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Quick Tips for the “Barefoot Studio”

Address common obstacles in mind-body programming.

You’ve been asked to reinvigorate—or create—a mind-body program at your facility, and you have no clue where to start. In addition to being a freshman at this task, you run up against a few unforeseen obstacles. How do you create an amazing mindful program that supports membership and the bottom line? The following tips address common roadblocks that many fitness managers face when tasked with bridging body and breath.

Conservative Clientele

Launching or amplifying a mind-body program is daunting when the clientele has preconceived notions about the subtext of “mind-body.” Perhaps your facility serves a particularly conservative or religious community and you face an uphill battle when you want to offer yoga, which may be threatening to some. Use the following tips to address concerns.

Educate participants. Create a standardized introduction that educates students about your objective and makes it clear to them that mindful fitness disciplines are devoid of religious affiliations, undertones or rituals. Ensure that all instructors are on board with this, and that they will explain the facility’s approach to their classes.

Keep it simple. If you decide to introduce chanting, chant in English during the first year of a program, or whenever students are new, so people know what they’re chanting and understand they’re not praying to a deity. Simple chants like “I am at peace” work nicely.

Consider nomenclature carefully. Instead of calling disciplines “mind-body-spirit,” try using the alliterative term “brain-body-breath.” This may attract members who otherwise would not attend because they fear the word spirit. If naming is the main roadblock, rename the “mind-body studio” the “barefoot room” or “ancient disciplines.”

Incorporate yoga into other classes. Encourage instructors who teach step, dance and boot camp to incorporate yoga postures in their cool-downs. They might casually mention that a particular stretch “comes from the ancient, physical practice of yoga”; this can help break down barriers that separate mind-body from more mainstream fitness options.

The Right Mind-Body Instructor

Hiring the right staff to teach mind-body classes can be tricky, because there’s a wide breadth of understanding about these disciplines. Here are some tips to help you make the right additions to your mindful programming staff.

Ask the right questions. During the interview, ask candidates what “mind-body” means to them in the “big picture.” Responses to such an open-ended question will tell you if candidates consider mindful movement a physical practice alone or something larger, such as a way to improve life quality. While either of these answers may prove meritorious enough for hiring, you’ll have a better understanding of a candidate’s motivation and backstory, which will help you make your decision.

Watch the applicant in action. Schedule the interview to take place after a mindful movement class, and invite the candidates to attend for free before meeting with you. Afterward, ask for their reaction. A response such as “I feel confident that my approach to mindfulness complements the philosophy here” tells you that this person may blend right in. Conversely, a response such as “I couldn’t believe that instructor did all those crazy things and called it ‘Pilates’” may indicate that this applicant is not an open-minded team player. After all, mind-body is also about having a flexible mind and being sensitive to different approaches.

You might also ask candidates to upload a video of their work to a private YouTube channel. Have them provide a few minutes of the beginning, middle and ending of a class as they typically teach it. Use this to get a feel for their style and tone and whether they’re suited to working in your facility.

Ask outside the box. Pose questions that have nothing to do with mindful disciplines. You will usually learn far more about a person by asking questions like “When have you grown most in your life?” and “Which accomplishments are you most proud of?” and “Which living figures do you most admire and why?” than you will by quizzing the person on Sanskrit names.

Lack of Equipment/Props

If your mind-body budget allows you only enough money to buy mats, the following may help you emphasize a no-frills approach to yoga.

Go back to basics. Offer a standing-based class, where there is no need to use even the mats. Emphasize gait, balance and standing strength, which transfer to daily function.

Emphasize life preparedness. Yoga’s physical practice complements a larger purpose: yoga off the mat. This means yoking brain, body and breath for a complete, mindful experience in daily life. We aren’t always handed “props” during the trials and tribulations of life. The more your instructors emphasize “yoga off the mat,” and occasionally reference how postures are metaphors for life, the less they need to emphasize props. This leaves room to explore the discipline’s macro-purpose, which is to decrease suffering and increase the quality of life.

Ask for help, and share the wealth. Even though taking a philosophical approach to a lack of equipment may work well, the truth is that blocks and straps will help you serve a diverse clientele better. Create a fundraiser for acquiring needed mind-body equipment, and split the proceeds with a local charity.

Being tasked with creating or upgrading a mind-body program for your facility may be just the project you need to help you become more mindful of your key role in influencing the well-being of many. Embrace your leadership role, and commit to reaching the “unreachable.”

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Dramatic Details

Once your mindful program is up and running, consider these nontraditional additions that may revitalize both instructors and students.

Offer aromatherapy. It’s not always feasible to light candles during class, but you can offer aromatherapy mist. To prepare the mist, combine five drops of almost any essential oil with one cup of water, and pour the liquid into a spray bottle. Try mixing oils to create scents such as lavender-mint or rose-lemon. You can offer the mist as students come into class (letting them choose either to spray their lower neck area or to pass), or you may opt to walk through the room during savasana and lightly spray at head level—usually five pumps per 25 square feet.

Create a light show. You set the studio lights before class, but making subtle changes to the lighting during the experience heightens and balances the sense of “working out” and “working in.” During the Pilates hundred, for example, dim the lights while students lie supine. Later, during mat work, brighten the lights to create a more energetic, vibrant state.

Manipulate music. Instead of playing music at a steady volume during class, increase or decrease the volume—even by a few decibels—when appropriate, to create a more dramatic experience. If you normally play music in the background, consider playing natural sounds like waterfalls and evening crickets. You may also play New Age music without any designated beat. Conversely, try playing instrumental, mindful music at 100 beats per minute for a section of the class.

Consider fusion programming. Since the ways that Pilates and yoga train the body are similar yet different, give participants the chance to mindfully cross-train. For example, offer a special class team-taught by one yoga instructor and one Pilates instructor. After the yoga instructor cues the class through a particular asana, the Pilates instructor takes the students through a sequence in the same position. For example, in a kneeling position, the yoga instructor teaches camel pose and then the Pilates instructor teaches thigh stretches. Of course, one instructor who knows both disciplines may teach the entire class.

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Lawrence Biscontini, MA

Lawrence Biscontini, MA, has made fitness history as a mindful movement specialist, winning awards that include the Inner IDEA Visionary Award. He is a philanthropist, presenter, keynoter, and course development specialist for various companies, including ACE, AFAA, FIT and NASM. He also serves on the advisory boards for the International Council on Active Aging and Power Music®, and is an International Spa Association reporter-in-the-field for its #ISPAInterviews series. Lawrence teaches with yoga RYT 500 and decades-long certification experience. His company, Fitness Group 2000 offers scholarships to professional conferences and competitions on several continents. Lawrence runs fit camps in Puerto Rico in the winter months and has authored more than a dozen books.

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