Some say going to the gym is better than therapy. As of Saturday, going to the Douglas Dayton YMCA at Gaviidae is therapy. The newest addition to the Twin Cities YMCA family opened the doors to its George Wellbeing Center, a space dedicated fully to self-care. Nutrition coaching, massage, acupuncture, and light therapy (for an extra dose of vitamin D during those brutal Minnesota winters) are available all under one roof, as tools for taking care of gym-goers' mental health and spirit. They also offer mind-body classes such as Journey to Freedom, which brings groups together to work through grief, anxiety, and depression.
The Center is open to anyone—members and non-members alike. Sally St. John, director of the George Wellbeing Center, says she's gotten interest from both life-long acupuncture users who are just happy to have another go-to spot downtown, as well current YMCA members who hadn’t explored much self-care before, but are game to give it a go. “It’s always been about the exercise,” St. John says. “But now, we’re about whole-life wellbeing. So even if you don’t know how to cut an onion, we’re going to build that confidence here.”
If a fancy almost-spa feels misaligned with your vision of a typical Y, good, says St. John. With its boutique fitness classes, sunny rooftop space, and now, a Wellbeing Center, Gaviidae shakes loose from the image of some of our childhood YMCAs—all misshapen basketballs and single-treadmill workout rooms. But it does so without losing its core value: accessibility to the whole community, regardless of financial standing. Services at the Center generally range from $30-$95, depending on the length of session.
With the opening of the Center, the Y joins the movement among Twin Cities gyms of taking care of the whole person—mind and body. Life Time Fitness has had a dedicated wellness arm for years, offering nutrition coaching, massage, and physical therapy through its LT Proactive Care program and LifeClinic. Dr. Chris Lauer, a chiropractor at the clinic since 2009, says yes, at their core, his adjustments are physical. But sometimes, the mental benefits are more profound. “What people go through is emotional,” Lauer says of the injuries he treats. “Maybe they’ve lost the ability to play with their kids—that can take a big toll on people. Our typical care plan doesn’t revolve around the pain phase. We joke that we’re a psychologist without the training.”
Lack of space keeps some smaller gyms from providing self-care services in-house, but they still find ways to incorporate them into their athletes’ lives. North Loop Fitness refers out to a trusted group of practitioners for chiro, massage, and acupuncture, while Alchemy 365 brings the wellness in through pop-up events—most recently, Savasana Epsom sampled bath salts, and Well Adjusted Wellness offered taping and bodywork for athletes.
The crew at The Movement Minneapolis specializes in trauma-informed training—fancy talk for conquering fears by lifting weights. Mark Schneider, a trainer at Movement, says there is a line between therapy and exercise, but it’s not as thick as you might think. “We have the capacity to deal with a lot of the emotional traumas people come in with,” he says. “A lot of what we see is from physical incidents, like surgeries and accidents. We’re not therapists, we don’t delve into the story behind [the fear], but we build the strategy around that, give them ideas and thoughts that prove their fear is wrong.” He’s even tackled more common mental blocks, like a fear of heights, or of lifting heavy weights overhead.
Schneider says it’s only a matter of time before full-service gyms are the way of the world—to his point, just look at how much they’ve changed in the last decade alone. “CrossFit is the best thing that happened in the gym market,” he says. “It exposed fitness as a social activity.” Gyms have become so much more than just a place to work out. Between group fitness classes, health coaching, and trainers who feel more like family, physical fitness has developed into a way of life. It makes sense that mental wellness and self-care continue to join the mix.