Ayurveda and Group Fitness
Everything comes in cycles over the course of a year, in nature.
There is a time of great energy, a time of withdrawing, a time of rest, and a time to prepare for the next bout if high energy.
If nature uses these cycles to keep churning on earth with great intelligence for eons, we could use a little wisdom from mother earth, too.
There are exceptions to the rule, of course, where performance athletes are concerned, but for the student in our group fitness classes, we should really heed the same rules of nature our planet uses to stay balanced in our physical bodies.
Taking these rules into consideration helps keep us filled with energy all year and can protect us against illness or injury.
Take a look at these practice norms of Ayurveda and see what we can conclude about how we can use the same wisdom in our teaching and class planning.
During this time of year, as we head away from the heat of summer, we are drawing inward.
We tend to spend more time under the covers and moving doesn’t come as easily as it did during the summer. This is the season of Vata-air and ether energy.
With this sluggishness that likes to settle in, it is important to keep the body moving with grounded intensity in the body. Think lower third of the body, heat, core, lower body, pelvis and lower back support. The body loves soothing heat during this time of the year just as our bodies love a good soup as a meal.
This time of the year, as we head into a time of great production, we are slowly unwinding and drawing out of the cold of winter. We tend to feel heavy and a little stiffer than other times of the year.
This is the season of Kapha-earth and water energy.
With this stiffness that can settle over the winter, it’s important to keep a repetitive movement in the body that encourages joint mobility.
Think upper third of the body, flowing, moderate heat, shoulders and neck and jaw support. The body loves simple back and forth movement as a way to cater to the joints during this season, just as nature is trying to move through the bogginess created by melting winter slow on mountain tops as the water flows downward through soil and trees.
This time of the year, as we head into a time of warmth, we are easily heading into a busy and active time of the year.
We risk muscle injury to the body during this time of the year as a consequence and inflammation comes easily to the body during this time with aggressive activity.
This is the season of Pitta-fire and water energy.
With this heightened sensitivity to heat and inflammation, it is important to keep intensity and high impact off the edge of maximum. Think center body, abdominal work, core building, torso flexibility and range-making. The body loves exploring center-body range, but in a way that is not load bearing beyond the body’s weight itself, just as we like rigorous challenges, but that don’t leave us with less energy than we had before.
If we see such broad ranges across the year in weather, it wouldn’t make sense that we would be doing the same thing all year with our bodies.
An ab work in winter has different consequences and is received differently in the body compared to summer. If we are trying to help our students find flow and meaningful, long-term benefits to bodywork, it wouldn’t make sense that we would carry out the same practice every given Tuesday across a whole entire year.
The implications of Ayurvedic philosophy can generally take us back to what many group fitness instructors suggest at the beginning of classes: Work hard and work smart. Listen to the body.
Take the time of the year into account as you get ready to send your students into high-energy tasks.
- Pushing hard in the summer will look different than what it looks like in the winter.
- Pushing at the beginning of the week will likely have greater reception than at the end of the week.
- Pushing at the beginning of the day might be more appropriate than pushing hard work at the end of a day.
My Zumba classes at the beginning of the week have a higher energy vibe than my Friday night classes, where we just want to let loose and have fun.
Take the time of year into account when you consider where your work-focus will reside.
- Lower-body work will be well-spent during the Vata period of the year.
- Upper body focus during the Kapha period of the year will enliven the body.
- Center-body work is ideal for summer during a time where digestion doesn’t come as easily to the body during this time, as it does in other times of the year.
Let this Ayurvedic perspective give you some ideas on choreography or body focus.
Consider the time of the week as you choose a program format for the schedule. Do you bring in higher numbers when you are teaching a Hot Yoga class on a Friday night or will you attract more students if you choose a Yin Yoga class on a Friday night (true story, my numbers went up when I changed my Friday night Vinyasa to a Yin format)
I have found later morning Zumba classes have higher attendance, than one offered first thing in the morning on a Saturday.
Before you question your popularity and skills, ask yourself if your class is well placed for the time of day and day of the week you are teaching your class and a body’s natural cycles of balance.
Once you look at fitness as a piece of the wellness pie, you will see that we don’t do bodywork on a static plane. The body as well as all of nature works in spirals, learning cycles, and lots of understanding and intuitive insight to what will make a body perform over a lifetime, as that’s really the long-term goal.
Making wise short-term decisions in just one class will add to the longevity and consistent attendance of your group fitness family.