For schvitzing, try Carole Alter’s exercise class

David Briggs
MOVING AROUND: Carole Alter peppers her exercise class with Yiddish humor three mornings a week at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center. “The core is engaged. The tukhus is engaged!” she told her students on Monday.  

Carole Alter slips a cassette into a boombox and soon a didgeridoo and tribal tempos fill the Valley Room of the San Geronimo Community Center. It’s Monday morning and Ms. Alter’s class, Exercise for Altacockers, a Yiddish word for “old farts,” is underway. It’s designed as a synergistic combination that weaves together dance, exercise, yoga, energy work and—why not?—Yiddish humor. “The core is engaged. The tukhus is engaged!” Ms. Alter tells her students as they move through a variety of leg, arm and body exercises. “Move your tukhus like an eraser. We all know what tukhus means!” Sprinkled throughout her directions, Ms. Alter, dressed in loose clothing that swayed with her movements, slips in a few Yiddish words to enliven the atmosphere. Tukhus is an easy favorite, but mensch and shvitzing both made verbal appearances. Ms. Alter, a Philadelphia native, was raised in a “neutral” religious household but said her parents would use Yiddish to covertly communicate without involving her and her siblings. For the past year and half, Ms. Alter, now a resident of Forest Knolls, has taught the hour-long, donation-based class three mornings a week at the community center. She began with just one student but now has six to eight regulars. Ms. Alter said she has worked as a healer, danced in two companies and spent years focusing on energy work; she decided to combine these influences into a class, but she also had a more self-serving motivation. “I wanted to exercise but I didn’t want to spend an hour commuting to the gym,” she said. “I thought I’d start a class to motivate me. It was completely selfish!” Although her class primarily serves seniors, there’s no age restriction. “We might be old… but these people can move,” she said. “It feels so unnatural not to move. If you want to die, sit on your ass and that’ll accelerate it.” Forest Knolls resident Paria O’Siochain has been attending the class for a year; he said he developed Guillain Barre Syndrome after receiving a flu shot, and became quadriplegic. He said the class rebuilt his strength. “It’s absolutely brilliant,” he said. “This is how I learned to move; I had literally lost [the ability] to move. The other option was to take pharmaceuticals which would have turned me into a vegetable. This is great and it really does work.” Thelma Weiss, a recent retiree, said the class has been a way for her to undo years of working a desk job. “When I saw the ‘altacockers’ thing I thought, ‘Hey, I can be one, too!’” On Monday, Ms. Alter directed her students to the “old routine”: a mixture of kicks, the cha-cha-cha step, inward-outward body movements and even some shaking of the tukhus. “Nice, deep breathing,” she commanded during a calmer exercise. “It’s the most important thing in the entire class!”