By Karen Foulke Larson | Photos by Susan Ayer
Ann Arbor can claim a new offering to add to its list of family-friendly activities — family yoga. Peachy Fitness, advertised as an “Ann Arbor Yoga & Dance Studio for children, adults & families,” offers classes for adults, but it is the sessions for children and families that clearly set it apart from the numerous other yoga studios in town.
Passionate About Yoga
Owner Zaini Lateef started Peachy Fitness to bring together two of her passions — yoga and a healthy lifestyle. Lateef started taking yoga classes after becoming a mom. She still remembers the “amazing feeling” after her first yoga class. Yoga has helped her with flexibility and weight issues. She wishes she had started it earlier, but she said, “It is never too late to start.”
Lateef spoke of the many benefits yoga can provide kids, emphasizing it teaches them to be more peaceful. It also teaches them “how to develop a bonding relationship with each other by doing partner poses either with their siblings, parents, or even a friend during a yoga class. Proper breathing, exercise, and deep relaxation help them stay more healthy and active.”
For two years Lateef organized yoga classes at various locations around Ann Arbor, and then, in June 2014, opened the permanent studio. The approximately 700-square foot studio (part of a 1,550-square foot space that includes event rooms) occupies the ground floor of an unassuming building next to the Ann Arbor fire station on S. Huron Parkway. Peachy Fitness takes advantage of its proximity to a nearby park for some outdoor activities. The location is convenient for their office neighbors who attend the lunchtime yoga class. Lateef said that the 45-minute class is popular, and she is looking into the possibility of taking lunchtime yoga to corporations for their employees.
The parent/child classes provide a way for families to connect and share in physical and emotional bonding. Lateef said, as a mom herself, it is especially rewarding to see the benefits of family yoga. She offered the example of how parents are often busy taking their children to activities where they sit and wait for them, adding, “With us, parents are in the studio doing activities with their kids.”
Cindy Templeman and her twin 7-year-old sons, Bobby and Costa, take the Family Yoga class together. She agreed that it is wonderful to have “family time together” with “no electronics, no distractions, no errands to run.”
Lateef’s goal of providing yoga opportunities for children and classes that parents can take with their children seems to have answered a need. Templeman said she had been looking for family yoga for “a long time,” so she was very happy to find Peachy Fitness. The boys attended a summer yoga camp at Peachy Fitness and remembered lots of the poses for their Family Yoga class that started last September.
Family Yoga classes can transform hectic Saturday mornings. Templeman’s two active sons are “melting like marshmallows” and are in “mummy poses,” with their bodies completely still. Their teacher, Dominique Theophilus, also makes plenty of time for more active fun. Following a game with a hula-hoop, they do a trust circle and a game of yoga telephone (where the participants whisper the yoga pose around a circle).
For the children’s classes, the yoga studio becomes a place where yoga mats can transform into magic carpets for travel. Templeman’s sons love the games, especially the obstacle courses made of yoga mats, stretching bands, and yoga blocks.
High-energy games are followed by a quiet ending. Templeman’s favorite part of the class is the last part, when each person gets a chance to say what they are grateful for. She said, “I am always interested and surprised to hear what my boys, as well as the other kids, say.”
Grace Helms Kotre takes the Parents and Tots Yoga class with her daughters Noel (age 4) and Louise (age 2.5). She was thrilled to find the class because she had not found anything similar for parents with young children. Kotre is excited about introducing her girls to the practices of mindfulness and meditation. She said it is helpful to have those tools as early as possible to cope with the normal stresses of life.
Kotre said that her daughters really look forward to going to class and do the poses and games at home. The girls also love their teacher, Theophilus. Kotre said that Theophilus is “amazing” and has a calm energy. She appreciates that Theophilus modifies things based on how the kids are responding.
Theophilus said she comes to class with a set of things planned, but throughout the class she adjusts her plans based on what the kids want to do and their energy levels. Theophilus appreciates that children are so receptive. She said, “We can learn from them. Their creative mind is endless, and yoga can bring that out.”
Lateef has assembled a talented group of ten instructors, many of whom were referred by other instructors, which is no surprise since, “Yoga is about helping each other.” Lateef pointed out that, as an independent studio, instructors can feel more freedom because it is not a franchise with corporate pressure. Lateef hopes the instructors “feel like it is their own studio.”
Theophilus commented that Lateef has a passion and the studio has “good energy.” Kotre said you can tell that Lateef is “passionate about sharing the practice of yoga.” She appreciates that Lateef is so welcoming and genuine. Templeman said, “I would absolutely recommend Peachy Fitness. Zaini has really made us feel welcome and special. She is a wonderful person and obviously cares that all of the participants are happy and engaged.”
Maria Tikhonenko and her nine-year-old daughter, Anastasia, take the evening Candlelight Yoga class together. Tikhonenko was looking for a class for her daughter and was happy to find something they could both do. She said the instructors at Peachy Fitness are “wonderful” and she likes the small size. She said that having one studio allows you “to focus on your class without distraction. When I used to take yoga classes in big gyms, there was always too much noise from the weightlifting room. The classes at Peachy Fitness are never crowded, so you get more attention from your instructor.” For the Tikhonenkos, candlelight yoga has helped them “learn how to relax at the end of a busy day.”
At the age of nine, Cha Chi Rodriguez realizes that “yoga is a skill I can do my whole life.” Her mom, Gwen Rodriguez, appreciates the “discipline, focus, cooperation, and communication” that her daughter learns through her Peachy Fitness classes. Rodriguez said her daughter is “challenged and empowered” at every class, and she “always learns something.”
Yoga and More
Summer camps in 2014 provided a way for kids to be introduced to yoga. With very little advertising, they had a good response, especially to the children’s Art and Yoga class. Lateef expects camps to be even more successful in 2015.
Other unique offerings have included a Namasplash event at Goldfish Swim School. Lateef said it was a “huge success” and the Rodriguez family agrees. Gwen Rodriguez said even toddlers took part in the stretching and yoga poses. “It was a really fun evening.”
The summer running club transitioned to a family running club last fall. Basketball was originally offered as a summer camp, but now it is a weekly session.
In addition to the studio space, there are “party rooms” for birthday parties or bachelorette parties and different options for yoga or Zumba parties. Peachy Fitness has hosted many special events, including a Halloween Yoga Party, a Black Friday event, a Crafts Party, and Kids Night Out.
Lateef emphasizes the importance of giving back to the community, and the event she is most proud of was a fundraiser. Last year Peachy Fitness organized a Zumba fundraiser for a local family whose child had leukemia. Lateef is grateful to the instructors who donated their time and made the fundraiser possible.
Lateef’s son (12) and daughter (11) provided the motivation to create a business like Peachy Fitness, but they are also benefiting from the classes. Lateef credits her husband and children for supporting her work in this venture.
Lateef’s professional background is in finance. She has a degree from the University of South Florida. She originally moved to Ann Arbor fifteen years ago because of her husband’s job. Lateef said, “I love this town.” As part of her commitment to health and nutrition, Lateef took part in the University of Michigan’s Project Healthy Schools. Lateef served as a Health Ambassador going to different schools and educating students about nutrition. She took a break from the Health Ambassador visits as Peachy Fitness was getting started.
Two interns from Eastern Michigan University, Alyssa Jeffries and Kristopher Lee, are another part of the Peachy Fitness team. Lateef praised them for their work on her website and for setting up the online registration. She said it is a team effort.
Lateef has a full agenda of activities planned for summer 2015 at Peachy Fitness. In addition to the regular summer session (June 22 – July 29), summer camps will run from June 22 through August 28 and include Yoga, Dance & Art Camp, Zumba & Art camp, and Combo Fit Camp. Lateef is also planning for the first Kids Night Out (parents drop off kids) in the fall.
Classes are open to students at every level of yoga experience. Zumba and yoga both have choices for ladies-only classes. New clients may try one class before making a long-term commitment. Peachy Fitness requires a yearly registration fee of twenty dollars, and classes are paid for in advance. Lateef is also organizing childcare for some adult morning classes when there are enough participants who need babysitting in order to take a class.
On Monday nights, the high-energy Zumba class (for ladies only) is followed by the Candlelight Yoga class. The classes are striking contrasts. One has loud music and bright lights, and the other is calming with only small flickers of light to help participants relax at the end of their day. Lateef oversees the transition with ease. She greets the new arrivals, accepts money, makes sure paperwork is filled out for new participants, all with a welcoming smile. Quickly the lights dim and calm music welcomes the nighttime class.
Lateef is thrilled about bringing Peachy Fitness to Ann Arbor to help connect people with different varieties of yoga and physical fitness. For all of the parents who have been searching for yoga classes to enjoy with their children, their wishes have been granted.
For more information about Peachy Fitness, visit peachyfitness.com. Call (734) 681-0477 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a spot in a class.