Your fitness class regulars follow you to group strength, indoor cycling and even boot camp. However, you haven’t had any luck getting your loyals to try yoga or Pilates, or any mind-body fitness class for that matter. As health and fitness professionals, we know that mind-body exercise is a great complement to any fitness program, but how can we get our participants to buy in? Here are five ways to incorporate mind-body exercise into any group fitness class.
1. Focus on the breath.
The system of yoga that we use as a framework for most physical yoga practices today emphasizes the breath. When Patanjali outlined his eight-limbed path for moving toward enlightenment, he recognized:
- The ethics of dealing with others (the external world)
- The ethics of how we treat ourselves (the internal world)
- Physical postures
- Mindful breathing
Mindful breathing is not only essential to a physical yoga practice, it is important to any movement-based activity. Teaching participants to focus on the breath is a great way to help them learn to monitor intensity during exercise sessions. Remind them that they should be able to breathe deeply and with ease during light- and moderate-intensity periods of work and that they will breathe more heavily during more intense work intervals. In addition to helping participants to make the breath-intensity connection, focused breathing is a tool you can use to teach stress reduction. At the end of the workout, teach your participants to breathe in through the nose and deep down into the belly. Next, coach them to exhale fully, letting go of all of the air so that the belly softens and hollows out at the end of the breath. This simple relaxation breathing exercise can be incorporated into any group fitness workout and can also be used outside of the fitness studio to cultivate a sense of calm and relaxation.
2. Incorporate simple meditation techniques.
Meditation is the process of quieting the mind. While there are hundreds of meditation styles, active meditation, which involves focusing the thoughts on a particular word, image, idea or any other tangible concept, is a great approach for individuals who are new to meditation. This simple technique can be done at the beginning of class to help participants calm the mind and prepare to be fully engaged in the workout ahead. Active meditation can also be reserved for the cool down segment of class as a way to help participants transition from their workout back into their normal day.
3. Teach participants how to use visualization to conquer challenging exercises.
Visualization is the practice of using imagery to influence emotions and can be a powerful tool in helping group fitness participants push through a challenging bout of work in a group fitness class. Visualization can be used it a variety of exercise formats. For example, coach indoor cycling participants to visualize themselves at the top of a hill during a challenging climb. Encourage participants in your circuit and resistance-based exercise classes to visualize themselves successfully completing the next exercise set during rest periods.
4. Incorporate balance training into your classes.
Balance training is associated with decreased risk of falls in older adults, improved cognitive function and produces a myriad of other health benefits. And, while regular balance training is typically recommended for older adults, individuals of any age can benefit from it, in part because it has a natural way of slowing down the mind. It’s hard to focus on to-do lists, work demands and the general business of the day while standing on one foot (try it!). Consider coupling balance work with a few resistance exercises in class or try weaving it in between stretches at the end of class.
5. Select relaxing music for the cool-down and stretching portions of your class.
This tip may be the most obvious, but if you’ve fallen into a habit of letting your HIIT music playlist run until the last minute of class, make an effort to choose calm, relaxing music during the cool-down and stretching portions of your classes this week. Simply playing relaxing music with a slower tempo while leading the cool-down and stretch is an option, but if you’re up for a little more focused mind-body instruction, consider talking participants through a guided muscle relaxation during the stretching portion of your classes.
We may never turn all group fitness enthusiasts into yogis, but these five techniques are simple things you can do to incorporate more mind-body exercise into any group fitness class.
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