Is it just us, or is the sun in permanent retreat these days? From politics and relationships to TV shows (R.I.P. PLL), even the little things we used to love now seem to have an anxious, apocalyptic tinge to them. Perhaps that’s why more and more people are gravitating toward the gym, where the latest crazes have less to do with fixing your body “flaws” than with clearing and resetting your mind. In New York, celebrity fitness pro Nicole Winhoffer’s class has earned the hashtag #NWChurch for her confessional, motivational style and trademark end-of-session sermons. “Listen to your intuition,” she said recently after two hours of toning and cardio dance. “If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.” In Nicole’s class, the instructor is as vulnerable as the students, opening up the floor for honest conversation and intense workouts.
Meanwhile, cyclists on the West Coast are competing for coveted spots in class with Angela Manuel-Davis, a SoulCycle instructor and motivational coach known for her nonstop energy and mantras, like “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you,” and “Your struggle introduces you to your strength.” With her intense training and impassioned voice, it’s no wonder she counts such powerhouses as Oprah and the Beckhams as fans. “When we are physically challenged, we are being emotionally cracked open at the same time,” she says. “At those times, love, encouragement, reinforcement, and inspiration can be poured in.”
Nicole and Angela are two of the best at packing mantras into their methods, but they’re hardly the first. “This idea that you can mix meditative or contemplative traditions with movement goes back thousands of years—as opposed to aerobic exercise, which is a fairly modern concept. Meditative practices like yoga and tai chi include aspects of both,” says Brandon Alderman, Ph.D., an associate professor of kinesiology and health at Rutgers University. Dr. Alderman is currently leading a study on meditation and running as a means to treat depression. “Engaging in meditation may boost the affective and physiological benefits of exercise. Though we’re just beginning to study the relationship between the two, I suspect that if meditative practices enhance the overall experience of exercise, it may also, surprisingly, encourage or motivate people to be more active.” If there’s one thing we could all use more of right now, it’s a little positive reinforcement.
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