Lori Kirwan is an instructor with a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology at Hard Candy in Toronto, Canada. Transformer, Electric Yoga, Hard Drive and Acro Wall Yoga are among the 20 classes she teaches each week. Here, she talks about how she became a fitness instructor, her teaching philosophy and the one thing she wishes everyone knew before stepping foot in her class.

1.) What was the turning point in your life that led you to become an instructor?
I was in gymnastics as a child and teen, and when I was 14, I started coaching “kinder gym” (girls 4 to 5 years old). One of my little students had an artificial leg from the knee down, and her father told me after the year of practice what a difference I made in her life. Knowing I could help someone filled me with such joy. I knew right away that teaching gymnastics or some sort of fitness was going to be my way of contributing to the world.

2.) How have you changed as an instructor over time?
When I first moved to Toronto, I was teaching mainly cardio and high-impact aerobics. I injured my knee in a ski accident and had to change directions a bit. I healed, but through the injury I discovered yoga and Pilates and have developed my own brand of high-intensity training in these disciplines. I believe that this was something positive that came out of my injury, which at the time was devastating.

3.) What’s your personal mantra? Your professional mantra?
Because of how active I am, I have suffered a lot of injuries in my fitness career— Achilles, knee, basically everything at one point or another.  What I say to myself every day is, “Focus on what you can do not what you cannot.”

My professional mantra, “We are stronger together than we are alone,” is more about what we do as a group.  I only teach group fitness classes—no personal sessions. I believe when people get into a group with a common goal, like becoming stronger or more fit and healthy, they can achieve beyond what each person can do individually. I believe the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts.

4.) How do you distinguish yourself as a teacher?
My teaching embodies three basic principles.  First, I try to connect with each of my students. I try to get to know them and figure out what role I can play to help them with their goals. This is more challenging in larger classes, but I still make the effort. Second, I believe that my level of knowledge comes through in my teaching and that students feel comfortable asking questions. They trust me, so they’ll push themselves harder and further towards their goals.

Last and most importantly, I try as hard as possible to make things fun and interesting. By doing this, I believe my students want to come to class repeatedly. Yes ,they work hard, however they tell me they work hard without even realizing it because they have so much fun and enjoy the class so much.  I try to create a fitness community environment that people want to be a part of. I do this by keeping the classes fresh and interesting, with classes such as black light yoga night and beach party yoga, inviting DJs to spin in my classes and so on. I am a conduit who encourages my students to be the most they can be. Although I’m referring to them as my students, I learn from them in every class, so I consider myself a student of my students.

5.) What is one thing you wish everyone knew before they came into class?
I wish everyone knew that they are stronger than they think they are. I believe most people have no idea how strong they are and how much they can accomplish. I believe in fitness, that I have a role to help them realize this.