Alyona Aikina: With Discipline and Patience, ‘You Can Accomplish Anything’

Laura Paull Articles, Featured, Fitness, Health & Wellness, Mind/Body — By on August 20, 2012 12:24 pm

After making the move from Siberia to California, Alyona Aikina was determined to master surfing — the iconic California sport!

It’s sweltering in Siberia this summer. Alyona Aikina, the Siberian-born gymnast currently working as a fitness trainer at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, is very happy that she has to bundle up to jog along the beach or don a wet suit to surf in the cold waters this side of the Pacific.

But she hears her parents’ complaints every day via Skype.

“I miss my family so much, every hour of my life,” she said during a recent chat at the JCCSF, where this interview caused her to endure a rare sedentary moment.

“It’s unbelievably hard, especially during holiday season. But I do go back to visit my family in Russia when I can.”

Alyona as a toddler was already aiming to be number one!

Though she immigrated to the United States all by herself years ago, Alyona has lost none of the “Russian-ness” that is part of her charm, her education and the outlook she brings to her job as a personal trainer.

A.Aikina as a teen, practicing gymnastics by the Baltic Sea.

“I was born into a sport family in Omsk,” she recounts. “Both my parents were swimmers. So we were all running together, swimming and skiing. At age 5 I started rhythmic gymnastics. The training program combined athletic workouts and classical ballet. I trained every day.”

And that is just what she recommends to those who come to her for fitness guidance: to keep moving, to do something physical, “at least five days a week.”



In her own case, it’s more like seven — but that’s just who she is.

When she’s not working, she loves skating, skiing, hiking in a park or on a beach, swimming, rollerblading, surfing, kayaking around the Bay, “and of course I love to do my stretches.” Clearly, she does. Take a look at her web site or Facebook page and you’ll see Alyona doing the splits on Ocean Beach, below the Golden Gate Bridge, in a field of wildflowers, even against a wall or parked car. It’s inspiring, but not what she necessarily expects of her clients. That’s just Alyona.

It was Alyona’s mother’s dream to see her daughter as a gymnast and then as a medical doctor. She accomplished both. After a childhood of rigorous training, she rose to the top level of competition in rhythmic gymnastics both nationally and internationally. She also earned her certification as an aerobics instructor at the Siberian State University of Physical Education and Sport, where her parents, Ludmila Aikina and Vladimir Aikin, are professors.

And then on to med school. At the Omsk State Medical Academy she specialized in pediatrics, and worked as a physician for about four years during her studies followed by four years at a Children’s Hospital after earning the degree.

But the sedentary life of a student and professional was not for her.
“My body required to continue my consistent physical trainings while I was studying, then working in medicine; that’s why I couldn’t stop it,” she says.

While still at the medical academy she opened her own fitness business and managed to teach private and group fitness classes. She says she also performed as a ballet dancer.

“I always had two jobs – my own fitness club and medical job.”

In the end, the most important thing she gained from all her years in gymnastics was not the ability to do the splits.

“Strict discipline and patience were the most valuable takeaways,” she says. “If you have them, you can accomplish anything.”

On a Saturday afternoon in the JCCSF Fitness Center, Alyona bustles into one of the group exercise rooms and puts on music that sounds classical, but with a beat. Then she positions herself at the head of the group, and begins to teach short combinations of movements that look an awful lot like ballet. Although none of the women in the class are professional dancers, all seem to aspire to the grace we admire in them. Imitating Alyona, their posture is tall and arms are held in an arched form away from the body. Legs may not lift high but they are straight. Toes are more or less pointed. And any movement, the students learn, makes more of a demand on the body when one tries to execute it gracefully. This is why ballet dancers have the kinds of physiques that are universally coveted.

Balletone is a patented, dance-based workout aimed at improving balance, strength and flexibility, which Alyona is certified to teach. A person of any age or gender can do it, she says, and it is “fairly easy” to learn.

Not sure about “easy,” but there is something about dancing that can almost make you forget you’re exercising.

“She is a wonderful instructor, and it was great to feel like a dancer while I exercised!” one client named Alice has testified. Maybe that’s why many people who danced as children or some time in their past, are drawn to this class — its familiarity, its secret pleasures. A dance background is not required, however, and people without any dance experience at all are welcome.

“I put together routines based on my background in gymnastics and ballet to make my students feel like they are Natalie Portman in Black Swan — without the blood,” she jokes. “My class is elegant and beautiful, and makes you feel really great.”

In fact, the challenge of lifting a straight leg in a grande battement may make some students feel like they are sweating blood. But “there is no pressure at all,” Alyona says kindly. She knows we don’t all have her power. Slowly but surely, new students will develop confidence and skills.
“Practice makes the master,” she promises. And she would know.

As a physician, her knowledge of biological systems also contributes to her work as a trainer.

“It helps me understand the human body, how everything is interconnected, and how physical activity can affect physical and mental health. Being a physician also helps me  gain credibility with my clients, especially those with medical issues. I know how to help them and they are very happy with results we achieve,” she says.

For example, she points out, the human body has 639 skeletal muscles.

“As doctors in the ancient East used to say, the heart — the king muscle — has 639 assistants. Without their help, the heart has to do all the work, which makes it fatigued and worn out much faster.”

Alyona Aikina modeling for Health magazine, to which she also contributed health and fitness articles.

Given her background, Alyona certainly had the tools to make the transition to the role of a full time fitness trainer, even in a foreign country. Still, she said, “It was extremely hard…New language, new people, and new culture. And I had no special help from any organization.”

As with most immigrants, her life “completely changed.” On the positive side, Americans “smile and hug more,” she says. “They are more polite. They are also too materialistic — but I like it here!”

With English as her second language, she obtained her U.S. certifications from the National Academy of Sport Medicine (NASM) and the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), and became a Master Balletone Ambassador. She has written and published health articles, and in 2009, even trained contestants for the TV show “The Amazing Race.” She has been teaching and training members at the JCCSF for about four years.

“I have always loved exercise and helping people become healthier and happier,” she says in her characteristic bubbly manner. “As a personal trainer I can do both. I get lots of amazing feedback from my clients and it really inspires me every day!”

Alyona believes that a training program should be tailored to the client’s individual needs.
“I always take time to learn about my client’s goals, preferences, medical conditions, etcetera, and build my program around it. I also try to make exercise fun,” she says.

Her unique combination of life experiences — medical and gymnastic, and ballet — give her profound knowledge of “how the body works,” she claims, “and how to make specific changes by using my special training technique, which including strength, balance and flexibility.”

In the words of another client, Ruth, “Alyona is a remarkable teacher and an inspiration. Perhaps her sense of self and of the art of physical fitness and sports is due in part to her upbringing…[but] only in part, for it is Alyona’s relationship to her work that becomes the very air she breathes and as such promotes that rare inspiration for all who are privileged to be in her classes.”

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  1. Lisa says:

    What a great story. Alyona is just such a treasure. Inspiring, tough, kind and patient. We would follow her anywhere.

  2. ruth rischin says:

    Alyona Aikina, gymnast, dancer, teacher is a gift to diverse generations of Americans seeking self-improvement through physical fitness. Trained at various sports institutes of her native land, Alyona communicates in clear, concise language the moves, the gestures of her ballet fusion and kickboxing classes, a given hour’s curriculum that is condensed into a philosophy of movement and of art. Balance, elevation, for are more than dance idea. In a class taught by Alyona aikina, it becomes clear that these aspects of a physical training are aspects of elevating the sou. Dramatist Tom Stoppard
    put it just right:


    A class ends all to soon. Joyously a student leaves, sensing an equilibrium that makes it possible to go on.

    –Ruth Rischin

  3. Wonderful article, wonderful person. Alyona has been my joy and inspiration for the past few years. She is the one who sent me off on the right track to get back into shape after many years of trying to get back into shape. She ends her sessions by having you hug yourself and say “I am proud of myself.” Well, I am proud of having Alyona in my path and wish her the very best.

  4. caryn cohen says:

    As a longtime member of the Jcc, I’ve watched Alyona train her clients with such dedication…

    I happened to show up on a saturday just at the right time for her ballet tone class.. I spontaneously took the class, and have been hooked ever since… She’s a inspriational teacher, and amazing to watch.. Her Posture….. love the music she choses as well…

    She has a subtle fantastic sense of humour…

  5. Tracy G. says:

    Alyona truly is the best trainer. While I’m an avid runner, with five marathons under my belt (so far), I’m far from a diligent athlete. Planning my wedding for October, I decided on what I thought at the time was the ultimate indulgence – training sessions for three months. Now December, I’m hooked. I’ve never felt stronger or looked better. The first month of sessions, I couldn’t sleep because each muscle was crying from fatigue – now, every day with Alyona is a challenge and a pleasure. Focusing outwards from my core, Alyona’s infinitely varying exercises keep me inspired and motivated. And, my great relationship with Alyona doesn’t end in the gym – each time I find a note in my inbox from Alyona asking me how I’m feeling, wishing me a happy weekend or holiday, or simply saying hello in her enthusiastic way, I’m amazed by her heartfelt commitment to her clients and her willingness to go above and beyond. Happily married, I haven’t given up on my training (as most brides do) – rather I see it as an invaluable commitment to myself. And Alyona continues to inspire me every day.
    Tracy G., San Francisco

  6. Gina G. says:

    What an amazing article! There truly are no words to describe how talented and awesome Alyona is. To say that I am lucky to have met her would be an understatement! Working with Alyona has totally helped rehabilitate my body; I had back surgery in 2009 and honestly thought I would never be able to workout again. With Alyona’s assistance, determination, patience and commitment to helping me, I am happy to report that what my body is now capable of doing is incredible. I am still a work in progress, but what an awesome transformation! Not to mention, Alyona has taught me how to be more committed and disciplined, particularly when it comes to my fitness goals; I can’t thank her enough for getting me moving again. I truly feel as though I was meant to meet her!

  7. Patricia Arack says:

    I began working with Alyona Aikina in June, 2011. I had just seen a surgeon who told me my lower back was too bad to have surgery. I was in a lot of pain plus I had an old whiplash injury that caused neck pain. I figured all I had left was trying to improve my back thru exercise. I am not a fit person who loves to work out. Au contraire. However, it was all I had left. So, I signed up for personal fitness trainer. I must say since I started working out with Alyona I have experienced so much less pain. She was very gentle and never made me do anything that my body could not handle, but slowly I started to feel better. She is an excellent teacher and trainer, always demonstrating every move before I do it, and encouraging me to continue with the workouts at home. She is a delightful person, very charming and fun besides being an excellent fitness trainer with medical knowledge, since she is also a medical doctor from Russia. I highly recommend her to anyone who has serious orthopedic issues and needs to start working out to improve them.

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