For better and for worse, it says something about the age we live in that “balance,” “wellness,” and “natural health” are not the taken-for-granted state of affairs but rather goals to achieve and even industries unto themselves.

In a digital age where every aspect of life is increasingly technologically mediated and therefore “disembodied,” where fast food is affordable to all and Whole Foods is accessible to few, and where the demands of work and home life are in constant competition, the pursuit of “balance,” “wellness,” and “natural health” have become “prime directives” for those committed to staying true to the beat of their own drum and to making it their business to help others do the same.

Wellness is both an art and science, and for those in pursuit of it, a journey. Below are four of New Jersey’s best resources on the road to balanced living and radiant health.

Zahara Day Spa

Now in its fifth year of business, Zahara Day Spa boasts an army of evangelically enthusiastic loyalists who regularly take to social media to sing the spa’s praises and rave about the wellness transformations they’ve undergone.

Zahara’s owner and aesthetician, Moroccan native Najat Hafdi, opened her sumptuous Moroccan-style spa with an eye for organic and holistic treatments that enhance wellbeing both inside and out, offering a full range of natural services using fruit- and plant-based products and know-how handed down from her mother.

The menu of offerings include high-end body treatments, massage, waxing, and Zahara’s legendary skin care services that fans swear are so gentle, yet effective, as to make harsher methods appear both barbaric and obsolete. (A med spa this is not, and nowhere will guests find anything so much as suggestive of a clinical environment.)

Hafdi takes a different tack entirely, opting to work with, rather than against nature.

“Don’t force the skin to do something,” she says. “You have to take it really easy, slowly and surely. If you try to force the skin to do something, you may ruin it with harsh treatments like microdermabrasion. It takes the easiest touch; less is more.”

Hafdi doesn’t view Zahara’s services as a luxury or even as “pampering.”

“People think of massages as ‘pampering,’ but no, [they’re] a relief. Massages help circulation, it can even help people with cancer…it’s just very important for the body,” explains Hafdi.

“One thing you need to know about me and my approach as a spa owner and aesthetician is that you need your skin to look good,” Hafdi continues. “When you get an oil massage or when you wax yourself and feel clean–I don’t want that to be seen as ‘pampering.’ It’s not. It’s something we need and it’s part of our well-being.”

When Hafdi first opened, she was aiming for something different and unique. Judging from Zahara’s throngs of devoted followers and fans (many of whom “defected” from long standing relationships with other spas), her philosophy of wellbeing and beauty may be the way of the future.

Hudson Yoga Project

An urban oasis with with beautiful views of the New York City skyline, Vinyasa studio Hudson Yoga Project (HYP) strives to “share yoga philosophy through a modern lens to help allow for both student growth and individual expression.”

With thoughtful, dynamic, and inspirational classes for all ages (including prenatal yoga), Hudson Yoga Project is a soothing sanctuary of mind-body reconnection, nourishing relationships, and uplifting ambiance. (The studios are aglow with natural light and exposed brick, lending an intimate air to the practice space, or what instructors lovingly refer to as their “‘om’ away from home.”)

Founding member and practicing acupuncturist Patrick Franco has been a devoted student of yoga since 2001 and draws from the 5000-year old tradition in a way that integrates its insights into modern consciousness.

“Art. Music. Yoga. Urban. Diversity. Hoboken. NYC. Local. Vegetarian. Father. Husband. Community. This is what inspires me and was the spark that led to the creation of the Hudson Yoga Project,” Franco explains. “My classes are devoted to creating a light-hearted atmosphere that encourages self-study through alignment-focused vinyasa yoga and traditional yogic philosophy.”

Well aware that those new to yoga may find the prospect of taking up the practice intimidating, HYP goes out of its way to be welcoming, reassuring, and supportive to students of all skill levels, and there’s always a friendly face at the front desk to answer questions or offer a tour of a studio. HYP not only integrates body and mind, but also “high-end” and “approachable” – in itself no small feat of yogic genius.

Renaissance The Studio

With locations in both Hoboken and Red Bank and more than 125 combined weekly classes, Renaissance is known among devotees as a modern Pilates Mecca. But Pilates is just for starters. Renaissance also offers elite-level instruction in Barre, Cardio Strength, Flexibility, Dance Fitness, Yoga, and bodyART, making it the most extensive floor and apparatus program in the state of New Jersey.

Though most alternative fitness enthusiasts are at least somewhat familiar with Renaissance’s offerings, the exception is their bodyART classes.

BodyART, a European fitness modality, is the invention of Robert Steinbacher, a Swiss gymnast and dancer, which combines strength and awareness exercises, dance, and Tai Chi inspired movements.

In bodyART, the unitary movement of the human being as a whole is of paramount concern, and the aim is the cultivation of functional strength and stabilization-training of the body as a balanced, integrated movement system.

Because many positions in bodyART place incremental demands on the practitioner for an increasingly sensitive relationship to gravity resulting in enhanced balance, awareness is directed to the center of the body as the “axis” upon which balanced movement is possible.

BodyART is faster than Pilates or yoga, emphasizes flexibility, core strength, and balance, and is suitable for all skill levels. Originally conceived as a therapeutic approach, it’s a low impact exercise that’s simultaneously relaxing and energizing.

Renaissance co-owner and Managing Partner Elizabeth Barry is just as dynamic as the center’s offerings and is well known for her boundless positivity and wealth of experience in brand storytelling, talent management, entrepreneurial coaching, and health and wellness startup mentoring.

She has curated over 15 TEDx events and holds the inaugural Chair title of the first ‘Hoboken Women in Business Council.” Elizabeth’s book, Own Your Vulnerability has helped empower hundreds of female leaders and she views her mission at Renaissance to be that of changing lives while fully living life.

Laura Lagano Nutrition

Integrative Clinical Nutritionist Laura Lagano knows what people have intuitively known for centuries: food and other lifestyle choices can dramatically alter health and wellness.

“My core belief system concerns the interaction among health status, lifestyle, and genetics,” says Lagano. “The food you eat, the air you breathe, your personal relationships, how you exercise your body and mind interact with your genes to influence your health – positively or negatively.”

Currently a doctoral candidate in Nutrition & Health Education at Columbia University (where she also received her graduate degree in Nutrition Education), she has worked for nearly 30 years as a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist (RDN) who integrates her classical background in nutrition with leading-edge training from the Institute of Functional Medicine. She has appeared on multiple TV and radio spots including The Food Network, Fox, and CNN, and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Glamour, Cooking Light, Web MD, and more.

Referring jokingly to herself as “Lagano, PI,” (“Private Investigator”), she sleuths out the root causes of clients systems and dis-ease, designing customized holistic nutrition and lifestyle plans for them.

Lagano views herself and her clients as a team dedicated to the achievement of optimal wellness. Her ultimate goal is to empower clients to become active players in their own health rather than passive spectators, and Lagano prides herself in her ability to inspire clients to make this transition through mindful lifestyle choices.

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