In a fitness world of television-plastered walls with pumped-up pop music filling workout floors, many of today's gyms have an atmosphere that can feel more like a nightclub than a health club.
But a quarter-century-old staple of Minnetonka life still is taking a different approach to fitness. Celebrating 25 years on Minnetonka Boulevard, the Marsh -- whose formal moniker is "The Marsh: A Center for Balance and Fitness" -- offers your typical health center programs such as fitness classes, personal training and spa services. But it also remains committed to a holistic approach to healthy living -- and to trying new ideas to achieve that goal.
Last week, it began a new drumming and meditation class: 38 members and guests filled the outdoor patio for an hour to sample yet another tool to achieve balance in their lives.
Next week, it will launch a new family wellness program with Children's Hospital and Allina Health, offering seminars to help families with managing stress, eating healthy, staying active, sleeping better and balancing emotions.Such Marsh programs have built a loyal following.
Often, the deck facing the marsh from which the wellness center derives its name is scattered with adirondack chairs filled with members attending an outdoor class. And after almost every class, "There will still be people out there a few hours later" absorbing the lessons, said studio director Liz Anema.
When you enter the Marsh, the atmosphere is decidedly different from other clubs. A sign reminds patrons to silence their cell phones. Glancing around, a visitor senses that every detail has been carefully planned. From the Chinese tapestries on the third floor to the iconic round-topped windows in the workout studios, every inch of the 67,000-square-foot center has been honed to enhance the theme of balance.
It's the brainchild of Ruth Stricker, the Marsh's founder, owner and executive director, who also is adviser to the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing.
Tim Mortenson, the Marsh's director of operations, has seen many changes during his 25 years working with Stricker. But one thing, he said, has never changed: "The attention to detail is second to none."
Mortenson recalled times when Stricker would walk around the club and find things that needed adjusting. Artwork she'd carefully placed might have gotten moved; a window might not have been installed to her liking. Sometimes adjustments might take weeks to make. But, Mortenson said, "The decision she settles on is always the right one."
Like many mega health clubs, the Marsh offers group fitness such as yoga, BodyPump and cycling. But its wellness center also has many classes that focus on balancing physical and spiritual aspects of life. Through classes like Thai Chi, Flo Motion and Nia -- which combines dance, Thai Chi, martial arts and yoga -- Anema said the idea is to make participants more mindful of their bodies in motion.
When Tom Duevel, a Minnetonka resident, returned to the area three years ago, his wife wanted them to get involved in the community, and they became Marsh members.
"It had a really nice atmosphere," he said, elegant but not overstated -- "nothing pushed or exaggerated."
Though he's been a lifelong athlete, Duevel had generally trained alone. The Marsh offered programs that allow him to feel more a part of a community. "As you get to know the people, it becomes a communal activity."
Now Duevel visits the Marsh almost daily, for a half hour to two hours, and the connections keep him coming back.
"It feels like a family."
Joy Petersen is a Minneapolis writer.