The New Year’s Shaping Up

Here are 2013’s trends for staying healthy and wise—at the gym, the spa, the yoga studio, and in your own kitchen.

by The Improper staff

1. Ginger Massage

by Hannah Sheinberg

When it’s in a small stack next to your California roll, ginger doesn’t exactly look like an ingredient you’d want to rub all over your body.

Bliss Spa’s Ginger Rub, however, uses fresh ginger and foil in a massage that doesn’t look like takeout lunch. Dollops of the spice, which are grinded in a food processor and mixed with essential oils like lavender, peppermint and lemon, are kneaded into the skin as a method of detoxification. And just in case that sushi is hard to stomach, the root is brushed clockwise on the abdomen to aid the digestive system.

The rub saturates the skin during a 20-minute foil wrap, followed by a soak and body butter massage after the plant, and its healing properties, has had time to absorb. It’s a treatment especially beneficial in the winter, as ginger stimulates the body’s circulation and keeps the extremities, like hands and feet, warm, according to Bliss’ lead technician, Dawn Lamonica. Along with being nature’s mittens, ginger regulates the respiratory system, eases muscle pain and decreases inflammation. It may even induce some chopstick-related cravings.

Bliss Spa | 100 Stuart St., Boston | 617-261-8747 |

2. Ear Seeds

by Hannah Lott-Schwartz

Whether you’re staving off cigarettes or sugar, treating back pain or migraines, boosting your libido or egg count, licensed acupuncturist Melissa Wintturi says that there’s a point—and a needle—for that.

With roots in China, where healers developed the skin-pricking practice to correct imbalances in qi, or energy flow, acupuncture wasn’t popularized in the States until Nixon’s famous trip in 1972. Then, the Watergates—ahem, floodgates—opened. “It can be used to treat just about anything, really,” says Wintturi, who owns Charles River Acupuncture in Inman Square. “It’s really calming to the nervous system.”

Some 15 years before Nixon’s voyage, however, French physician Paul Nogier tweaked the traditional methods, using the ear as a point of focus. With more than 100 points on the organ, the ear links to every part of the body. “The main theory is that those points stimulate the nerves,” Wintturi says. In turn, those nerves affect the targeted area—say, the spleen, for an increase in energy. “After the treatment, I’ll send [clients] home with the press balls, so they can continue the treatment on their own,” she says. These press balls—alternatively called ear seeds or magnets—are small rounded pieces of stainless steel that are applied to various points on the ear with adhesive after acupuncture. Because frequency is vital to the success of the treatment, these ear seeds act as acupuncture on the go between sessions. “It’s like going to the gym,” says Wintturi. “The more frequently you do it, the faster you’ll see results.”

Charles River Acupuncture | 126 Inman St., #4, Cambridge | 617-354-2081 |

3. Light Sauces

by Linh Tran-Brincat

Butter doesn’t always make everything better.

At least not for West Bridge chef/Co-owner Matt Gaudet, an advocate of vegetable-based sauces since working with culinary pioneer Jean-Georges Vongerichten over a decade ago in New York. While animal fats and proteins still take center stage on many New American menus, Gaudet is converting diners to the vegetal pleasures of a less gut-busting, more environmentally friendly diet. “Protein,” he claims, “is better suited as a garnish. It’s not 100 percent sustainable.”

Instead of the traditional veal stock and butter, Gaudet uses sweet potatoes as a thickening agent to make a demi-glace for a dish of pork and sweet-potato jus. “It’s not as rich, and vegetables make a brighter sauce,” he says. Besides flavor and health improvements, substituting vegetables for fat also has West Bridge’s diners feeling less full and thereby more likely to try more dishes at the Kendall Square eatery, which encourages tapas-style ordering. Other chefs trending away from Escoffier toward escarole include Rendezvous chef/owner Steve Johnson, Bondir chef/owner Jason Bond and Beacon Hill Bistro executive chef Josh Lewin, whose seasonal green sauces comprise ramps and green garlic in the spring and the tops of radishes, turnips and other root vegetables in the winter.

West Bridge | 1 Kendall Square, Building 300, Cambridge | 617-945-0221 |

4. Body Weight Training

by Hannah Sheinberg

Besides being known for their strict physical and mental regimens and military rule, the Spartans were also pretty trendy.

Body weight training, which the American College of Sports Medicine declared as one of the dominant exercise fads in 2013, uses one’s own mass as a resistance tool, just like how those Greek warriors, and a shirtless Gerard Butler in 300, prepared for the battlefield back in the B.C. days.

Body weight workouts, like push-ups, crunches, squats, lunges, pull-ups and certain yoga positions, don’t require any equipment besides limbs. “If you’re looking to workout and don’t have a lot of money to spend, it’s certainly a viable option,” says Mike D’Angelo, an exercise physiologist and an ESPN MuscleMania Pro. Even though there isn’t any fancy machinery to master, D’Angelo still recommends finding a trainer for those whose joints might need warming up. “Jumping and ballistic movements spell disaster for most de-conditioned folks… Weekend warriors are sure to get injured.” When executed properly, this retro routine builds strength, endurance and muscle tone. Plus, you’ll be ready for any invading hordes that come your way.

5. Barre Workouts

by Linh Tran Brincat

There’s a reason ballerinas have such long lean bodies.

Those repetitive micro-movements at the barre stretch and strengthen muscles, yielding strength without bulk. Fitness fanatics are taking notice, as barre studios are sprouting like mushrooms around town. Exhale Spa, the forerunner to the recent crop, specializes in Core Fusion classes, which combine elements of barre work with yoga movements to target core muscles. Caitlin Milbury, mind/body manager at Exhale’s Battery Wharf location, was a distance runner before she discovered the challenging workout.

Unlike in running or other cardio classes, Milbury claims that “you don’t plateau because the intensity is always there.” She adds, “You can always stay in the position lower or hold it longer.” Many of Exhale’s teachers and staff were drop-ins who became obsessed with the dramatic ways the simple movements reshaped and transformed their bodies. Instructors guide you through the positions and make adjustments to stretches that make even marathoners’ muscles quiver in pain. The best part of a workout at Exhale’s Battery Wharf location, though, is the complimentary use of its Turkish hammam, where you can recover from your Black Swan torture in the room’s mix of humidity and dry heat.

Exhale Spa | 2 Battery Wharf, Boston | 617-603-3100 |

6. Life Coaching

by Andrew Rimas

There are a lot of purported fixes to the Pandora’s Box of relationship troubles and addictions, of ballooning waistbands and skittish cerebrums.

But between the therapist’s prescription pad and the motivational speaker’s podium, there’s a middle ground occupied by the life coach. Coaching is largely what it sounds like: It’s having a strategist who keeps your goals in view and helps you make the right moves to get there. If applied to problem like, say, a festering work project, it’s like behavioral Semtex, capable of clearing away the mental blockages between desire and achievement.

“We hold a mirror up to a client,” says Aida Bielkus of Health Yoga Life, a Boston yoga studio that offers coaching as well as daily yoga classes. “Our job is to remind our clients that they have the greatness within themselves to heal, to be whole.” Specifically, this means an hour-long phone session in which the coach asks about the client’s most recent gust of negativity, then follows its roots to the origin of the problem. “Our proprietary method shifts people from reactivity to responsibility, where one has the choice to create change,” says Bielkus.

Lest your nostrils wrinkle at the scent of pop psychology, coaching’s effects are tangible. “Our clients say over and over again that one session has done more for them than anything,” says Bielkus. “It’s for people who are looking to improve their lives, who want to go from just functioning to living to their fullest potential.”

Health Yoga Life’s TLC (Total Life Change) Plan offers unlimited yoga classes and two coaching calls per month.

Health Yoga Life | 12 Temple St., Boston | 857-350-4124 |

7. Obstacle Courses

by Nick Altschuller

Who hasn’t seen sweaty army recruits heave their way up a thorny cargo net and thought, “Sign me up.”

Everyone’s watched Japanese game shows and seen the contestants take a padded beam to their lower lumbars before toppling, wincingly, onto their faces. And many of us think, “Looks like fun!”

Enter Gravity, the Wipeout-inspired obstacle course that opened in Abington in November. Designed by gymnastics and structural engineers, the gauntlet is great for building endurance, inspiring confidence and bruising egos/muscle tissue. Whether you take a $12 turn or go a full hour for $20, owner Patrick Tarmey has some fitness/survival tips.

Don’t stop moving. Not on the hanging barrels. Not on the rope swing. Maybe after you tumble backwards off the balance beam.

Keep your balance. Difficult on the trampoline. Harder once you’re walloped with a swinging heavy bag.

Don’t land on your feet. Perhaps the most challenging segment of the course is a lineup of three giant rubber balls acting as both landing and launching pads. “If you land on your feet, you’re not making it anywhere but the mat,” warns Tarmey. “You’ll just fly off.”

Gravity | 1437 Bedford St., Abington | 888-770-9473 |

8. Healthful Apps

by Nick Altschuller

Purchasing new gear is a great way to inspire even the laziest exerciser.

Yet, like the post-New Year’s crowd at your local health club, motivation quickly dwindles. (Ask anyone still making monthly payments on a dusty Bowflex.) With a smartphone however, the newest toy is just a download away.

They’re plentiful, cheap or, in some cases, free. Take RunKeeper, which uses your phone’s GPS to map your route and track your time, pace and calories burned. But why simply measure your misery when you can make a game of it? Like The Walking Dead with pedometers, Zombies, Run! ($8) incorporates dozens of missions into your afternoon jogs, and mixes voice recordings and radio messages into your favorite playlist. Leave the house a wheezing loafer; return a conquering hero.

While dodging the undead, you’ll want to check your pulse. Instant Heart Rate (free) operates using your phone’s flashlight and camera. Cover the area with your finger, and you’ve got a reading in about 15-20 seconds. For a more magical result, try Cardiio ($3), which finds your pulse by measuring how light bounces off your face. It’s quick and easy, and since it doesn’t require sweaty clenching, there’s less risk of your phone bouncing off the pavement.

9. Upgraded Kitchen Gadgets

by Hannah Lott-Schwartz

Health-by-convenience tops the trending charts this year. Here are a few great gadgets that make healthy home-cooked meals as easy as spinach pie:

The Vitamix 5200 Hardly just a blender, this kitchen companion is designed to create an entire meal. Blend skinny margaritas to start, a soup (made hot while mixing) for the first course, butternut squash casserole for the main, and finish it off with fruit sorbet. With a quick, self-cleaning swish between courses, your tummy will be full and your dishwasher empty.
$449 at

Williams-Sonoma all-clad perforated multiport with steamer basket, 12-quart The steamer doubles as a strainer, saving you the sometimes painful pour when draining quinoa spaghetti. The setup is ideal, too, for steaming logs of seitan, a meat substitute that can be costly at the salad bar but sets you back cents to prepare at home.
$179.95 at Williams-Sonoma, Copley Place, Boston (617-262-3080)

J.A. Henckels seven-piece classic woodblock Chopping carrots into perfect half-inch rounds for equal cooking requires the right armaments. You should always bring a good knife to a salad fight.
$180 at Bed, Bath & Beyond, 401 Park Dr., Boston (617-536-1090)

This article originally appeared in the January 2, 2013, issue of The Improper Bostonian.