Wellness Series – Part 2: Physical Wellness

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Ronia-Isabel Cabansag: I don’t know about you, but when I started college, I felt ready. New friends, new professors, new classes, new schedule – I thought I was ready for all of it. And I was right, I was pretty ready for all those things, but I wasn’t ready for everything else. I balanced school okay, but I wasn’t balancing sleep, meals, or exercise. The REC was a really overwhelming place to be, and “freshman fifteen” became very real. 

If you’re in the same position right now, don’t worry, because The Echo team is back with Part Two of our Student Wellness Series. From the Commons to the REC, we’ll be focusing on physical wellness resources that are available to you as a student. And for those of you who responded to our Instagram story with nutrition questions a couple weeks ago – those questions are getting answered today. So, stay tuned for tips on healthy living that you can actually apply to your busy student schedule. 

I’m Ronia-Isabel Cabansag, and you’re listening to the Eastern Echo Podcast!

If you eat anywhere on campus, you’ll see this little plaque that says something about services for vegetarians, vegans, students with allergies, etcetera. This is usually accompanied by a photo of a smiling young woman in a Dining Services uniform. That’s Callie Gavorek, the director of community wellness and sustainability at EMU Dining Services with Chartwells Higher Ed. As a registered dietician, she has a lot of information to share about eating healthy as an EMU student. I sat down with Callie to talk about the services she offers and what advice she would offer to students struggling to eat healthy on campus.

Callie Gavorek: I offer a variety of services. Traditionally, most people think of a dietitian as someone that they talk to about nutrition counseling, whether it’s inside a hospital or some kind of medical setting, or outside. On campus, we have services that already do that. So, we have the Eagle Nutrition Services on campus through EMU. So I leave that to them to do the one-on-one counseling. But I’ll work with students and help them navigate campus and find healthy selections for themselves or something specific to their dietary needs.

So, it might be a lifestyle choice. So, like vegan, vegetarian – I’ll help them navigate our menus. It might be allergies. So, we have a G8 station in The Commons that covers the top eight allergies, and I’ll help them navigate that menu. Or it could be a religious diet, so halal, kosher, and how we can best make accommodations for them on campus.

That is definitely my largest role for the students, but I also do a variety of work on campus that impacts a bigger picture. It might be like wellness events, or wellness marketing – working with my marketing team to promote superfoods, functional foods through our fuel program. And teaching kitchens, culinary demonstrations, and doing the “Ask the RD” – “Ask the Registered Dietitian” – “booths” I call them. So, just tabling sessions where students can come fill out surveys about how we’re doing in order to accommodate their needs. And then I also provide nutrition education at those opportunities.

Cabansag: As you can probably tell, Callie does a lot, but the work that she seems most passionate about, and the event that she kept coming back to as I spoke with her, are her monthly “Teaching Kitchens.”

Can you talk a little bit about what happens at the Teaching Kitchens?

Gavorek: In the years past, we didn’t have a formal brick-and-mortar space for our Teaching Kitchens, so we would do kind of like a hybrid. So, we would do culinary demonstrations. So, I’ve done these in the spaces like at Rackham – if you’ve ever been to their culinary demonstration kitchen space there – I’ll teach students about some kind of nutrition-related topic, whether it be plant-based. So we’ve done a lot of Teaching Kitchens around Grain Week in March. It could be around national nutrition month, or it could be very specific. So, I also do it for the staff and faculty on campus. So, I’ve done how to balance food, diet, and exercise over the holidays. Or even just more fun, culinary-oriented things like pickling and fermentation.

What it’ll entail is typically myself and possibly another culinarian – so our executive chef or one of our cooks will come in and teach the individuals about a given dish or a given type of food or a lifestyle. Eating healthy on a budget, for instance. And then we’ll tie in a bunch of recipes and we’ll talk about the nutrient benefits coming from the different foods that we’re cooking with.

Typically, they’re about an hour long, and then the student or the faculty and staff – whoever are partaking – get to have a sample. This year, we’re actually – which is great timing with this podcast – we’re actually opening up a space at Crossroads Marketplace. So we had a little bit of a soft opening but we’re creating a brick-and-mortar Teaching Kitchen space where students can come at our facility within Crossroads Marketplace. So we’ll featuring Teaching Kitchens monthly in that space. 

Teaching Kitchens is definitely a big one – that’s my baby, so I highly encourage students to sign up for those. I have them approved for Learning Beyond the Classroom credits, so it is approved for 3A Learning Beyond the Classroom Credits.

And I think these are great opportunities for students, not only to meet some of their general education requirements, but get some hands-on cooking experience and learn a little bit about nutrition. A lot of times, when we’re studying and we’re dining at the different facilities and stuff, and we’re at our dorms, we don’t have that opportunity to be as hands-on with our culinary skills, or learn some of the basic culinary skills we’ll need upon graduation to cook for ourselves. So, I think it’s really important for students to try and partake in these activities.

Cabansag: The Teaching Kitchens are definitely a fun way to learn about certain aspects of cooking and healthy eating in depth, but  Callie also had a lot of insight to share about nutrition in general. 

I think a lot of people have this misconception that “eating healthy” just means eating more fruits and vegetables, but what does it really mean to eat healthy?

Gavorek: I have the same pet peeve, too. So, everyone thinks that eating healthy mean smoothies, and it doesn’t. It’s about practicing in moderation, practicing mindfulness. And essentially, following just the basics of nutrition. Not to be boring, but it goes back to the United States’ Department of Agriculture My Plate. It’s about eating your fruits and veggies. Half your plate should be fruits and veggies. You should be choosing lean proteins, choosing whole grains over refined grains, and then, if you consume dairy, choosing  low-fat, leaner choice of dairy if you will. So making the kinds of selections, and then eating in moderation. A big thing I talk to students about is it’s all about choices, and you can apply those different things when dining in our facilities.

Cabansag: Do you have any suggestions on how students can combat stress eating, or is it really all about just making those choices?

Gavorek: There’s a lot of things that you can do. So, basic mindfulness, like reflecting, “Are you really hungry? Are you just thirsty? Are you just tired? Are you just stressed out? Is this really gonna fill you up?” And then making the right food choices, too. So, kind of looking at what your body actually needs. So, for instance, if you’re craving a donut, and – ‘tis the season – a venti pumpkin spice latte, maybe it’s because you actually need some carbohydrates for energy.

You don’t necessarily need all that heavy, heavy sugar, but maybe you need something with some carbohydrates, but you also want some fiber to help fill you up, and that way, you won’t just crash afterwards and you’re actually full to continue your activities. Making sure that you’re fueling for exercising. So, if you are in sports or doing personal exercising, make sure you’re fueling with carbohydrates before, and then fueling after your exercise with a balance of carbohydrates and protein. So, really looking at what your body needs versus that immediate satisfaction that you’re looking for.

Cabansag: And then we also asked students for questions on our Instagram story, and we got a handful of those. Someone had asked, “Is being vegan really helpful with losing weight?”

Gavorek: Not necessarily. It’s all about energy in and energy out. Unfortunately, I’m a lover of food, so sometimes I wish I could eat a little more, but it is all about that energy balance. So, you can be a healthy vegan, or you can be an unhealthy vegan. So, there’s lots of processed foods, cereals, cookies – all kinds of stuff, you’d be surprised – potato chips, that are vegan. If that is the main components to your diet, then no, you’re most likely not going to experience weight loss, nor are you going to get enough nutrition from that diet.

A common misconception with vegan is that it’s always a healthier diet. It can be an incredibly healthy diet if you make it healthy, make the right choices. Some individuals that experience weight loss with the vegan diet initially, it might be due to restricting your food intake because you don’t know what to eat right off the bat when you make that transition. But it can also be due to the increase of healthier selections.

With a vegan diet or any kind of plant-based diet, you’re going to be consuming a lot more fiber and nutrient-dense foods, but not necessarily energy-dense foods. So, they might be lower in calories, but providing a variety of nutrients, and that fiber’s going to fill you up. So, those individuals might actually experience weight loss. So, the vegan diet, it can be very healthy, and it can help induce weight loss, but it all has to be followed with the right steps if those are your goals.

Cabansag: Someone else asked, “Is keto just a trend or is it really beneficial?”

Gavorek: So, ketogenic, I would say what the media talks about is a trend. Ketogenic diet is actually a very science-based diet that was created for individuals with epilepsy. A lot of times, it’s used as a last resort, because it’s depriving the brain of it’s ideal energy source of carbohydrates. Sometimes it’s used in medical settings like that. It is a last resort. It’s not an ideal diet, because you’re consuming excess amounts of fat, typically excess amount of protein. You’re pretty much depriving yourself of a lot of the nutrients that come along some carbohydrate-rich food. Because you’re sacrificing a lot of your fruits, you’re whole grains, and limiting certain vegetables, you’re not gonna get as many vitamins and minerals. It’s not typically a healthy diet. For individuals with epilepsy, it can be helpful. But again, it’s a last resort, it’s not ideal.

Cabansag: Someone asked, “Is there a correct time of day to eat?”

Gavorek: No, all day! Ideally, you consume three to five meals per day. Small amounts, not excessively small, but in moderation throughout the day. We want to maintain our blood sugar throughout the day. We don’t want any major dips.

What’s the new trend? The diet where you only eat at nighttime? Intermittent fasting. That’s a big trend right now, and that probably where that question kind of stems from, and those aren’t really ideal for our blood sugar.

Even if you don’t have diabetes, you should be eating a little bit consistently throughout the day. Obviously, moderations within your calorie range that you should be consuming, but you should be eating throughout the day so your blood sugar isn’t having drastic drops and going up and down, up and down. And then, you’re most likely not going to result in binge-eating later in the evening if you consume food throughout the day. 

Cabansag: Campus doesn’t seem to offer much food. How can I make sure to find healthy options?

A lot of students experience this at the beginning of the school year, and my number one thing I turn back and ask students is, “Where are you eating, and did you know about all our locations?” So, we have 22 locations on campus, and humans are a creature of habit, so typically, wherever we live on campus, we tend to just dine at the facility closest to us, especially in the colder months. But there are a variety of options across campus. So I encourage students to go to our website, dineoncampus.com/emu, and there we have a map of campus.

So, we have four major dining hubs with a variety of options within each one, The Commons being our residential dining hall, and then the other locations – Student Center, Crossroads, and Eateries, being food courts. They can find a variety of locations. We also have convenient stores across campus from The Markets to Crossroads Marketplace and Lobby Shop and Eastern Eateries market, which are bigger spaces which have more of the amenities for you dorm. And then we also have Chick-Fil-A, of course, but that’s more of a favorite to have once in a while. But yeah, going to those different locations, finding the different options, and then using our Dine On Campus app can help students navigate menus too.

So, every location, we try to have at least on plant-based entree. We also have some kind of healthy selection. So at The Commons, we have a full salad bar, a deli bar, fruit bar, fruit, yogurt, cereals, and then we also have items upon request in case an individual doesn’t find it to be the healthiest selection that day. So, for instance, if they were selling hamburgers, you could ask for a grilled chicken breast instead. And then we also offer a variety of lean proteins on the main home line. We always try to add two vegetables to the main home line at that location. And then at our other locations, you can find a variety of healthy options. So locations with more fast food favorites, you’ll find healthy alternatives. So, for instance, Grille 734 at The Eastern Eateries has a lot of savory pastas, things like that. But you can do a marinara pasta with a bunch of vegetables on it. Or you can do an “impossible burger” with a side of a rainbow kale salad. So, there’s options everywhere. I just challenge students to look for those and to kind of expand their scope of dining, essentially. Not just looking at the one directly at their dorm.

Cabansag: And you mentioned the Dine On Campus app. Can you talk about that a little bit and what’s on that?

Gavorek: Yeah, so Dine On Campus App is super helpful in navigating campus menus. So if you go on there, all of our major restaurants are on there with exception to the commercial branches – Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A, and Smashburger, just because they have their own menus. So you can just find those online. But these are all actually controlled by our culinary staff and myself. We manage that menus on there, and it shows all the recipes that we create. So, you can click on any individual item, find if it’s vegan, vegetarian, Balanced You, which is like our “healthy” logo, and then also if it’s avoiding gluten, so if it avoids primary gluten-containing ingredients. And then in addition, you can look at the nutrition facts for that given item. So it’ll find the calories, your macronutrients, which would be your protein, fat, and carbs, and then your micronutrients, so your vitamins and minerals. In addition, it also lists the primary ingredients in a given item, so if you’re trying to avoid a specific food, say, like, dyes or high-fructose corn syrup, you can see if it’s listed in that, and you can always communicate with our staff too. It also features just information about upcoming marketing options. So like LTO’s – “limited time offerings.” And it has information about buying meal plans and things like that, or flex dollars.

Biggest thing I always want students to know about is just our website – dineoncampus.com/emu. The app is super, super helpful just for navigating our menus. And if you ever have any questions, concerns, anything like that, we are all ears. So, if you go on our website, it has information about our program Text2solve or Chatback. So, students can actually text managers in the units at any time, and whether it’s something as simple as, “You’re all out of ketchup,” or “When’s this next marketing event coming up?” or “Could I get a side of grilled chicken?” we’re all ears. So, we’re more than happy to accomodate. I also have a nutrition Text2solve that you can find on our website, too. So, that goes straight to me if you have very specific questions, whether regarding nutrition, vegan/vegetarian, allergies, and of course I can always meet with students if they have additional questions or just want that one-on-one conversation with me.

Cabansag: Students can contact Callie through the Dine On Campus app, like she said, or they can reach her via email at ds_nutrition@emich.edu.

When it comes to staying fit, diet and exercise go hand in hand. Executive News Editor Arica Frisbey spoke with one of the personal trainers at EMU’s REC/IM about how students can stay on top of their physical fitness. 

Arica Frisbey: Can you introduce yourself and your role at the REC?

Eric Antolak: Yeah, so my name’s Eric Antolak. I’m a group fitness instructor and personal trainer at the REC/IM. This year, I’m just starting my role as a graduate assistant as well. I oversee the fitness, wellness and summer campus component of the REC.

We offer personal training. We offer some of the cheapest rates around. Obviously, we’re in swing space right now, so the facility is a little bit different. But we have a newly renovated – two newly renovated floors. One is an indoor track. We offer some of the cheapest rates around, and we do charge for personal training. However, if not in your budget, we also offer group fitness, which is free to all EMU students.

I think it’s really important that you take advantage of stuff like this, because to pay for group fitness classes when you get out of college, it costs a lot of money. So, you’re working with nationally accredited trainers –like I’m certified through the American Council on Exercise. There’s a bunch of different certs to make sure we get the finest trainers in there that know what they’re doing, and so you really get a lot of guidance. We’re also contracted through and have partnerships with multiple other departments on campus, so the Eagle Nutrition Services, which offer dietary counseling. Even with Snow Health Center, offering any emotional support that might be needed with any body image issues or anything like that. 

Frisbey: When someone meets with you for the first time, what can they expect?

Antolak: One thing that you can always expect with me is that there’s kind of a stigma in personal training that you get in there and there’s a big meathead that’s going to scream and yell at you, and I think people need to understand that we do not do that. That is something absolutely not – I am there to help somebody reach toward their goal, so I try to be very personable and very understanding, and make sure we have clear communication of what we expect from each other.

So, typically, when I train somebody, we start with initial fitness assessment, and during that assessment, depending on their goals, I’ll talk with them about their goals, I’ll take some measurements, we’ll do maybe some different exercises, again, depending on what they are looking for, I’ll prescribe the best fitness assessment I can. I’ll make sure that we lay down our expectations for each other, and really I just want everybody to understand that my office is open to them, my phone is open to them, and I’m going to do everything I can to help them reach their goals.

And then, from there, I typically will write out a program, I give my clients all their exercises so they can use them towards the future, and my expectation is not for them to train with me forever. It’s that one day, they could become independent. Or maybe somebody may be more independent but they want some fine-tuning, but I want them to take what I’ve taught them and apply it to their own training.

Frisbey: Speaking of which, how many sessions typically do people train with you? 

Antolak: So, we have different packages. You can train one day a week or up to four days a week. Typically people will train with me two days a week, and if people want to get extra in, I’ll write them a third workout, but I won’t train them. So, I write that for free, and then, if they want to go up to the gym, they can do that, and it’s typically exercises that we’ve done together. They can do that. Or if we’ve trained two days a week, they can do group fitness on a third, and they’re getting three workouts a week, which is great. 

Frisbey: What kind of workout would you recommend to someone who would like to go to the gym but doesn’t know where to begin? 

Antolak: The first thing I would recommend to somebody like this is, try out the group fitness. I keep going back to it, but it’s a great opportunity because there’s pilates. We have – I teach a 20/20/20 class where we go over weightlifting, cardio, and mobility. We have Zumba, we have all different types of programs, and each semester, we offer different things.

Other than that, I would say, do your research. Make sure you’re doing your research. I always used Youtube when I had a question, or you can ask people at the REC or something. But do your research, and I think with the right guidance, you can do anything.

It’s tough in the beginning. Machines are a great place to start – any selectorized equipment for weightlifting, because it has pictures on the machine on how to do it, what muscles you’re going to be activating, so there’s come guidance there. Also, in our spaces now, we have an attendant there. I’ve asked them to just really know how to do each exercise, so they can’t train you or anything, but they can generally show you how to use each piece of equipment, so that’s a resource that’s also available, and I think that’s a great starting point.

Frisbey: Do you guide clients with their diet as well?

Antolak: I give a general outline, so I’m very transparent with my clients. I’m a certified trainer. I have experience with nutrition – I took some classes in my undergrad, but I’m not a certified dietitian. Those are very highly accredited people. However, with us having our partnership with Eagle Nutrition Services, you can work with somebody who’s going to be a registered dietician for the cheapest rates you’re going to find. It’s like fifteen dollars to get nutrition counseling through them. I’ve been around. I’ve never seen rates like that before. And these are people. It’s kind of a win-win because you help those people toward getting experience in the field, and then they help you by offering extremely low rates. 

Frisbey: What are the most common myths you hear about dieting as a trainer?

Antolak: I hear a lot of people wanting to get their- say you have a weight loss, you’re going to run into a lot of people who want to lose weight. The majority of Americans would agree with that. But the thing is, getting your calories down low, and I see people going well below a thousand calories a day, you’re really hurting yourself long-term. And I think, in terms of your health, you’re not doing yourself any favors, and I think that there’s a method. I always tell people, “We want to train to what to our diet is, and we want our diet to what we’re training.”  

My personal belief is I think your diet dictates a whole lot of it, and I think exercise is very important to get in, but exercise comes in many different shapes and forms. A lot of people think of exercise as lifting or just straight cardio, but people can do even REC sports and stuff like that.

So, I think exercise can come in many different shapes and forms, and you have to understand people’s lifestyles too. Somebody who is just a full-time college student as opposed to somebody who is in their mid-forties, has two kids, is going to school full time and works full time, their workout regimen is going to look a lot different. And that’s just because that’s how life works. But diet is something that everybody can do.

So, if you treat your body right, you’re going to have the energy to get through your day and be highly productive. Even if you’re working twelve hours or something like that. Your diet is something you always do. And I think that, in terms of general health, I think the diet’s going to be the key. You can exercise all you want, but if you eat like crap, you’re going to feel like crap, you’re not going to be as motivated throughout the day. I really think that diet is number one, and I would say exercise is right there with it, but depending on the person, and their lifestyle, that’s going to dictate how all of that works.

Frisbey: And it’s easy to lose motivation or get discouraged when exercising regularly over a long term. How do you keep your clients motivated?

Antolak: When I keep my clients motivated, one thing is, when you’re training clients, they tend to have some motivation that’s tied to you, to you as a trainer, while I always try to get them to be motivated on their own. So I explain to them how this has worked in my life, and how it’s going to work in theirs. And one thing that I really explain to them, and I touched on it earlier, but it’s the consistency of everything. If you can do something consistently, you are going to see results. And that’s just what it comes down to, you know? I could make the most fancy workouts in the world, but it doesn’t mean anything if they don’t go in there, they work hard, they bust their butt, they get it done, and they’ll see the benefits with that. They’ll see themselves reaching their goals, they’re going to feel better, and they’re just going to overall be healthier. 

Cabansag: Students can contact Eric at eantolak@emich.edu, and further details on all of the personal training packages that are offered are available on the REC/IM website. 

Maybe you already know your way around all the weights machines. Maybe you’ve tried a couple fitness classes, but, after pilates, cardio, and yoga, you’re just looking for something different. Well, stay tuned for this next segment because I think we found a place that’s going to give you the challenge you’re looking for. Here’s my conversation with Diane Barbeau, owner of Ringstar Studio, a movement arts facility just 20 minutes from campus. 

Diane Barbeau: So, when you come in the front door, the first thing that you have to one side is you have the welcome desk, where people check you in for classes. And there’s a little area for business cards of various people and classes in the area. Many of them don’t even take place here at the studio. We just want to help promote other people and all the features that Ann Arbor has to offer, and the surrounding areas. There’s a welcome area over there where you have some cubbies, places where people can sit. There are youth classes here, so a lot of parents will take up residency on that couch. Stuff like that. We have our little free tea station just because I’m a tea drinker myself.

And as we move out, we have the activity floor, and the activity floor features a martial arts-style padding. So, it’s firm enough that swordplay club can practice on it, but it’s also soft enough that the aerialists can practice over it without having to worry about their safety so much. We have some extra equipment hanging around, so there’s a whole bunch of crash pads, there’s some gymnastics mats in the back. We have stall bars at the wall. Our resident personal trainer has a full fitness rig over there with some treadmills.

At the very, very back of the studio, we have some storage where the stage combat troupe keeps all of their swords and stuff like that. And yeah, I think that’s pretty much the whole thing.

Cabansag: Mounted on the wall between the seating area and the activity floor is a giant white board with all of the classes that are offered throughout the week. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot that goes on in there – stage combat classes, martial arts classes, open gym sessions, circus arts training. . . Diane explains it all to me in a nutshell. 

Barbeau: So, Ringstar Studio is a movement arts facility, which means that we’re not like a circus school or a yoga studio or a fitness gym, per se. Instead, what we do is we seek to accommodate a range of movement arts, which could include all of those things. So, like the stuff up on the board, we have aerial silks classes, which is a circus art. We have aerial yoga, which looks like circus but isn’t. It’s actually yoga. We have a self defense class that meets here. The stage combat class meets here three days a week and occasionally puts on shows like we just had this past weekend. We have open gym time so that people can come in and practice whenever, whether they’re a student here at the studio or not. Anyone is welcome to come to that. And we host occasional events, like our candlelight labyrinth walks, where that’s also a form of movement. It’s a moving meditation, so you come in. There’s about a hundred and fifty candles laid out in a walking pattern, you follow them. So, we have all kinds of stuff going on.

Cabansag: When you and why did you found the studio?

Barbeau: So, the studio was founded in 2013. The original idea was actually- I was a- I’ve been a member of the stage combat club Ring of Steel since 2008, so for a very long time, and they needed a new home starting in 2012. As we looked around, we figured out it was actually easier to rent our own place than it was to rent from some other studio, because other studios were like, “Ah, you do swordplay? We don’t want you here.” Because even if people aren’t getting hurt, their floors or their mirrors or whatever – those things are going to get hurt.

So, we ended up opening up our own place, and again, the stage combat club only meets three days a week. That’s not really enough to keep this studio going, and so I had to develop the business and open it up to other things, as well.

Cabansag: Today, Diane doesn’t actually profit off of the studio, and she says that it essentially generates just enough money to keep itself going. As far as the aerial silks classes go, they offer some of the lowest rates around.

Barbeau: So, I started by teaching myself years ago, which is not the ideal way to learn. I don’t actually recommend doing it, but at the time, I didn’t really have a choice. The only game in town at the time was the Detroit Flyhouse, which, for me, was almost an hour away. A class was twenty-five bucks, and then it was an hour drive back, and for me, that was not happening. So now, all the people who I have teaching for me are people that I have trained.

And we also go out of our way to keep our prices as low as possible. Like one our our classes, to drop in is only fifteen dollars, and if you buy more than one class at a time you can get a discounted rate even on that, and there’s a Groupon available. Because I remember being the person who really, really wanted to learn it, couldn’t afford to do it, had to teach myself and got like that I didn’t break my shoulder, or something like that.

Cabansag: So, focusing on the aerial silks class, say I’ve never done aerial silks before, I register for a class, I come in, what can I kind of expect when I walk in the door? 

Barbeau: So, when you walk in the door, and after you check in, and after you put all of your stuff away in the little welcome area, so you’ll head out on the floor. You do your own warmups and stretching here. Mostly because, until you reach a fairly advanced level, even though the things you’re doing are hard work, they’re exercise, you’re not doing anything super gymnastic, necessarily. So we start out with climbing, so you’ll try a basic climb and a quick ascent climb. Everyone’s got different names for them, so. And if you’re able to climb, cool. If you’re not able to climb, also cool. Most people can’t when they get started. After we’ve done that, then we might do a little bit of conditioning, just a few quick exercises, and then you’re being taught various tricks.

When you’re just getting started, the assumption is you can’t climb and you have no idea what you’re doing, so all your tricks are done at ground level. And then as you make progress – and some people make progress on day one, just depending on what their background is and how much they’re able to do – as you progress then you literally move your way up off the ground and into the air. 

Cabansag: As far as fitness goes, what are some of the physical things that aerial silks can help people with?

Barebeau: So, it’s a really great all-over body workout. One of the things that prevents people from getting started is they say, “Oh I have no upper body strength.” It’s like, “No, no, no, no, this is how you get the upper body strength.” So yeah, you’re using lots of grip, lots of forearms, lots of arms overall. To climb, you actually need a lot of core muscles, and you need to use your legs to push yourself up in the air. In order to flip yourself over upside-down, you need to crunch with the core and lift with your hips and all kinds of stuff. So it’s a really good all-body workout. And then, eventually, you start working on things like balance. You get really good with your spatial coordination when the floor isn’t your point of reference anymore. And all of this stuff, like you train your stabilizing muscles, the really big muscles that everybody knows the names of, those are all getting good workouts.

Cabansag: And then I know you offer different levels of classes, and then there’s also the AIReal yoga. Can you talk through the different classes you offer and what the differences are?

Barbeau: So, we have a couple of beginning aerial silks classes.Those are styled for people who have either never done it before. I have people who are actually fairly gymnastically inclined who take that class. So, they don’t really need the conditioning aspect, but they don’t know the apparatus well, so it’s designed to get you familiar with what you’re doing. There’s a Beginner/Intermediate where we start working on more advanced material, but, again, if the only day of the week you can come in to start learning was Tuesday evening, then you could still come in. So it’s an accommodation. There are two mixed level classes where anyone from super advanced through super beginner can come in.

The only class where I don’t really take any beginners at all is the Advanced Class that meets on Thursday evenings. If you’re a beginner and you wander into that one, then you’re mostly going to sit around watching me, because you won’t be able to do most of the stuff. But yeah, the Advanced Level class, you need to be able to climb up into the air, invert, and hang by one knee and one hand, and you need to be able to do it multiple times without clawing your way over with your feet.

And then AIReal Yoga, it really is a yoga class. It’s not a circus class at all. It’s done all on the ground. You do have a silk hammock, which is similar, but it’s really just a prop that hangs from the ceiling as opposed to being a circus apparatus. And aerial hammock is a circus art. That’s just not what the class is about.

Cabansag: And what would you say to someone who’s kind of interested in registering for a class but is hesitant? Maybe they’re scared of heights, or maybe, like you said, they feel like they don’t have upper body strength.

Barbeau: So, if they’re worried about the heights, then I would tell them, “Don’t worry, you can still get started because, again, you start off at the ground.” You’re not actually allowed to progress into the air until I’m satisfied that you can do stuff at ground level.

And for people who think that they’re not strong enough to get started, again, that’s a misunderstanding or a misconception of what’s involved, because by doing more, then, that’s how you get the fitness to do more of the things. So even if you think, “Well, I’m not in good enough shape,” we’ll get into the shape you need to be in just by doing it more and more.

Anyone can get started trying it, I mean, short of having no legs or something like that. And even – there’s actually a fairly famous circus artist who literally does not have legs. That’s the way he was born. And he’s actually a pretty well dancer – that’s what it is. He does ballet with his arms. So even that’s not a great reason, so aside from sickness or injury or something, you can probably get started with it.

Cabansag: I mostly spoke to Diane about the aerial silks classes, but again, there’s a wide variety of classes that take place at Ringstar Studio. Descriptions, schedules and registration info for all of the classes offered can be found on their website at a2ringstar.com.

And that marks the end of the final segment of our Student Wellness series. Hopefully, this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have previously had about healthy living and introduced you to things that maybe you haven’t heard before. Once again, there are a lot of effective and convenient physical wellness resources available to students, but it’s up to you to take advantage of them, so we hope you look into some of the opportunities we’ve shared with you today.

Don’t forget to listen to the mental wellness segment of our Wellness Series if you haven’t already, and be sure to tune on Monday for your regular news briefing. From the Eastern Echo Podcast team, take care of yourself this week. This is Ronia-Isabel Cabansag, signing off. 

The Eastern Echo Podcast is directed by Ronia-Isabel Cabansag and produced by Rylee Barnsdale. This episode was written by Ronia-Isabel Cabansag. Special thanks to Arica Frisbey for her work on this episode, as well as to Callie Gavorek, Eric Antolak and Diane Barbeau for taking the time to sit down with us. 


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