Lauren Leiva is not just an experienced personal trainer, passionate yogi and certified nutrition expert, she also is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). That means she has the knowledge, expertise and advanced degree to help ensure her patients become healthier, stronger and pain-free.
At her ExerScience Center in Lutz, Dr. Leiva offers physical therapy, personal training, nutrition, group fitness and yoga, all with the goal of helping people to feel their best.
Dr. Leiva earned her DPT degree from Nova Southeastern University in Tampa. Prior to that, she earned Bachelor of Science degrees in both Biomedical Science and Biomedical Physics from the University of South Florida, also in Tampa. In addition to her degrees, she is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Certified Personal Trainer and a Fitness Nutrition Specialist, among other certifications.
She also is a registered Yoga Teacher (or RYT), a designation given by the Yoga Alliance U.S to an individual who has completed the 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Certification. (Lauren’s was earned through YogaFit Training Systems, which is recognized by the Yoga Alliance U.S.)
While Dr. Leiva originally launched The ExerScience Center in 2015, she opened the doors of her first brick-and-mortar location on S.R. 54 in Lutz (less than two miles from the Tampa Premium Outlets) just this past November. Previously, Dr. Leiva traveled to her patients and to community centers, where she taught group fitness and yoga classes.
She says that the road to her doctorate degree was winding, with a detour when she had to leave school to care for her mom, who had lung cancer and suffered a stroke. Then, she suffered her own medical crisis.
A lifelong survivor of Crohn’s disease, Dr. Leiva’s second pregnancy put her in the hospital, where she stayed for nine months. She says at that time, yoga saved her life.
“Yoga is not a class, it’s a way of life,” she says. “Posture and pose movements are only one part of yoga. It’s a mind-over-matter philosophy.”
With both her own and her unborn baby’s lives in danger, and even when Dr. Leiva was intubated and then later had to use a colostomy bag, she says she had a strong belief she was going to be okay.
“It was yoga, and the ability to have that mind-over-matter spirit when surgeons and everyone else told me I can’t and I won’t,” she says. “I always believed that I could, and I did. I feel I can triumph over anything.”
She shares that spirit with her patients, who appreciate her energy and optimism.
But, Can She Help You?
Dr. Leiva says she treats and trains “everyone,” from people who are paralyzed or have a spinal cord injury, all the way to elite athletes, including Olympians. She currently is working with Raj Dhesi, known as Jinder Mahal or “The Maharaja,” a former WWE wrestling champion.
“I grew up as an athlete — a figure skater, and I played volleyball,” Dr. Leiva says. “But, having been completely disabled myself at times gives me the compassion to treat others. I have a connection with patients who are not able to walk, talk or find their breath.”
She says that helps her to successfully treat people who haven’t been able to find solutions elsewhere, from eliminating chronic or injury-caused pain to avoiding surgery.
In part, she says, that’s because of her well-rounded education and doctorate in physical therapy, but also her background in both personal training and yoga.
“Prior to (physical therapy) school, with everything I’d studied, I had a lot of knowledge,” she says. “I thought being a DPT would make me stand out as a personal trainer.”
She says her goal was to open a gym and have her business focus on personal training and yoga, and that she never considered being a DPT in a hospital or other traditional setting. She also had a drive to finish what she had started after facing so much personal adversity.
But, what Dr. Leiva also found was that she fell in love with physical therapy, too. Now, she says most of her business is physical therapy.
She says her specialty is neuromuscular re-education, such as treating a spinal cord injury or an athlete’s torn tendon, or helping people recover from surgery.
“We make the body its most functional form possible, whether you’re paralyzed, or an elite athlete, or anywhere in between,” she says. “Anybody can become their best self by training their nervous system. We can strengthen everyone’s muscles, whether they have pain or not.”
The ExerScience Center offers memberships, where patients spend an hour each week at the center, working on different modalities. This may include biohacking — which she describes as tapping into your own biology to manipulate certain variables for optimal results — or electrical stimulation, vibration therapy, infrared sauna, halotherapy (aka salt therapy), or other types of treatment.
The center offers the latest technology in PT, including a machine called the Neubie by NeuFit, a patented electrical stimulation device to help re-educate your neuromuscular system.
Perhaps most important of all, she says, is that she treats everyone with empathy, respect and honesty. “We respect the body and the mind,” she says. “‘No pain, no gain’ does not apply in my center.”
To help patients who can’t afford regular memberships, Dr. Leiva also hosts community clinics once a month with opportunities for low-cost physical therapy evaluations and second opinions.
In February, Dr. Leiva says she will become certified in dry needling (similar to acupuncture, but used by physical therapists). “I’m an innovative therapist,” she says, “and I think it’s important to always be learning all of the newest and best therapeutic methods. So, I am always studying, always learning.”
Melenda Watzke has been a patient of The ExerScience Center for several months.
“I’m a dancer, and I hurt my back,” Melenda says. “I live about 45 minutes away, but that first time I met with Dr. Leiva, I knew the drive was worth it.”
Melenda says she’s seen a lot of change in her body, and not only has she been healed from her pain, but Dr. Leiva has treated other problems that Melenda didn’t know she had.
“She’s very intuitive and she listens,” says Melenda. “She looks at you holistically and listens to everything you say.”
In fact, Melenda says she had no idea that she didn’t know how to breathe properly. “No one pulls you aside and says, “This is how you breathe,’” Melenda explains. “But, she doesn’t assume you know anything. She watches, and then she starts correcting.”
Melenda says the instruction has helped her to dramatically reduce stress.
“She is truly a healer in my eyes,” says Melenda. “After my back pain went away, I just kept going and everything is starting to change on me physically. I didn’t know how weak I was in certain places because I’m so strong in other places. I can’t wait to see what we’re going to work on next.”
Gazelle Stevens is another happy patient of Dr. Leiva’s. She has been going to The ExerScience Center for about two months.
“I’ve had a great experience,” she says, as Dr. Leiva has treated her for pain stemming from several herniated disks in her back and neck, and a labral tear in her hip.
“I’m a fitness instructor, so it’s very taxing on my body when I have these issues and I can’t teach,” Gazelle says. “I had tried a bunch of other methods and nothing was helping. But, I felt a huge difference (with Dr. Leiva) within the first two weeks.”
Gazelle says she’s done physical therapy at other offices, but it’s been totally different, and that she gets much more individual attention at The ExerScience Center.
“Dr. Lauren is very knowledgeable, and also very understanding, from that patient perspective,” explains Gazelle. “She understands what it means to be in pain and not get answers. I try to be more holistic, with a wellness approach, not, ‘give me a shot’ or ‘give me surgery.’ A lot of people are in that mindset, and she’s really good for that.”
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, The ExerScience Center has paused all in-person group fitness classes and switched the focus to online classes. The staff follows all cleaning and precautionary procedures set in place by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) & Prevention, as well as state and county guidelines. The center does not currently accept walk-ins, and anyone with an appointment is screened, including a temperature check, before they come in.
The ExerScience Center staff includes not only Dr. Leiva, but also office manager Elizabeth Sanchez, and receptionists Marilu Sanchez (not related to Elizabeth) and Jennifer Barrett.
Dr. Lauren Leiva is married to Jonathan, who owns Leiva’s Jewelry in New Tampa. Their two sons are Elijah, who is 13, and Alexander Joseph, who is four.
The ExerScience Center is located at 24706 S.R. 54, in Lutz, less than two miles west of the Tampa Premium Outlets. For more information, call (813) 803-7070, see the ad on pg. 23, or visit TheExerScienceCenter.com.