You know what people don’t talk about enough? How difficult boxing classes are. You go into it thinking it’s going to be all bag punching and upper body workouts—because that’s what Michael B. Jordan and Creed would have you believe—only to find yourself on the brink of passing out, doing burpees and planks in a basement full of people more experienced and in better shape than you. Or, maybe that’s just been my experience.
Box + Flow, though, seemed different. It’s a new workout class based in New York City that’s made up of about 35 minutes of boxing and 18 minutes of yoga. My biggest shock, when I first caught wind of the class, was that nobody had come up with the idea before. It seems pretty ingenious, intense cardio followed up by really dramatic stretching (that’s how I like to describe yoga); it was a concept of working out that, somehow, had whizzed past the heads of the hundreds of different studios already in New York City. It’s touted as being for “women that aren’t afraid to get messy and men who aren’t ashamed to flow,” and is meant to “bring mindfulness to the fight.” Credit the tagline, the Instagram-friendly stairs, or the stress that comes with having Trump in office, but I was hooked at the first punch.
Olivia Young, a former restaurant brand director-turned-entrepreneur, opened up Box + Flow six months ago. She’d been boxing for 10 years and practicing yoga for 15 before that, often doing them both back-to-back. “I’m naturally a fighter with a super-savvy personality, and boxing kept my focus,” she tells us. “Even though I’m hyperactive and super-efficient, I actually really need yoga to force me to slow down. So it was both of these things combined that, for me, keeps me balanced physically and also mentally.” They’re opposites, sure, but together they bring a sort of symbiosis. “When I leave a boxing class, I leave adrenaline-heavy, jacked-up, and ready to go fight,” Young says. “When I leave yoga, I have this hippy-dippy euphoric vibe that won’t really get me anywhere. So, how do you bring the strength and the softness to create just that?”
Easy, you combine the two. The Box + Flow studio is set up with a slew of yoga mats placed parallel to the punching bags. That’s where you start the class, with a typical five-minute or so workout that includes jumping jacks, squats, butt kicks, and light weight lifting. Then, you make your way over to the punching bag, where you practice a sequence of jabs, crosses, hooks, and undercuts, with hopes that you remember the order in which the instructor called them out. All the time, you’re being encouraged by your partner. The instructor, too, will come along to occasionally correct your form or scream what might sound like critiques over the blare of whatever Kanye, Drake, or Kendrick track that’s playing, but those are actually encouragements. There are nine rounds of this. The most exhilarating part of the “box” portion, though, are the “rumble” periods, when you’re essentially able to freestyle at high speed. That anger you’re harboring toward your coworker, landlord, significant other, well, this is the time to let it loose.
This is also the time when you will sweat buckets. No, this is not an exaggeration. I don’t think I’ve sweat more in my life, and I sweat a lot. It’s part of the reason I don’t like working out in front of other people; I somehow think my amount of perspiration is abnormal compared to others (it’s not), but Box + Flow has an easy way of distracting you from that—with dimmed lights and no mirrors.
Yep, think about the last time you went to a workout class that didn’t have a mirror situated in the front. You’re probably hard-pressed to remember one. This is an intentional move on Young’s part. “This is not about how you look, but how you feel,” she says. “It’s not about comparison, it’s about just being in it, just being in the fire.” It’s also, strategically, a very smart move. “If you can’t see yourself, or you can’t see the person next to, can you still push yourself? Can you still get to your limit? And then surpass it?” Young asks, like a true workout class instructor. “New York City is constant, it’s every corner. It’s this digital world. It’s Instagram. Everything is about how you look, or how she looks. Box + Flow is not about that. We can deal with that after, or before.”
After the boxing round is finished, comes yoga, featuring vinyasa-like moves and warrior poses. Also, it’s the time when your now-drenched top has a chance to dry. (I personally think the ratio of yoga to boxing is perfect, but others might prefer more of the former than the latter). Then, each class ends in the typical savasana, a pose which gives your mind and body a chance to settle.
On my third week, there was a young woman next to me taking the class for the first time. Throughout the hour-long series of workouts, she would occasionally turn to me, with an exhausted look on her face, and say things like “That was intense” and “This is crazy.” After we finished and before we parted ways, she told me, “Never again.” This is often the reaction people have after taking their first class, Young tells me. “The first time you do it, you’re skeptical and confused. You can’t really experience it,” she says. The key is coming back again.
Full disclosure: I wanted to die while taking my first class. Seriously, I sent out a very dramatic tweet afterward as evidence. That girl’s reaction during her first class was mine also—and I imagine a lot of others before me. Box + Flow is hard. If you’re looking for an easy class, this is not it; look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for one that’s both rewarding, therapeutic, and brings you to hell and back again with toned arms intact, this is it. The classes haven’t gotten easier for me—although I do feel a little less closer to death afterward—but they’re also not necessarily supposed to either, Young says. She compares it to the happenings of life.
“Life doesn’t get easier, every day is unpredictable and different, but it’s how you flow through that, how you flow through the difficulty,” she says. “It’s about how hard you’re gonna push yourself today, or how much you’re gonna let yourself go right now. I’ve been practicing yoga half my life, am I more experienced? Yes. Am I stronger because of boxing? Yes. But it doesn’t make things easier or harder.”
It’s worth noting that you, as an athlete, will get better. You’ll be able to do the sequences faster because you’ll be more familiar with them. Your form will improve as well as your speed and strength. And, most importantly, you’ll leave the class with less baggage than you walked in with. It’s, essentially, therapy with a lower price tag, and a much higher amount of sweat.