I am very pleased to have the opportunity to interview the VP/CEOs of Exhale Spa and Co-Creators of an amazing workout routine, Core Fusion, Fred DeVito and Elisabeth Halfpapp (contributed to this interview). They combine ballet and Pilates inspired moves with yoga and Tai Chi to create an intense and very effective regimen. They have Exhale Spas all across the country and beyond as well as a series of DVDs out.
I had some questions to ask Fred and Lis about how they came up with this amazing exercise phenomenon:
How long have you been this passionate about fitness and health in general?
It started in grade school. It continued on through high school and then naturally through college. I played baseball, basketball and football.
Most of my family was athletic and I especially looked up to my cousin, who played various sports as well.
There was always a natural inclination to teach organically. I graduated college with a B.S. in Physical Education and Health. Then I taught high school gym for 5 years, as well as playing jazz bass on the side, which I am also very passionate about. I learned early from my father that if you can do something you love, it is the way to go.
What are your fitness certifications?
I am certified in the Lotte Berk Method, ACE Personal Training, as well as Thai Yoga Massage
Are there any fitness/health gurus that inspire(d) you?
Pete Egoscue, the inventor of the Egoscue Method is someone who’s teachings I follow. He is a physical therapist that heals with exercises using posture and alignment. It uses stretches that may feel a little painful, but it is very therapeutic and healing. There are centers across the country and beyond.
Also, Jack LaLanne and Richard Simmons were big influences. I always watched them on tv as a boy.
As the star trainer and the co-pioneer of this amazing program, you do a lot of traveling. How are you able to maintain a healthy lifestyle while on the road?
Focus on a well balanced diet and being present by keeping the mind clear of distractions.
So getting back home must be nice…
We retreat to our home in Bridgehampton whenever we are able. We have a garden and a salt water pool. We always eat organically from local farmers and our own gardens. We drink local wines as well, and try to stay away from sugars and processed foods.
We also have an Exhale studio just a few miles from our home. People come to Bridgehampton to take classes with us.
Your wife, Lis (Elisabeth Halfpapp ~ co-founder and creator) is an accomplished ballet dancer as well?
Yes, she graduated with a Dance Degree from School of The Hartford Ballet. She has a successful background in the industry, but then had to make the decision to teach ballet or teach fitness.
She chose teaching fitness. She has a Lotte Berk Method Certification and is Yoga Alliance Certified as well. She was doing private fitness training, and answered an ad in the NY Times for the Lotte Berk Method studio, an exercise boutique for women. She started teaching full-time in 1980, while I traveled around playing music and teaching fitness classes on the side.
How did you two meet?
We both grew up in Princeton, NJ…exit 7A on the turnpike. We went to the same school and were high school sweethearts. We both had a passion for teaching and fitness, and chose to go in that direction together.
And can you tell me more about the Lotte Berk Method you worked with previously?
LBM (Lotte Berk Method) was the original “Bar Class Workout”. Lis and I carried on the tradition of the authenticity of the technique when we created Core Fusion. There have been many spin offs doing similar styles of bar classes, nationwide.
The workout focuses on making minimal movements to get the most effect. It’s not strenuous like most aerobics. It’s about stillness and holding a position and then working the muscle. The muscles will shake…that means it’s working. The moves are so subtle, and that makes the muscles work harder. It’s all about the form and understanding holistic mind/body focus. We do flow activity and focus on breathing, using that to keep your self in proper position and alignment.
So, where did your life journeys take you next?
Lis was offered a position running an LBM studio in LA in 1983.
We got married in New Hope, NJ and then moved out to LA and lived there for one year.
Then we were offered a move back to NYC to run the entire Lotte Berk Method business, which we accepted and went into business together. This was late 1984.
There were many famous people that were students. (Julia Roberts, Muriel Hemingway, Kelsey Grammar, Ashley Olsen and Ivanka Trump), some of them continued training with us after we left LBM, as well as a whole new following of celebrities.
Many students of ours also ended up running their own studios, teaching their own versions, or developing workout series that were spun off of the LBM:
Debbie Frank, a student and fitness tech at LBM, formed Debbie Frank exercise studio. Tanya Becker started Physique 57. Another student, Jill Daily, has the Daily Method(with the training of Debbie Frank). Jamie Greer created Jamie Greer Inner Strength. Also, there was Burr Leonard, who was an LBM student and licensee owner for over 15 years before she changed the name to the Bar Method. Sadly, once Lis and I left LBM in 2002, the owner lost interest in growing so that business closed 2 years later.
It’s exciting to see so many people inspired by our methods. We pioneered these bar methods and are so proud that it became such a craze.
What inspired you to start the Exhale program and spas?
At the end of our LBM careers, we were ready to share this beautiful movement practice and bring what we had learned thus far in our careers to more people.
A student of ours, Annbeth Eschbach, approached us and asked us to start a spa with her called Exhale, where Lis and I would bring all the fitness programming.
Annbeth’s business partner, Julia Sutton, serves as the Chief Operating Officer.
And so Exhale Spa was born…we took all the prior teachings from LBM and incorporated it with more ballet moves, yoga, Tai Chi and pilates.
We also focus on a Savasana at the end followed by a stretch. The classes in studio are an hour of Core Fusion training.
On the DVDs you can use a wall, chair, mat, weights and resistance bands. We encourage you to focus on form and positioning and not to get frustrated if you can’t do all the reps in the beginning.
Did it start off being a spa/wellness concept, a fitness complex or both?
Both, there are spa services and Core Fusion as well as Yoga classes. The classes are taught by Lis and I as well as over 85 certified Core Fusion teachers and 125 Exhale Yoga teachers at our 16 properties nationwide.
~Programming for spa services and classes are available online~
While the concept is centered in NYC, you do have spas all over the country. Any spas in the works for new cities in the near future, and what will they include?
Yes, currently 5 locations in NY, 4 in NYC and one being in Bridgehampton as well as many locations in other major U.S. cities.
We also have retreats at the Kripalu Center as well as retreats at the Omphoy Hotel at Exhale in Palm Beach, FL and the Gansevoort Hotel at Exhale Turks Caicos.
We offer various activities and programs with focus on yoga, meditation and personal growth to detox and connect with your mind/body.
Our 5th NYC location will be opening at the Gansevoort Park Ave South on September 1st.
We also have a newer location that opened in Atlanta in September. It is located in the new Loew’s Hotel in Midtown. It’s the first location to have a spinning room and hammam, and has a 7,000 square foot luxury gym. Of course it will offer all the same services and Core Fusion/Yoga classes as the other locations.
Lastly, do you have any secrets to maintaining a healthy marriage while making all of this happen?
Take time away to appreciate each other, and always put energy and focus into the relationship. It takes work. Communicate and consider each other always. It is so important…The grass is always greener where you water it
Thanks so much for your time. I appreciate it and the amazing workout series you have created for us!
Interview conducted with Fred DeVito and Elisabeth Halfpapp via mobile phone by Bella Moda
This interview originally posted in 5/2010. The Exhale Spa Atlanta location has now been open 2 1/2 years and is growing strong!! There have also been about 5 other locations that have opened nationwide!