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The Best Mind-Body Programs You’re Not Scheduling

Mind-body programs are a core group exercise feature at membership-based fitness facilities, boutiques and specialized studios. Yoga leads the way with 36.7 million U.S. practitioners, up from 20.4 million in 2012 (Yoga Journal 2016). In 2014, barre and Pilates were the most popular programs for women, while men were enthusiastic about tai chi and cardio kickboxing (IHRSA 2014). Clearly, mind-body activities are attracting participants. To reach more people and potentially create new profit centers, instead of adding another yoga or Pilates class why not feature a nontraditional mind-body program?

While no universally accepted definition of mind-body exercise exists, experts agree on several key characteristics and are also incorporating the concept of mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally” (MBSR Training 2016). With intention, mindfulness can be applied to multiple physical activities, not just to ancient disciplines like yoga and tai chi. In addition to attention to breath, features of mindful movement include present-moment awareness of both internal processes—physical sensations, emotions and thoughts—and external environmental factors. Other key features are kinesthetic awareness and focus on alignment, as well as sensitivity to bodily energy shifts (these shifts may include concepts of chi or prana). An out-of-the-box mind-body program integrates these qualities into alternative movement activities.

Mindful Muscle Conditioning

Strength training is an example of a conventional exercise that is perfectly suited to adding a mindful component. Researchers have found that concentrating on targeted muscles during training yields better and faster results (Lebon, Collet & Guillot 2010). In Pasadena, California, Keli Roberts, certified personal trainer and 2003 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year, has created a mind-body core conditioning and total-body strength training program, Conscious Strength, that uses SmartBells®, elliptical-shaped weights with a two-handed grip. Why is this class mindful? It incorporates a focus on breath and body scans; meditative music; cuing to heighten present-moment awareness; a nonjudgmental attitude; and an emphasis on flowing movement patterns, balance, control and stability.

This type of class has the potential to attract new participants while also motivating existing fans. “The class targets the conditioning enthusiast who is looking for a new angle,” explains Roberts. “I get many different populations, which is super-exciting. Participants from their 30s to their 80s train side by side and say that they love the slower pace and the focus on what they’re doing—and they feel refreshed and energized afterwards. Two participants who recently suffered personal losses told me that the classes have been important to their mental and emotional states.”

Mind-Body Exercise With Weights

Another creative approach is to take a traditional movement practice, like tai chi or yoga, and add weights or other fitness equipment. Claudia Micco, wellness class coordinator at the Ritz-Carlton in Lahaina, Hawaii, and owner of HypnoFit Maui, manages a full slate of out-of-the-box mind-body programs that also draw on Hawaiian culture. For example, she explains, TaijiFit Strength™ “combines the best elements of fitness, meditation and the ancient martial art of Taijiquan (tai chi).” Inspired by David-Dorian Ross’s work, TaijiFit includes slow-flowing martial arts moves and adds light weights to increase intensity. Classes are conducted barefoot, and they begin and end with meditations and visualizations. A diffuser emits essential oil mist, usually orange or peppermint. Clients are offered cool rosemary- or eucalyptus-scented oshiboris for wiping their hands and feet.

This class variation not only attracts new participants; it also opens up new revenue streams with product sales. “TaijiFit Strength is targeted to both men and women, and it does not require mind-body exercise experience,” Micco shares. “Seasoned tai chi practitioners and newbies are in the same class. Usually, they’re people who are curious about mind-body in general. The schedule includes a notation that all teachers are experienced mind-body fitness instructors, and we sell the products we use: essential oils, lavender spray, MiO®, yoga balm and buckwheat eye pillows. We also have a Hawaiian word of the day: When students first enter the class, they pick a card out of a Koa wood bowl. The card has an affirmation written on it in Hawaiian and English—for example, maluhia, or ‘peace.’ We might start class with it, use it as a mantra during class or end the class with it as a fond farewell to the students.”

Foam Rolling and Self Myofascial Release

Another possibility for out-of-the-box programming involves taking an activity that inherently connects the body and mind, such as stretching or myofascial release, and incorporating key features of mindful movement. The Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, Maui, offers a foam rolling class that it calls M.Y. (Massage Yourself) Therapy. Micco explains that this is a mind-body class because it emphasizes deep breathing and because it begins and ends with visualization and meditation.

Other ways to engage present-moment sensory awareness are teaching classes barefoot and incorporating essential oils. Instructors can encourage nonjudgment and exploration while guiding the group through a self-myofascial-release protocol. This is an excellent format for drawing broad participation as recovery class options become more popular.

Water-Based Options

Facilities that have pools are discovering ways to make the most of this resource by offering mind-body options that are outside the norm. Ai Chi, Hydro Yo-Chi and Poolates® are a few examples of how instructors are finessing land-based formats for the aquatic environment. Another popular alternative is indoor standup paddleboard yoga. While this requires an equipment investment, it exemplifies another creative way to blend a popular activity like paddleboarding with yoga—both of them requiring attention to balance and core stability. The class doesn’t require submersion, but it does include the possibility of getting wet. It’s a great example of a class that appeals to both male and female enthusiasts who may not be familiar with mind-body movement but could get hooked—and then be encouraged to try land-based yoga if they haven’t already. Since it requires specialized equipment and is learned progressively, this class can be fee-based and taught in 4- or 6-week sessions, or simply offered as an introductory workshop.

Get Out of the Box and Into Opportunities

The mind-body movement trend is likely to continue. Many people lead stressful, overstimulated lives, and they want to incorporate more exercise while refreshing themselves mentally and emotionally. Taking time out with mindful-movement options provides healthy relief for mind, body and spirit. By offering an out-of-the box program like the classes just described, you create opportunities for your facility to attract new participants, engage existing clients, broaden interest in other mind-body programming and launch profit centers from related product sales or fee-based offerings. More important, you lead the way with an integrative approach that promotes physical fitness and enhances total well-being.

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