Chantal: Hey, Jessica, thank you so much for joining us this week.
Jessica: Thanks so much for having me, really excited to be here.
Chantal: Now you have an absolute wealth of experience when it comes to the areas of mindfulness movement and meditation, so I’m gonna pick your brain a little bit and all that experience that you have this week during our interview. And I was hoping we could start off talking about how a traditional gym could actually include and market mindful movement in their offerings.
Jessica: It’s such a great question and just such a great topic that we’re talking about. I think really what I have seen coming from both the fitness industry and also being a yoga teacher myself, I’ve really seen this interesting intersection of more conversation in the field about mindfulness, about wellness.
So in response to your question, what can traditional gyms really be doing to market more mindful movement, I think first it starts honestly with a little bit of demystification, if you will, of what mindful movement actually is. Often when we hear “mindful movement” we think often of “mind-body exercise” formats modalities like Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, which certainly of course are forms of mindful movement. But I think that more and more we’re starting to see people really wanting movement experiences, so whatever that looks like from cycling classes to boot camp classes, that really just do have a more mindful focus to them. Just being more aware of how our body moves, how our body’s feeling, how that translates to how we’re feeling emotionally, mentally, really creating these rich experiences.
So I think it really starts by gyms first and foremost just demystifying what mindful movement actually can look like in different ways. I also think really in this sort of approach it enhances the experience that ultimately participants in classes get, because as we bring more attention even from an instructor standpoint, from also a business standpoint as well and really thoughtfully creating classes, we end up with really great, very thoughtful experiences that ultimately best serve our participants.
Chantal: It occurs to me that a big part of this must be ensuring that our instructors are properly trained on understanding mindfulness movement and how they can actually communicate that within the class. Do you agree that there’s quite a big role for the instructor to play in that situation?
Jessica: Absolutely, very much so. I think instructors are absolutely key in this kind of movement towards more of this mindful approach to all types of class formats. So I think that absolutely that demystification that I was talking about, I think it absolutely starts really with the instructors. Then of course it also is on the part of club managers and owners to really think of, ‘How do we thoughtfully position these classes?’ So everything from what are the titles of classes that maybe have more of this mindful emphasis, what are these descriptions for those classes?
But I think it does absolutely, to your point, it starts with the instructors really setting the stage for individuals, participants, when they’re in the class experience to really be present and aware. Again, just it seems so simplistic and it seems like maybe I’m not offering anything that’s blowing anyone’s mind, cutting edge info, but I will tell you just from almost two decades of teaching group based experiences, so often we forget about really helping individuals who have chaotic lives outside of the walls of our facilities who are dealing with a lot of different things, their minds are going a million miles an hour day in and day out trying to balance all the various tasks and responsibilities in their lives, to set the stage for an experience that allows them to really start to pay attention, to do that thoughtfully, to tune in to their bodies, their minds and really get a sense of what do they need in that moment, in that particular experience. I mean that transforms, in my opinion, the work that we can do as instructors, and ultimately then the services and the offerings that we can provide within the clubs.
Chantal: Jessica, are there any resources that you’ve come across or you’ve personally used throughout the years that have been beneficial to your own teaching in creating these experiences that you talking about? I’m wondering if there’s anything that you could share with us whether it be a book or an online course that perhaps gym owners and managers could have a look into themselves and then share that with their instructors.
Jessica: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of them that I would recommend is actually a resource that I had the opportunity to help put together with the American Council on Exercise, or ACE, which is actually the current edition of the ACE Group Fitness Instructor Handbook. I mention that particular book as a resource, because one of the key focal points for that resource when we put it together was really to focus on creating classes that are not just classes but experiences. So how do we transform what often we think of just in really the physical sense of health and wellbeing and really create these thoughtful, compelling experiences that keep participants coming back time and time again.
So that’s one on that broader basis of just creating experiences, and again elevating our thinking about, really, the power. I believe this in my heart of hearts, the power that group based experiences has to transform people’s lives and then also really to be such in an impactful aspect of the club environment, really the place where many people will first have their first experience inside of the doors of a facility and ultimately the thing that oftentimes that keeps them coming back for more and telling others about it. I think just a group based environment has so much to offer and really does have such a big impact.
The other resources I would mention getting I guess a little bit deeper into really conceptualising mindfulness are just some of the books. I personally love Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work, he’s the creator, founder of mindfulness based stress reduction. But some of his books, and again, there are a number of different ones, one of my favourites is Wherever You Go, There You Are. It really just gives these tenets if you will, these core principles or components of what constitutes mindful practises, so again that could look like movement, it could be something more like seated meditation and stillness, but it gets to the heart of really the key tenets of things like increased awareness, non judgement in the experience, really helping individuals to become more present and aware in the things that they do within the group based environment.
Chantal: Jessica, thank you so much for sharing those. I think that they are resources that would be really beneficial to our owners, managers and our instructors out there, so I will make sure that I get the links for each of those and pop them into the show notes, make it super easy for everyone to get their hands on a copy of those resources that you just mentioned.
We have recently heard that Equinox has introduced breathing classes, and I know personally here in Sydney, Australia, we’ve started to see things like meditation-only studios open up, stretch-only studios open up, do you see those very, I guess, specific type classes coming into our mainstream big box gyms?
Jessica: I absolutely see those types of classes, more of these, what I would call, and I see them and I know Equinox is actually one of the facilities that I’ve actually seen that really promote this focus on recovery. So I think they actually, as far as I’m aware, I think there are classes that they have as far as meditation, stretching, some of the things you’ve seen dedicated facilities offer also doing. I think Equinox has actually started to refer to those kind of broad course offerings or class offerings as active regeneration. So, again, this goes back to what we were just talking about, with really the way in which facilities, clubs, studios, are actually packaging and presenting these offerings to members, to group participants, I think has a lot to do with it.
So I certainly do, and I actually had shared this in a Facebook group that I’m a part of that’s focused all about group fitness, I had shared that I do think you’re going to see more and more clubs, mainstream facilities, offering dedicated classes that are meditation focused, that are breathing focused classes, because people are seeking more of these opportunities to really focus on their own recovery, to really be more actively present in their lives and they’re placing value on it. I think that’s really been the key shift, is people saying that, you know what, for my health and wellbeing, just as it’s important to break a sweat, to get active, we’ve always tended to trend towards more of these higher intensity type class movement experiences, I think people are starting to see the value in also balancing that with more of these quote “restorative” or regenerating type experiences.
Chantal: I couldn’t agree more. And one of the challenges that I think we often faced from a big gym perspective is the fact that quite often your great yoga instructors and you’re really passionate Pilates instructors, they really gravitate towards the more boutique studios. They wanna go and work for the real specific studios that just teach yoga. In Sydney we’ve got one called Power Living that’s quite popular to be an instructor there. In your experience, Jessica, how could a larger gym or traditional gym go about finding the very best instructors, and is there additional training that you think they need to do as part of being able to create this overall experience?
Jessica: I think, definitely this ties back with what’s been a little bit of a reoccurring theme in our conversation, which is really just, again, the way in which the offerings, those mindful movement experiences, are actually positioned. So, that’s not only to attract members and participants to come to those classes, but it’s also so important, I think, in really helping to recruit, if you will, some of those really great instructors like you mentioned who maybe, again, have those preconceived notions about what types of “mindful movement offerings” would be offered in a more traditional gym setting.
So, I know, just speaking from experience as a seasoned yoga teacher, that oftentimes you tend to think that, okay, well, if an offering like this is being offered in a gym, perhaps they’re going to want something that is very much more physically focused, maybe a little bit more in line with being something that’s a bit higher intensity in nature, and for some instructors, perhaps they’re really wanting to create some variety in what these mindful movement experiences can look like. So I think the biggest feedback that I would give to managers and owners would be first and foremost to maybe just consider having a bit more creative freedom for instructors to really create and bring to life some really wonderful offerings that I think, ultimately, will be really well received and also will be of great value to existing members and also recruit some new members a new class participants.
The other piece I would say to this, too, that I think this could open a whole can of worms which I know is not our focus today, but I think one of the other challenges in a more traditional gym setting has been really what to look for when you’re looking for who are these “great instructors.” Who are these great mindful movement instructors that we can bring to create and then offer these experiences?
With yoga, the greatest challenge has been the whole debate around Yoga Alliance. That’s the piece that I’ve said that’s a whole different show, another topic, but I know that’s been one guiding criteria, but I would just, from, again, just a practical standpoint as a professional with a lot of diverse experience in this field, what I would offer to gym owners and managers is to look beyond. Certainly we want to have some sort of base foundational credential certifications of some sort, but I would absolutely look to people who have some diverse experiences as far as where they’ve taught, what types of additional trainings to supplement those foundational trainings have they gone through, because if we look for a bit more in depth in terms of the instructors we get, then ultimately what we end up finding is that we’ll get the kind of people who can create these really rich experiences for members.
Chantal: I think there is a lot to be said, and you’ve briefly touched on it in regards to how we actually describe and how we market these classes, ’cause I think did you call what Equinox does active regeneration? Was that the term?
Jessica: Yes, so actually they group their classes in different ways and I noticed that they had grouped in this category, if you will, of active regeneration, that’s where you find, under that heading if you will, classes like dedicated stretching classes, where you’ll find classes where they have dedicated meditation classes, that’s all they do that in some of their New York locations. So, I think, again, that heading just gives a different perspective about what some of these types of classes that maybe for some feel a bit nontraditional, maybe just gives a bit more insight. And I even love the descriptions they use, things like, “Increased awareness equals enhanced performance.” That right there is so powerful, and I think connects the dots for people who are usually coming to gyms seeking more of a work out, maybe now this positioning helps them to see the value in also “working in.”
Chantal: Yeah. I think it’s important for all, especially from a traditional standpoint, from a traditional kind of gym owners that we think about the fact that this is not just a matter of dropping extra classes onto the timetable of bringing in new classes. This is actually a complete reeducation piece from what I’m hearing. This is about obviously enhancing the education of our instructors to be able to make that connection and provide that experience, but it’s also about educating the members on what the possibilities are, we’ve introduced these classes, what they actually can gain out of it and as you say that marketing piece is a really important part of this overall, I guess, experience that we’re trying to create.
I was in the States last October and one of the clubs that I visited, which was a big gym, it was Midtown Athletic in Chicago, huge facility, offered all of your traditional classes like your cycle and your Les Mills and your boxing and all that type of stuff, but then they actually had a dedicated room for these type of classes, like your mindfulness based classes, so that to me was a really beautiful example of how they are able to physically segment these type of classes into a particular area and market them accordingly. In your experience, Jess, have been any clubs that you’ve visited or be a part of that come to mind for you as great examples of larger gym environments that have incorporated these type of offering?
Jessica: It’s interesting, the one particular, I know we’ve been talking about it, is seeing what Equinox has done, and obviously being in Southern California and also I’m a New York native, so seeing what they’ve done on both coasts, is one that initially comes to mind for me. But I particularly appreciated that you mentioned the fact that this doesn’t only have to be about adding additional classes, because I think that has been, in talking with some gym owners and managers, one of the challenges often is how do we create additional room on the schedule to accommodate some new offerings.
And so that’s where, I think, the piece that you just brought up of the very fact that even perhaps taking a step back from a more holistic perspective, if you will, and just looking at the current class schedule to see are there ways in which, again, we upskill existing instructors, where we can look to what’s really being taught in some of these various formats, even the ones that maybe at first glance, they don’t come to mind as being “mindful movement” they’re not the mind-body disciplines we commonly think of, but how can we bring that mindful lens to things like cycle, to things like boxing classes, it might seem like they’re total opposite ends of the spectrum, I argue they’re absolutely not.
And in fact when we talk about creating multi-level movement experiences, bringing people together of all different backgrounds, ability levels, people who have different goals and objectives for their class experiences, I think when we bring that more mindful focus, when we help people to really become present, fully engaged in the experience, it helps them also to discern how do they tailor the experience as an instructor giving different options to tailor the experience. How does the person who’s engaged in the experience, how does that member say, “Okay, you know what, based on how I’m feeling physically, mentally, in this moment, with that present awareness, how do I discern the choices that help me to me for a really successful experience?”
So I argue, I think, even in some of our very high intensity type classes, I actually think we can bring this mindful lens as you mentioned through some of the additional training and upskilling that we do for instructors.
Chantal: Ah, I could not agree with you more on that, Jessica, because as you were talking I was thinking about an experience that I had with one particular instructor, which was in a soul cycle class, and she incorporated all of those mindfulness elements that you’ve just touched on and at the end of the class I actually walked up to her and I said, “This is the best cycle class I’ve ever done. Can you tell me where you were trained on all of that stuff?” And she literally said to me that she had just read a whole lot of books on connection and on mindfulness and she personally did meditation and the way that she was able to incorporate it into what was an incredibly high intensity class just blew me away and it made for a really holistic experience.
Jessica: I love hearing that. I think that’s such a beautiful example of precisely where I just see the opportunities here. It’s very much like how, for a very long, we’ve thought about physical wellness, we look at in one lens and then if we’re talking about mental wellness we look at it in another and emotional wellness is way over here and spiritual wellness, forget it, it’s like totally on the other side of the moon practically. I look at the same way with our class experiences, where mindfulness, when we talk about mindful approaches to movement, it’s not this divide of only “mind-body exercise.”
I have some rich discussions with my colleagues about the fact that any form of movement and in fact every form of movement can be mindful if that’s the approach in which we take to it, and I love to hear that instructor and that experience you had just kind of demystifies this whole idea that being mindful has to mean very slow or sedentary, like just seated meditation, but it can even occur in a high intensity, high energy class experience, but that really bringing those elements transforms perhaps a class, it sounds, that you’ve been to time and time again, many different clubs, different instructors but adding those pieces just creates that kind of wow factor and those are absolutely the things that keep members continuing to come back and telling their friends about it, too.
Chantal: One hundred percent. So, let’s bring this right back to a couple of practical takeaways that we can leave listeners with. If we were to summarise what we’ve gone over, Jessica, and perhaps leave the listeners with three key actions that they could do to look at incorporating some type of mindfulness-based exercise classes into their gym, into their studio, what three actions would you suggest would be at the top of the list to take away today?
Jessica: The first suggestion that I would give as far as a takeaway for how we can put this into practise, ’cause I love that, we talk about this but now how do we put it into action?
Chantal: Yeah. Let’s just be practical. Yeah.
Jessica: Absolutely. Absolutely. I actually think it really starts, I’m gonna take kind of the 30,000-foot view if you will, I think it really starts first and foremost with creating, if you will, a culture of mindfulness in the club environment. So at facilities, various gyms, really just starting … And that’s from all levels, that’s from the instructor standpoint to management, to owners, maybe just starting even if we’re going to ultimately be able to share with members this demystified version of what mindful movement can look like and what those experiences can be, we really have to first and foremost understand it and really embody it ourselves. You gave that example with the instructor, you had that great soul cycle experience and she mentioned she practises these things on her own. She embodies them so it clearly comes through in her teaching, it comes through in the entire environment from when members walk right in the door.
So I would start with that, is can there be some collective discussion and/or formal training for just the facility as a whole around just understanding mindfulness. This, again, approach to increased awareness being really present. And that’s being present with our members, it’s being present fully in our roles as instructors, as managers, as owners, they sound like very simplistic things, but when we all have a lot of different tasks and responsibilities on our plates it’s easy to go through the motions. It requires a bit more focused awareness to really be present in what it is we’re doing at the moment we’re doing it.
So, I think it starts with the culture, that would be my first takeaway. I think the next piece then from there is really, ’cause you touched on this so beautifully, before we think about if we would want to add any additional offerings, how can we look at what we’re currently offering from a group experience perspective, and how can we maybe then bring that mindful lens to those movement offerings. So whether they are more traditional mind-body, or whether they’re things that are more high intensity, high energy in nature, can we bring some more thought to those classes that really help participants, again, be fully present and engaged in the experience.
And then the next piece I would say from there is also really to … The third piece of this kind of equation, I think is maybe to consider experimentation with a dedicated class that really centred around, and every club, facility, they’ll know their members best, but maybe something that really is centred around recovery, other key words like self-care. I mean, these are things that people are, I speak to media very frequently in the work that I do, these are the kind of topics that make me so excited that these are the things magazines want to write about now, and television programs are like, “We wanna talk with experts about self-care and recovery,” and really kind of creating this more balanced approach if you will to health and wellbeing, that makes me excited and what it tells me is those are the things that members are interested in. So perhaps it’s either bringing new offerings or reframing some of our current offerings again through that mindful movement lens to create opportunities for recovery, for self-care, that really are just nourishing on so many levels.
Chantal: I just love hearing that, Jessica, you have no idea. It’s funny because just recently in Australia we had, it was just last week as a matter of fact, we had a discussion about, and I think you’ll enjoy this, we had a discussion about the future of the fitness industry. And the overriding topic among old of the panel members was the fact that we need to recognise that people now are starting to crave that self-care, they’re starting to understand and appreciate how important time out is, and recovery and regeneration and all these things have been talking about. And so as an industry, we really need to make sure that we’re catering for that and we’re understanding that, we’re offering that to our gym members out there.
So I love that all of this is in line and hearing that you’re out there talking to the media about it just mains overall across the entire world, hopefully we are starting to see that interest in this area and people really gaining an understanding of just how important that is as much as being active and exerting ourselves, self-care and recuperation and regeneration is equally as important.
Jessica: Absolutely, and it’s so nice to see people seeing the various lenses through which to look at health and wellness and seeing that there are opportunities even to have those more intense or vigorous workouts, but to do so you know way that still is supportive for our health and wellbeing, that’s nourishing that really, again, just enhances all facets of our lives and also really allows us, I think the thing that I just see with, ’cause I teach classes actively to wide variety of different class participants, come from all different backgrounds, experience levels, and the thing that I just see as a common theme is people want to be more present in what they do. We’re just so accustomed, from a whole world perspective of just multitasking and having our attention divided, how wonderful for when people take the time to come to a gym, they’ve stepped foot in a facility, to feel like they can be 100% dedicated and focused to themselves, their own health and wellbeing and really truly treasure and cherish the opportunity to support their own health and wellbeing without distraction, really in a thoughtful way that’s reflected, like I said, from the moment they walk in the door to what they experience inside of the group environment just to see it reflected in all facets of a facility, I think just really continues to reinforce this desire for people to really care for themselves in new ways.
Chantal: Jessica, it has been quite a big year for you, because as I mentioned in your bio you are of course the winner of the 2017 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year Award, congratulations for that, by the way.
Jessica: Thank you so much.
Chantal: Nobody who is listening right now will be at all surprised that you were awarded that, because your knowledge and your passion around the fitness industry is just second to none so it’s a real pleasure to be able to speak to you and have you on the show. And you will be at IDEA again this year. Am I correct?
Jessica: Yes. I will be at IDEA-
Chantal: What are you gonna be speaking on this year?
Jessica: Yeah, and I love it. This year, IDEA, of course, right in my back yard here in sunny San Diego, California, so it’s really nice to have … it’s everyone … I feel like it’s like having a big party. Everyone’s coming to me [crosstalk 00:27:18].
Chantal: We’re coming to your place.
Jessica: I love it, it’s great. I’m so excited to see everyone. Absolutely, hands down, my favourite event of the year to speak at and to be a part of just to be around so many knowledgeable and incredibly passionate people. I’ll be speaking both in the nutrition and behaviour change summit, so that great two-day event. I’ll be talking about, actually, very fitting to what we’re talking about here, more of a mindful approach to health coaching, that’s another big area of interest and, of course, passion of mine, a big part of my professional work, and then I’ll also be within the main idea world conference, and again so fitting, bring to life what we’re talking about here, I’m actually leading, it’s called Nourish Your Soul, it’s a yoga self-care practise.
So, really, it is this essence of how do we create these compelling mindful movement experiences that really touch people on all different levels physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Chantal: Oh, that sounds absolutely beautiful. So, for anyone that can make it along, we’re talking about last couple of days of June, so towards the end of June this year, early July, that’s the IDEA World Summit that is happening in beautiful San Diego. And I will be there as well. I cannot wait to finally meet you, Jessica, so I wanna say thank you so much for joining us today. I find this topic so fascinating and I feel like this is only the beginning. I think if we can talk again in 12 months’ time, I hope that we’ll be talking about the progress that we’ve made as an industry and the impact that we’re seeing on our members’ health and wellbeing from the introduction of more and more of these mindfulness type practises. So, thank you so much for coming on and sharing all of your expertise and your passion with us today on the Fitness Business Podcast.
Jessica: Thank you so much for having me and it’s been so exciting to hear just from literally around the world what’s happening with this topic, to just see this movement happening, and to know that you’ll be at IDEA World. I’ll be sure to save you a spot in my class, because I know you’ll be all about the mindfulness based movement, so, it’s wonderful. Thank you again for having me. I appreciate it.
Chantal: Thank you so much, Jessica.
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