Bringing art and community back to personal health

A person’s “third space” refers to the sociocultural construct in which each person derives identity from three places: the home space, the workspace, and the place where a person seeks community—the third space. It’s a classic ideology that dates back to the 1900s, but ThirdSpace Fitness is bringing it to the forefront of its business model in present-day Silicon Valley, smack dab in the middle of downtown San Jose’s SoFA district.

There are no machines at this gym, but a lot of open space, weights, and ribbon-like contraptions hanging from the natural wood rafters of the second floor’s high ceilings. With the exception of new bathrooms, no changes were made to the former Metro building. The rooms are bright and airy. Outside the yoga room, a striking sunset shows in the evenings. “The building kind of spoke for itself, so we just allowed it to do so,” Lance Miller says.

Co-founders Lance Miller, Danielle Valley, and DJ Downs spent a year planning a fitness space for those who have a lot of want, but not a lot of time—a centralized place. “We noticed we were all going to different places for a yoga class, going to a chiropractor, getting massage services,” Miller explains. “Not to mention taking time and money going from place to place and having to coordinate all these resources on our own.”

Miller owned CrossFit San Jose, the oldest CrossFit location in Northern California. Valley owned Breathe Yoga in Los Gatos. And Downs owned CrossFit Los Gatos. The trio fell to talking and found they shared a concern for centralizing health and wellness resources in one place, a place that also involved the community. “We all came into it,” Miller says, “with the idea of there’s so much more that needs to go into training an athlete than just the strength and conditioning.”

ThirdSpace offers educational classes and social events around downtown San Jose. It’s also an art gallery—a place intended, in Miller’s words, to nourish body and soul. Miller has a background in film production. Valley has a BFA in art history. ThirdSpace represents a marriage of their passions: art and fitness. “People come to yoga to learn how to move their body and breathe. Our main thing is teaching people how to take care of their bodies, and the goal-setting aspect to teach you how to create the process to get you there,” Valley says. “The art is in the journey.”

February was ThirdSpace’s first “First Friday” as residents of downtown’s SoFA district. One of Valley’s art teachers from Santa Clara came in with a group of students for what seemed like a full-circle moment. “It was a way of showing off the place to people who are important in our lives without knowing it was even happening,” Miller chimes in. “I think those students made it extremely special, probably very hard to re-create.”

ThirdSpace doesn’t follow the typical gym model. It isn’t focused on the quantity, but rather on the community. “You’re not going to see people come in here, put on their headphones, do their workout, and go home,” Miller says. “You’ll see people really interact, stay longer than classes, come before classes.” And—if Miller has his way—think of the space as their second home.

“We don’t really accept people leaving, and by that I mean, if someone isn’t getting what they need from the community, then the community has to change, and that’s just a lot of research on our part,” Miller says. “We still need to be a community,” Valley agrees. “We can’t have people who are invisible in this place. It’s like a family.”

ThirdSpace is also a place focused on recovery, a component Miller says is missing in today’s gym culture. “We go-go-go and expect to wake up and go-go-go some more,” he says. ThirdSpace sets out to be restorative. It sets out to be not simply a space, but a state of mind. One to help people recover from their (in Valley’s words) “high vibration” Silicon Valley lifestyles. People need instead to stop, she says, to take time to slow that process down, to take care of themselves. To know that once they take care of themselves, they can take care of others.

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Article originally appeared in Issue 7.4 “Phase”