Sanctuary Bodyworks: An Exercise Haven

The exterior of Sanctuary Bodyworks features a sign approved by the historical society.

The exterior of Sanctuary Bodyworks features an historical society–approved sign.

Sanctuary Bodyworks shares more than just building space with The New Century School, it also shares important values, like fostering personal growth, and a commitment to the surrounding community. Located at 710 S. Ann St., this “boutique gym” occupies the second floor of what TNCS families know as “Building North.” Perhaps more famously, this storied location originally housed St. Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic Church, the hub of the Polish Catholic community in Fell’s Point from 1889–2000. With due reverence to the building’s exalted origins, Sanctuary Bodyworks opened there September 12, 2012, offering 5,000 square feet of personal and group fitness instruction. Of particular relevance to and convenience for TNCS families, several morning classes coincide with school drop-off.

If a former cathedral strikes you as being an incongruous site for a gym (the one divine, the other traditionally considered fully secular), think again. Owner Brandon Hallock’s choice of the former church to open his “bodyworks” was quite deliberate. Consider the name he gave it: Sanctuary—it’s not just a playful take on the building’s origins. Mr. Hallock says he wanted to create a “more therapeutic, spa-like, relaxing atmosphere—a retreat from urban living.” He even kept as is or repurposed architectural elements from the church to maintain the peaceful ambience this hallowed place continues to impart. Though no longer a place of religious worship, and re-created to focus on the physical body, it is nevertheless inherently spiritual.

He Sells Sanctuary

Owner Brandon Hallock wants Sanctuary Bodyworks to be the perfect blend of what  an exercise environment should be.

Owner Brandon Hallock wants Sanctuary Bodyworks to achieve the perfect balance in what an exercise environment should be.

Indeed, Sanctuary Bodyworks is not your typical gym. Design, aesthetic, and approach are unique to this special place. In terms of design, Mr. Hallock believes that his bodyworks’ image should match the space. He envisioned a place where multiple private sessions as well as group classes could take place simultaneously yet allow privacy to each. “The space speaks for itself,” he says, “it allows lots of things to be going on without disrupting each other.” There is plenty of room to breath within his open yet intimate design. Patrons are not packed in like sardines; rather, handmade wood and leather Gratz pilates equipment unobtrusively lines the walls for individual users, and classes take place either in separate rooms or in the loft above the main space. Areas in the main open space are discreetly delineated with lush green palms and other plants. There’s even a lounge furnished with leather chairs and a sofa to take a break in for quiet conversation or flipping through a magazine.

The Sanctuary Bodyworks’ aesthetic also strikes a lovely balance between form and function, modern and historic. The architects who transformed the space skillfully combined new industrial brick and steel with the existing graceful arches and faded though still ornate painted designs. Images of saints, their facial features somewhat rubbed away by time, hover on ceilings and walls as if sanctioning your fitness efforts. At Hallock’s urging, the architects used the cathedral’s stained glass wherever possible, adding brilliant jewel tones here and there in the space’s otherwise muted palette. The overall effect manages to be at once calming and invigorating. It’s probably safe to say that a more beautiful gym—boutique or otherwise—would be hard to find in Baltimore, and perhaps much farther afield.

The approach, however, is what truly sets Sanctuary Bodyworks apart. “To provide both a space and instruction that maintain quality for like-minded individuals who take care of themselves” was Mr. Hallock’s original aim. That goal has grown even loftier in his 9 months of operation. He focuses not just on in-house training with his clients, but more broadly on educating them so they can carry what they learn in a session into their daily lives, to sit with postural efficiency at their work desks or while driving, for example. Moreover, the multidisciplinary team of practitioners he has assembled meet his own very high standards for instruction. With multiple practitioners, he believes, the most appropriate fitness plan can be implemented for each client. In fact, Hallock describes his approach to personal training as “thoughtful.” “I look at what gravity, stress, occupation, and time do to the body and develop a realistic plan for mitigating that damage. Instead of overloading a trainer with weights, I concentrate on maintaining or increasing his or her mobility by balancing length and tension.”

This approach is also holistic—when a client plateaus in his or her established fitness routine, another member of the team might suggest a deviation, into Rolfing®, for example, to regain momentum. Hallock emphasizes the skill of his instructors (both individual and group) as well as the uniqueness of their offerings. Group classes range from Zumba to tango and belly-dancing to several styles of yoga, including AcroYoga (more on that below). With quality foremost in mind, Hallock keeps group classes at a manageable size; this allows instructors to differentiate their instruction within a class to participants’ varying levels of skill. Whether beginner or advanced, each participant gets what he or she needs.

Together, design, aesthetic, and approach contribute to what Mr. Hallock calls a very “gentle, effective environment.” (Workouts needn’t be raucous affairs to get the job of physical fitness done.) As stated above, Sanctuary Bodyworks caters specifically to TNCS families by scheduling Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning classes starting just after school drop-off (personal training, moreover, can be scheduled by appointment whenever it suits). It’s the ideal of convenience, both in terms of timing and location. In the near future, Sanctuary Bodyworks also hopes to “piggyback” on The Lingo Leap classtimes so that while their kids are engaged downstairs, parents can work out one floor above, such as in one of the many group classes.

Some Unique Class Offerings

Eleanor Bramwell is one of Sanctuary Bodyworks' yoga instructors.

Eleanor Bramwell is one of Sanctuary Bodyworks’ inspiring yoga instructors.

For instance, Eleanor Bramwell (just one of Sanctuary’s many talented instructors), offers a variety of yoga classes that appeal to both men and women at every level of proficiency. This self-described “self-growth junkie” grew up in Baltimore, but after graduating she began traveling the globe—first to Costa Rica (where she started an experiential tutoring service for Montessori families) then to India (where she was project manager for a nonprofit created to educate the indigenous children on the benefits of recycling) to Nepal, Israel, China, Thailand—learning new skills the while, including Thai massage and Iyengar yoga, in each locale. “I’m not sure where I was trying to get to in such a rush, but I was in a rush,” she said. Along the way, she has lived in ashrams and mentored with yogis who required 14 hours of practice a day, among other exciting adventures. To Baltimore’s great luck, Ms. Bramwell has recently returned to share her well-honed practice with us. When asked what drew her to Sanctuary rather than to a more traditional yoga studio, she replied, “practicing and teaching there feels good. There is an amazing energy in a space where people went for more than a hundred years to pray.” And, she is no longer rushing. “I have learned to slow down and appreciate the simple beauty of life around me. Less is more,” she says.

Gina stands atop Amanda, who "flies" atop John, while Eleanor and Asa carefully spot them.

Gina stands atop Amanda, who “flies” atop John, while Eleanor and Asa carefully spot them.

Her dedication to her practice is evident in and elevates every class. “Yoga is an opportunity to fix and heal the body—it’s medicine,” she says. “You can heal your body with your body if you have the right guidance.” Indeed, she is a very spiritual person, which also “fits” the Sanctuary approach to fitness. “And,” she says grinning, “AcroYoga is my passion.” Imagine playing “Helicopter” with adults, and you have the first glimmer of what AcroYoga—one of the “unique offerings,” Brandon Hallock spoke of—is about. Watch a brief video of some more advanced AcroYoga here (but even complete beginners can achieve level-appropriate poses). AcroYoga isn’t just a great workout (and fun!), however. “It has taught me to communicate very skillfully,” says Ms. Bramwell, “because to succeed in an acrobatic partnership—or any sport for that matter—I must be clear what my needs are, ask for them to be met, and meet my partners or teammate’s needs. This clarity regarding needs translates off the mat, and into regular life.”

With private clients including members of the Baltimore Ravens and olympic trial swimmers, she is also interested in studying how yoga can improve athletic performance. Even though she’s back home, she’s still journeying.

View a schedule of available group classes here. Workshops, massage therapy, Rolfing, and personal training are also available.

With its thoughtful menu of exercises, its attention to community restoration and sustainability, and its talented and dedicated staff, TNCS’s sister site is a wonderful addition to the South Ann St. compound. Check it out—it’ll really lift your spirits!

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