By Jenny Wisniewski

A Closer Look at Fitness Shops in Wauwatosa

This is the second part in a series on local fitness centers. Please see future issues of Tosa Connection for more great health and fitness recommendations.

At a time when Wauwatosa residents deliberate the rate and type of development in their hometown, veteran and novice boutique studio owners continue to provide a service that attracts customers of all stripes. Their small businesses add to the tax base, in many cases preserve the architecture that lends character to the community, and enhance the welcoming and distinctive atmosphere that has led many people to this place they now call home. Owners pride themselves on the elbow grease they put into creating their space and the painstaking efforts they take to know their customers in this small big town. In part two of our fitness series, meet three small business owners with three different approaches to yoga and wellness.

To someone new to yoga, its jargon can sound a bit like Sanskrit alphabet soup. The many different practice styles could baffle a newcomer – Bikram, Iyengar, Yin. Then there is hot yoga which has become popular in recent years and even goat yoga in some regions of the country. (No goat yoga studios in Tosa – yet.)

Most of the classes at Tosa Yoga are vinyasa or flow yoga. This involves a fluid sequence of poses, linking breath to movement. In Melanie’s classes, this sequence leads to a “peak pose” which often is some type of balance on one’s arms and an inversion (head stand, handstand, shoulder stand). Melanie offers alternatives to many poses believing that each person knows their own body and mind and should set their own pace.

Sun Salutations Around Town

On a summer night in East Tosa, the smell of tacos lingers in the air around BelAir Cantina; young parents with strollers, joggers, and dog walkers clog the sidewalks; and the sound of music from open car windows and the start and stop of buses permeates the neighborhood. But you would never know it from the calm, focused expressions of the yogis inside Tosa Yoga’s walls.

The paint is a warm yellow, the floors a smooth soft cork and the chandeliers artful. Co-owner and artist, Guy Landgraf’s paintings hang about the studio and various pieces of furniture that he built grace the entrance area. The space that he and his wife, Melanie Landgraf, created didn’t come all at once; their vision percolated over time.

In 2006 the Landgrafs opened their original studio down the road from their current location. Melanie had worked at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design after college (where she met Guy, a student at the time) but became interested in wellness. It wasn’t long before she realized that yoga was her passion. By opening a studio she would be able to teach, practice and still be home with her children much of her time. It was a simple operation in its beginning days. She was even able to close the studio for two months after the birth of each child.

After a few years, her customer base expanded, and the Landgrafs realized they could take the studio further. Wanting to stay in East Tosa, they found a space that would work, but it needed a complete overhaul. Like so many studio owners in town, they rolled up their sleeves and did the work themselves. Tosa Yoga in its current form opened in 2012.

Though Tosa Yoga is well established, another studio in town has been around longer – thirty-three years longer to be exact. A Center For Yoga (7810 Harwood Avenue) opened its doors in 1973. In the heart of the village, the studio and home of Catherine Ross resides in a cozy bungalow just east of the Harmonee Bridge. The class space – the living, dining and sun rooms in the front of the house – is homey and filled with old world charm. Oriental rugs line the wooden floors, antique chests of drawers hold the props used in class and Buddhist statuettes are carefully placed around the rooms. It is not a studio where one can pick their instructor or style of yoga; it is a place to go to practice Iyengar yoga with a woman who is a former registered nurse and has trained and been certified by many Eastern teachers. She has even met B.K.S. Iyengar himself.

Iyengar yoga is a traditional form that emphasizes accuracy and correct alignment in a pose over all else. When done correctly, this creates balance and “sustains space between every internal organ of the body,” Ross said. Ross also emphasizes that the physical exercise is only one part of yoga practice. Like B.K.S. Iyengar, Ross guides her students through a process of proper breathing, self-awareness and the ability to be still.

Ross’s classes are interactive. Students work in groups, assisting each other as they practice their poses. They share with one another what they have learned or been practicing at the beginning and end of class. It is an intimate setting and a tight-knit group. On one recent evening, they joked comfortably with one another and spoke with concern about the illness of a fellow yogi. A number of these students have been learning from Ross since the studio’s beginning. “They began coming here as single people and now some are grandparents,” Ross remarked.

Westside Workouts

For every yoga traditionalist, there is a visionary. At T3 Fitness on the west side of Tosa (11600 W. North Avenue), Valerie Rintoul teaches aerial yoga. Using silk hammocks, her students practice lots of inversions as well as standing poses and hip openers – while hanging in mid-air. It is one of several classes offered at T3; others include barre, pilates and WERQ, a hip hop dance class.

It is upstairs where owner Sandi Vande Berg’s main action takes place. She holds individual and small group training sessions using equipment such as TRX, a suspension trainer created by the Navy Seals, and a rowing machine with a waterflywheel that simulates competitive rowing boats developed by Olympic rower Josh Crosby.

Vande Berg, a former IT professional at a downtown law firm, “took a leap of faith” in opening T3 after her passion for fitness was ignited through marathon running and pilates. Though the paperwork with a small business can be burdensome, she loves the customer service and community building she does through Facebook and by hosting lectures on topics such as nutrition and corrective exercises. She even holds boutique clothing sales in her studio.

In addition to the personal training inside the studio, Vande Berg provides corporate wellness services. And one of her most recent undertakings was to complete a fitness photo shoot. “I am very goal-driven,” Vande Berg says. “I cultivate that for my members as well.”

Creating community is part of the Landgrafs’ mantra. Inside their studio this includes hosting workshops led by local doctors or nutritionists. They reach out to singers or musicians to perform during special classes. A few dates out of the year you might even hear the faint sounds of a “gong bath” inside their doors. Special events such as these keep clients coming back so that the studio becomes more than just a place that a person goes to exercise once or twice a week.

The Landgrafs have made a special effort to stay connected with the community outside their doors too. Each fall during Chillin on the Avenue, a festival sponsored by East Tosa Alliance, Melanie teaches a class on a block shut down on North Avenue. A portion of her proceeds are donated to a non-profit organization, Guitars for Vets. She also has held discounted classes inside the studio, collecting clothing for the homeless or food for Hunger Task Force.