Last week I was given the opportunity to try out The Class, a workout class designed to not only workout your body, but to work out your emotions as well. I rolled out of bed at around 4:30 a.m., got dressed and headed to what I thought would be a simple cardio class. 10 minutes into the workout, I realized this was much more than just a cardio class, it was a complete mind and body experience, and I absolutely loved it.
The energy in the class was high and positive vibes radiated through the entire hour long workout. The positive vibes were brought by fellow class-goers, the heart pumping music, and Heather Batts, the teacher of the class. Heather was full of energy and provided us class-goers with positive feedback, helpful tips and uplifting words throughout the entire class.
Luckily, Heather was nice enough to answer a few questions we had about The Class and how it all began.
How did The Class get started?
After studying with healers in Peru, teaching yoga for years, and then subsequently having two daughters, The Class founder, Taryn Toomey, left corporate fashion to create a more fiery movement practice that was a combination of psychology, emotional depth, and challenging fitness.
What do you think is the importance of an exercise class that works you not only physically, but also emotionally?
I think many people are searching for something meaningful. Like Taryn did, we may look at our lives and see all or some of the outward signs of success yet still feel that something vital is missing. We don’t feel the happiness we thought we would. Instead we feel perforated, split, fractured, empty and we are left wondering what went wrong.
Most exercise classes are fairly indifferent to emotions and are primarily designed to work the body. They are part and parcel of the world we live in, which requires a great deal of bifurcation and/or compartmentalization of the self. We receive subtle (or not so subtle) messages that certain things about us are good and acceptable – i.e. marketable either socially or professionally – and that other things are bad and best kept hidden or forgotten or locked away safely out of sight.
In this context, it makes perfect sense to think of our bodies as one part of a complex machine that we must maintain so that it will perform for us and we can be happy. We go to the gym to maintain our bodies, we educate our minds, we pay therapists to help us deal with our emotions, if we are so inclined we look to spirituality to feed our souls, and so on. It’s not so different from product development.
Exercise classes like The Class envision an alternative. When we work on both the physical and emotional levels simultaneously, when we invite all aspects of our person – acceptable and unacceptable – to be present for that work, we are essentially re-humanizing ourselves and, by extension, the world around us. It is fertile ground for healing and change.
Working in this way is a sort of activism, a peaceful protest, a way of opting out of the game. It is a refusal to allow ourselves to be stripped and sold for parts.
At what point in your life did you discover that mix between emotional exercise and physical exercise?
I grew up playing sports, and the seed of it was planted there. Even then, I was aware, however vaguely, that the training associated with these activities was honing me, not just my body, and a large part of why I liked doing them was because of what I learned about myself in the process. When I started rock climbing at age 20, something definitely woke up inside of me. It was like a bell being struck, but I had no definition for it, just an awareness that the lessons I learned from climbing were deeply relevant for my life. I was in my mid-20’s when I discovered yoga, and with it came a vocabulary for what I had, up to then, only sensed innately. In yoga, I felt the practice of physical exercise fully intertwine with my desire to dive deep into the layers of life and my own being, and I have been exploring the connection ever since.
Other than The Class, are you able to find that emotional connection to other types of exercise? (Jogging, boxing, pilates, etc.)
Absolutely, most memorably while rock climbing at Smith Rock in Oregon. I faced a Herculean personal struggle with a particular climb that was slightly above my level. It took everything I thought I had and more to complete that route, and it was in that moment, when I had finished the climb and turned around to take in the view, that I felt more alive, awakened, and attuned than I had ever felt before.
I think that any time you are pushing yourself to better yourself or to achieve specific goals, you are going to experience intense emotions because what you’re doing is inherently difficult. Challenge places you squarely outside of your comfort zones, and growth can be an uncomfortable process. The depth of a person’s connection to that emotional experience is largely dependent on the person, however.
The genius of what Taryn has created in The Class is in the intentional dialing up of physical intensity in order to coax out one’s held beliefs, emotions, stories, stuck energy, grief, trauma, self-talk, etc. She has tapped a very common, but fleeting experience – that moment when you are working as hard as you can and you feel your last drop of motivation hit the floor – and turned it into an opportunity for change, healing and release.
What is your definition of “strength”?
Oscar Wilde once said, “The way of paradoxes is the way of truth.” In that vein, my definition of strength is, the perfect union of power and surrender.
What do you wish class-goers can take from your class?
What I hope they will take away is exactly what they brought in with them – themselves, only clearer and more free.
Do you have any advice for those who have trouble connecting to a workout?
Don’t try too hard for it. Trust the process. What you need will come to you if you earnestly seek it.
What’s your go-to meal to fuel you through a class?
A nutritionally balanced, protein-rich smoothie, and if I’m in really good form, I’ll bring along a thermos of homemade bone broth to help me recover afterwards.
One thing I noticed taking the class, was how aware I was of my physical and emotional weaknesses throughout the hour, yet how aware I became of my physical and emotional strengths once the class was over. What advice would you give to someone to be strong throughout the recognition of those weaknesses?
Honest recognition of one’s own weakness is the path to strength, so if you are feeling weak, take heart! You’re doing it right!!
For most of us, the trouble comes because we have an unhealthy relationship with our own weakness. Repairing that relationship begins with asking ourselves how we feel about feeling weak.
No one likes to feel weak. It unmasks our vulnerability, and the awareness of that vulnerability can trigger some very difficult emotions – shame, insecurity, anxiety, anger, rage, fears of rejection and/or abandonment, panic, grief, longing, etc.
At this point, you have to choose. You can stuff all of it back down and pretend like it isn’t there, you can inflate yourself with pride, you can berate yourself, you can wallow in self-pity or blame others, you can pretty yourself up on the outside to hide how you feel on the inside… but has any of that ever actually worked?
The other option is to take a risk and go into those feelings. Strength only shows up when you trust it to catch you.
Do you plan on expanding The Class to other locations other than the New York and Los Angeles?
The Class is looking to do a pop up in London in the coming months with more major cities to follow!