Best of Hudson Valley 2010

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casey o'connell of stellar sunshine hoopsHoop it up: Casey O’Connell of Stellar Sunshine Hoops feels the burn

Photograph by Jennifer May

Health & Beauty

New Workout
Hooping at Stellar Sunshine Hoops

Beyonce’s doing it. So is Liv Tyler. Hooping is swooping through the Valley, and it’s the next great workout. Although “it doesn’t feel like a workout,” says Casey O’Connell, owner of Stellar Sunshine Hoops. Two years ago, as a junior in college, O’Connell took up hooping in her dorm room (which was just big enough to accommodate the hoop rotation). When the weather improved, she moved outside, where she worked on more difficult maneuvers, such as “angling” — moving the hoop at an angle to the ground. “I started losing weight,” she recalls. “But that’s not why I did it. I love it, and I’d do it even if it didn’t burn any calories.” The intensity of the workout surprises newbies. “A lot of people don’t expect to sweat like they do.”

Can’t get your little girl’s hula hoop to rotate more than once around your hips? Take heart. Children’s hoops “turn into an octagon after a day,” O’Connell says. Adult hoops are bigger and heavier than the kids’ version, and easier to spin. Pros like O’Connell use smaller, lighter models. She also makes custom hoops, which run from $25-$40.

Almost anyone can hoop. O’Connell is organizing a children’s hooping class, and the demographic extends the other way, too. “I gave a hoop to my 80-year-old neighbor,” she says. “He loved it!” • 845-699-8636.

Sexy Way to Burn Calories (tie)
Woodstock Tango

Although we all know it takes two to tango, you can go solo to Woodstock Tango’s weekly tango lessons, held at Mountain View Studios (Wednesdays) and New World Home Cooking (Thursdays). Elevate your heart rate (and make new friends) while learning the moves involved in this sensual Argentinian dance (which is often demonstrated by professional dancers direct from Buenos Aires). Then practice your fancy footwork at one of their monthly milongas (a dance party; this month’s is on the 30th at the Rhinecliff). • 845-246-1122;
Pole Dancing Classes at Studio 9 Walden and Pure Symmetry Fitness
Pine Bush
Inspired by Studio 9’s “pole dancing tour” (during which instructors from the studio gave introductory pole-dancing-for-fitness classes at 12 local gyms), Pure Symmetry now offers one session a week of the sexy, swinging activity. With about the same calorie burn as other moderately intense exercise classes, pole dancing “uses muscles you didn’t know you had,” says Pure Symmetry’s Debbie Hauser. Classes at both gyms are open to the public; Hauser says most of her students “are mommies and grandmas. It makes you feel very beautiful. It’s fun, and good for a change.” • Studio 9, 845-866-7653; • Pure Symmetry Fitness, 845-744-6769;

Way to Work Out with Your Partner
Thai Partner Yoga Class at Bamboo Thai Massage

Pamela Herrick says that the native practitioners call Thai massage “the lazy man’s yoga. It has all the benefits of yoga with none of the work.” Herrick has run Bamboo Thai Massage since 2005. “Thai massage is different in that it’s done on a mat on the floor,” she explains. “We use deep stretches — based on yoga — and acupressure as a form of movement-based self-massage.” Because many of these stretches are done in pairs, she offers a partner class to learn the easiest and most effective stretches. But be forewarned — she can often tell the status of your relationship as soon as you and your partner hit the mat. “It’s easy to tell the state of communication for the pair,” she says. “Thai yoga is a way of communicating nonverbally, which is a very helpful skill that we don’t often think of in the west. Couples often come in with all their stuff, and go out with a whole new way of relating to each other.”
Partner classes are $15 per person (singles are also welcome and are paired off in the class). They are offered about every three weeks on Saturday morning from 9:30-11 a.m. Call for upcoming schedules. • 845-392-5868;

Scrubs and Wraps with Vichy Shower
River Rock Health Spa

Owner Babs Moley describes these treatments as a return to your earliest childhood. “It’s like being bathed as an infant,” she says. A scrub and wrap is like a facial for the entire body. You recline on a cushioned table in your bathing suit, while the therapist uses exfoliating gloves to vigorously brush the skin to remove dead cells. Then, you’re covered in organic skin care products made from fruits, vegetables, essential oils and vitamins (“the fragrances are terrific,” Moley says) and wrapped in a “space blanket” that retains body heat and helps the oils penetrate the skin. That’s followed by an invigorating water massage under the Vichy showers’ seven jets. Finally, the therapist massages your body with creams or lotions. The treatments last 45-60 minutes, but the effects linger much longer. “When’s the last time someone bathed your whole body in a caring, safe way?” Moley asks. • 845-679-7800;

All-Natural Facial
Red Lotus Skin Care Studio

“People don’t think about how many harsh chemicals there are in skin care products — even the expensive ones,” says esthetician Anitra Brown, who opened this diminutive studio earlier this year. “Using pure products naturally improves your skin.” Brown’s creams and lotions come from a clinical aromatherapist and naturopath in Texas, who makes them with plants and therapeutic essential oils designed to relax your whole body while your face is being pampered. Brown’s studio may not be as opulent as Manhattan’s Mandarin Oriental, where she trained, but the sheets and blankets are organic cotton, the mood is soothing, and her touch is as gentle as the hard-to-find, natural products she uses. Once you see how dewy fresh you look, you may want to use them at home. • 845-901-6634;

No-Cost Alternative to the Gym
Learn to Run classes at the Highland Rail Trail

For the past four years, Rafael Diaz has been “teaching” people how to run for fitness along the Highland Rail Trail. His classes, which meet once a week for 10 weeks each spring and fall, begin with stretching and warm-up exercises. Diaz then encourages the participants (who range in age from teenagers to senior citizens) to run for one minute, then walk for two. Over the course of the program, the running intervals gradually become longer, the walk breaks shorter; by the 10th lesson, most of the dozen or so students are able to run continuously for 20 minutes. While the lessons are free, you must be a member of the Hudson Valley Rail Trail Association to participate (cost: $15). “It’s very gratifying to me to watch these people,” says Diaz. “They’ve taken the class, and it’s changed their lives. One woman reached the 20-minute mark, and broke down in tears. They get great satisfaction from their accomplishment.” • 845-691-2066;

Best Manicure/Pedicure
at Styles Hair Studiostyles hair studio

Readers' Picks

Beauty Salon:
Studio One
Hair Design
New Paltz. 845-255-5505;

Day Spa:
The Spa at Mohonk Mountain House

New Paltz. 877-877-2664;

Health Club:
Mike Arteaga’s Health & Fitness Center

Poughkeepsie, 845-452-5050; Highland, 845-691-6161

Styles Hair Studio

Hyde Park. 845-229-7688;

Best Yoga at Yogascape and Spaamy pearce-hayden at yogascape and spa

Amy Pearce-Hayden of Yogascape and Spa, which offers a variety of classes in different types of yoga

Photograph by Jennifer May

Pilates at the Bungalow

Accord. 845-626-5600;

The Yogascape and Spa
The soothing yoga classes and spa treatments this haven offers help to ground and center your mind, body, and spirit. With a variety of classes to take — from Hatha, vinyasa, Kundalini, and more — yoga instructors go beyond the basic poses to teach traditional yoga philosophy, meditation, breathing techniques, guided imagery, and offer group discussion. Knowing that not all bodies are alike, classes that cater to those with special needs are available, including for specific age groups and in-home/out-of-home instruction. 845-225-9642;


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