In today’s complicated world, just listening to the evening news on television or radio can raise cortisol rates in the body. High stress levels, combined with current technological advancements, almost unending sensorial bombardment, and the ever-changing dietary habits of many developed countries, can deny the body time for repose and resynthesis.
In the group fitness (and small-group training) world, spending a few moments on stress reduction at the start and finish of any class type can increase general well-being and promote overall health and healing (Souza et al. 2007). Ultimately, creating an experience that addresses both body and soul is sometimes more important than delivering a class based on intensity alone.
Following are some suggestions I have used in more than 30 years of group fitness teaching, not only to help students learn the importance of mind-
fulness, but also to offer them nonthreatening ways to develop it. Remember that these methods may seem untraditional to students who are used to conventionally “intense” classes, but the practices can work in almost any fitness environment if you simply remind participants, “If you want what you have never had, you sometimes have to do what you’ve never done.”
In the Beginning: The Class Intro
The warm-up gives you a wonderful opportunity to introduce a few simple stress reduction techniques and give participants a taste of what’s to come at the end of class. Here are some tips:
First, remind participants of their responsibility. During the warm-up movements, remind students to take ownership of their own intensity, breath and inner feelings at all times.
Suggested script: Remember that you choose your own intensity at all times today, and if you work from the inside out, you can get better results. Research shows that consciously thinking about your muscles yields greater gains in cardio, strength and flexibility (Barbosa et al. 2013).
Second, preview the power of looking inward. Invite people to work as hard as they need during the main workout, and then foreshadow the last section of class, which will be just as intense, not as a workout but as a workin.
Suggested script: At the end of class today, we are going to take some moments to inventory our muscles—not to tell them what to do, but to be still and listen to what they say to us as we decrease stress and enhance our overall well-being and integration.
Third, integrate a timeless yoga posture for stability with a full-body scan. Stand in a yoga-inspired tadasana, or mountain pose, with hands in prayer position, thumbs on the heart. Feet are as much together as possible, kneecaps lifted, core engaged, shoulders back and down, and spine neutral with gaze forward and dim.
Suggested script, courtesy of Valerie Grant, somatic educator and Guild Certified Feldenkrais Method® teacher, based in Pennsylvania: Now take just 30 seconds to scan yourself from toes to nose. We strive for awareness and integration of all aspects of our body and mind to maximize our workout today. We will do this again at the end of class. No judgments now; just awareness.
Fourth, add a timeless tai chi form for mobility. To bring energy to the brain, body and breath, “gather and sink the chi” (see the Web Extra) to prepare for the workout; complete eight repetitions.
Suggested script: As our arms float up, we harness energy to balance the brain, body and breath from the world around us so we can maximize our workout results today, and we cover our body with this energy, or “chi.” We’ll do this again at the end to integrate and synthesize our energy toward wellness.
Last, set a candle within visual access of everyone. Find a spot where the candle can remain lit throughout class, perhaps on top of unused equipment at the side of the room or on the music cabinet. If a club does not allow an exposed flame in class, consider a rechargeable battery-operated portable candle (available from most discount department stores).
Suggested script: I’m putting this candle with a lit, live flame in the room to signify the live, burning, collective energy of all of us. At the end of class, we’ll return to the candle and use it as a symbol to reintegrate our energy.
At the Close: The Class Outro
As class draws to a close, you can help participants unwind by guiding them through a short sequence of yoga poses and other stress reduction exercises. These are described in the chart.
Set the room to a warm, comfortable temperature, if possible, or invite students to dress in layers. To enhance breathing, offer an aromatherapy diffuser, an aromatherapy candle, or individual aromatherapy spray or wrist roll-on for participants. I suggest lavender-peppermint extract, sold by Origins.
For music, I suggest instrumental music that complements the entire experience, such as natural sounds or harp music like “Garden of Serenity II” from Power Music®. If you feel it is appropriate, you may want to use functional, instrumental chakra-balancing music, which will not only calm the mind but also help to balance the body’s organs and energy through its vibrational power (Karageorghis & Priest 2012).
Barbosa, A.W., et al. 2013. Immediate electromyographic changes of the biceps brachii and upper rectus abdominis muscles due to the Pilates centering technique. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 17 (3), 385-90.
Farhi D. 1996. The Breathing Book. New York: Holt.
Ho╠êlzel, B.K., et al. 2011. How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6 (6), 537-59.
Karageorghis, C., & Priest, D-L. 2012. Music in the exercise domain: A review and synthesis (part II). International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 5 (1), 67-84.
Souza, G.G.L., et al. 2007. Resilience and vagal tone predict cardiac recovery from acute social stress. Stress, 10 (4), 368-74.