Functional Movement: Fitness as a way of life

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By Saturday, Oct 7 Trade and Commerce  2 Comments
Hannah Van Sickle
Don Marcus of South Egremont exercising at Exercise Prescribing Gym at the Jenifer House Commons in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, under the guidance of Joseph Antoine Alston.

Great Barrington — Joseph Antoine Alston, a self-described Functional Movement Specialist, is offering individuals a unique perspective into his definition of fitness. In a society that increasingly prizes buff biceps, amazing abs, and taut torsos, Alston’s approach proffers a simplicity that is almost baffling: Fitness, he explains, is the body’s ability to distribute oxygen throughout the body, to all extremities, while under stress or load. Alston’s more than 23 years of experience in the fitness industry have been fine-tuned, perhaps to near perfection, in his trademark EPG — Exercise Prescribing Gyms — where he is “prescribing fitness for life” to individuals suffering from myriad conditions — from poor balance, back pain and occupational overuse injuries to high blood pressure, obesity and chronic fatigue.

“EPG is changing lives, the fitness industry, and the way people heal themselves,” says Alston who goes on to explain that, “Exercise prescription works for all individuals — because physical activity, coupled with proper blood and oxygen flow, contributes to health and longevity.” Alston’s basic premise — that the human body, like any living thing, needs oxygen in order to thrive — is changing the way individuals look at fitness. Bold statements abound in his studio, a veritable lab of sorts, where Alston has been focusing his attention over the past 18 months on cultivating one-on-one relationships with clients of all ages and abilities. And the results have been profound.

“All individuals are either actively living or passively dying,” says Alston who, through his keen perception and understanding of the human body, has become well-versed in not only identifying asymmetries but also intervening upon them. This idea, while seemingly radical, is simple and straightforward: if the movement patterns an individual engages in are not building her up, then most likely those movement patterns are breaking her down. “There is no in between,” Alston clarifies. In this vein, he has applied his theory to clients with a wide range of ailments including Parkinson’s Disease, emphysema, neuropathy, and arthritis.

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If the root of Alston’s work is function, then his choice of canvas — the human body — is appropriate. From his perspective, “the human body, like any living thing, needs oxygen in order to thrive.” It is this integration of the body’s systems that allows it to function well. Dr. Joseph Cooney, of Berkshire Center for Whole Health in Stockbridge, regularly refers patients to Alston’s practice. Cooney explains, “The thing I like about Alston’s approach is that he works creatively with his clients. He really uses what he sees in his evaluation, and through observation he configures an individualized approach. The artist connects to what is called for at a particular time and particular circumstance. It’s that element of his work that is exceptional and that I really appreciate.”

This understanding, arrived at after more than 48,000 hours of instruction, both privately and in group settings, has led Alston to his newest venture: The Alston Method. He explains: “[This approach] has come out of 23 years of observation of what all human beings do in their daily lives — through the movements they were born with — and that they start to lose as they age.” He goes on to explain his series of eight movements that address weaknesses while building and strengthening in a safe and simple fashion. As to this string of movements? “I designed them to meet any human being where s/he is — all ages, all capabilities — to keep them fit, well and with oxygen incorporated throughout the whole body.”

Helping individuals to lead more active lives has become central to Alston’s work. One such client is Don Marcus of South Egremont. “I came to Antoine in desperation. For over a year I’d been experiencing serious pain in my right leg — even walking was painful — and the medical profession had shrugged it off. But by our fourth or fifth session, that pain was gone, never to return. From the start, I sensed Antoine had a special gift, and I’ve come to believe he’s a true healer.”

Joseph Alston at his prescribing gym. Photo: Hannah Van Sickle

Alston’s most recent platform, prior to launching EPG, was Berkshire Functional Fitness which he owned and operated for five years. In his time at BFF, Alston started to analyze as many members as possible with the Functional Movement Screen — based on the seven primal movement patterns — a tool introduced to the industry by Grey Cook and Dr. Lee Burton. “I wanted to take the barriers away and reveal the true essence of fitness,” he explains. In a new video released on his website, Alston’s enthusiasm and expertise are evident.

“He has a holistic approach to body mechanics,” says Dr. Ray Sabatelli, of Fairview Hospital, who has worked with Alston in his studio. “He is teaching people physical ways in which to center,” Sabatelli adds, likening Alston’s approach to, “a concept, a belief system, that if you align your mind and body, that is where health lies.” This approach, according to Sabatelli, is one he “wouldn’t shy away from in the future,” quickly adding, “[one] can’t help but be drawn in by [Alston’s] enthusiasm and total engagement; he is really effusive.”

Alston’s work has been cited across the board as being compatible with the direction in which medicine is moving: to incorporate more holistic concepts. It is this incorporation of mind/body awareness — and a broad view of what health and wellness really is — that has schools, organizations, and the fitness industry actively seeing to partner with Alston. In addition to his studio in the Jenifer House Commons at 420 Stockbridge Road, Alston can be contacted for virtual consultations through Amwell, an online telehealth site that connects individuals to board-certified doctors and specialists.


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2 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Deb Koffman says:

    great!!! article…I work with Antoine and LOVE how and what he teaches. His attention to detail and respect for the body, and its symptoms, is comforting, healing and life giving.

  2. pete says:

    Functional fitness for the silly industry tends to equate to a set of silly human stunts. Real function for the human just means survivability in situations and, ultimately, longevity.

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