Life is about balance — and this includes your workout. If you’re always going hard with heart-pumping, calorie-blasting HIIT classes, you might be neglecting a side of yourself that needs something more gentle, low impact and less intense overall. This was the thought-process behind New York City’s latest boutique studio, Box + Flow, which opened last November. After a decade of boxing and 15 years of yoga, founder Olivia “Liv” Young decided to combine her love of those two activities and address the duality of human nature.
“People have two sides: We’re a mix of grit and softness. In boxing, I can be super focused, fast-moving, sweaty, intense and aggressive, which is great for the body and the mind. In yoga, I’m forced to slow down, be more introspective and learn to listen to my body and intuition,” says Young, 30, who moved to New York City from Miami to attend culinary school at French Culinary Institute in 2009. “You build confidence with one and compassion with the other. Boxing closes off the body — for example, your shoulders are hunched inward — while yoga opens up your chest, heart and mind.”
The 55-minute class consists of an 8-minute warmup (shadowboxing with 3-pound weights), 9 rounds of punching combinations (about 3–6 minutes each) for a total of 35 minutes, followed by 18 minutes of power flow. Two minutes are allotted to complete transitions from the punching bag to the mat. With 6–8 instructors on the roster, Young included, Box + Flow offers about 25 classes a week. The $31 class includes a borrowed yoga mat and gloves, but you must bring your own hand wraps or purchase them for $4.
In early February, I visited the intimate, dimly lit, 1,500-square-foot studio in Noho with my workout buddy Draga. Having practiced taekwondo as a pre-teen growing up in Queens, New York, I was stoked to return to the art of punching after so long. Rich, our instructor, reminded me of my former karate teacher, Master Brenner. Seemingly shy and soft-spoken — I don’t recall Rich formally introducing himself to the class — he jumped right into showing those of us waiting on our mats, the moves. This abrupt, unexplained intro about 15 minutes before the session officially started was confusing, especially since we weren’t clear that he was our instructor or what was happening. Perhaps this is part of what going with the “flow” looks like? It was a good lesson for this sometimes rigid New Yorker.
Standing at the center of the rectangular studio — horizontally lined with a dozen black yoga mats and a row of black and brown punching bags near the long, black, front wall — Rich demonstrated how to properly take a split stance with your dominant leg forward. We practiced jabs and cross jabs as well as uppercut and hook punches. We hadn’t even started the warmup, and I was already regretting the fries I shared with Draga to fuel up for class. Good thing I resisted the beer. (Though Young herself admits on the studio’s website that she considers “balance to be boxing, burgers, backbends + beer.” Amen, sister.)
With beats by DMX, Eminem, Frank Ocean, Notorious B.I.G., Solange and the like playing in the background, we were soon shadowboxing with light weights in hand to get the blood flowing. I was all in, fighting as if my life depended on it, and in hindsight, I wish I had taken it easier. By the time we slipped on our borrowed boxing gloves and moved to the heavy bags, my arms were tired. Still, I punched with power, making the bag sway like a pendulum as I lit into it. It felt good to watch the bag seemingly back away, and then come back for more.
I kept pounding with full force for another 10 minutes before my shoulders started to really burn. I soon started tapping the bag with my spaghetti arms, mimicking the motions with no force to keep up with the demands of the fast-moving class. When I removed one of my gloves to wipe the sweat from my brow and grab water, Rich admonishingly called out, “Did I say it was time for a water break?” Yup, he was definitely Master Brenner incarnate.
At that point, my inner child started to feel vulnerable, weak and insecure, remembering how I never felt tough enough in karate class either. Rather than get derailed by these negative thoughts, I looked over at Draga who was half punching, half dancing (this girl finds rhythm in everything she does) and started joining in an impromptu dance party in our little corner of the room. I was relieved the studio only had one mirror on the opposite wall so no one could really see us shaking it while punching it — except for maybe Rich whenever he glanced over. This put a huge smile on my face, which was exactly what I needed.
By the time we moved from the bags to the mats for yoga, my hands were numb from punching (or maybe from the tight wraps, I don’t know), my shoulders burned and my back ached. I did the postures I could, including downward dog, warrior, triangle and pigeon, but I mainly relaxed in child’s pose. I was grateful to have this time to catch my breath, slow my heart rate and reflect on the class. While I wished I had more of a connection with Rich — bonding with an instructor can make or break a class, especially when you’re new to it — I felt good about the workout and was impressed I burned 436 calories, which might’ve covered most of my pre-workout fries.
Ultimately, I found myself doing exactly as Young had predicted. I came in fighting, and I ended the class with calm reflection. Balance! It works, and I’m glad I tried it. When I go back, I’ll try to take a class from Young herself, loosen my hand wraps to minimize the numbness and punch with less power until I can build up to the bigger blows without destroying my body in the process.
IF YOU CAN’T MAKE IT TO BOX + FLOW, TRY THIS
In the meantime, I’ll work on these Box + Flow moves in the comfort of my living room, and you should, too:
Start in a split stance with your dominant side leg in front (i.e., if you’re right-handed, lead with your right leg). With your knees slightly bent and back heel lifted, keep your hands up by your face and elbows in, close to your body. With a tight fist, swiftly punch straight ahead using your dominant hand and exhale as you extend your arm. Retract your hand immediately, like a whip. Repeat this motion with the opposite arm. This one-two punch counts as one rep. Do 20 reps.
Start in a boxing stance with your hands up, always protecting your face. Aim for the chin using your dominant hand with a right-angle motion. Keep your punching arm and elbow parallel to the floor. As you throw a right hook, pivot your right foot. Then tighten your core, shift your hips back and keep knees bent as you perform a fast right uppercut. Follow this short, sharp combination with a left hook and left uppercut. Alternate arms, and engage your core and obliques for 20 reps per side.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Press down into your heels to lift your hips and butt. Interlace your hands behind your back and extend your arms to help you stay on the tops of your shoulders. Press your palms together for an even bigger shoulder-opening stretch. Hold for 30–60 seconds.
Begin in downward dog. Bring your knee to your wrist, then place your shin parallel to the front of your mat. Keep the back leg straight, and gently fold over your front leg to open your hips. Extend your arms straight and hold this position for five breaths. Switch sides.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT WORKOUT