The makings of a great workout are pretty standard: a cardio element, strength- and endurance-training, solid warm-up and cool-down periods. But, what about throwing some emotion into the mix? As it happens, an increasing number of fitness programs and studios are tapping into clients’ feelings, and getting some positive results. Just ask Naomi Watts, whose go-to workout method, The Class By Taryn Toomey, incorporates emotion-filled movement and even yelling at times. And while this may seem a bit off-putting at first glance (or listen), the actor explains it’s actually quite therapeutic.
"You reach your level of exhaustion both physically and mentally at the same time, and it's incredibly powerful and cathartic," explains Watts in an interview with The Zoe Report. For context, The Class isn’t all about yelling for 45 minutes or so. Described as “a practice of self-study through physical conditioning” on its website, the method incorporates high-intensity cardio, yoga, body conditioning, strength training, and meditation. The vocal component is actually worked into the movement: think aggressively yelling “huh!” while doing jumping jacks, rigorous squats, or fire hydrants.
And, to be clear, the use of sound is completely intentional (and not gratuitous) in that it helps harness and release energy, explained founder Taryn Toomey in a 2017 interview with Fast Company. “I think a lot of people are coming to The Class because there’s a sense of, ‘Do what you need to do, not what I’m telling you to do,'” said Toomey in the interview. “It’s not necessarily a place where you come in and say, ‘This is how I feel about this.’ It’s just a place to let yourself feel whatever it is you’re feeling, and then allow it to be felt.”
Whatever magic this fitness cocktail conjures, it works — just ask Watts, who regularly streams The Class while in quarantine for much-needed release (digital studio memberships are $40/month or $400/year). “For me, and I think I can speak for most people, we’ve all been hit with high levels of anxiety [amidst the global pandemic] of some kind and there’s just too much time spent in our heads worrying about the state of the world, losing our jobs, or losing people,” says the actor and founder of Onda Beauty. “It’s so intense what we’re going through, so that coming together, that shared experience, even though you’re not in the room together, you know people are releasing in some ways themselves and at the same time. It’s pretty great. I’ve found it kind of a savior for me.”
Watts, who's always been an active individual and lover of fitness, says she met Toomey some eight years ago through a friend at her children's school. "One of my girlfriends at school had a yoga mat, and she was just always the poster woman for good health," recalls Watts. "So, I asked, 'Where do you go for class? What are you doing?' and she led me to Taryn. It was just a few of us in the basement of her building and it sort of grew and grew and grew."
Grew indeed. Watts' discovery was in The Class' early years (it was started in 2011). These days, the method has moved from Toomey's basement to a standalone space in Tribeca, NYC (which is currently closed due to COVID-19) and now has a cult-like following that includes a fair amount of high-profile celebrities like Alicia Keyes, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston, and Christy Turlington. Watts says she often recommends The Class to fellow actors because "actors are always prepared to get up, go primal and animal, and do those guttural moans quite willingly."
The Class' physical component is also something to behold. Described by Glamour as a "cardio-meets-Pilates" hybrid, each session will definitely have you sweating. "There's quite a bit of cardio and movement," says Watts. "Lots of repetition and strengthening. And, also there's arm movements that feel like you're ridding yourself of toxic energy."
That said, it's the aforementioned "primal" emotional component that Watts says differentiates The Class from other workouts she's done in the past. "With Taryn, your mind is very much involved, in the way she speaks philosophically about how to unpack things, acknowledge it, take it on, and throw it out," explains the actor. "It's always hard to say this without sounding a bit woo-woo, but sometimes you find yourself reaching some kind of emotional epiphany. I've seen people in different states of emotion or joy on the mat next to me and I think that's 50 percent of why [The Class] keeps drawing me back in over and over again." Yes, sometimes you just have to yell it out.