Ryerson fitness instructor brings body art to Toronto

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By Monique Hutson

Her blond barrel-curls bounce around as Ryerson fitness instructor Ildiko Hegyi claps her hands and urges others to lie down beside her. All types of people are sprawled out on their colourful yoga mats that cover the floor. Everyone seems to already know each other as loud chatter competes with the booming world music in the background — it almost looks like a big sleepover. But it is Friday night at Wynn Fitness Centre on The Esplanade, and Toronto’s first-ever Body Art class is about to begin.

“Come in, come in” Hegyi calls from the floor. Born in Romania to Hungarian parents, Hegyi started dancing and doing gymnastics as a child and continued training in university — specializing in Russian ballet.  But after moving to Canada and taking several dance classes, she was encouraged to become an instructor herself. She currently teaches Zumba and Groove classes at the Ryerson Athletic Centre, but she’s “dying to bring Body Art to Ryerson.” So she invited international Body Art instructor Julia Przybilka to teach the first class on her road to certification.

“Okay, let us start!” yells Przybilka. Everyone gets into position on his or her respective mats. Przybilka welcomes the group with a faint German accent. She arrived from Germany only four hours ago but she is bursting with energy.

Hegyi met Przybilka at a Groove retreat in Mexico in December 2011 after hearing about Body Art from the creator, Robert Steinbecker, at a Groove conference at Ryerson. Body Art is an award-winning fitness program that originated in Germany in 1994. Since then, it has expanded, certifying over 4000 instructors worldwide and opening studios in Belgium, Korea, Columbia, and many other countries. It aims to combine physical training and mental relaxation and is used as a form of physiotherapy.

“Groove is a dance-based fitness course but Body Art is a very nice compliment to it,” Hegyi said. “If you don’t have the proper posture and the proper alignment and the proper technique, you might hurt your body while dancing [in a Groove class].”

Everybody kneels on their mat with their arms stretched out, face down, butt in the air, and they begin to rotate their hips.

“Strong arms,” Przybilka said. The muscles in her arms protrude as she stretches with the rest of the class. Everyone’s shoes lay around the perimeter of the room. Being barefoot is mandatory, so it smells a lot like wet feet.

“Stay there for two more breathes. Or five more breathes? Just focus on your breaths,” Przybilka said. Body Art is based off of the five Chinese elements used in fields such as medicine and martial arts: earth, wood, fire, metal and water. The first element, earth, focuses greatly on breathing and stretching.

Throughout the exercise, participants phase from one element to the other, picking up momentum until they reach the fire element and then slowing down to focus on breathing, when they reach the water element at the end.

At Przybilka’s command, they all move into a push-up position while rocking back and forth on the tips of their toes.

It may seem like a yoga class, but Przybilka resents the comparison.

“Body Art comes from a therapy background. It is much more based on the biomechanics and alignment of the body and how you move your joints and muscles with absolutely no religious background,” she said. “All the different types of yoga have a very religious and spiritual background [and while Body Art doesn’t have that, it] still manages to affect you mentally and emotionally.”

They move on to the fire element — the cardio portion of the class. She shows the easiest version of the exercise first, then the medium level and then the hardest. Everyone immediately tries the hardest. The exercises always start off small — a step back on the left foot and then a step back on the right. But it gets bigger and faster — all of a sudden there is a room full of people making large karate poses and jumping into squats.

Each exercise is done for about a minute. It doesn’t seem too hard, but the breathing throughout the room gets louder and heavier. They glide into another exercise, and while it starts off as just stretching the arms, it soon turns into something out of the “Monster Mash” music video – arms, heads and ponytails flailing while squatting and walking in position.

“If you must go slower, go slower,” Przybilka said. She stretches one leg to the sky with ease, urging others to follow her, but a few people fall back on both feet — she doesn’t even quiver.

A slow jazz version of “Roxanne” by The Police plays. The class slows down substantially as they reach the water element.

Hegyi turns off the lights and closes the door as everyone spreads out on their backs and close their eyes. Przybilka grabs the feet of some, shaking their legs and stretching their shoulders, trying to help them relax.

It was a pretty good turn out and Przybilka hopes to teach more classes here before she leaves again to Germany. Fitness is her life and she travels more than 200 days a year — spending no more than 10 days in a row in Germany before flying to another country to teach Body Art and other classes.

Toronto yoga teacher Carmelinda DiManno asks Przybilka about instructor certification. She has never taken a Body Art class before, but loves the idea that it is “expression through movement.”

“They’re not contained types of movement… It seems almost like dance,” says DiManno. “It’s expressive, open, fluid and circular. It’s not like a Yoga class where you’re moving generally in a straight line.”

Hegyi agrees. “Body Art makes my body feel amazing and I am so passionate about it. And I will say this to anybody on this planet: find what your passion is and just go for it, no matter what it is.”

After the class, Hegyi is dying to get her own certification so that she can teach the class at Ryerson. But she will have to complete a $590 instructor certification course at Wynn Fitness in April before she can even pitch the idea to Ryerson.

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