• Readers' Picks: Fitness Favorites

    Winners: Superior Athletic Club, Debbie Richter (Southern Oregon Pilates), Higinbotham Martial Arts, Sarah Marshank (Nia), Lu Crenshaw (CrossFit Allegiance), Steve Thomas (Aspire Personal Training)
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  • Best Yoga Studio
    Natalie Stawsky: Favorite Yoga Teacher
    Carlos Bracuto: Favorite Tai Chi Teacher
    Hoping to promote her Medford studio as a world-class destination for globe-trotting yogis, Marianne Corallo instead found local residents eager to form a new yoga community.
    Just shy of its second anniversary, Rasa Center for Yoga and Wellness is one of the area's most well-known studios and considered premier among readers of Oregon Healthy Living.
    Rasa is also home to our readers' favorite yoga instructor, Natalie Stawsky, and their preferred tai chi instructor, Carlos Bracuto, who also happens to be Stawsky's husband.
    Corallo's plans for Rasa convinced the couple to relocate from Los Angeles to the Rogue Valley in July 2008, shortly after Stawsky was certified as a yoga therapist. That specialty — and Rasa's location in an East Medford medical plaza — makes it a convenient complementary therapy for many practitioners.
    Among approximately 180 Rasa members are cancer patients and sufferers of autoimmune diseases, who find classes tailored to their physical needs. Students in various stages of life, from childhood to pregnancy, from menopause to old age, have a place in one of Rasa's 30 classes. The center also holds numerous one-time workshops on specialty topics, such as yoga for golf.
    "Yoga is a lifestyle," Corallo says. "It feels like a movement in Medford."
    Decidedly unmoved by the ancient Indian discipline, Bracuto teaches two Chinese mind-body philosophies particularly popular with seniors who want to maintain their balance. Tai chi and chi kung called to the 44-year-old native of Argentina in the larger realm of Daoist and martial-arts teachings.
    "In tai chi, there was no way to rush," he says. "I did learn patience."
    Immersed in the stressful arena of radio broadcasting, Stawsky, also 44, tried yoga on a friend's recommendation and "felt like herself" without "criticizing or judging.
    "It was the only place I could go into and I didn't have to do anything," she says.
    A couple on and off since 1986, Stawsky and Bracuto pursued separate paths in separate hemispheres — she in Los Angeles, he in Buenos Aires — before reuniting five years ago. Their 4-year-old daughter, Bianca, occasionally observes classes at Rasa, but Stawsky and Bracuto don't push her into either discipline.
    "They see that you live your practice," Stawksy says.
    "I know that she is going to absorb that in a way," Bracuto adds.
    While Stawsky has absorbed Bracuto's love of chi kung and even recommends his classes to her students, he's only interested in yoga if it could improve his kung fu.
    "For me, yoga is so boring," Bracuto jokes, saying he'd hire Stawsky for some one-on-one training if he could afford it. Bracuto, an introspective person, admits he and his outgoing wife are truly yin and yang.
    For more information, see the website www.rasayogacenter.com.
    Other favorites: (Yoga Studio) Rose Yoga Center; The Chi Room Yoga & Fitness Studio; (Yoga Teacher) Louise Lavergne; Beth Sparks; Kathleen Katz; (Tai Chi Teacher) Lillibet Gillespie; Peter Wolf
    Health/Fitness Club
    Decades after racquetball's reign, Superior Athletic Club's ability to evolve with fitness trends and technologies has established its reputation as the Rogue Valley's best.
    Some 6,000 members among three locations use Superior's exercise classes, equipment, salt-water swimming pool and basketball court, in addition to the original racquetball courts established in 1978.
    Superior expanded in 1995 from Cardley Avenue to East Barnett Road. A decade later, owners Jim Kusnerik and John and Marilyn Duke opened Superior Fitness on Eagle Point's Alta Vista Road.
    Manager Dee Gillen cites Superior's appeal to members of all ages and physical abilities who enjoy a wide variety of programs, as well as high-tech equipment boasting televisions and iPod capabilities. The video game-based "Dance Mania" is one of more than 75 weekly classes that include spinning, aerobics, Zumba, yoga, aqua fitness and more.
    For more information, see the website www.superiorathletic.com.
    Other favorites: Ashland Family YMCA; Rogue Valley Family YMCA
    Pilates Class/Teacher
    Pairing a popular exercise regimen with personal training endears Debbie Richter to local Pilates practitioners.
    Before opening Pilates studios, Richter, 50, worked for a decade as a personal trainer. She founded Southern Oregon Pilates in 2007 on Barnett Road. The facility has group, duet and private Pilates classes, as well as general conditioning and a weight-loss boot camp.
    Yet increasing numbers of Richter's clients come to relieve chronic pain and improve range of motion.
    "As people are getting older, they're realizing how important it is to maintain flexibility," Richter says.
    Others practice Pilates to improve performance in other sports or to recover from injuries. Designed for rehabilitation, Pilates uses mat work and specialized equipment to exercise the body's core without stressing joints. For more information, see the website www.southernoregonpilates.com.
    Other favorites: Millie O'Brien of Verve Pilates & Movement Studio; Mary Ann Carlson of Pilates Studio of Jacksonville
    Martial Arts Studio
    "Skills and drills" aren't the only lessons at Higinbotham Martial Arts.
    Many students enroll with the Central Point studio for its "biblical undertone," says Emmalee Higinbotham, co-owner with husband, Byron, the chief instructor.
    Starting in 2003 as a small Christian ministry, the dojo in a 3,000-square-foot former hay barn boasts a "ninja warrior-inspired" obstacle course designed to increase cardiovascular capacity.
    "We're really fitness-oriented," says Emmalee Higinbotham, 28.
    Byron Higinbotham, 32, is a third-degree black belt in taekwondo — the national sport of Korea — with 14 years of experience. Relying largely on word of mouth, the studio expanded last year beyond taekwondo to mixed martial arts, including kick-boxing, jiu-jitsu and grappling.
    The Higinbothams plan to widen their dojo's appeal with day camps this summer and training based outdoors. For more information, see the website www.higmartialarts.com.
    Other favorites: Rasa Center for Yoga and Wellness; Aikido of Ashland
    Dance Class/Instructor
    Former yogi Sarah Rose Marshank craved a wider range of motion in her workout.
    Widening her repertoire in 2002 to Nia, a trademarked technique for movement, Marshank expanded her expertise last year with free-form dance classes in Ashland.
    "It's about moving from a creative place," she says.
    Most students identify Marshank with the Nia classes she teaches at 4:15 p.m. Monday and Wednesdays at Ashland Family YMCA. Fusing East and West, Nia incorporates modern dance, jazz dance, the dance of Isadora Duncan, t'ai chi, taekwondo, aikido, yoga, the Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method. Marshank plans to obtain her black-belt in the discipline later this year.
    Marshank applied Nia's guiding principle, the "joy of movement," to develop Embody, an eclectic, unguided kinetic experience held Sunday mornings at The Studio on Ashland's Fourth Street. For more information, see the website www.sarahrosemarshank.com.
    Other favorites: Christina Cansino; Robin Bryant
    Exercise Class/Instructor
    Winter without heat in a spare warehouse didn't leave more than 50 members of CrossFit Allegiance cold.
    In true CrossFit style, acolytes of Lu Crenshaw turned out in March to relocate her 2-year-old gym to new digs on Medford's United Way. Heaters and showers are among the few amenities at Crenshaw's no-frills facility.
    "They're my walking billboards," says Crenshaw of her clients. "You're getting coached every single day."
    Crenshaw, 29, is a former girl's soccer coach for North Medford High School who worked for three years as a personal trainer before discovering CrossFit, which combines weight lifting, calisthenics, running and gymnastics in a regimen beloved of military and police forces, as well as elite athletes. Crenshaw's is among hundreds of affiliated gyms listed on the official CrossFit Web site, launched in 2001.
    Crenshaw teaches classes weekdays in five time slots between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. For more information, see the website www.xfa-541.com.
    Other favorites: Carol Lee Rogers; Roxanne Flynn of Ashland Tennis & Fitness Club
    Personal Trainer
    Steve Thomas, his intimate gym open only by appointment, is one of the valley's most exclusive personal trainers as well as a readers' favorite.
    Thomas' Aspire Personal Training has signed about 100 members since fall 2008. Each has an individualized exercise program with one of four trainers, which costs $30 to $47 per session, depending on the package purchased up-front. Aspire's "boot camps" cost less and accommodate five to eight people.
    "We can keep the gym really private," Thomas says. "We can hold people accountable."
    Most clients are women in their 50s or older who want to lose weight. Instead of exercise machines, the 1,700-square-foot gym on Medford's Center Drive comprises balls, bands and free weights.
    Early childhood health problems set Thomas, a 24-year-old Medford native, on the path to fitness. He holds a bachelor's degree in health and physical education from Southern Oregon University. For more information, visit the website www.aspirepts.com.
    Other favorites: Lu Crenshaw of CrossFit Allegiance; Adam Eggersten of Superior Athletic Club
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