deep side twists or to remind me to relax my shoulders. After our 60-minute session, I felt easy in my body, calm and taller.
I also felt as if I had learned something about my body. Snyder was the first person to tell me that I knock my knees in when I stand, and she suggested a small bend in the knees to help get me out of the habit.
I liked my one-on-one so much that I returned the next day for a group class, which takes place in a back studio with a glass roof. Brandon Washington, our instructor, led seven incredibly fit-looking participants, mostly women in their 30s, through a sequence of individual stretches: toes against the wall for a calf stretch, lunges, supine hip-opening stretches.
Washington came around adjusting our postures and assisting our twisted bodies into deep release. If you hate being touched, stretch classes may not be your thing. I, however, loved it and came out feeling as if I had worked out and been massaged.
Adherents of anatomy-based routines like yoga or Pilates will readily take to Outer Reach’s methods. Treadmill worshipers may need to be convinced.
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