Over the past year, people looked for creative ways to get in their daily workouts, with many opting to stay fit through at-home exercise regimens or outdoor options that offer more fresh air and social distance.
Fitness Facing Dog
NamaSitStay is a class that invites people and their best furry friends to take part in guided poses, stretches and massage techniques for fun, fitness and relaxation.
To be honest, the dogs are probably there for the plentiful treats. But there is a lot of tail wagging that shows they enjoy the bonding experience with their owners, and many seem to appreciate the passive stretches that loosen up their legs and joints, and the massages that follow. And, as you can imagine, a yoga class for dogs and their people has plenty of benefits for everyone involved.
“My class is really geared toward developing a deeper bond with your pet,” says Darian Mosley, founder of the K9 Fit Club of Ocala/The Villages. She developed the workout to provide the benefits of yoga, including strength, balance, flexibility and stress reduction, for both the people and pups who participate.
Mosley came up with the idea for the cleverly named class a couple of years ago. As a certified veterinary technician and a Silver Sneakers-certified fitness instructor, she was hearing from more and more active people who “wanted to do more with their dogs than just go for walks.” She discovered the K9 Fit Club, which has a motto of “Don’t sit. Get fit!” and started the local chapter.
The third series of NamaSitStay sessions, held in partnership with the City of Ocala Recreation and Parks, took place on Saturday mornings from February 27th through April 3rd at Tuscawilla Park.
The people who participate, Mosley says, benefit from increased mobility and increased flexibility as well as “all the calming effects that come with being around a dog and practicing yoga, combined into one experience.”
“A lot of people get a very calm sense when they’re around their pet,” Mosley says. “Dogs are known to lower your blood pressure and to help soothe your emotions and all of your stresses. So, incorporating dogs into the yoga class, it ups the level of relaxation that you get in a normal yoga class because now you’ve got your dog involved.”
So how does dog yoga work?
“A lot of the poses are us posing in a way that allows us to maintain contact with our dog,” Mosley explains. “Some of the poses are for the dogs. So I do actually have my students pose in ways that will involve the dogs and allow them to also engage so that they are also getting a nice stretch and getting a little bit of range of motion different to what they get in their everyday life. I walk my students through a series of passive range of motion stretches with their dog—things they can follow up with at home and do daily to help their dog maintain good mobility and good joint lubrication.”
Mosley’s three dogs enjoy yoga, she says. So does Jenny, a basset hound who attends NamaSitStay with Carla Chindamo.
“She’s learned different stretches she didn’t know before,” Chindamo explains. “She loves it. Jenny’s my granddog,” she adds proudly.
Any dogs who have leash manners are welcome to attend, and Mosley says the class is suitable for people and pets of all shapes and sizes, including yoga beginners.
Even if you don’t have a dog (or a granddog you can borrow) but you would love to participate, Mosley has a partnership with the Marion County Animal Center which allows for well-behaved adoptable dogs to partner with people who fill out the Animal Services volunteer application in advance.
Her most important tip for attendees is to not forget the dog treats.
“I encourage students to bring a nice, high-value treat,” she notes. “This is something totally new to almost every dog. We want to make sure it’s a positive experience for them, so we definitely do use treat rewards. And a lot of times, even if the dog’s not super familiar with you, getting that ‘I’m the person with the treat’ relationship established right away really does help.”
Ocala Recreation and Parks is planning to hold the next NamaSitStay session at Tuscawilla Park starting in late September and continuing through mid-November. Visit ocalafl.org/recpark or call (352) 401-3918 for more information.
For more information about the K9 Fit Club of Ocala/The Villages, visit fb.com/k9fitclubcfl
Bringing it Home
When gyms shut down last spring during the early days of the pandemic, The Ranch Fitness Center & Spa quickly figured out that keeping their members healthy meant helping them stay active but out of the gym for a while. That’s when they launched their virtual fitness classes named with the hashtag #TooFitToQuit.
Their mindset, says Cammy Dennis, The Ranch’s fitness director, was “we know you can’t be here but we’re not going to let you down.”
“Early on in COVID there was a complete shutdown, as was the case for many businesses,” she recalls. “Immediately we needed to stay in contact and connection with our members. So right away we started virtual fitness.”
Dennis and two other fitness instructors began offering live classes twice a week through The Ranch’s website and Facebook page—cardio on Tuesdays and strength training on Thursdays.
“It was so exciting,” Dennis remembers. “We had so many comments coming up on our Facebook page as we were filming…so it was like we still had a genuine connection even though it was a trainer and an iPad in a room,” she adds with a laugh. “That was really nice.”
In addition to being offered live, the videos remain online and can be accessed by anyone, anytime, free of charge. There is a full range of options, from low impact aerobics, dance cardio, core and balance to strength training with dumbbells to stretch and recovery.
“It was very important for us that we did this for free, not only for members but for the greater community,” Dennis explains. “We really wanted to step up and do something positive for the community when everything got shut down so quickly.”
Dennis, who has nearly 30 years of experience in the fitness industry, says she recognized that exercise would help people manage the stress brought on by a global pandemic.
“Exercise is like the cornerstone for physical and emotional health,” she explains. “As stress goes up you can think about exercise as the steam valve to help release some of that stress. Stress is the number one thing that undermines our health. So, if you’re exercising to make your muscles and your heart and lungs stronger, that’s great. And at the same time you are also releasing all the stressors that could potentially make you unhealthy. So you’ve got a two for one special there: Not only is your body physically going to be able to combat illness and disease because exercise heightens your immune system, it’s also going to help reset a positive perspective, make you feel better, put your brain in a good place and relieve stress during this very challenging time.”
Linda Titcomb, who has been a member at The Ranch for several years, started doing virtual fitness classes during the COVID-19 shutdown and says they’ve become an important option to help her stay active.
“I call up the virtual videos and I can do them live on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I would do that a lot when The Ranch was closed down,” she says. “But I also have the option now that I’m back at classes at The Ranch—I can do them on my own time.”
She loves the cardio classes, especially the Warrior class, and says her husband offered up his “man cave” for her to use as a home gym.
“I move the chairs out and I’ve got the whole floor to do my thing,” she explains, adding, “I love the classes. I do it five days a week.”
Jim Swift also appreciates the option to take a variety of classes online.
“Pre-COVID I was going over and doing the classes,” he says. “Then when COVID set in they came up with an innovative way to do these online classes.”
Like Titcomb, his favorites are the virtual cardio workout sessions.
“It’s so convenient to be able to do it at home on your time,” Swift says.
Even though in-person group fitness classes have resumed with social distancing, Dennis says they plan to continue to offer virtual sessions.
“The feedback we have gotten is amazing,” she notes. “We’re definitely touching people who, for whatever reason, can’t get to the gym, don’t want to come into the gym right now or don’t feel that it’s right for them. Virtual fitness is here to stay.”
For thousands of years, people have practiced yoga for its many wellness benefits. When COVID-19 made it unsafe for people to gather in the studio for yoga class, Blissful Life Corporation Executive Director Kelsie Ruff Smith took the practice online, believing Ocalans needed yoga more than ever.
“As a donation-based nonprofit, I just want people to do yoga,” she declares. “That’s what we’re here for. People are doing this to destress and find peace as much as it’s a fitness class.”
The studio already had a presence on Facebook and Ruff Smith decided that platform would be the quickest way to take classes online. For two months last spring, instructors live streamed their yoga and meditation classes with no in-person option. In June they developed the hybrid model they’re still using today.
A full schedule of classes, including lunchtime flow yoga, evening yin and vinyasa yoga sessions, Sunday’s mantra and meditation, and the popular Friday evening destress and stretch class, are live streamed on Facebook and videos remain online for students who want to participate at another time. Socially distanced in-person classes are limited to five participants in a sanitized studio, with mandatory temperature checks and masks. A donation of $10 to $15 per class is suggested and is easy to make online with PayPal. However, all classes are donation-based and are offered on a pay-as-you-can basis.
Teaching yoga is a passion for Ruff Smith and the other instructors, she explains. She adds that while it was important to her to continue to make yoga available to the community, she also felt a responsibility to allow the instructors to continue to earn income.
“I have some teachers that teaching yoga is their only job,” she says. “In the beginning that was one of the reasons I wouldn’t close. I was like I can’t take everything from them.”
Ruff Smith says one helpful takeaway from the expansion to online classes is their new preregistration system. In addition to reserving their space, students are asked to fill out a perceived stress scale survey, which has helped her learn a lot about how yoga is benefiting them.
“There’s a huge correlation with the people who have done yoga 10 times in the past 30 days versus the people who have done yoga once or zero times when it comes to how stressed they feel,” she explains. “They are looking to have a reprieve from COVID. It’s more meditative yoga that we’re teaching, it’s more reflective, how to be more mindful.”
Blissful Life plans to continue offering both online and socially distanced in-person classes for the foreseeable future. They have several spaces available for businesses to join their Happy People program, in which companies pay a small monthly fee that allows their employees access to the full class schedule at no charge to them.
“Yoga helps with stress and being more mindful helps with worker performance,” Ruff Smith says. “We just love yoga and want people to do it. We heal together, whether in person or virtually.”