SCHENECTADY — For approximately a quarter of a century, Patricia Washington’s Ptalé
exercise class has not only served as a way to relax but also as a precursor to yoga for many area residents.
During the pandemic, it’s helped her when she needed it the most.
“It keeps me sane,” Washington, manager of Vent Fitness in Niskayuna, said. “If you work in the fitness world, you want to help people all the time. That’s been taken away right now.”
The class, which she began with her employee and friend Ali Smith 25 years ago, is pronounced as a mixture of their names (Pat-Ali). Washington described Ptalé as an hour-long athletic stretch derived from physical therapy, chiropractic work and the New York City Ballet, all put together in a sequence. It focuses on breathing and “light-energy work,” and participants are using every muscle group, including their abdominals, throughout the class.
The two began the class during a time when yoga wasn’t as popular as it is now, and they were looking to “fill a void.” And while Smith is no longer teaching Ptalé, Washington has found a way to share it.
“People stretch for five minutes and they’re like, ‘OK, I’m done stretching,’” Washington said. “So that’s really what it’s all about. It’s not yoga. But it would be yoga-like for a lot of people now that they know what yoga is. It is stretching, athletic stretching, but done in a nice, quiet, relaxed way. I talk all the way through it — very calmly and quietly.”
Washington said she expected the class to be something that lasted a while, but had no idea that it would take her into 2020. Throughout the years, she’s noticed that most participants get a different experience out of the class.
“They experience all different types of emotions,” she said. “Some people take it for just the stretching that they don’t do. I have golfers and basketball players that need that stretch, that rotation sometimes. Some see loved ones, they talk to loved ones. They release some energy or start crying at the end. Everybody takes something different from it.”
Washington is currently teaching the class for free at Mohawk Harbor on Mondays and Wednesdays at 6 p.m. These classes see an upwards of 50 participants during the pandemic, a time that she sees the class as more important than ever.
“Physically, I’m glad they’re able to move. But mentally, I hope it relieves anxiety and brings them more into the world. You’re just grounded a little bit more. We will roll with the punches [of the pandemic]. I’m hoping that, with that time in the class, they feel connected to the earth, and that they can just relieve some of their anxiety and stress.”