01.03 Stretching out of your body

Local experts say Pilates & yoga are different, but both are good for you

Pilates (pronounced puh-LAH-teez) is the newest exercise craze to sweep the nation, bringing with it a plethora of infomercials, equipment ads, and endorsements by celebrities like Jennifer Anniston and Christie Brinkly. This is no passing fad, however; Pilates has been around for much longer than people think, and loyal Worcesterites are glad to attest to its value as a source of exercise and wellbeing. The question many people ask however is can Pilates stand up to yoga, a similar exercise form with a much longer history? Most experts in the fields of both Pilates and yoga say yes.

In recent years, Worcester has developed its own thriving Pilates community, with BodyMind Balance studio on Grove Street as its locus. Tammy Plaxico opened the studio in May of 2000. She believes that yoga has had a great influence on the Pilates she teaches, and she stresses that Joseph H. Pilates, the German physical trainer who developed the Pilates repertoire in the 1920s, actually studied yoga and eastern philosophy extensively.

As a result, he created a method that successfully “married Western and Eastern philosophies of exercise,” Plaxico explains. Pilates combines rigorous physical strengthening with an Eastern emphasis on breath control and body control. Accordingly, both yoga and Pilates require a certain amount of internal focus and concentration.

Plaxico maintains that, although the two practices stem from similar routes, yoga and Pilates are, contrary to popular belief, quite different in nature. Yoga is very focused on poses and holding these poses, whereas Pilates is more about “the movement through or the connection between poses.” As opposed to “static pictures,” Pilates offers more of a “sense of connection.” “Someone might call it ‘liquid yoga,’” she explains.

Pilates is popular with a wide variety of age groups. Plaxico says these are “people looking for an exercise program that is physical as well as mental, people that can appreciate Pilates as a discipline, as a technique to be studied, people that are willing to invest time and understand that all good things take time.”

Although successful courses have been taught on and off at both the local YWCA and the Jewish Community Center, BodyMind Balance is one of the major Pilates facilities serving central Massachusetts, with people traveling from all over the state to take advantage of its resources.

However, a smaller but equally valuable resource exists about twenty miles west of Worcester in West Brookfield. There, Jill Hoffman teaches Pilates at the Betty Gunderson School of Dance. Hoffman has studied yoga as well, and feels that both methods have their benefits. She claims, though, that Pilates “attends to the core muscles of the body in a way that yoga does not.”

Pilates strengthens and lengthens the muscles that support and stabilize the spine and, subsequently, the entire body, leading to a healthier neurological flow. “No other exercise has ever focused on that,” claims Hoffman. To Hoffman, Pilates is about “starting at a healthier base and being more aware of where you are in your body.”

“Most people live in their heads,” Hoffman claims. “Where people are stuck in their body, I teach them to stretch out of it.”

Hoffman describes the breathing methods of Pilates and yoga as being very different. Yoga uses abdominal breathing, whereas Pilates uses both anterior and posterior breathing. Basically, yoga calls for a deep belly breath and an expansion of the abdomen, while Pilates calls for the abdominal muscles to maintain a contraction the entire time, so that the whole abdominal cavity is being used a “power force.”

With Pilates, “there is a lot of flexibility. So it’s very user-friendly,” explains Hoffman. In yoga, there aren’t many opportunities to alter poses. In Pilates, positions can be modified to accommodate people’s individual posture or health problems. Standing positions can be used in cases of osteoporosis, for instance, and these methods offer the same challenge to the muscles.

Of course, there are those that prefer the more ancient, spiritual tradition of yoga to this newer, more physical method of Pilates.

Greg Hurd, Director of Outreach at the Bancroft School of Massage in Worcester, is one such person. Bancroft has offered both yoga and Pilates in recent years, and Hurd has participated in both. “Having done both, I’m much more drawn to yoga,” he says. “It works you in healthier ways…Pilates is great for strength-building, but yoga helps you on much subtler levels.”

Yoga can contribute to the development of positive energy and aid with health matters such as organ or spinal complications or mens and women’s issues, he claims. Yoga also increases flexibility whereas Pilates, which focuses more on the strengthening of the abdomen, does not.

Yoga is slow-moving and focused on working the “energy core,” and Pilates is more focused on working the “physical core,” Hurd explains. “Pilates asks you to hold your stomach in, while yoga wants you to stay relaxed, not trying to hold it [your stomach] tense all the time.” If you’re going for the chiseled look, Pilates is better, but if you want that toned, lean-but-still-strong look, yoga is for you according to Hurd.

What becomes apparent from all of these distinctions is that both yoga and Pilates have their benefits. As Jill Hoffman explains, it’s very difficult to say that one is better than the other. In the end, she says, “The beauty of choice is that there is no one way that’s the best way. It’s what’s best for you. The end goal is for wellness, and anything that can contribute to that is a good thing.”

“The beauty of choice is that there is no one way that’s the best way. It’s what’s best for you. The end goal is for wellness, and anything that can contribute to that is a good thing.” Jill Henderson, Pilates instructor

If you’re going for the chiseled look, Pilates is better, but if you want that toned, lean-but-still-strong look, yoga is for you according to Bancroft School of Massage’s Greg Hurd.


01.03 The Vagina Monologues to return to Bijou Cinema

In the early 1990’s, feminist Eve Ensler started to interview women about their vaginas and writing the stories down. These stories were the basis of the highly successful The Vagina Monologues which have been performed around the country, including in Worcester where the play was a sold-out success at the Bijou Cinema in 2002.

The Bijou, along with the Worcester Poetry Project in conjunction with Projective Verse, will offer the Monologues again this year. Kinkos will provide sponsorship. On Friday, February 14 at 7:30 p.m., 18 women will perform the play by Ensler at the Bijou. The performance will benefit local charities that combat the violence against women, such as Abby’s House, Faith House, and the Worcester Clothesline Project.

Sou MacMillan, coordinator of both the 2002 and 2003 local productions, says, “There were differences in the scripts last year and there may be this year as well, as well as a new addition to the Monologues from Ensler herself.”

MacMillan says the addition is titled, “The Crooked Braid”. There will also be two, home-written monologues, which will project the theme of what our community would look like if the violence against women and girls stopped.

The Monologues will also be performed at The College of the Holy Cross by students sometime this spring. There was a similar performance at Clark University last February.

Monologues creator Ensler suffered both physical and mental abuse. As she began the process of collecting interviews and collaborating with hundreds of women, she began to take the issue seriously with the help of her partner, Ariel Orr Jordan.

Ensler began to talk to older women, young women, married women, single women, lesbians, college professors, actors, corporate professionals, sex workers, African American women, Hispanic women, Native American women, Caucasian women, Jewish women.

Ensler says in her book The Vagina Monologues, “Women secretly love to talk about their vaginas. They get very excited, mainly because no one has ever asked them before.” Ensler also says that the Monologues are close to “verbatim interviews,” however some do start as composite interviews. Every interviewee was asked to same questions as well as asked to comment on topics.

The Monologues are composed of issues such as hair, masturbation, menstruation, sexual abuse in relevance to culture and individuality, questions such as “if your vagina got dressed, what would it wear and if your vagina could talk, what would it say, in two words”, as well as factual information.

The Monologues began to spread across the country as Ensler took center stage and shared the stories that had touched her. During the production of the play, Ensler began to focus on stopping violence towards women. She says, “The desecration of women indicated the failure of human beings to honor and protect the life and that this failing would, if we did not correct it, be the end of us all. When you rape, beat, maim, mutilate, burn, bury, and terrorize women, you destroy the essential life energy on the planet.”

In 1997, Ensler met with a group of activist women and founded V-Day. On February 14, 1998 the first V-Day was brought to life in New York City at the Hammerstein Ballroom.

Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, Glenn Close, Winona Ryder, Marisa Tomei, Shirley Knight, Lois Smith, Kathy Najimy, Calista Flockheart, Lily Tomlin, Hazelle Goodman, Margaret Cho, Hannah Ensler-Rivel, BETTY, Klezmer Women, Ulali, Phoebe Snow, Gloria Steinem, Soraya Mire, and Rosie Perez all joined together to perform The Vagina Monologues and launch the V-Day movement.

The importance of getting the words of these women out has grown across communities nationwide and has inspired women to take the stage and celebrate their voices within.


01.03 Grooving with Phish

Understanding the mind of a Phish fan

A few weeks back I had this simple exchange with a friend of mine.

Friend: “Phish is coming!”

Me: “So?”

What followed was a mixture of swearing about my “idiocy” and different variations of the strong declaration, “Phish is the greatest band ever!”

Definitely a strong argument, but I was still not convinced.

The entire phenomenon of Phish — a band of jazzy, regular looking guys who have a constant carnival of fans accompanying them around the country — was just beyond me. I couldn’t understand what made a band with no breakthrough albums (that I knew of at least) special. Even more perplexing were those nomads who follow Phish from coast to coast. How can somebody follow a music act around the country? Doesn’t it get boring? Don’t these people have to go to school or work?

I went to my friend Tom for answers. Every time I was in his car he was playing Phish, so he had to know something about them.

The funny thing about Tom, though, is that he does not look the part of a Phish fan. No tie-dye T-shirts, no dread-locks, no Dead-head stickers, and nothing else with a hyphen.

“The stereotype comes from, when you go to shows, you see those people everywhere,” Tom told me. “For them, Phish is a way of life and the stereotype look has some truth…Most fans are your average looking high school or college student who breaks out a tie-dye or Phish shirt and goes to the show.”

So I was at least in the correct demographic. But I still wanted to know how Phish fans survived. Tom explained that they “work in the ‘off season’ to make enough money to buy up the next tour and supplies for the road. Those are the people you often see selling food and other paraphernalia in the parking lots before and after the show…and those are the people who catch your eye and are pretty interesting.”

Still, I wondered, what is it about Phish that inspires such devotion?

“Phish is not a band you hear one song and love. They are not a radio band. They do not have radio songs. They have no image. They do play really bad shows. There is no key figure.” Tom tried to explain.

“No band is more free,” Tom continued, warming to his subject with a gleam of splendor. “Phish has toured for seventeen years straight before taking a two year hiatus, all the while they never had a set list. They walk on stage and just play. It is not a preplanned out show. You know, ACDC always closes with ‘For Those About to Rock,’ or Springsteen will always play ‘Born to Run.’”

With Phish, Tom went on, “All you do is listen and groove.”


Tom elaborated for my non-hip self: “One person starts a groove, the next adds one small thing, then the next, and they go around in circles for hours — and this drill is what Phish is all about…the greatness comes from everyone being part of the whole. And when you are at a show, you are part of that.”

So Phish is a band that is “high” on fan interaction. “I would say that a Phish fan thinks there is something magical about the music and this, whether at a college or on the road, creates a sense of community and kinship, like two people let into a secret.” Tom was getting philosophical.

I think that I was getting the point, though. I didn’t necessarily need to dress the part. I didn’t need to drop everything in my life. I just had to go. Tom agreed. Seeing them live is the best thing to do if I want to know and understand the whole Phish phenomenon.

So Phish is coming to the Worcester Centrum at the end of February. I think I’ll have to see them now. The tie-dye. The freedom. The grooving. So many people just can’t be wrong.


01.03 Hot & Now

Wine and Food Festival coming to Union Station

I’ll have mine black

Well, it has finally happened. Worcester finally arrived on Tuesday January 14, 2003 when Worcester Mayor Tim Murray announced the arrival of our very first Starbucks Coffee. The Seattle-based purveyor of extreme caffeine will be located at the corner of Grove and West Boylston Streets in the new Chadwick Court Building. If Starbucks comes to Worcester, can this mean that the coffee fad is ending?

Branching out

Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston will branch out this winter with demonstrations in hearthside cooking. The demonstrations will be held in the evening on January 29 and February 26 and will be taught by Earl Lahana of Harry’s Too in Westboro and Paula McCarthy of Zia’s Grille on Shrewsbury Street. Call Tower Hill at 508 869-6111 for details.

McCarthy and Lahana met while they both worked at the Beechwood Hotel. An interesting aside… Shrewsbury Street is also populated by former graduates of the Beechwood’s kitchen. Beside, McCarthy and Lahana, others include Joe Petrou of Primo’s and the soon to open The Restaurant at Union Station, Anthony DeSantis of Anthony’s, and Joey Tuson of Amore Café.

Try these, you’ll like them.

About a half-dozen restaurants have opened recently in the Worcester area, starting with Low Fat/Know Fat in Shrewsbury’s White City East. That is the little mall with the Dunkin Donuts in it. The concept is simple, healthy, nutritious food that has little or no fat, without sacrificing flavor.

Also, the Lito is opening at 99 Green Street in the space that was formerly occupied by Cool Beans. Our sources tell us that they will offer a limited menu with Italian flair. They will also feature some entertainment later at night.

Down in the Village.

Manzi’s Village Café recently opened at 857 Millbrae Street in the heart of Quinsigamond Village. Primarily a breakfast and lunch place, the Village Café will also be open for late nite knoshing on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday when it will be open from 11 p.m. until 4 a.m. The cafe will be run by Bill Manzi and is a family affair. The restaurant will lean toward Italian food, but will also feature homemade soups and grilled items.

Rio comes to Chandler Street

Café Belo, a Brazilian steak house recently opened its doors at 214 Chandler Street. The restaurant is open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. If you’re not familiar with Brazilian food, you should definitely give the place a try. Brazilian cuisine is heavy on meat including steak, roasts and sausages and on chicken. The staff speaks limited English, so be patient.

More from the Delta

Main South has a new Vietnamese restaurant with the recent opening of Bale Boston at 875 Main Street, just up from Dunkin Donuts. The owners have three similar restaurants in Boston, but this is their first venture outside the Hub. The only drawback is that they are only open until 7 p.m.

Taste the wine

The Worcester Wine and Food Festival is coming to Union Station on March 1. The event, which will benefit for the Jewish Community Center’s Scholarship Fund, will feature a wine tasting as well as food from Primo’s Restaurant. The wines will be supplied by the Oxford Wine Room and Rudi & Sons Estate Wines. Tickets cost $50. For ticket information, contact Maribeth Driscoll at 508 756-7109 ext. 278.

Paul Giorgio can be reached at


01.03 Like The Bully, The Sole and the WAM Cafe

A guide to local restaurants good for the body, mind and soul

Winter in 2003. Since New Year’s Eve, it has snowed almost every day. Some mornings it is so cold it hurts to breathe. The sidewalks are bobsled runs.

If ever there is a time of year when we need restaurants that are good for the body, mind and soul, it is in January, February and March – especially this year. So we’ve put together a list of some local restaurants that will warm your body, ease your mind and comfort your soul.

On just about any winter day, Worcester’s diners are bursting at the seams with people looking for hot, filling food, Maybe it’s a hold-over from childhood winters when grilled cheese sandwiches, hot chocolate and tomato soup were all you wanted. Or maybe it’s because your body is hungering for fat — what is better than a huge cheeseburger and fries on a frigid day? Or a steaming bowl of homemade chicken soup? Or eggs and bacon and sausage and huge hunks of Italian bread toast dripping with butter?

We are blessed in Worcester with some truly great diners and whether you prefer the Kenmore, The Parkway, Charlie’s or The Boulevard, diners are on the top of the list for food that comforts your soul. You may not be getting the healthiest meals in the world — cholesterol counts soar the minute you walk through a diner’s door — but when it’s 11 degrees out and you have had to battle the elements just to get out of your driveway, who cares.

Here are some of our favorites for diner food. For breakfast, The Boulevard’s “Special” can’t be beat. Offering a couple of eggs any way you like em, Italian sausage, bacon, homefries and the above-mentioned hunks of Italian toast, this meal will keep you going for days. We also love “The Bully’s” chicken soup which is so popular at lunch-time that huge vats of the stuff are made daily.

For pasta fagiole, which is tasty and also very good for you because of the combo of beans, pasta, tomatoes and garlic, we like to hit The Parkway. And for filling snacks on cold, cold nights, the Kenmore is terrific.

Of course all these places also offer great burgers, but our personal favorite for burgers has always been Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner which has been undergoing renovation since it was taken over by Vincent Hemmeter of the famed, East Side hotspot, Vincents. We are hoping Vincent won’t change the recipe for Ralph’s cheeseburgers, which are true therapy for the winter-ravaged.

Speaking of Vincents, if you didn’t get enough turkey over the holidays and your body is hungry for some soothing hot turkey, hearty stuffing and cranberry sauce, go to Vincents and ask for a Gobbler. This sandwich, made with Italian bread, is stuffed with all the above ingredients, and the turkey is the real thing — not processed, cardboard stuff.

Also in the category of meals that comfort your soul are the hefty clam chowder at The Sole Proprietor, the cheap and spicy seafood gumbo at Coral Seafood on Green Street, the fat chicken enchiladas and black bean burritos at Tortilla Sam’s on Highland Street (also good for your body are the veggie enchiladas at Tortilla Sam’s, a restaurant that is trying to increase “healthy” menu items) and from Shrewsbury Street, the oysters on the half shell at One Eleven Chophouse and the antipasto (a meal in itself) at Anthonys.

Of course, good food is also about atmosphere, or “ambiance” in restaurant reviewer lingo. If you’re looking for a little artistic stimulation along with your lunch, the Worcester Art Museum’s Café offers inexpensive, yet creative lunch choices like the Monet Chicken Salad at $8.95,or the Homer BLT at $6.75.

To stimulate your mind AND soothe your soul, don’t miss WAM’s “Flora In Winter” exhibit during the first week in February, which will feature fresh floral interpretations of works of art.

The above-mentioned One Eleven Chophouse, The Sole Proprietor, Anthonys and some other popular spots like Tianos on Grove Street and of course, the Beechwood Hotel’s Harlequin are elegant, tastefully decorated restaurants where the atmosphere is carefully maintained by attentive staff, the flowers fresh (especially at One Eleven, where attention to ambiance includes fresh flowers in the rest rooms) and the wait and bar staff polite. Of course, you will end up paying more for peace of mind at these places, but during a winter like this, it’s worth the cost.

Speaking of cost, for meals that are not only inexpensive but also healthy for your body, Worcester has a good selection of Asian and vegetarian restaurants that offer low fat, yet tasty food without busting your wallet.

Da Lat on Park Avenue offers healthy, unusual soups, fresh veggy and rice dishes and much more for less than $10. Da Lat has long been a favorite with Worcester’s college crowd. Also a good choice for innovative Asian food with flair is the ever-popular Nancy Chang on Chandler Street, which offers all kinds of Oriental delights including Thai, Malaysian and Polynesian specialties made with vitamin rich brown rice, herbal ingredients and vegetarian chicken and shrimp.

Across town at Thai Time, there is a reasonably priced, $6.95 luncheon buffet that has very good vegetarian spring rolls, crab wontons with nice delicate crusts and well-seasoned entrees like shrimp with basil, pork ginger and chicken with cashew nuts. Thai Time, which is located a stone’s throw from Spags, also serves lovely, smoky tea.

In the Middle Eastern category, El Basha on Rte. 9 wins hands-down for real dishes that are also good for you. This is the place to go for really good hummus, falafel and tasty side salads. Everything is nicely seasoned and inexpensive. The kibbee is delicious and the grape rolls are the real thing.

Of course if you’re looking for a place to eat that offers a big selection of vegetarian and organic food, the Living Earth Garden Café on Chandler Street is the place to find things like bison burgers (which have 80% less fat), tofu stir fries and of course, Chai, the good for-you-and-tasty-too sweetened tea drink that is so popular you can even get it at Dunkin Donuts.

So there you have it. On the next truly awful winter day, treat yourself. Brave the elements and head for Thai Time’s spring rolls, the Art Museum Café’s Warhol Soup du Jour or bacon, homefries and eggs morning, noon or night at The Boulevard.

Susan Dewey can be reached at


01.03 Sigur Ros: Speaking perfectly without words

How do you put into words an album that purposely sets out to communicate without understandable language?

Sigur Ros, the unconventional quartet from Iceland, has managed to speak in tongues that none of their listeners will understand. All of the lyrics on their second release, ( ) (that’s two empty parenthesis), consist of entirely made up words.

Getting rid of word content is nothing new for Sigur Ros. Traditionally the band has stuck to creating landscape pieces. To say that the result brings to mind the band’s northern homeland is almost trite. Slippery and sharp noises set an icy stage while sporadic bursts from the drum-kit are like blasts of steam providing some warmth. Sure, it all sounds a bit flowery when put into words like this — but that is Sigur Ros’ aim: to make a piece of music the defies language, but melts perfectly into your feeling.

Something happens when listening to ( ). You do not understand the words — nobody does – but somehow you can relate to them. At some points you may think that you are hearing familiar words. At other points you maybe find some meaning in the nonsensical sounds. In this uncertainty is the essence of the record — the unknown – which is evident from the first calm step on the untitled opening track to the releasing crescendo on the untitled closing track. In fact, all of the eight songs are untitled, as the entire album is one large panorama that just does not work if any part is omitted.

Unlike other bands adept at making abstract landscape albums like Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Mogwai, Sigur Ros are able to avoid a certain amount of pretentiousness and artificiality. What the Icelanders dodge are delusions of grandeur and an overindulgence in noise. The result is a personal, well-crafted album.

It is easy to make this release one’s own personal album. ( ) seems to have been made for the solitary times in the dark. Playing it on a long car ride or while lounging in your own dimly-lit room is conducive to pushing your mind to wandering. Even if you do not know exactly what is being said here, and even if the album is hard to describe — it is undeniable that you can feel what Sigur Ros is trying to tell you without words. And that is the point.

To say that the result brings to mind the band’s northern homeland is almost trite. Slippery and sharp noises set an icy stage while sporadic bursts from the drumkit are like blasts of steam providing some warmth.