Make the Mind-Body Connection

by Irene Lewis-McCormick, MS on Sep 01, 2003

Introduce yoga- and Pilates-based movements to your group fitness class.

How many of you took group fitness classes in the 1980s? Do you remember exercises that mimicked the “downward dog” and “plough” poses? During those years, many fitness instructors—specifically those who taught aerobics when it was associated with veterans Jacki Sorensen and Jane Fonda—used yoga- and Pilates-based movements in their classes without knowing it.

Today, the mind-body movement continues to grow in popularity. And group fitness instructors are in a prime position to borrow and adapt moves for interested participants, who may feel too intimidated to attend classes dedicated completely to mind-body disciplines.

You can easily add challenging, user-friendly and practical yoga- and Pilates-based moves to your existing classes. Whether you include them in the cool-down of a step class or in the muscle-conditioning section of a high-low class, mind-body moves offer participants the core strength training and flexibility benefits they need to stimulate their workouts.

A Gentle Transition

Teaching mind-body exercises requires special training, but you don’t need to be an expert to introduce a few modified moves. You do, however, need to get participants on your side if you want them to embrace the new style. Many participants attend cardio classes because they want to “feel” like they are working out. They reject yoga or Pilates because they perceive it is too easy and are surprised to discover that many moves are quite challenging. On the other hand, too much stillness or breathing (the “mind” aspect) may make people feel uncomfortable. It is difficult to challenge the mind-set of participants who are overly focused on how they look, rather than on how they function.

Be aware that you need a subtle transition when introducing these moves to a “traditional” exercise class. The “more is better” attitude has no place in a mind-body setting. Tell students it’s not about how fast they can go or how many repetitions they can do; it’s about making the most of the movements themselves. These exercises require the ability to coordinate sensory and spatial awareness with postural focus, agility, strength and flexibility. Participants must be patient and relax as they explore the mind-body connection.

Create Right Expectations

Many of the new patterns will feel “mildly uncomfortable.” This is normal. The discomfort is due to the unfamiliar stimulus the exercises present. This should not be confused with a “painful workout experience,” which indicates one of two things: Either the exercises are inappropriate for the participant because of a preexisting medical condition, or the participant is performing the moves incorrectly.

Alter your language when preparing students for these new exercises. Don’t say, “Let’s cool down and work our abs.” Do say, “Let’s practice some yoga postures and then do core-conditioning exercises for our abs.” Vary your cues and change the traditional reminders. Don’t say, “Drop your shoulders and pull in your abs.” Do say, “Release your stress and lead with your heart.”

Safe and Effective Teaching

Safety is a priority when teaching yoga- and Pilates-based movements, especially when participants are unfamiliar with the format. A good rule of thumb is to use common sense and monitor participants’ body language to assess their skill levels.

Experienced mind-body instructors understand and can communicate how mind-body interaction, breathing and muscle relaxation techniques interrelate. An effective instructor has a good eye for posture and alignment and can teach proper breathing in a matter of minutes. Instruction time is often limited, so exercises need to be succinctly cued and easily modifiable. A good practical focus emphasizes anatomy, kinesiology and biomechanics, along with cuing and exercise modifications common to a group exercise setting.

Mind-body techniques are new to many fitness participants, and learning new moves can be daunting. However, participants soon learn that select exercises adapted from yoga and Pilates can enhance their fitness. By opening the door to this new world, instructors can help redefine what it means to be fit.

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About the Author

Irene Lewis-McCormick, MS

Irene Lewis-McCormick, MS IDEA Author/Presenter

Irene Lewis-McCormick, MS, C.S.C.S. is an international fitness educator, twice published author (Human Kinetics) and 30-year fitness industry veteran. Irene is faculty at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa and SCW Fitness. She is the Education Director for Octane Fitness, an Orangetheory Fitness coach and a RYKA Fitness Ambassador. Irene contributes to several fitness and consumer publications, is a Subject Matter Expert (SME) for ACE and NASM, an IDEA Fitness Expert, and contributing author to the newest release of the AFAA Group Fitness Instructor Manual. Irene holds positions on the advisory board for Diabetic Living magazine and the Egg Nutrition Council. Irene has starred in dozens of DVD's, has written 13 fitness instructional manuals (pre-natal, water fitness, small group training, kids fitness, HIIT program design, strength training, group exercise, etc.) and is a master trainer for TRX, Savvier Fitness, Power Systems, SCW Fitness Education, JumpSport and KnotOut. Her primary certifications include NSCA, ACE, ACSM, AEA, AFAA and YogaFit.