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introduced Westerners to the possibil- ity that the two seemingly incongruous goals could be intertwined, the spiritu- ality-fitness link has spread well beyond the yoga mat. It has spawned fusions ranging from Body Gospel, a Christian workout tape, and Jewish Yoga classes to triathlon programs rooted in Native American teachings and Buddhism- based running meditation workshops. In addition, creative instructors

have been fusing body/mind/spirit clas- sics like yoga and Pilates with hard- core cardio disciplines like spinning and boxing. Half of all U.S. fitness clubs now offer mind/body program- ming, according to the IDEA Health & Fitness Association, and the portion of classes dedicated to “mind/spirit” versus just “body” is on the rise. “The newer programming is bal-


Moving the Body Opens the Door to Spirit by Lisa Marshall


t’s the Sabbath, a day of prayer, and millions of people across America are quietly sitting or kneel- ing, humbly communing with a power greater than themselves.

But inside the Alchemy

“Exercise can be a powerful gateway to the spiritual.”

~ Chantal Pierrat

of Movement studio in Boul- der, Colorado, the Soul Sweat faithful are connecting with their higher power in a different fashion. In bare feet, and wearing yoga pants and tank tops, they find a place before a wall-to-wall mir- ror while a slow, Afro-Brazilian rhythm vibrates the wooden floor.

At the urging of instructor Chantal

Pierrat, they let their arms and necks go limp, shaking off the week’s stresses via a sensual, full-body writhe she calls

32 Collier/Lee Counties

“the flail.” As the World Beat playlist picks up the pace, Pierrat leads the group through a funky, rave- like series of dance moves aimed at “opening up” the hips and chest and some- thing less tangible deep inside. By song five, the

sweat is flowing and some are dancing unabashedly, eyes closed, lost in the music. Others are smiling broadly, mak- ing eye contact in the mirror. The sense of joy and interconnect- edness in the room is palpable. “Exer- cise can be a powerful gateway to the spiritual,” observes Pierrat, the founder of Soul Sweat, a highly choreographed, spiritually charged dance workout. Twenty years after the yoga craze

anced 50-50, rather than the 80-20 body-mind split of the past,” estimates Sandy Todd Webster, editor in chief of IDEA’s publications. At a time when, according to the

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the number of people that identify with “no organized religion” continues to grow (topping one-fifth of Americans and one-third of U.S. adults under 30), more people than ever are exploring exercise as a path to both flatter abs and deeper self-discovery. “We have spent so long focusing on the mind and the brain… but that is not the whole story,” says Pierrat. “The somatic, or physical, expression of spirituality is the future.”

In the Zone The notion that intense dancing or a long run could spark what feels like a spiritual awakening makes sense to Philadelphia- based research neuroscientist and physi- cian Andrew Newberg, author of How God Changes Your Brain. A pioneer in the field of integrative “neurotheology”, he has for years used brain imaging tech- nologies to study the impact religious or spiritual practices like deep meditation, intense prayer and speaking in tongues have on the brain. Exercise, he says, pro- vides many of the same effects. In addition to prompting a surge of feel-good endorphins, a highly strenu- ous workout is one of the few activities that can lead to simultaneous activa- tion of both sympathetic (fight-or-flight)

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