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HomeLife In the BerkshiresLifeworks: A Zumba...

Lifeworks: A Zumba and Yoga studio thrives by serving young families

By transplanting and re-envisioning the child-friendly studio model she found in Israel to the Berkshires, Ilana Siegal has found her calling: “My priority is to make everyone who walks in here feel as if they are treated as full human beings.”

Great Barrington — Ilana Siegal, founder and owner of Lifeworks studio whose home is at 50 Castle Street, adjacent to the railroad station, is planning to lead a workshop called “Get Out of Your Own Damn Way.” For Ilana, this is not only a catchy title for a workshop, but a practice that she engages in in her day-to-day life as a mother, teacher, student, and business owner–to name just a few of the hats that she wears.

For Ilana, “Getting out of my own way,” involves “having the courage to try [something new] even if it doesn’t work out.”

At Lifeworks, these new endeavors involve not only the founding of the studio itself but also an extensive list of ongoing classes, workshops and events, ranging from wildly popular evening Zumba to a weekly goal group where members support each other in setting and attaining goals. Ilana oversees it all with support from studio manager Avery Mauel and a thriving community of Lifeworks enthusiasts, many of them mothers in their mid-thirties, who attend classes at the studio as well as organizing social events outside of class.

Is Lifeworks the watering hole or the wellspring of this vibrant, tight knit community?

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Ilana Siegal, leading a yoga class and parenting at the same time. Photo: Allison Steel Schofield

When I ask Ilana if she had any idea of the vibrancy of the community which she was creating a home for in opening Lifeworks, she shrugs. “My philosophy was ‘if you build it, they will come,’ ” she says.

Ilana came back to the Berkshires after a stint in New York City, and a year spent living in Jerusalem with her now-husband, Lindsay. While in Israel, Ilana taught yoga, dance and pilates with a women’s religious organization. Although she had been teaching for several years prior, in Israel Ilana found a drastically different population attending her classes. Her students were mostly women with young children, and for many of them, this was the only time they left their houses and families. Childcare was offered during most of their classes, and the mother’s right to “take care of themselves so that they could take care of their families” was encouraged and supported. “When I went to Israel,” Ilana says, “I had this experience of feeling that every single day I was doing a service. It felt right.”

After her year in Israel, a convergence of events led Ilana back to Great Barrington. She had attended Simon’s Rock in 1998 and spent a few years afterwards living and working in the area. Her husband to be had fond memories of his boyhood experiences attending school in the Berkshires, so they chose this as their destination to settle down and start a family. Although Ilana had been surfing the “Berkshire Shuffle” rather successfully, forging strong connections with many local yoga and dance studios, she felt the craving to carve out a space of her own, where she could fulfill not only her own needs but those of a growing demographic in the Berkshires — young families. “I heard from people what they were needing and not getting and felt empowered to create space to fulfill those needs without impeding on the needs of those who do not fit that niche,” she says.

Ilana Siegal leading one of her evening classes. Photo: Heather Meehan
Ilana Siegal leading one of her evening classes. Photo: Heather Meehan

This brings us back to the workshop “Get Out of Your Own Damn Way,” and the Lifeworks’ business model, which is all about self-care and serving one’s own needs. The name of the studio stems from two sources: on the one hand, it is an affirmation on behalf of vitality: “life works.” But it also an expression of Ilana’s personal investment in her business: “This is my life’s work. My purpose. This is my path.”

When I ask Ilana how she maintains her enthusiasm and vigor during long days of teaching intermingled with office work and housekeeping, she beams. “I love it,” she tells me. “I LOVE my work. I think my students and clients sense that excitement and curiosity.”

Ilana has trained in Pilates, Ashaya Yoga, Zumba, and contemporary dance, among other modalities, but she says that she is often guided equally by intuition and experience. The variety of techniques she has explored provided an extensive vocabulary and informed approach to teaching classes and working with private clients, but her approach involves a great deal of integration and adaption in responding to the needs of the moment. Ilana advises that getting stuck in one modality can be limiting, since things in our physique and psyche are constantly shifting and evolving: “That’s what we’re all about as humans.”

This attitude of openness manifests itself at all levels in Ilana’s life, from her business model to “that moment in a barre class when you realize that the pain in your butt isn’t going to kill you. Pain is usually an indicator that it’s time to pay more attention. Sometimes it can be just the discomfort of trying something new.”

By transplanting and re-envisioning the child-friendly studio model she found in Israel to the Berkshires, Ilana has found her calling. “For the first time in my life, the work I was doing felt non-negotiable, a necessity rather than a luxury” she says, describing the advent of Lifeworks. This translates into the way she approaches her students and clients: “My priority is to make everyone who walks in here feel as if they are treated as a full human beings.”

Being a full time mother while running a business is no small feat, but Ilana always seems ready to crack a smile and her positive attitude and infectious enthusiasm are enduring. “Sometimes it takes me a long time to return emails,” she admits. “But I guess if that’s the worst thing…”

 

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