BODYBALANCE is yoga-based group fitness class developed by Les Mills. It combines simple yoga movements with elements of Tai Chi and Pilates, and lovingly paired with music.
Available in 55, 45 and 30 minute formats, BODYBALANCE (or BODYFLOW as it is called in the United States) is a program that everyone in the gym should include in their schedule – for the benefits of the physical – strength and flexibility – but also for the mental and internal benefits it can deliver.
I have always felt it’s a yoga class for those who don’t want to do a yoga class. Now that’s not saying it’s not yoga, or not challenging – it is both of these things - but it is a more Western approach to yoga using the English pose names (rather than their Sanskrit names) to help create a more accessible experience for members. Developed by Jackie Mills in the 1980s, BODYBALANCE was marketed as a yoga class to give gym members (who wouldn’t go to a yoga studio) the benefits and enjoyment of yoga.
What does a class look like?
A BODYBALANCE class can differ slightly depending on the format taken: the 55 minute class is the full experience, but 45 and 30 minute formats can be delivered in either a Strength or Flexibility format. The full structure includes:
Yoga Warm Up (or Tai Chi Warm Up)
Core – Abdominals
Core – Back
Forward Bends / Hamstrings
Relaxation / Meditation
The 45 and 30 minute formats do differ from release to release due to track lengths – sometimes we are given two Standing Strength tracks, or have a really long Hip Track – these duration differences mean that each shortened release can differ slightly, with the obvious focus of Strength or Flexibility.
The first choice we need to make as an instructor is whether we use the Yoga Warm Up or the Tai Chi Warm Up. Prior to BODYBALANCE 79, the Tai Chi Warm Up was the only track offered, but with 79, added a bonus warm up track as a Yoga Warm Up track. This uses different music, and different choreography. From BODYBALANCE 89, the Yoga Warm Up became the primary warm up, and the Tai Chi Warm Up was added as a Bonus track.
This has been a bit of a contentious point – but on the plus side, both tracks are still available. My understanding is that the Yoga Warm Up became the primary track with the shift of the program to a “new generation” yoga program. Prior to this, it was always marketed as a “fusion of yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates” – but now, it is a yoga program first. By receiving two tracks, we get to choose which track to deliver based on what members like.
I’ve tried both – but the consensus for my members is they prefer a Tai Chi Warm Up. Members gave me feedback that they prefer the energy and connection received with a Tai Chi track – as an instructor, we get to face the members the whole time, they can be very fluid in nature, and have a superb flow of breath. Members appreciate this, and when a good Yoga Warm Up track arrives, I do try it for a few weeks, but do find that it shifts the energy of the first half of the class. It all comes down to the music: a good music track helps lift it, but if it is too mellow, it can start to lack that warm up energy.
I do feel that the Tai Chi Warm Up also offers a clearer introduction to your breath – breathing in, breathing out, and finding flow. Breathing is such an integral part of your class experience – even a static pose has organic breathing through it – and the way the Tai Chi flows just feels more organic to me.
After one of the warm ups, we move on to Sun Salutations. These are a continuation of the warm up, involving the whole body and helping improve mobility and flexibility while opening and strengthening the body, readying it for more work. Sometimes we are given two salutation sequences too – they can explore different tempos and flows, and introduce different types of yoga. If there are two tracks, the first is often very simple and an introduction to the movement, where as the second increases intensity, speed, flow, strength, balance, or all of the above.
The Sun Salutations tracks are repetitive in nature – learning a full-body sequence over a number of repetitions, allowing space to learn the sequence, understand breathing through the sequence, and also feeling and immersing yourself in the sequence. For newcomers, this is the first major introduction to yoga, and can be a little intimidating: but through repetition, it becomes easy to identify the pattern and flow, and this repetition also helps with learning, confidence and exploration.
Standing Strength brings the focus to strength, specifically lower body, with a range of Warrior poses and variations, continuing to use the breath, and include stamina, challenge and even balance poses. Different tracks have a different feel: sometimes we are in a solid foundation for long periods; other times we have a more fluid transition through poses – but these are strong and full-body tracks that are here to add challenge, strength and length to your practice.
Balance is up next. Yes, after working (and fatiguing) your legs, you’re going to stand on one leg. Sometimes two, but often single leg work. Sometimes they’re long sets, other times we switch legs. And occasionally have some advanced variations to explore – but when these are offered, I do make sure everyone still feels included, even those not wanting to try more advanced poses. Balance can be an intimidating track for newcomers too, or those feeling unstable on their feet. But it’s not about how high you can lift – it’s about finding your own balance. You can keep your lifted leg lower to the floor to help with stability (or reassurance in case you need to touch down), or find a higher lift to challenge your pose more.
When I see a track list come out with a long hip track, my eyes light up. I love a nice long hip track. We’re now down on the floor, and bringing a huge focus to our breathing to help find release – physical and mental. For those sitting for long periods, the hip track can be a track to find release, and at times fall in to that uncomfortable “stop it I like it” type feeling. You know, a bit of discomfort but oh it feels so good!
Sandwiched in the yoga bookends are two predominately Pilates-focused core tracks. The first is for abdominals, and the second for back (and awesome for postural work). These two tracks have such a dedicated focus on breath, stability and control, while still offering achievable challenge.
To help round out the class, we shift back to yoga with the Twist track, a track all about twisting – seated, supine, standing – it’s all about rotation. Using length and breath, my body absolutely adores the feeling of twists, especially after long hours at my desk.
Our final working track is Forward Bends (or Forward Folds). This track helps promote release and length down the back of the body – including hamstrings, glutes, lower back and upper back. When the Tai Chi Warm Up was the program’s sole warm up, this track sometimes would being elements of the Tai Chi movement back to help round out the class – and this felt absolutely beautiful. I love teaching an older release that offers this, as it helps really find calmness in your movement and release in your breath. This was always a treat though: more often than not, this track is a standalone track without any Tai Chi (which is fine too) and an opportunity to let go. Let go of tension, effort, expectations. It is a mentally challenging track, especially if your flexibility is holding you back, but it’s a good thing that by now in the class, you’re understanding the power of your breath, and the magic of a releasing exhale.
The final track of the class is a time to reflect and relax with some simple meditation. Your instructor will guide you to a relaxed state, using a comfortable position (seated, lying down or on your side), and bringing your awareness to where you’re resting, and finding your breath, its rhythm and the power of its release. It’s such a magic way to end the class.
Now this is a pet peeve of mine: instructors who offer members to leave before relaxation. So you have a number of members pack up, make noise, open and close the door, all while others are trying to take advantage of the time. It is still part of the class, just like a cooldown in another program, and oh so valuable. For the members who feel that they don’t need it (yes, some say this), well, you probably need this focus on stillness, breath and internal feeling more than anyone else.
So do your instructor a favour: stay, and enjoy this part of the class. Yes, finding stillness and meditating requires practice and patience. But this is how you get better – and it’s even built in to every single class.
And instructors giving members an out (and interrupting other members while they do it): why? And why not trying to curb this behaviour? When I took on one of my classes, I had a chat with my class about the importance, value and benefits of the relaxation, and now have every single member stay, every single time.
BODYBALANCE is for everyone
Regardless of your age, gender, fitness, strength or flexibility, BODYBALANCE has something for you. And as an instructor, try to ensure that every single one of my members is included, successful and supported during their class.
I’ve heard so many excuses over my years as an instructor as to why members don’t come to BODYBALANCE. Here are some of the common ones.
What if I’m not flexible?
Flexibility is fluid – and changes day to day based on your movement, posture and other activities. And I’ll admit I’m not the world’s most flexible person. But regardless of your flexibility, BODYBALANCE is a great way for you to improve and explore your own flexibility.
Yes, you may feel limited or restricted in your poses (especially if you compare yourself to some other very flexi members) but that doesn’t mean you’re not finding benefit. Using your breath, and acceptance of where your body is at any given point is key to helping you find enjoyment and satisfaction with your practice – and in time, your flexibility will improve.
You don’t come to BODYBALANCE because you’re flexible; you come to BODYBALANCE to help become more flexible.
I only see women in that class – am I welcome as a man?
You sure are. It’s true: BODYBALANCE can attract more women than men – but that doesn’t mean it is not suitable for men. BODYBALANCE is suitable for everyone, regardless of gender. Buck the trend, be that man in your gym’s BODYBALANCE class.
That’s not real exercise – that’s just rolling around on the floor
Yes, someone actually said that to me. But have you actually done the class and experienced it yourself?
Just because you’re not jumping, pushing, lifting, kicking, squatting, whatevering, doesn’t mean it is not real exercise. You increase your heart rate, sweat, improve your strength using body weight, improve your core strength, and of course, explore your flexibility. Sounds like exercise to me.
Yes, it’s low impact. Yes, it’s lower intensity that other programs, but that doesn’t mean it is not effective. Improving your core strength and your body’s mobility can help you lower the risk of injury, and become a better athlete in your other training, whether that is strength or explosive cardio.
For so many of us, sitting for long hours at a keyboard, and now many with poor posture with dining room work-from-home conditions, not to mention the pandemic situation, there’s so much value in a BODYBALANCE class, for your physical and mental wellbeing.
Why do I love BODYBALANCE?
I love BODYBALANCE for how it makes me feel. No matter how stressed, upset, grumpy, frustrated or flat I feel before class, I always feel so much better after class – and with a clearer head.
And I try to share this experience with my members too – giving them a regular spot in their schedule to focus on themselves.
For me, BODYBALANCE is also about acceptance. This has been a big lesson learnt of mine, especially after some rather toxic feedback from a senior person in the industry as a young instructor. I was made to feel unworthy, unwelcome, and unsuitable as an instructor. It took a few years (and I’ll be honest, I’m still working on it) to overcome these poisonous words, and it has given me the foundation to ensure none of my members ever experience feelings like this in their own practice.
We are all built differently; we have different strengths, different levels of flexibility. But regardless of how you move, I teach my classes to make everyone feel welcome and included, and able to find success with every exercise. Even if you can’t take a pose to another level doesn’t mean you’re not finding success for you and your body. This is your practice after all, so how does it make you feel. In time, your strength and mobility can change and evolve, and you can redefine your limits and challenges – but when you step in to class, find your space on the mat, I want you to feel challenged, positive and successful with your practice for where you are today.
BODYBALANCE makes it possible to deliver this feeling to every member – make everyone included and successful so they too can experience and enjoy the benefits of this incredible program.
How has BODYBALANCE changed?
Like every Les Mills program, evolution is inevitable. I feel there are two big changes to BODYBALANCE over the years.
Firstly, the transition to “new yoga”. This is cementing the program as a yoga class, but also one that is designed for everyone. It gives the creative team more freedom to explore new techniques, and non-traditional sequences or poses, and make yoga accessible to everyone, with the ability to move for any and every body.
The more noticeable change is with music. When I started participating in BODYBALANCE (it would have been the mid-30s release-wise) and became an instructor with 49, music track lists contained familiar artists and songs. You’d look at the tracks and go “ooh know it, know it, love it”, and so on. But musically, the program has shifted, and I now get the track list and more often than not go “never heard of any of it”. Maybe it’s me showing my age.
I do still find enjoyment in the music (mostly), and has also exposed me to new artists I had not actually heard of before. But the familiarity is lost. This is also feedback received from members, most noticeably when going back to teach an older release with music members may recognise too.
Jackie Mills created BODYBALANCE, and for a long time, was the solo program director. Her daughter, Diana, is now co-program director alongside her mum, and I think this has been part of the catalyst for the both of these shifts: it’s a new take, fresh eyes, and new experiences. The pair now drive the program forward together, and while at times the music may not be familiar, or the Tai Chi track’s priority is missed, still are able to create that program to bring yoga, flow, breath and release to a group fitness audience.
How long have I been teaching BODYBALANCE?
I have been teaching BODYBALANCE since release 49 in 2010. After moving to Melbourne, I had always felt I wanted another program, and BODYBALANCE was one that I used to enjoy back in Adelaide as a gym member, but never found the time to get to the club to regularly participate: especially when members get class spot priority.
Back in 2010, the Initial Module Training for BODYBALANCE was over two weekends (compared to BODYATTACK’s one weekend). As a side note, some programs, like BODYPUMP too, used to be a 3 day 2 weekend training, plus video certification, where as others like BODYATTACK and CXWORX used to be a 2 day 1 weekend training plus video certification. Things have changed now, but that’s for another post.
I now teach BODYBALANCE twice a week, plus my own practice at home (to help with mobility, flexibility and recovery from resistance-based training).
Where can I do BODYBALANCE?
BODYBALANCE is available at gyms around the world, and is known as BODYFLOW in the United States.
You can also find BODYBALANCE on Les Mills On Demand.