It may be cliché but it’s true: Fall in love with taking care of yourself, because you can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself. Sure, this is a given if you’re all about fitness, but self-care goes way beyond working out and eating well. Meaningful self-care is about slowing down and being mindful in the moment. Not only is it important to practice self-care as fitness instructors, but it’s also crucial to incorporate it into your classes. We asked studio owners and instructors how they manage to do it and here’s what they shared:

Focus on Intentions

Before starting your class, take a step back and talk about what it is that brought everyone to the studio or gym. Ask about goals and intentions and what everyone is doing to make them happen. Making that a habit before each class will help reinforce how important self-care is.

“I love giving clients an overview of what I plan to focus on during class and what my goals/intensions are while giving them time to do the same,” says Diana Garrett, owner of and master trainer at SURFSET in New York City. “That small moment before class allows each client to really focus on him/herself and getting what he/she personally wants out of the class.”

Choose Your Words Carefully

If you practice yoga in a class setting, then you appreciate the motivating words shared by your teacher. How can other instructors incorporate that kind of inspiration into their classes? Think about your own self-care routine and remember that authenticity trumps all else when speaking to your students, says Chelsea Stewart, a cycle and yoga instructor at Vigor Fitness & Wellness Studio in Nashville, TN. If you’re too scripted, it will come across as fake. These are the inspiring words and phrases Stewart uses in her classes:

“Self-care is not selfish.”

“In order to show up as your best self for others you have to take care of yourself FIRST.”

“Allow yourself to feel what you need to feel.”

“Push yourself, for you are the only one who knows your limit.”

Practice Mindfulness and Meditation in Class

Alexa Silvaggio, a service-based yoga instructor, retreat leader, and speaker based in New York City and Los Angeles, begins each yoga class with meditation. “What better way to begin a practice than to get people present?  Even if it’s just 2 minutes of breath work, it will help students embody their body in a really phenomenal way.” Silvaggio also encourages her students to release their worry about the past and future so that they can savor the present moment.  “I have my students notice things,” she says.  “I’ll say something like “notice the texture of the mat under your feet’, or ‘notice your breath enter and leave your body.’  If you are noticing your surroundings, or noticing the sensations that you are currently experiencing, you are present.”

Another great time to bring self-care front and center is at the end of class when things are winding down. At that point, encourage everyone to take a moment to be mindful and truly present. Lauren Krinis, a certified nutrition therapy practitioner, personal trainer and co-owner of CoreFitness in Philadelphia, uses this point in a class as an opportunity for everyone to take a pause. “I like to slow down our workout and encourage participants to acknowledge any stress they may be carrying and let it go, to take a deep breath and let the breath and sounds reconnect you to the present moment,” Krinis says. “Mindfulness can help decrease stress, enhance mental health and increase emotional regulation. Taking a short amount of time after each workout and encouraging participants to continue to take additional moments to be present throughout the course of the day can help make the benefits of your class last all day.”

Mix Things Up in Your Classes

What can you do to enhance your classes with self-care elements either in the beginning or at the end? And how can you rethink your classes so they can be a real combo of working out and taking time to be present in the moment?

Silvaggio adds poses into her classes that work to release stiffness and tension in the muscles. “I love to incorporate Yin (holding hip openers for at least 3 minutes) in most of my yoga classes, and people really need it,” she says. “It’s a process of down regulating, releasing muscular tension, and letting the connective tissue, and fascia do the work.  We need this in an escalated environment. Most of us are so stressed out, holding on, gripping so tightly that we don’t even notice.  Even just holding pigeon pose for 3 minutes on each side (yes, that’s a yin posture) is a powerful tool to get people feeling better pronto.”

Robin Channell, owner and founder of Vigor Fitness & Wellness Studio in Nashville, provides aromatherapy in her Restorative Yoga class. The studio also has an Infrared Sauna for clients to restore their muscles and joints. “It’s a great detoxifier and we offer aromatherapy with the 30-minute session,” Channell says. “In the past, Vigor offered a cycle then Zen class that gave clients a 30/30 cycle then meditation class. We currently offer a Ride + Restore allowing 30 minutes of cycle followed by 30 minutes of yoga and stretching.” 

Make Time for Your Own Self-Care

It’s easy to lose sight of your own self-care when you’re busy running a studio and investing in everyone else’s wellness. But you can’t successfully encourage self-care without to practicing it yourself. Silvaggio says she schedules self-care as she would a class. “I wake up, and I meditate.  I meditate, then I journal,” she says. “This is part of my job, and it’s part of my self-care.  I can’t teach self-care and not practice it… people see through that stuff.”

Stewart suggests making stretching and yoga a part of your regular routine. She also takes a day off from her workout routine to let her body rest. “Rest and recovery is so important for the body to function at its best,” she says. “I also like to practice yoga regularly in order to ground myself, find my center, and keep my joints/muscles/ligaments limber. My yoga practice is just that, mine, and I find that it is so important in the self-care process to find something (yoga, cycle, hiking, weight lifting) you are passionate about that will allow you to refocus and clear your mind everyday.”

Channel lifts heavy weights and gets her intense cardio in via cycling and running. How does she recommend recovering from intense workouts like that? “Once I added in yoga once per week and the infrared sauna once per week, I found my body recovered from the workouts faster, decreasing the muscle soreness and inflammation,” she says.  Encourage your students to plan a rest day, too. “Rest and restoring the body is very important to incorporate into your fitness routine allowing your body to recover from the strenuous workouts,” she adds.

Challenge Members to Incorporate Self-Care Outside the Studio

Krinis encourages her clients to improve their self-care before eating a meal by practicing a “settling in ritual.” Making a conscious effort to stop rushing helps us switch gears and activates our parasympathetic nervous system, she says. “This is when the body is in ‘rest and digest’ mode,” Krinis says. “Now, your digestion is functioning as it should to break down the food you are consuming, your heart rate is no longer increased and your digestive juices are being secreted.”

How does the settling in ritual work? Here is what Krinis shared (and it’s great inspo to pass on to students at the beginning or end of class):

  1. Sit down to eat your food.
  2. Feel yourself grounded to the earth. Notice your “sit bones.” Feel the soles of your feet.
  3. Take a deep breath and feel all the excess energy leave you as you exhale.  Repeat 3 times.
  4. Straighten your spine and feel it gently settle over your sit bones, in a relaxed manner, maintain upright posture.
  5. Take a few more deep breaths. As you relax with each breath, relax the front of your body – your chest, your stomach area, your abdomen.
  6. Take a moment to notice where your energy is and how it feels.
  7. Gently open your eyes to enjoy the meal before you.
  8. As you take your first bite, savor the flavors, color, and textures of your meal.