When Carlos Leon and Menna Olvera met back in the ’90s, at a Crunch gym in Los Angeles, working out meant lifting heavy weights with the goal of bulky, noticeable muscles — and for them, maybe a hike in Runyon Canyon or two.
“People were more interested in looking fit instead of actually being fit. People were like, ‘let’s have big muscles and have great abs, but we still can’t run a mile,’” Leon says. “Back then it was based on more aesthetic as opposed to now what I do is more of mobility moving, moving your body, feeling better about yourself.”
Olvera was a California native while Leon, a New Yorker, was in L.A. for his daughter Lourdes Leon, who he shares with Madonna. They became fast friends, and fitness was always at the center of their relationship. It was Leon who took Olvera to her first yoga class, a Kundalini class where they couldn’t stop laughing doing the heavy breathing that style of yoga requires.
“We were like two schoolgirls in the back,” Leon says.
The pair are a long way from giggling at yogi breathing these days. Together they have opened Oleon House, a boutique workout studio in Manhattan’s Chelsea that wants clients to not only look good but feel good as well, by pairing personal training with mindfulness and yoga. In the few months since opening, Oleon has become the go-to spot for many a fashion insider (and yes, Lola trains there with her dad, too).
After that first yoga class, Olvera became more and more interested in wellness and health with time; fast-forward to 2007 when Leon introduced Olvera to Donna Karan’s Urban Zen institute, where she started working with Rodney Yee doing programming.
Leon, meanwhile, has been a trainer for decades, but five years ago suffered a health scare when he was diagnosed with prostatitis. It caused him to change the way he looked at his approach to health and he called on Olvera for help.
“That’s when I really had to get my whole workout on. I mean, my whole lifestyle had to change. I had to learn how to relax,” Leon says. “I was fit, I could run, I could do everything I could do. And I looked great, but at the same time my body was shutting down.”
Olvera helped him find a meditation practice and a more restorative side to his workouts, which led them to their current joint approach.
“As I got older, I started realizing there was more to big muscles and lean abs: to be strong internally and mentally as well,” Leon says.
The joint workout lifts the heart rate high with a more traditional circuit training session, followed immediately by the second half of the workout with Olvera, focused on relaxing the nervous system through yoga, restorative poses and meditative movement.
“The whole evolution of working out has been insane for the both of us, you know?” Leon says. “It goes with the times, as well — people get smarter.”
Olvera says she noticed a change during the pandemic: suddenly the workouts New Yorkers were accustomed to, the bootcamps and the go-go-go training people favored, no longer left them feeling satisfied.
“I think the total whole being of a person was really challenged during the pandemic. You needed endurance, but not just physical endurance, you needed spiritual endurance, you needed emotional endurance. You needed to be able to be strong for your family, if you were a mother or a father, at the same time make a living and make sure your kids are being educated,” she says. “So I think the pandemic really shined a light on, ‘oh, it’s not just physical endurance, it’s the full package of who we are.’”
At Oleon House someone can come in for just personal training (the Carlos side) or just yoga (the Menna side) but their signature workout is the hybrid: 30 minutes with each.
“Somebody comes in and we both meet with them, we want to know what their goals are, we want to know where they’ve been, we want to know what they’ve done in the past, how their approach was to fitness in the past, if they even had one, maybe they didn’t,” Olvera says. “And then we also start to teach them if they don’t have any kind of meditation or yoga practice, we really want to make it approachable. From there, Carlos will give them a different workout [each session] and then I adjust the post-restore recovery based on what he’s doing with you. So we kind of work in tandem and it’s not something set in stone. It has to be kind of fluid because day to day, when you come in, your body is different.”
They also offer a six-week intensive program for clients who want to go deeper into their health, where Leon and Olvera are doing health and nutritional coaching alongside the exercises.
Both feel that their approach is something new in the business.
“I’ve been in the business now for 30 years. I haven’t seen anything really using a physical element and bringing a restorative element to it,” Leon says. “I think people are going to relate to it. People that really want to take their fitness and their well-being to the next level. I think it’s something that’s new and it’s something that people are going to be more hip to, you know, for lack of a better word.”
“I also feel that the landscape of the wellness industry; self-care is such a big topic,” Olvera says. “So in 60 minutes, you get your fitness workout and a self-care opportunity wrapped into one session.”