Their faces are flush and perspiring, but these women are laughing as they put their shoes on. At Happy Body—a Pilates, yoga, and wellness center in South Asheville—they’ve just had a big hit of feel-good endorphins while working out the kinks in their bodies. The beauty of the last hour is that, not only did they stretch and strengthen and feel attuned to their bodies, but also the result was like a mood-altering drug.
“Whether I’m working hard or enjoying a soothing stretch, having body work or talking about my goals,” Barbra explained, “I always emerge energized, positive, and on the right track.”
It’s exactly the response the owner of Happy Body, Jessica Mark, is looking for. While the classic resistance machine in Pilates work is called “The Reformer,” the same might be said of Mark, whose idea for the studio relies on a refreshingly holistic approach to exercise
“I come from a dance background where we use our physical bodies to express emotion, feeling, thinking, and tell the stories of our lives,” she said. “From that exhilarating sensation of being fully alive and expressive in my body, I wanted to know more about how the body worked, how to connect to it more fully, and how to make that personal connection available to people who have not had such a positive outlook or experience with their bodies.
We so often think about exercise— think it’s something to do: move this muscle, lift this weight—without acknowledging that the body is all our physicality. Our minds, our bodies, our blood, our bones, our internal organs, and all those bodily systems that we take for granted. To get in touch with our bodies—to embrace them in whatever form they take—is a true celebration. We laugh a lot around here. It really is a joyful place.”
Their philosophy is that “when you move better, you feel better; and when you feel better, you live in a better, happier you.” To be comfortable in your own skin, to move with ease and to be pain-free, is the foundation that the rest of your life can be built on. It’s such a simple concept, one we understood as children, yet gets lost somewhere along the way. When we …and a Reformer Abigail Hastings Mind, Heart, Soul, Strength were young, running around in play and fun was effortless – recess was often the best part of the day.
Jessica emphasizes how important it is to meet everyone where they are in their own ability and in the context of their lives. Some people come in with chronic pain, some after injury. Nothing to laugh about there, but careful and thoughtful workouts address those particular circumstances to aid the body in healing. There are Happy Body instructors who have gone through similar challenges after accidents, so the trainers bring a level of compassion and knowledge to the road to wholeness.
Personal attention is great, but Mark explains that the idea behind it is more compelling: life circumstances play a huge role in physical well- being. You can’t fool the body. Tension will be held and knotted up in places; the concerns of the day are inextricably linked with body chemistry and movement. “You have helped me feel in my personal life that I can be physically and mentally strong,” one client said. “I feel that each of you has helped me go through this emotional time – you not only take care of your clients’ physical being but you also are so mentally positive.”
Life’s struggles are inescapable, and client needs will be very individual. “I think it’s important that all women feel at home in their bodies, no matter what their situation,” Mark said recently. In upcoming months, she will begin a program of free Pilates and yoga classes for women who have undergone cancer treatment. “We would love to take that journey with the women who need this support, as they reestablish a happier relationship with their bodies,” she explained.
It’s part of recognizing that there is also deep happiness in giving. This past April saw the beginning of a signature program called Class for a Cause. Two of the most popular classes were offered for donation only, with all proceeds going to a different nonproﬁt each month. Beneﬁciaries like Helpmate, Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, and The Center for Disordered Eating were recognized and celebrated for the work they already are doing to make a difference in our local community.
“We’ve had such a great experience doing this,” said Mark. “We’ve decided to change our model and make every class a give-back. Beginning in July, all our Pilates mat and yoga classes will set aside 20% of the proﬁ t for charitable giving.
And in the year ahead, we’re hoping to develop a stronger partnership with WCCJ [Western Carolinians for Criminal Justice] to give underserved women practical tools to relieve stress, feel physically stronger— which leads to a greater sense of empowerment—and create more connection and awareness with their own bodies through movement- based classes.”
No wonder Barbra calls Happy Body her “feel good” place. Feeling strong and healthy, receiving and giving, all add up to our best bodies, our best selves.
Abigail Hastings is a writer who divides her time between Asheville and New York City. She teaches a writing class at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (maximum security prison for women) and has been a part of the Threadwaxing Writers Group for fourteen years.