I had the opportunity to spend some time with Maria Ludeke and Kristina Reese at Hatha Yoga and Fitness Studio. Hatha opened last summer as part of the Hada Cosmetics building on S. Neil St. When building the new Hada building, owner Suzanne Trupin knew she wanted to expand to add a gym. Ludeke was already working with Trupin as a graphic designer and knew of the new space. She explained that “at the time I was working for a company in Boston...they were featured on Shark Tank, it was an all-female company, and I was the first employee.” Then it crashed over night last April. It was Ludeke’s first experience of “I need a job, like tomorrow.” Because of the relationship she had with Trupin, and her athletic background she asked for a job. “It was a natural fit.”
Ludeke played club basketball, and ran cross-country and track for the U of I. In the summers, she worked as a sports counselor for windsurfing, water skiing and rock climbing. “My entire world has always revolved around being active and being a part of a team. I really thrive in that type of environment.” Ludeke is the lead trainer, and she's currently training 28 people at Hatha. When she’s not training clients, she's teaching HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), Sculpt Flow — a type of yoga that incorporates “athletic movements to tone and burn” — and Strength Foundations. “A lot of people are intimidated when it comes to working out in a gym. What do I use? What type of movements should I do? Strength training is a program to help make you feel confident and comfortable working out in a gym,” Ludeke explains. It’s a seven week course where you will learn 200 moves and how to format your workouts. Ludeke confesses, “I was really nervous before every single class for a while, it’s scary being in front of people.” But because of the positive community full of encouraging and supportive people she has grown comfortable as a teacher. “The community environment is by far my favorite part of Hatha. Kristina is such an awesome person to learn from because she’s been doing this for 10 years and has a large range of experience.”
Kristina Reese is the lead teacher at Hatha, which means coordinating classes, and cultivating the teachers through hiring instructors and facilitating continuing education. Reese’s main focus is yoga and meditation. “I kind of fell into yoga, as I was a cheerleader and I got hurt. It was kind of a segue into still wanting to be intentional and still move my body, but not in the competitive or stressful element.” Reese spent a few years teaching yoga on the side, before and after her day job working as a graphic designer. She began to question if it was something she could do full time, so her day job became her side job. Reese explained she had just hit her 500 hour teaching mark and was looking for the next step in her career. Trupin was a student of hers, so the opportunity to work at Hatha came naturally. “It was a good balance to come in with my expertise in the yoga setting, and Maria's in the fitness area,” Reese explained. “Hatha means balance. And so what I think we try to bring into the community is this essence of not just being a purely yoga and meditation studio, but also not being purely a strength building fitness gym.” She sees value in this crossover. "A yogi coming into the space can start to see more of the cardio element, and explore the Peloton bikes or get into a HIIT class.” Or vice versa with an athlete. “I don’t like exercise when it’s all about losing weight and gets critical or obsessive in a way that’s negative for the individual,” Ludeke explains. “Having both high intensity classes and yoga and meditation is a nice well-rounded approach, something that is sustainable for your life.” Whether you did sports in college or are a new mom “trying to get back in to her body in a new way,” Reese says, “We get all these people together and they start to inspire each other.”
Because of this balanced approach to working out, you won’t just get a physical workout, but a mental one as well. Connecting and working your whole body, including the mind, while in the gym surely helps you connect in your daily life. “What I like about yoga specifically is that it’s more than just a physical workout. Of course you’re strengthening your muscles, gaining stability, balance, and flexibility, but you get all that in reverse in the mind. You get a little bit more open minded, more present, stable.” For Ludeke, exercise is most important for you mentally. “The real benefit for me is how I feel as a person when I exercise.” Ludeke explained that because of basketball at 5 a.m. in high school she felt more mentally sharp for class. “It’s always helped me stay balanced as a human. The better you feel as a person, the easier it is to be a good human.” She said that even her fiancée can tell when she hasn’t exercised yet that day.
Reese also finds value and importance in building the teaching community. “Something that I know from being a yoga teacher is that sometimes it becomes a little bit of a lonely road. You get into your own rhythm or rut. I love having the opportunity to mentor with other teachers.” Reese explained that “we’re not trying to be all things to all people, but we know there can be a teacher for everyone." Reese prides herself in “crafting really talented teachers. It’s not just instructors that come and tell students what to do, but teachers that really want to help the students learn and see what’s working in their body, and the why behind what we’re doing.”
It’s natural that a gym studio so focused on community would have a great opportunity for the community to come in and try classes. Most months they have free classes on the 1st and 3rd Sundays. According to Reese, the intention of the classes is to “make yoga and fitness classes more accessible.” Each class is different and will often times be something they don’t regularly offer, like a hoop class. it’s also “an opportunity to sample it with our community to help guide in our offerings for the future.” Ludeke explains that by offering the studio to everyone it helps to get people in the door, something that Reese believes is the biggest challenge.
Reese says their goal is to “continue to offer classes that people grow and find an element of encouragement within.” She offered for me to join the Warm Flow Yoga class after our interview. She fills the room with respect, calm and encouragement. Though at first, I had to catch my brain up to her directives, I quickly found my rhythm. I’ve never done hot yoga before and didn't know what I was going to experience. Reese explained the benefits of the infrared heated room. "The physical benefit of heated practice is it allows muscles to warm up a little bit quicker, acts as lubrication of the joints, increase heart rate to climb, safely. Increased heartrate increases circulation and blood flow.” But it also has mental benefits. “It helps you focus. You can focus on being hot, or turning in to focus on not slipping.” Which is something I found to be a struggle. I’ve never sweated so much in my life! Perhaps the people in front of me, the ones with towels on top of their mats, knew what they were getting into. The cold, lavender scented towel for savasana was a welcomed reprieve. I left feeling encouraged with my body, having done poses I didn’t know I could do, mixed with a balance of knowing when to stop and breathe during the poses I couldn’t. I have been known to say that it’s not what I do, it’s about the people I do it with, and Hatha seems to be a great place to be in community with.
Photos by Sara Canary