Christian aerobics: getting the spirit in shape, along with the body


Before aerobics instructor Annette H. Anderson begins her rigorous routine, she joins hands with her clients to pray, then pops a cassette of pulsating contemporary Christian music into a boom box.

This is Body & Soul Christian Aerobics, a low-impact aerobics and strengthening program intended for more than the physical.

"This not only ministers to peoples' bodies, but people's spirit," said Ms. Anderson, a certified aerobics instructor. "That's why .. we call it 'Body & Soul.' "

Body & Soul is unlike mainstream aerobics programs in other ways, too, she said.

"If you've ever gone to a health club, it's very competitive. rTC 'Who's the skinniest? Who's the prettiest? Who can jump the highest?' Body & Soul is not like that.

"The main thing is to be healthy so we can serve God better," Ms. Anderson said. "Looking better is a little [benefit] on the side."

Seven women attended one 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. class last week in the gym at South Columbia Baptist Church on Guilford Road.

As always, the class began with participants holding hands and praying before separating for the warm-up.

Picking up the pace by walking and jogging in place, Ms. Anderson ordered, "Walk front, walk back."

The group moved on to a country line dance to "Bring a Little Heaven."

4 "Hee, Ha!" said Ms. Anderson. The women laughed.

Later, they cooled down with exercises designed to strengthen abdominal muscles, legs and arms.

"It was a hard workout. My arms were shaking doing the push-ups," said Marsha Waldron of Columbia.

She said she took conventional aerobics classes for two years before joining Body & Soul classes. At first, she said, she doubted she would get a good workout.

"I really like coming here because not only do I feel I get a good workout physically, but spiritually I come out feeling relaxed," Ms. Waldron said.

She said she also likes the company of other women.

Ms. Anderson of Columbia has taught Christian aerobics for a year. She taught "secular aerobics" for six years.

She is one of two Body & Soul aerobics instructors in Columbia. Phyllis Schneider teaches aerobics from 9:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at Covenant Baptist Church on Cedar Lane.

Body & Soul has been in Columbia for about five years. About 35 other instructors teach in Maryland and the Washington area.

Classes, mainly for women only, range from $32 to $72.90.

Classes for men and women together were held in the past, but the women and the churches seem to prefer classes restricted to women, Ms. Anderson said. Churches don't like the idea of people being tempted to sin by "the skimpy outfits," she said.

There were no skimpy outfits Thursday. The participants wore tights, shorts and jogging pants.

Participants don't have to be members of a church.

Roy and Jeannie Blocher, a Gaithersburg couple, founded Christian aerobics in 1981 to improve physiques and stimulate spiritual growth.

What started as a way to get women together has grown to include 300 paid instructors who teach classes in 24 states and overseas.

Most of the instructors are young mothers and working women, teaching at local churches.

Body & Soul provides the tapes, choreography and a booklet of music called "Watch and Pray."

Carol Frasier, 30, of Columbia, who has attended the Columbia Body & Soul classes since 1991, said she enjoys the music.

"It ministers to me and helps me to worship the Lord," she said.

Ms. Frasier said she attends the sessions to tone up, not to lose weight.

Many people mistakenly believe they can't get a decent workout to Christian music, said Ms. Anderson, who attends Cross Roads Assembly of God in Columbia.

The music ranges from jazz to rock to Christian music, she said.

"When people think of Christian aerobics," she said, "they think of doing it to 'The Old Rugged Cross,' and that's not a lot of fun; that it's boring; or you can't get a good workout."

One benefit of the music is that "the words are more uplifting. You're not trying to do aerobics to a bump and grind song," she said.

Before the women left, Ms. Anderson took prayer requests, and the women prayed together.

"I definitely think if people are open to doing aerobics to Christian music, Bally's would lose all their memberships," Ms. Anderson said.

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