The serenity of yoga postures shifts effortlessly into elegant and energetic dance moves. As the participants’ uninhibited moves morph back into an untroubled yoga stance, their bodies are covered in a glow of sweat, their faces defined by contented smiles.
They breathe deeply, and the sound is liberating, pulled from a peace they’ve discovered within.
"I think the yoga dance class appeals to a lot of people because yoga is very peaceful and connecting, and the dance is so expressive," said Wendy Waxman, who teaches the class at Bodyworks Studio in Tempe. "Plus, the class is very cutting-edge. Not too many people have seen the two together in one class."
Bodyworks’ ability to keep breaking new ground after 10 years in business makes it one of the Valley’s most innovative centers to build the body, mind and spirit. Originally operated out of a house in Phoenix and then a dance school in Mesa, Bodyworks has been the destination many East Valley residents discovered to get their first taste of yoga, African drumming and creativity workshops, meditation and Moon Lodge retreats.
"I started doing yoga with my mother when I was little, and she was always open to new ideas," 41-year-old Waxman said. "My parents taught dance in the basement of our house in the suburbs of Chicago. So my mother was a great influence on me because she helped me develop a love for dance and a willingness to try new things."
When Waxman was 21, her mother died. But, Waxman’s passion for dance remained. She earned a graduate degree in dance and movement therapy from Columbia College in Chicago. The degree required training in human growth and development, psychology, anatomy and physiology.
"After college, I worked as a counselor and saw a lot of people who were suicidal, depressed or had anxiety disorder," Waxman said. "I realized there needed to be more places people could go to nourish their souls, connect with themselves and find support outside of the hospital setting."
After her father and siblings moved to Arizona — they often visited an aunt in Apache Junction when Waxman was a child — she followed them west, eager to make a new start.
She started doing movement therapy with abused girls to repair the injuries to their body image and selfesteem. She also started a dance therapy group that met in rented spaces.
"I carted a boom box and balloons to all the classes," she said. "I felt like I was living out of my car because I was teaching all over the Valley."
When she had enough people taking her classes on a regular basis, Waxman decided to open her own center. Bodyworks was born — the first center to offer yoga classes in the East Valley.
"My vision was to have a place that was similar to a hospital setting, where people could come and have art therapy, music therapy or do yoga," Waxman said. "My intention was to create a healing center where people could mend their body, mind and spirit."
Many of the people who have taken classes at Bodyworks said Waxman’s intention has been realized.
"The classes let me go into my own little world and work through things without even realizing it," said Kellie Freeborn of Tempe. "I work in a burn and trauma unit, so I have quite a lot of stress. This lets me let go of my stress."
And it lets Waxman know that she’s doing what she was intended to do.
"My goal is to guide people back into themselves rather than try to fix them," Waxman said. "This is not a big profitmaking endeavor, and it’s always a struggle keeping it all going. But I trust that I’m on the right path and doing, to some degree, divine work that needs to be done in the world. And because of that, it does feel inspired most of the time."
Others feel the strong spiritual energy that Bodyworks emotes. A group of monks who used Bodyworks for a healing ceremony told Waxman, "You have a very beautiful temple."
"After they said that, I started looking at it differently," Waxman said. "This is really a sacred space more than it is a yoga space or therapy center. What we do here is spiritual, even though there is not any religion involved."
What there is, though, is an evolving studio that is always looking for new ideas and concepts that have the potential to nourish, heal and enhance the lives of those who visit.
"I know that there are still many things I don’t know about yoga, healing and life experiences," said 25-year-old David Gardella. "Bodyworks is willing to accept the fact that there is still a lot to learn and experience, whether it’s through chanting or learning more about yourself and your body."
As more people jump on the bandwagon and rush to the yoga studios popping up throughout the Valley, Waxman welcomes the newcomers to the mind, body and spirit experience.
"I used to dream that there would be a place like Bodyworks on every other block," she said. "That’s why the competition never scared me, because it’s needed.
"The logo for the studio is the spiral sun because it offers people a place to move on a path toward their center, toward their inner strength," Waxman said. "Then, it offers a path to move back out and bring what they learned through creativity, dance or meditation back out into the world. We’re in a very difficult time and need to take care of ourselves and not give into all the fear and all the war talk. So the more people get connected to themselves, the better the world is going to be."