Fitness day involves mindful exercise

Lighten Up Wellness Day encourages students to move

By Mary Mattingly | 11/10/13 8:16pm

For some people, the gym is not a stimulating enough reason to get off the couch and exercise. Lighten Up Wellness Day, occurring Nov. 16 at downtown Grand Rapids’ fitness center Shen Dojo, is meant to show attendees that exercise can be mentally—as well as physically—engaging.

“I’m really into physical activities that involve the mind as well,” said Lauren Hribek, the organizer of the event. “Not just mindless exercise.”

Lighten Up Wellness Day is the brainchild of Hribek, a Grand Valley State University student. A recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International scholarship, Hribek planned this event as her service project in accordance with the scholarship requirements. The fitness day was also planned as a fundraiser for a local organization, the Spark Foundation.

For a suggested donation of $10 to $20, attendees can come and go as they please throughout the day, which begins at 11 a.m. and runs until 9 p.m. The day will feature a schedule of 10 fitness leaders, who will lead sessions in physical and spiritual activities such as tai chi and yoga.

“(Attendees can expect) a cultural experience,” Hribek said. “(They will be) learning exercise, or mental and physical relaxers from different cultures.”

After receiving $4,000 from the Gilman Scholarship, Hribek was afforded the opportunity to study abroad. An exercise science major, Hribek currently works as a yoga instructor and chose India to learn more about yoga and the philosophy behind it. One of the stipulations of the Gilman Scholarship is to complete a project upon returning from studying abroad. When Hribek returned, she decided to “go big” and organize an event that would benefit a charitable organization.

“Instead of (the event) just being (about) yoga, I wanted it to include different cultural avenues to show different ways to foster mental and physical wellness,” she said.

The Spark Foundation is a Grand Rapids-based organization that is operated as a branch of the Koinonia Foundation. Its mission is to provide solar-powered lighting to people who have little or no access to electricity.

“(The organization donates) solar energy to families or teachers across seas who maybe don’t have access to electricity so that kids can study at night, teachers can work on their lesson plans (and) families can be together,” Hribek said.

She was connected to this organization by her friend, Terry Lancaster, who is known as Premji Namadeva around the Mothers Trust Ashram where he lives with his family.

“Lauren Hribek asked me to help her put together this event, as I had structured similar day-long yoga events for charity in the Grand Rapids area during years past,” Lancaster said. “I knew of the local Spark Foundation and recommended that charity.”

Lancaster, a GVSU alumnus who graduated in 2003 with a bachelor’s in anthropology, is the founder of Yoga Sings! Vahana Kirtan. He is on the schedule to lead a session from 7 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.

“Yoga is not just postures,” he said. “Kirtan is also part of the vast yoga tradition and is becoming more and more popular in the West. It is a mind-focusing, heart-opening practice that utilizes ancient Sanskrit Mantras from India, which are sung together in community.”

The schedule also includes sessions in tai chi, qi gong, meditation and face painting for children. A diverse array of practices will be showcased, and Hribek said she hopes to open people’s minds through this inclusiveness.

“Holy Yoga is Christian-based. I included Holy Yoga because people think that yoga goes against this religion,” she said. “I wanted to bring that in there and sweep that notion away and show that yoga is for everybody.”

The event also aims to slow down and remind people to enjoy life.

“During our hectic days, it’s easy to get caught up in all our stuff,” Lancaster said. “We often forget our best intentions. Yoga practices like Kirtan help us to remember.”

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