When I first joined Equinox South Beach to get back in shape, I knew I had to devote myself to doing cardio and lifting weights as well, but stretching took a back seat, until one of the trainers there tested my flexibility. The results were disappointing to say the least, until Elissa Barbach joined the roster of fitness instructors, and now, thanks to her “Stretch and Center,” course, I can happily report that not only is it getting easier to swing down and touch my toes, but I’m feeling much more relaxed. “Most people feel that all they need to do to keep fit is to do the cardio and pump weights, but I believe that working out is like a circle. We do need a certain percentage of cardio work, but we also need to stretch, so I think we need to combine everything,” says Barbach, whose teaches a Saturday class at Equinox South Beach, in addition to her Equinox classes in Aventura as well. Those who work with athletes know that stretching can improve performance, and reduce the risk of injury as well. Stretching also increase blood flow to the muscles, and also, it just feels good. “People don’t realize it, but as they sit at their desk, and use their cell phones, they are bending their neck. Or they’ll say that their back goes out when they just bend down to pick something up off the floor. If they do stretching everyday, they’ll be able to perform their day-to-day activities with ease,” she noted. Indeed, Barbach has been a devotee of stretching since she started taking formal dance classes at the age of four. Trained as a classical ballerina, she opted instead to become an “adagio” or couples dancer for Resorts International and Costa Cruises, and touring such venues as Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Paradise Island, Freeport, and more. Eventually, though, she settled down with her chiropractor husband, to raise their daughter, and she cast about for a new career. Becoming a yoga teacher was the obvious choice, but that still wasn’t enough. “I found that a lot of women over 35 who went to the gym wanted a wellrounded program and weren’t interested in heavy duty yoga classes. I also found that a lot of yoga classes were too limiting, and didn’t offer enough lower back and hip work.” And so, Barbach started thinking more about stretching. “Throughout my career, I’d always loved stretching and so I started reformulating my idea of a class, blending basic yoga and basic Pilates, and a little choreography.” “At a gym, you have people at many levels, and people at all ages. Some are spinners, some are weightlifters, some take yoga, and some take Pilates. I wanted my class to be a class that everyone could benefit from,” she added. In order to add the finishing touch, Barbach put her routines to classical music, to make them extra-relaxing. “I wanted to create an environment so that people would feel good when they left,” she said. Hmmm….I think she’s a little too successful at this. I felt so wonderful and relaxed after leaving her class, all I could think about was spending the rest of the day luxuriating at the beach! For more information on stretching classes at Equinox South Beach, contact Andreas Heuser, Equinox South Beach, 305-673-1172, www.equinox.com Charlotte Libov is a writer and photographer whose work appears throughout South Beach, including in Ocean Drive Magazine, Florida Travel + Life, and many more publications. She is also the South Beach Culture and Events Examiner for Examiner.com. In addition, is also the author of five books, including “The Woman’s Heart Book,” which was made into the groundbreaking PBS documentary “Women’s Hearts at Risk.” She speaks both nationally and locally on the topic of preventing heart disease in women. Contact her at email@example.com.