“Bring one hand to your heart, one hand to your stomach, and just breathe. Start to feel gravity drawing the navel toward the back body. I want you to inhale, fill up the lungs with air. Exhale through your tailbone and your neck, heavy into the mat. Letting anything that happened before this class begin to dissipate. Filling up the body with air, vitality energy. Exhaling anything that isn’t serving you.”
Jacob Frazier, a trim, superbly fit young man with a neat beard, leads three shoeless women and a male visitor through their paces in a softly lit exercise room, warmed to a gently challenging 85 degrees. We are at BIÂN Chicago, which once might have been referred to simply as a “health club” but describes itself as a “private, members club built on the foundation of holistic wellness, vitality and social well-being.”
Three years ago, the space BIÂN fills with beige drapes, blond maple floors and large, blurry, vaguely Gerhard Richter-ish photographs was the empty shell of the former Japonais restaurant in the Montgomery Ward warehouse at 600 W. Chicago, and Frazier was a professional dancer.
BIÂN opened in November 2020 at the height of COVID restrictions. Frazier was among millions of Americans— a Harris poll released last year said more than half of our nation’s employees want a career change — prodded by the pandemic to swap one profession for another.
“There was no more work, at the time, for dancers,” explains Frazier, who danced professionally for five years. “‘I’d always cross-trained to sustain my body, so it just felt like a natural shift.”
Leaving dance was easier than an outsider might imagine.
“The life is very hard because you are living in poverty most of the time,” Frazier says. “So no, it wasn’t hard to give up. I was ready. I was sick of living that way.”
If talking to dancers-turned-fitness-instructors and nibbling cucumber, apricot, pistachio and yogurt salad seems off brand for me, it was. I was slogging through my own COVID-induced doldrum when Justine Fedak — who used to be in charge of brand strategy for BMO Harris Bank and now does marketing for BIÂN — suggested a visit might perk me up.
It did, along with offer an education. For instance, I did not realize members of gyms — whoops, holistic wellness, vitality, etc. clubs — routinely pay $150 for vitamin transfusions.
“Let’s get you an IV,” says Sarah Tisch, brightly. She slaps a pair of fingers at my elbow to raise a vein. I express wonderment at the practice. People really do this?
“We have some professional athletes who come in come in every week,” she replies. “Bi-monthly is more common. A lot of people get the Glow” — the concoction I’ve signed up for — “before big events, like before a wedding, because the Vitamin C and the gluconate makes your skin really radiant.“
Last year, Tisch was a registered nurse in labor and delivery at Northwestern Medicine, where she’d worked for eight years.
“Always the same surgery, which is C-sections,” she says. The arrival of COVID pushed Tisch beyond her limit.
“After the pandemic, I didn’t know if I wanted to be a nurse at all,” Tisch says. “We were so spread thin. It was stressful to be in labor and delivery, having to separate the moms and the babies. I was just done.”
She was thinking of quitting nursing altogether and becoming a full-time yoga instructor. Instead, she joined BIÂN as a nurse in November.
“Then I found this job, and it’s so perfect,” she says.
Dr. Marcie Claybon was also at Northwestern — an internist for five years — before becoming medical director and concierge physician at BIÂN. She savors being able to focus more on patients.
“It’s black and white,” she says. “The level of medical care that people receive in the realm of concierge medicine is exponentially higher. In a more traditional medical system, 20 minutes per patient is the model. In this system, I (frequently) spend two hours with patients for an annual exam.”
I did not feel in any way affected by my infusion, never mind radiant, certainly not boosted the way Frazier’s class, working on core strength and mobility, energized me. The Washington Post took a dim view of the popular procedure: “Trendy IV vitamin infusions don’t work — and might be unsafe. Experts explain why,”
I ask Claybon about the IVs.
“With respect to IV therapies, there is a paucity of researching regarding them,” she replies. “There’s not evidence suggesting they’re harmful.”
So it’s a placebo? People feel better because they expect to feel better?
“Part of the response to all of these things is the placebo effect,” Claybon says. “And yet there’s power in the placebo effect. Pretty good research suggests the placebo effect is real. I think that’s a piece of it. I also think it goes beyond placebo. Based on individuals’ experiences, how they feel when they get the boosters. Based on that, there’s tons of positive reinforcements.”
The IV left me only with a penny-sized blood bruise at the crook of my arm that lingered for a week. But I shouldn’t bid farewell to BIÂN on a sour note. Hanging out there was like being on the set of a James Bond movie, with lithe young men and women striding around, exuding health and bonhomie.
Were I living or working nearby, I’d consider popping the $300 a month membership. I truly enjoyed Frazier’s class. But considering cost and distance, the Northbrook YMCA admirably serves my needs for a nearby treadmill and free weights.
As for IV drips with names like Performance, Revive and Replenish, I will leave those to people who believe they benefit from such things.