Call it the anti-trend of the millennium. Mind-body-spirit (MBS) exercise is a centuries-old philosophy that has only become more widespread in the Western world — and in Western health clubs — in recent years. Traditionally, U.S. health facilities have been slow to embrace the concept of total wellness — fitness on the inside and out. In the industry's infancy, clubs used advertising and marketing that focused on skin-deep beauty and body perfection, which excluded many potential members by dangling a carrot that very few could every hope to reach. In addition, those members who bought into the body perfectionism early on later found that integrating both muscle and mind offered a deeper impact on their lives.

In the 21st century, most clubs are now realizing the potential market that MBS programming (tai chi, Pilates, yoga, etc.) taps into — seniors, the deconditioned, Baby Boomers, and younger people looking for something more in their health club membership. And, in the aftermath of the events of last September 11 and the stress involved with the recession, many people are looking for lifestyle changes and deeper relationships with other people, themselves and their bodies.

“We're not as superficial as we were a year ago,” comments Ruth Stricker, founder of The Marsh in Minnetonka, Minn. The Marsh is an integrated fitness and wellness center and destination spa that features a variety of MBS and health programming, including Pilates, qi gong, acupuncture, and more. “Because of 9-11 we're all dealing with existence themes…. People are looking for more integration in all parts of their lives,” she continues. “I call it enriched exercise — exercise that fits into our life, not life that fits into exercise.”

“People are looking at what they're spending and their disposable income and choosing to spend it on themselves and improving their quality of life,” remarks Laura Klein, the vice president of marketing and sales for Peak Body Systems, a Pilates equipment manufacturer.

And many people are not just aiming for this MBS integration with one discipline. With today's time-starved populations, there is an increased trend for classes that integrate various mind-body classes, as well as traditional strength and aerobics. Nia (short for Neromuscular Integrative Action), for example, combines tai chi, yoga, martial arts and dance.

According to the American Council On Exercise (ACE) in a recent statement outlining fitness trends for 2002, “the mind and body connection will continue to grow and reach the largest of populations. Yoga, Pilates, stretching and strength training have merged. The total mind and body workout will include all the best elements of each discipline in formats that work for individual lifestyles.”

The numbers all indicate the rise of MBS programming in many health clubs. From 1998 through 2000, yoga and tai chi participation increased 30 percent, according to statistics reported in the Health Club Trend Report published by American Sports Data Inc. (ASD). Pilates, which was measured for the first time in the year 2000, registered 1.7 million participants, 60 percent of whom were new to this type of exercise program.

“The popularity of MBS classes was a natural evolvement in our industry,” says Sandy Coffman, owner of Programming for Profit, a Bradenton, Fla.-based consulting company. “Hopefully, we are getting smarter and realizing that all three components are necessary for success, compliance and retention of all our members. Older clients are actually teaching us that concept. They have been around longer than us, experienced more, and understand life more fully than we do. They are demanding the complete philosophy of MBS and teaching us that we must incorporate it into our entire business.”

The Mind Body Mindset

Dee Dee De la Mora, fitness director for the Concord Athletic Center in Texas, agrees. “The average member's age in our clubs is 45 years old. This age group is seeing that for many, many years we've pounded our bodies into the ground,” she says. “Now it's time for us to go in another direction for fitness.”

That being said, the MBS mindset may be a little difficult for both members and clubs to embrace because it runs counter to the familiar “no pain, no gain” mentality, says Julie Lobdell, president and co-founder of Peak Body Systems. And the classes (which should be smaller in order for participants to get individualized attention) require more commitment on the part of the instructors in order to truly involve the mind, body and spirit. “[Pilates creator] Joseph Pilates says, ‘I'd rather have five precise, mindful repetitions than 15 [repetitions] where you're not thinking about it,’” explains Lobdell.

And not only does the client need to be more mindful, so does the instructor. “I think too many of our instructors just come into the class and do the activity and then leave,” explains Coffman. “I feel there will be a huge difference in how we will be hiring and training and evaluating the expectations of our instructors.

“We should be talking about all of our activity classes as mind-body-spirit classes but it's all about how [the instructors] are teaching them,” she continues. “We're a very young industry… hopefully we're getting smarter and realize that all three (mind, body and spirit) are necessary. We're losing people who come in [to the club] for just getting their endorphins handled.”

MBS is “about a connection to slowing down,” says Leeann Carey, president of Planet Yoga, whose flagship studio is located in Hermosa Beach, Calif. “Most of us have a very intense lifestyle, especially in L.A. — I'm looking out the window right now and there is a movie being shot across the street. What I really like about yoga is you're not just told how to do something but why. Why it's good to take a breath.”

Because MBS classes integrate the whole person, inside and out, it's important for the classes to be structured in such a way that instructors get to know each of their clients and each of their clients come away from the class with a new understanding of their bodies and themselves. As an example, it's not enough to simply tell a client to breathe during an exercise. The trainer has to tell them why and how to breathe. “To me, mind-body-spirit is all about an education component and a complete concept of the body,” Coffman says.

“They're [clubs] calling everything mind-body now and I wish they would get rid of the term,” says Stricker. “They could just say breathing is mind-body but it's a little deeper than that. It's the whole person. There are different layers to it.”

Mind Body Marketing

MBS programming also has to be marketed and advertised differently than more traditional exercise classes, since the wants and needs of its market are decidedly different. For example, class participants are likely to take MBS classes to relieve stress as well as tone or stretch their bodies. The focus is on feeling well, not having a supermodel's body.

In order to successfully market to these groups you're “going to have to understand their life and what they do on a daily basis,” advises Brian Smith, president of Red Hot Marketing, a health-club focused marketing agency out of Atlanta. “Once you see how they live their life… then you can show how the yoga class or the Pilates class can benefit them.” The advertising then, should be about the client, not about the club, which is an approach many facilities have used in the past by using advertising that shows how big the club is and what its features are. “A lot of clubs attempt to convince people that they fit into the club but those that are really, really successful are the ones that show the consumer the club fitting into [his or her] life.”

According to Peak Body Systems' Klein, Pilates demographics (compiled by American Sports Data in its yearly Superstudy of Sports Participation) are as follows: 78 percent of the participants are female, the average ages is between 38 and 45, the average household income is over $70,000, and 36 percent of the participants took the classes in a health club.

Secondly, Smith says, the pictures and text used in the advertisement should connect with the consumer in such a way that she sees herself in the ad, while seeing how the club would enhance quality of life. For example, a baby boomer may be looking at joining a health club to feel better in every day life. A possible advertisement could show a woman in her 50s on the beach with her family. The text could then relate how her experience in the MBS class helps her to enjoy her time with her family more.

The ad copy should be written in a language that the consumer can relate to as well.

“If you want to use people's real words, one of the easiest things to do is to go onto Amazon.com or other like-minded web site,” according to Smith, “Look up books on the subject you're promoting — tai chi for example — and look at the reader reviews. Those are written with real world views.” Smith adds that club's could rewrite ad text using the same style of language allowing potential member to relate to the sentiments expressed.

While MBS classes seem to be embraced by the over 50 market, as well as the deconditioned, there has been a decidedly female presence in many club's classes. To try and even up the score, more and more clubs are marketing their MBS classes specifically to men with either all male classes, sports-specific programs that incorporates the MBS mentality, or by hosting partners or family classes. While these have been moderately successful, it show growth potential.

“Mind-body isn't just a fad. It's so basic that people find it hard to sell,” Stricker says. “There's no big grabber there because it's addressing life.”

Types of Mind Body Spirit Classes

Below is a brief overview of the most popular mind-body-spirit programming options:

The Alexander Technique: According to the book, Changing The Way You Work: The Alexander Technique: “The Alexander Technique is a method that works to change (movement) habits in our everyday activities. It is a simple and practical method for improving ease and freedom of movement, balance, support and coordination. The technique teaches the use of the appropriate amount of effort for a particular activity, giving you more energy for all your activities. It is not a series of treatments or exercises, but rather a reeducation of the mind and body. The Alexander Technique is a method that helps a person discover a new balance in the body by releasing unnecessary tension. It can be applied to sitting, lying down, standing, walking, lifting, and other daily activities…”

Feldenkrais Method: Designed to improve ease of motion and range through focused, direct movements, the Feldenkrais Method was developed through 40 years of research by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, a Russian-born physicist, judo expert, teacher and mechanical engineer.

Nia: Nia is short for Neromuscular Integrative Action, and in Swahili, Nia means with purpose. It is a mind-body discipline that combines tai chi, yoga, martial arts and dance.

Pilates: Pilates was developed in the 1920s by physical trainer Joseph H. Pilates, who later founded New York's Pilates Studio (which continues his work to this very day). His Pilates method is an exercise system that focuses on building core strength and flexibility. Many of the systems original converts were dancers or athletes looking to condition their body in a gentler, more functional manner.

Qi Gong: Utilizing spiritual, martial and health components, Qi gong combines slow, meditative movement with deep breathing. Developed in China 6000 years ago, Tai Chi is one of the most common forms of Qi Gong.

Yoga: Steeped in Eastern tradition and philosophy, the popular yoga art form offers many styles to choose from, including: Ananda, Ashtanga or “Power Yoga,” Bikram, Hatha, Integral, Vinyasa, Iyengar and Kundalini. For a full description of each style, see Club Industry's November 1999 feature “Serenity Now” online at clubindustry.com.

Matters of the Mind

What are the most popular mind body classes at your club, and with what age groups? Drop us a line at: Letters to the Editor, Club Industry, One Plymouth Meeting, Suite 501, Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462. E-mail: jagoglia@primediabusiness.com. Fax: (610) 238-0992.