Tess Ball leads students in a fitness class at Ashland Strength Studio. Photo by Denise Baratta
Laura Flower uses a kettle bell during a fitness class at Ashland Strength Studio. Photo by Denise Baratta
Ashland Strength Studio helps people beat isolation
As depression and anxiety skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, people started hearing more about the importance of self-care.
But many common ideas for self-care — like reading, going on a walk or working on an art project — are isolating activities.
Ashland Strength Studio Owner Tess Ball wants to change that. Her studio assistant, Natalie Paul, came up with the idea for a class that combines yoga with writing in a journal.
Ball now teaches the Hot Mess Self-Care Hour class. People gather on Tuesday evenings to hear a writing prompt, express themselves in a journal and, if they wish, share their thoughts with others in the class. A 40-minute yoga session follows and people are welcome to hang out afterward to chat.
Ball said humans are hard-wired to be part of a community.
“Meaningful conversations that go beyond the surface are a critical part of self-care,” she said. “Rates of depression, anxiety and mental illness have gone up. Isolation isn’t what we’re cut out for. I wanted to give people a space to connect. I was craving that — and it turns out other people were, too.”
Ball readily admits she’s not a self-care guru.
“I don’t pretend like I have the answers for everyone. Self-care is unique for everyone. Everyone has a different relationship with their body,” she said. “But I do know that none of us are doing that well right now. I want to be transparent and light-hearted about the fact that everyone is struggling. That feels more authentic.”
Ball opened the Ashland Strength Studio in January. The fitness studio is tucked away downstairs below Sew Creative, a quilting and sewing shop at 111 East Main St. in downtown Ashland.
She said the fitness studio is attracting a variety of people, including introverts and people who’ve recently moved to the area and want to make friends.
Ball’s goal is to provide a welcoming space for people of all body shapes, ages, colors and genders.
“There’s no right way to have a body. So many people have been told their body is not a good body. Bodies are magic!” she said.
At any given moment, Ball said our nervous systems are communicating, our lungs are getting oxygen, our heart is beating and our skin is holding everything together. She wants people to feel amazement and gratitude for their bodies.
Ball previously had a career in marketing, where she felt she was magnifying and preying on people’s insecurities.
“I was the person selling ‘fixes’ for that — food and cosmetics and expensive clothes and cars to fill that gap. And none of that was true. Recognizing the total humanness of having a body is life-changing,” Ball said.
Her journey into a fitness career started when she took a yoga class. She opened a fitness studio in Seattle, then relocated to Ashland, where she launched her new business.
Rather than using weight training machines or traditional dumbbells, the Ashland Strength Studio is equipped with a set of kettleballs. Kettlebells are round weights with a handle.
People gain strength, mobility, coordination and balance by swinging or lifting kettlebells in a variety of ways. Some movements are simple, like doing a squat while holding a kettlebell to the chest.
Others are more advanced, like rising up from the floor into a standing position through a series of moves known as the Turkish get-up.
“It really challenges your core in a fun and interesting way,” Ball said.
Ball said she was attracted to kettlebells because, like yoga, they offer simplicity. People can get a full-body workout without a room full of machines.
Kettlebell classes range from an introduction to the basics to a circuit training class.
Ashland Strength Studio also offers a free Healthcare Workers VIP Sweat Sesh at 6:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month. It’s Ball’s way of saying thanks to health care workers and helping them take care of themselves.
“So many times over the past two years, I’ve been so impressed with people who show up to care when it seems like it’s often a thankless job,” she said. “That must suck. When things suck, often times the body is the first thing that gets overlooked. Basic needs are overlooked out of necessity.”
If health care workers can’t make it to the free monthly class on site, Ashland Strength Studio can send a trainer to their workplace for a free group class.
Ball said she’s planning on adding more classes and events for the community that could range from an injury-prevention class to a book club.
For more information and event updates, visit www.ashlandstrengthstudio.com.