January 19, 2004

Article at The New York Sun

A Workout for Body and Soul

'Smile! And if you can't manage that, then just smile with your eyes," laughs fitness instructor Patricia Moreno. "But look like you're enjoying it," she says, laying down one of the first principles of her revolutionary body sculpting class: Be happy when you work out. A second principle: Choose to be present.

"IntenSati," as she has named her class, is a play on words, recalling the Sanskrit word "sati," referring to the ancient meditation technique of mindfulness. Be intensely aware of your alignment, the muscle you're working, and the energy you're generating, she counsels. The sculpted look we all want emerges with mindfulness.

Ever since it was created in the mid-1980s in the aerobics studios of New York and Los Angeles, body sculpting has been the mainstay of fitness classes. Body sculpting borrowed practices from traditional male weightlifters, but lightened the weights, added a formal warm-up and a cool-down, sped the whole thing up, set it to music, and voila, a generation of fit women appeared. The problem today is that while body sculpt classes still work - anyone who takes them faithfully looks pretty good - most have become routine and uninspired. Many class members go through the motions in a semi-catatonic state, staring at themselves in the mirror and wishing they were anywhere else.

Ms. Moreno's IntenSati, which may be the most useful innovation in body sculpt since its invention, cannot be done semi-catatonically. "Don't fake it," she says, and, indeed, it's pretty hard to fake even if you want to - the moves are too definite, too precise to feign for long. Second-position squats, for example, evolve into ever-higher kicks accompanied by arms that suggest classical dance arms. And if the kicks get lackadaisical or the arms droop, Ms. Moreno moves around the room, creating points of energy. Suddenly she's there, standing right behind you, smiling gorgeously and doing it right.

Susan Franks, a longtime student of Ms. Moreno's and production manager at "Dateline NBC," notes that IntenSati "combines the strength of martial arts, the grace of dance, and the spirituality and focus of yoga" to produce a workout seemingly beyond the capacity of most human beings.

Every class is different, depending on who's in the room. Ms. Moreno often begins with a cardio warm-up adapted from martial arts - a field in which she trained and excelled. (She and her former partner, Ilaria Montagnani, developed a kickboxing system called Power

Strike that is now taught all over the world.) When more dancers are in class, the warm-up will often incorporate Latin salsa steps and flamenco style arms mixed between lunges and leg lifts. (Ms. Moreno is from a Mexican-American family in San Jose, Calif.)

The core legwork nearly always involves plies and squats, which "you're expected to hold far longer than anybody could possibly handle," Ms. Franks says. "But somehow we do it."

Ms. Moreno regards herself as a coach who employs different techniques to get class members to understand how much more they can do. Sometimes it's an incantation whose repetition keeps everyone going, like a metronome: "All the power I need is within me now," she chants. Sometimes it's a principle that she asks everyone to embrace for the hour: committing to working beyond your comfort zone. Always it's music: When the bicep curls are getting beyond endurance, Ms. Moreno puts on the disco song "I Will Survive." Everyone pants out 10 more reps in sync and on the beat.

The method works so well, according to class member Sarah Stern, associate artistic director at the Vineyard Theatre, because Ms. Moreno "embodies what she teaches. She motivates with such intensity, never tying it to anything negative or intimidating. And also, of course, she's beautiful."

Tall, broad-shouldered, and long limbed, Ms. Moreno has the classic profile and command of a goddess - reminiscent of that famous marble statue of Artemis.

"How do you walk?" she asks. "Slumped over and bent? Or with your heart open? Lead with your heart, not your head. Lift from your center. Everyone realizes that dance is an expression of the body, but so is body sculpting. Think of this as a work of art."

Ms. Moreno says she first understood the importance of enjoying working out when she was teaching at the legendary Jeff Martin Studio, on the West Side of Manhattan, in 1989. "The drama, the craziness, the way he loved it," she says of Mr. Martin," he made the whole scene into not just aerobics but an art. People were screaming and fighting and yelling, and I knew that's exactly where I wanted to be." She smiles and says, "Yoga came later."

The integration of Yogic principles, such as being present in your practice, with the old-time cardio energy she first learned from Mr. Martin, makes Ms. Moreno's IntenSati an incredibly effective workout. But equally important, it's not that often in this life that one gets to pump iron with a goddess.