Give Your Facility a Mind-Body Makeover
Best Practices: Create a comprehensive mind-body program for long-term success.
Your club has cardiovascular equipment, free weights, fitness classes, experienced personal trainers: everything anyone could desire for achieving an optimal physique. You’ve even gone a step further by conducting mind-body programs such as yoga and Pilates, knowing that the mind and the body work together to achieve overall well-being. That's great! However, it is now time to go beyond just yoga and Pilates—toward lifelong good health through comprehensive mind-body programming.
Mind-body activities focus on a state of mindful awareness: a nonjudgmental observation of what is occurring in the present moment, with participants’ awareness focused on their breathing, body sensations, thoughts and feelings. Mind-body practices elicit the relaxation response, quelling the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. The heart slows, blood pressure falls, digestion eases and immunity soars (Self magazine 2012). The physical and emotional health benefits of these practices don’t end when the session ends. They can help carry your clients more calmly through the day, and they can even improve certain medical conditions—as well as aiding in injury prevention, rehabilitation and pain relief. The growth in the popularity of these classes demonstrates both their appeal and the value of the benefits they provide.
By embracing a “mind and body” approach to fitness, your club can enhance members’ total health while also increasing your client base and revenue. By going beyond the basic mind-body classes and incorporating a wide variety of mind-body programming, your facility will attract additional members across all ages and fitness levels. Further, these types of classes and services can sometimes be offered for an additional fee, providing your facility with a supplementary profit center. In other words, what’s good for the customer is also good for business.
Read on to discover the benefits of programs that embrace a whole-person wellness approach, including meditation, tai chi and qigong. You’ll also see how some businesses are already pushing the mind-body envelope.
Meditation is a mind-quieting practice that produces a deep state of relaxation, a sense of inner peace and a tranquil mind. During meditation, participants focus their attention and eliminate the thoughts that may be crowding their mind. The result is enhanced physical and emotional well-being.
Here are just a few of the benefits of meditation:
- gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
- building skills to manage stress
- increasing self-awareness
- focusing on the present
- reducing negative emotions (Mayo Clinic 2012)
And here are three of the best-known meditation styles for achieving those benefits:
Guided Meditation. In this method, sometimes called visualization, the instructor leads participants in forming mental images of places or situations that they find relaxing. The instructor calls on participants to include as many of their five senses as possible in their visualizations—what they smell, see, hear, feel through touch, even taste.
Mantra Meditation. The instructor guides the students in repeating a calming word, sound, thought or phrase silently or out loud to help create a meditative mental state and a relaxed physical state.
Mindfulness Meditation. This type of meditation is based on being mindful, or having an increased awareness and acceptance of living in the moment. In a meditative environment, participants focus on conscious awareness of what they are experiencing at the present time.
What is a meditation session like? At its base, it’s very simple. Consider this example of an instructor leading the class in relaxation breathing, asking participants to clear their minds and focus only on their breath. Participants are instructed as follows:
- Breathe in for a count of 5.
- Hold that breath for a count of 5.
- Breathe out for a count of 5.
- Repeat this pattern.
To find a good meditation instructor for your facility, visit local meditation or Buddhist centers and ask for a list of teachers. Contact these individuals, and find out if they would be interested in teaching some classes at your club.
Tai chi is a 3,000-year-old Chinese martial art aimed at instilling life and health in the body. Firmly rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, tai chi offers a wide variety of health benefits, including joint stability, balance and coordination, improved mental focus, increased energy and stress release (Eason 2006).
In a typical class, participants learn and implement a slow-motion sequence of blocks, strikes, kicks and other martial arts moves. While going through the routine, participants deliberately put their awareness into their body and emotions, and they eventually learn to relax at will. The idea is to tune the mind to the body’s wavelength, so that the inside and the outside are in harmony with each other.
To find tai chi instructors in your area, check www.energyarts.com. Look for instructors who have these qualities:
- They are extremely relaxed as they move.
- Their movements are well coordinated.
- They communicate clearly and simply.
- They have credentials.
- They are certified in tai chi or have years of experience teaching it.
Qigong, also known as Chinese yoga, is the art of unblocking and generating “chi,” or life energy. Practitioners of qigong seek to bring in new vital energy by relating it to their breath. Qigong is a form of gentle exercise composed of movements that are repeated a number of times, stretching the body, increasing fluid movement (blood, synovial and lymph) and building awareness of how the body moves through space. Health benefits of qigong include an enhanced immune system, lowered blood pressure and decreased stress.
During a session, participants move while giving full attention to their breath and how their body feels in the moment. In practicing qigong, participants learn its internal movements as well as its external ones. These internal movements—called neigong, or "internal power" in China—make qigong a superior health and wellness practice. The internal movements also differentiate qigong from Western forms of exercise, which tend to emphasize prolonged cardiovascular movements or muscular strength training.
To find qigong teachers, visit the Qigong Institute.
Consider offering meditation, tai chi or qigong classes or workshops. Or create your own classes that incorporate their principles. Here are examples of the unique mind-body classes that some clubs have developed:
- New York Sports Clubs offers its “A-I Stretch” class, which teaches active-isolated stretching techniques consisting of slow, smooth, range-of-motion exercises. Participants focus their mind on their breath and the slow movement of their body.
- LA Fitness® conducts classes in belly dancing, which implements rhythmic music to inspire unique dance moves that focus on strengthening the hip and abdominal muscles. The concentration on total muscle isolation and hand gestures requires mental focus.
- Bally Total Fitness™ runs a “Total Martial Arts” program that strives to educate participants of all ages in the Korean martial arts of tae kwon do and hap ki do. While tae kwon do teaches fighting skills, it is a discipline that shows ways of enhancing the spirit through training the body and the mind simultaneously. Hap ki do focuses on kicks, punches and striking methods.
- 24 Hour Fitness offers willPower & grace®. Through barefoot cardiovascular training, participants develop ankle, knee and hip stabilization and they focus on controlling their breath throughout the workout. The class uses no equipment, and it is accessible to all levels.
Surviving in the Long Run
The fitness industry is constantly reinventing itself, a necessary strategy for long-term success. People’s motivation for joining a health club has shifted from wanting to improve their physical appearance to wanting overall well-being for the mind, body and spirit. Your facility can meet this need by expanding its programming to include unique mind-body options. You’ll enrich people’s lives and your bottom line.
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Are you looking for easy ways to offer your members a unique mind-body experience? Consider these simple activities that you can add to your club’s offerings today:
- Lead nature walks.
- Teach group exercise classes outdoors.
- Offer stress-reduction workshops.
- Hold special events where you invite experts to speak to your members about Eastern medicine and therapies such as acupuncture, Reiki or Ayurveda.
- Provide informational pamphlets to educate members and spark an interest in mind-body health practices.
Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES, is a certified health education specialist with a master’s degree in public health from the University of South Carolina. She currently resides in Connecticut, where she is a health writer for a variety of trade and consumer magazines. She can be reached at email@example.com
Eason, J.A., 2006. Fitness—Mind/Body Variety. Athletic Business, July.
Mayo Clinic. 2012. Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress. www.mayoclinic.com/health/meditation/HQ01070; retrieved Feb. 27, 2012.
Self magazine. 2012. The best mind-body techniques. www.self.com/takecareofyou/mind-body-techniques-slideshow#slide=1; retrieved Feb. 27, 2012.
© 2012 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.
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