The Holistic Fitness Approach Tackles Health From The Inside Out

No pain, no problem.

Back in the 1980s, amidst the workout craze heralded by the likes of Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons, the well-known adage “no pain no gain” came to prominence. In her legendary workout videos, Fonda was actually known to call out the catchphrase along with other infamous expressions like “feel the burn” while guiding viewers through strenuous squats and aerobic combinations. While meant to encourage, these phrases engrained the idea that in order to achieve the ultimate reward, great pain and stress must be endured. And for decades following the sweatband-laden era, mottos like this have defined how many individuals see health and working out. However, recently, a gentler, more holistic approach to fitness has emerged that’s challenging all the old principles. Sorry, Jane.

Perhaps it’s the past year indoors that’s caused individuals to become more in tune with their bodies and minds. Or perhaps the health and wellness space is simply evolving to a softer, more attainable reality. Whatever the reason may be, there’s a change in tone in the fitness world, calling people to lighten up emotionally, and enjoy themselves. “If you're too focused on the vanity of fitness (getting a bigger butt, a six pack, or thinner thighs) the experience becomes hollow,” says Cassey Ho, fitness influencer and creator of the Blogilates lifestyle space. One quick scroll through the brand’s Instagram account and you’ll see Ho doesn’t take herself or her practice too seriously. In addition to quick and easy workout tips and techniques, you’ll find lighthearted memes that poke fun at common health and fitness myths. “From personal experience, focusing too hard on physical achievements only can lead to body dysmorphia. It becomes a much more meaningful journey when you can shift your focus to finding the joy in your workout and finding the joy in making your healthy meals.”

The workout guru, who designed her healthy living, food, and fitness platform as a space for followers to “have fun,” said she’s had her own struggles with body issues and unhealthy beliefs about working out. “At one point in my fitness journey, I became obsessed with making my body look a certain way,” says Ho. “My efforts were so vain. When I couldn't reach my physical goals, it sucked all the fun out of working out. It burned me out, and in fact, made me resent exercising. It took me a little while to heal my relationship with my body and with fitness. The healing began when I refocused my energy from looking good to feeling good. That is what brought the joy back to my relationship with fitness.

Ahead, TZR breaks down the holistic fitness approach sweeping the nation, and the brands and instructors leading the charge.

The Holistic Fitness Approach: Heal The Mind As Well As The Body

“From the beginning, my class at SoulCycle has always been about more than the physical,” says Ross Ramone, SoulCycle Instructor on the Equinox+ app. For 15 year's, the SoulCycle brand has transformed indoor stationary cycling into a dance party on wheels, making music, movement, and emotions an active part of the entire experience. Instead of focusing on things like heart rate, calorie burning, and miles logged, instructors encourage individuals to simply give themselves what they need, whatever that may be. “So often I’ve found that what’s true on the bike is true in life, and that the bike can serve as a powerful metaphor,” explains Ramone. “With every class I teach — whether in a SoulCycle studio or on Equinox+, it’s my goal to provide a safe space for riders to feel through what they need to heal through, to let go of the things that weigh them down, and to step into their courage, one brave choice at a time. You’re going to get a great workout; but you’re also going to strengthen the muscles you can’t see — the ones that get you through life.”

The Holistic Fitness Approach: Set Realistic Expectations For Yourself

Indeed, a crucial component to holistic fitness is the reframing of ideals once centered on physical transformation and a “thin is in” mentality. This approach is not only antiquated but often unrealistic to boot says Jeanette DePatie, plus-sized licensed fitness instructor and trainer. “Most people are not going to drastically change the way their body looks with moderate exercise,” DePatie explains. “So if you build up the idea that they don't look OK now, but will look OK after exercise, you're telling them that there's something wrong with them and promising that it will be fixed after your class. You know what happens when students think they are going to look totally different after six weeks and then they don't? They feel like a failure. They are not having fun. They quit.”

The instructor explains that the key to making fitness a long-term goal is making it sustainable and a natural fit for your specific needs and interests. “I really believe that outside of being fun, exercise should be about helping you do all the other things in your life you'd love to do,” says DePatie. “In the success stories of my class, I don't have a lot of students holding up pants to show how many inches or pounds they have lost. Science shows an awful lot of people who lose a lot of weight will gain it back over time. My student success stories are people who can go dancing with their spouse again, or take the grandchildren to Disneyland again. Some of my greatest success stories are students who simply find it easier to get in and out of a car, grocery shop, walk their dogs, and be more independent.”

The Holistic Fitness Approach: Ditch The Shame & Guilt

Sadie Lincoln, co-founder and CEO of national barre fitness studio Barre3 says, for too long the tradition of group exercise was about “getting somewhere or getting to a result or after-picture and doing it the way everyone else is doing it.” This uniform template is exactly what Lincoln aimed to diminish with the creation of brands like Barre3. “We want to empower people to instead take the idea of exercise and make it exactly what their body needs in that very moment.”

The instructor says she’s seen too many individuals anchor exercise to shame and not feeling good enough. “I believe that we’ve been taught that fitness looks a certain way and that to be sexy, to be winning, to be attractive, to be successful, we need to be there,” says Lincoln.

So how does one dispel such deeply rooted beliefs? According to Lincoln, it’s all in the power of modification. “We tackle two things at Barre3, the first being pain,” she explains. “We take out negative pain with modifications. And then we fight shame — we unlearn that conditioning.” While the first component involves encouraging attendees to listen to their bodies and make modifications to their movements and workouts to avoid discomfort and stress, the latter component — centered on dismantling shame — is a bit more abstract. “A lot of it is through language,” says Lincoln. “You won’t hear us ever say ‘We’re working out this muscle so you’ll have flat, sleek abs and get ready for bikini season.’ We’ll instead say things like, ‘Notice how strong you feel in the center of your body. The very core of your being is getting stronger.’ Think about how different those two messages are.”

The Holistic Fitness Approach: Get Vulnerable

Taryn Toomey, creator of The Class (which counts celebs like Naomi Watts as avid fans), says she designed the mat-based and music-driven “cathartic” workout as a means to strengthen the body and notice the mind to restore balance. “We repeat one move per song to create sensation in the body and observe our thoughts,” says Toomey. “In any given class students can expect guided instruction and a carefully curated playlist to lead them through exercises they are familiar with such as squats, jumping jacks, and burpees. The result is a mental clearing and emotional release. Through continued practice students develop tools to empower their life, along with an incredibly strong resilient body.”

The instructor says she’s observed an increasing desire and curiosity for “self-actualization and balance of body and mind as a rebuttal to the chaos of the outside world.” Instead of preaching to their audience, The Class’ instructor’s “make space” for vulnerability and release however they manifest (tears, joy, frustration, etc.). “I think you have to move towards the things that feel authentic, connected to the source of heart and soul,” says Toomey. “The beauty of The Class is that if you don’t want to do any of it, you don't have to, and you’ll still get a great workout. We practice embodiment, the antidote for disassociation. We practice life. It gets hard. It gets easy. It gets hard. It gets easy. Then it feels like freedom.”