In this busy world, staying fit can be a challenge. Finding time for exercise in between work and family can be difficult and it’s hard to stay on track and power through. For those looking for that extra push, the Suncoast is home to a variety of fitness professionals, ready and willing to lend their expertise to help Floridians live active and satisfying lives and take advantage of our beautiful environs. Whether it be yoga or the gym, keeping that body in motion is what it’s all about. 

SRQ: When you take on a new client, what do you try to impress upon them as the benefits of what you offer? Robyn Marin RYT, registered yoga teacher and owner of Yoga SRQ: Just the benefit to their overall health; that they will feel better if they move their body in any modality. You will immediately start to feel better. Something will shift. Whatever program they start, it’s just a door to walk into. Figure out how to get moving and feel better, mentally, physically and spiritually. Mara Chanin, registered yoga teacher: It’s always good to keep everything moving. It gets the endorphins flowing and the adrenaline pumping. That’s always good. Michael Brigger, general manager and certified personal trainer at Studio South Fitness: Those are the hugest components of it. We also have a certain percentage of people come in that are injured, so something that may be different about what we do is taking an injured person and doing a little bit of rehab with them to get them to the point where they can push forward. So we have a little bit more assessment at the beginning. When a client comes in, we talk a little bit more about what’s wrong with them, what’s going on with them. And then try to stepping-stone that up into a normal program.

What kind of programs do you offer? Marin: We’ll be starting a beginner’s workshop, a going-upside-down workshop, more alignment-based things, or programs on meditation, on breathing or the ABCs of yoga. We also do outdoor things. Over the summer, I did a gulf swim. A lot of people, even though we live near the Gulf of Mexico, are afraid of swimming in the water. So we hired a swim coach to teach us how to swim comfortably in waist-deep water. We’re also going to take yoga outdoors, combining biking and yoga, running and yoga. Brigger: It would be individualized to what the person wants. We do offer some group exercise classes, but nothing like yoga. We offer a good amount of exercises, but 80 percent of it is just training, one-on-one training. Clients come in with this very specific goal that they want this one individual to help them with. One of the hardest things to do, and the most fun things to do, is place a client with the right trainer. Some people come in for very sport-specific training, some people come in for stretching.

What other goals might people ask you for help with? Brigger: Definitely weight loss, which is my goal. But it can be anything. A lot of people come in injured. Maybe not injured to the point where a physical therapist would be required, but injured enough that they don’t feel like going in and getting into a routine with a group of people. A lot of people are training for a specific event. Sometimes it’s post-pregnancy. Maybe they just got pregnant and they want to keep what they have. When the snowbirds come down, you get arthritis, back pain, herniated discs and neck problems. Within this basic problem of “I want to lose weight and I want to look better and feel better,” there’s this whole laundry list of things you have to push through in order to advance.

And what about from your perspective? When someone new comes in to the yoga studio, what’s the initial program like? Marin: I use the term, “to diagnose and prescribe.”Tell me about you. Tell me roughly what you’re looking for, what you like and then we can prescribe what kind of yoga we have. We have a broad menu of yoga because in Sarasota, the demographics are so wide. We’ll get someone who walks in the door and says, “I love yoga, I used to do yoga 30 years ago.” We’re not going to dump them into the most advanced class. We’re going to suggest that they start at the shallow end of the pool, which is a restorative yoga class or a gentle yoga class. And then we have step-ups from there. They tell us what they like, what they’re looking for and we fit them in. And like what Mike does at Studio South, we try to match personalities. If someone walks in and they say “I’ve never done yoga before,” we get them to try each one of our teachers and see if their personality fits. We also get older customers. A lot of the time, our most avid customers are men in their 60s and 70s. They like to see that they can do it. We tailor it, just like a personal trainer would.

These days, do you think the average person is getting enough activity in their life? Chanin: No. I have been struck by the number of people I have seen who obviously weren’t getting enough exercise in their life. It always strikes me because I am in this community of yoga and fitness professionals and I see people every day that are fit, working towards being fit or just taking the time to be physically active. Yet I saw a huge amount of people who weren’t. You hear that obesity is a problem in this country, but it was just dismaying. Brigger: It’s normal, though, that’s the problem. It’s like living in this bubble where everyone around you is healthy or trying to be healthy, and then you step out. 66 percent of people in the United States are overweight and 33 percent of them are obese, which means it will have some detrimental effects on their lives with those variables. If you exercise for an hour a day three times a week, then sit at your desk for the rest of it and think that you’re healthy, you’re not. Sedentary lifestyles, even if they have these regular intervals that tax them, are not at a level where they’re going to progress. Marin: It’s really starting at toddler level, where a lot of times in school they’re taking out recess. Parents have to bring in recess, they have to bring in special programs. And then with technology: if you go into the grocery store, mommy’s looking at her iPhone and baby’s looking at the iPad. They’re just training their kids to go to a device rather than go outside. You get into a pattern of not exercising. Do people get enough exercise? I don’t think so. Physical training, yoga, pilates, we’re all trying to get our bodies to do what they are supposed to do. We’re definitely not getting the exercise that we’re supposed to get. Lifestyles, even if they have these regular intervals that tax them, are not at a level where they’re going to progress. Brigger: Some people want to be super-healthy, but there’s not the availability any more. I wouldn’t be healthy, if I didn’t do what I did now. I’d own a donut shop right now. Marin: There are also just so many distractions. [Cell phones] are the biggest distraction, not only to working out, but to making love, to painting, to doing the laundry. It is really a problem. We are being pulled away from activity.

With regards to these kinds of issues, what do you think is the biggest advantage in going to a professional? What kind of training do you have, and what does that lend to the experience? Chanin: Especially if you’re going into a certain modality, a certain type of training, finding someone who has the knowledge of the training you’ll need will make sure you’re not going to hurt yourself, that you’re going to do the correct thing for you. Marin: Mara and I are both certified yoga instructors. People want to, not necessarily “interview” their potential professional, but they want to know what kind of credentials they have. If we’re telling you what to do with your body, we better know what we’re talking about. Like a doctor, I take the Hippocratic Oath to “Do No Harm.” We have forms that clients fill out so we can figure out what they’re dealing with, and how we can help. What not to do is really important. It’s actually as important for us to know what is wrong with them as for them to know what is wrong with them. They need to know as much as we need to know. Brigger: We wouldn’t touch somebody without a certification. In the gym world especially, there are vastly more lawsuits - somewhere in the United States right now, someone is dropping a 10-pound dumbbell on their foot. We have to do our due diligence: this person is certified; this person knows what they’re talking about. Yoga, pilates, anything like that, is the only medical changes you can make to a person without an advanced degree. Physical therapists have to be doctors now. The difference is that going to an educated person means they’re not going to waste their time; they know that they’re part of the 2 percentile that go to college and become certified in multiple ways, because if they hurt someone, they’re out. I would be petrified to let a yoga instructor that’s uncertified into the business. There are a lot of people that look the part so they get the job. Clients will stay with bad trainers because they like the person.

So obviously there’s a difference between the way that you all approach fitness. What has drawn you to the individual form that you chose?
Chanin: My background is in dance. The first time I took a yoga class when I was 19, it made sense. As I began to understand it more, on a deeper, more spiritual level, I wanted to share it with people. Marin: I’m a transformed “faster better girl.” I’ve been working out my entire life, from Billy Blanks to cheerleading to jazzercise, I was one of the first Tae Bo girls. I decided I wasn’t going to be a gym rat any more. I’m going to be outside, I’m going to run the beach, but I was in an area where it rained a lot, so I had to join a gym again. A girl came up to me and said, “You should do yoga.”A year later, not only was I a certified teacher, I was evangelical about it. Brigger: I was a dancer for many years, and I got injured in my late 20s. I went through surgery and physical therapy, but I couldn’t get back on my feet. I started reading things, and I was lucky enough to live in a big enough city where there was space for a personal training career. I segued into personal training because the bills needed to be paid, and it was a good fit for me.

What do you feel are the strengths of your approaches? What kind of person do you think would be a good match for each approach? Brigger: On some level, all of it - it’s all different parts of the same elephant, and different people get different things. It’s a personalized thing. I think when I was starting out, yoga wouldn’t have hit me like it did her. Now, when I’m 41, I need that. But you have to have it all. You have to maintain physicality. Do not become complacent. Chanin: And find balance, as well. It’s important to do all of those things. It’s about being able to push yourself and challenge yourself, but also about being able to relax. Marin: I would say try it all. I will really now do only what I love. People want to find out what they like. You will only get up and get motivated if you like it. If you don’t like your personal trainer, go to another one. People give up too soon. Some people go to yoga to break the connection with their cell phone—that’s actually very common. I don’t allow cell phones in my studio. Some people exercise for the experience, some do it because they like to hang out with their friends.

For people that may not be able to squeeze a regular class into their schedule, what are good habits they can get into at home to stay fit? Marin: I would say to have a routine. People will use your time if you don’t use it first, so schedule it. Brigger: Everyone’s got to eat less and move more. If someone wants to come in, and they can’t come in for like a month, the first thing I tell them is to stop eating so much. Or take a look at what you’re eating. You can almost not work out, and if you eat right, you can maintain a good body weight. Marin: Lose expectations. Ease up on yourself. Start small, and then you will feel like you can do more. Chanin: Same thing with food. Once you start, you become more aware of it, and that becomes your norm.

On the flip side of that, when someone starts out on their own, what are some of the biggest pitfalls or mistakes that you see? Chanin: Reading the magazines in the grocery store that say “Do the grapefruit diet!”or that kind of thing. Don’t listen to fads.

Are those effective, or are they harmful? Brigger: They’re harmful in the long run. The problem with that is that it’s not sustainable. There are a lot of “fashionable” diets out there that started back in the 70s and 80s with the Atkins diet and continued to what is now called the “paleo” diet. There’s always some version of it. All of them are based on eating minimal things and way too much protein. I never see the “I ate this one day, and this the next” kind of thing work. Unless you’re confronted with something severe, it’s a deterrent. For the most part, those magazines are crazy. They present a weird, unrealistic version of what’s possible. If you lose 10 pounds in a month, you’re probably just going to gain it back. Marin: I would tell people to make incremental changes, especially in food. We’re not trying to do a makeover, we’re just trying to shift slowly. People will come in and say they’ll do yoga five days a week, and my main question is will they do it? Is that doable for them? Brigger: People don’t realize that if they’re married, their spouse has to change too. I’ve never had someone lose weight while their spouse didn’t. Marin: Another pitfall I see is when people get attached to their personal trainer or pilates trainer; and when that trainer moves, the client stops. I want to encourage people to diversify. It’s good to get acquainted with more than one professional. Brigger: Hopefully, people realize the important thing is the consistency of their schedule or their program. Marin: Another pitfall I see people doing is giving up when they think they can’t start. There are so many resources out there, like YouTube videos, showing you how to do just five minutes of yoga in your hotel room. SRQ

Michael Brigger 
General Manager and Certified Personal Trainer at Studio South Fitness
A classically trained dancer, Brigger shifted focus after being sidelined by an injury and now has 15 years under his belt in the fitness industry. Certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, an industry-leading organization, Brigger’s courses emphasize injury rehabilitation, fat reduction, endurance training and pre-and post-natal fitness, among others.

Mara Chanin
Registered Yoga Teacher
A yoga veteran since she was 19, Chanin began her studies at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, before heading to Todos Santos, Mexico, to complete her 200-hour Yoga Teacher Certification. Today she offers instruction at various locations around town, including Yoga SRQ, and continues her own training through workshops with the founder of the international program, Universal Yoga, Andrey Lappa.

Robyn Marin RYT, AFAA
Registered Yoga Teacher and owner of Yoga SRQ
A registered teacher with Yoga Alliance and certified in Vinyasa Krama yoga, as well as a certified group exercise instructor from the Aerobic and Fitness Association of America, Marin founded Yoga SRQ, where she leads group and individual sessions, as a way to share what she loves with the rest of the community.