Shrink Session

The latest fitness fad is good for your head and your heart

My first contact with the mind-cardio fitness craze IntenSati happens the way most voyeuristic introductions happen nowadays: on YouTube. And it is not pretty. The video I watch shows a few dozen red-faced, sweat-drenched New Yorkers throwing air-punches and elbow blocks while screaming, “I know what I want! I have the willpower now!”—a scene that is weird and disturbing, like a gym-class-slash-mass-hypnotism gone mad. I watch. I cringe. And yet, I think, these exercisers look normal. How can they be so … into it?
So I ask around. People tell me things like: “It changes your life.” “People cry.” One seemingly sane IntenSati-loving Manhattanite tells me, “It’s addicting. Every class is packed.” Over the next few weeks, as I slog silently through my gym routine, my mind wanders back to the happy, sweaty, yelling battalion. I wonder: Could I be getting more mental fitness out of physical fitness?

I decide to try. And the moment I step into instructor Betsy Cast’s IntenSati class at Bala Cynwyd’s Aquatic and Fitness Center, I regret it. It’s not Cast herself, who is glowingly yogi-like (and one of the only IntenSati instructors in our area) that gives me pause—it’s what she wants us to do. She asks everyone in class to share a personal goal. Aloud. With each other. This was not on YouTube. My face is flushed, and we haven’t even started exercising. I want to leave. But then, within 10 minutes, the class and I are reaching toward the sky and cheering, “This will be the best year yet!” I can’t believe it: I feel lighter. Happier. Optimistic. In the face of pumping pop music, self-affirming pep talks, and exercise moves named “Happy” and “Success,” this slightly jaded, privacy-loving gym rat is both totally powerless to resist and totally empowered to let loose.

Sixty minutes later, class ends, and I’m drenched yet radiant, convinced I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. Driving home from class, I wonder why more IntenSati classes aren’t being offered in our area. It boosts your mood, pushes you to fix the parts of your life you’ve been complaining about—and sure beats a shrink’s bill. Besides, if we Philadelphians don’t need a little positive affirmation coupled with cardio, who does?

Aquatic and Fitness Center, 601 Righters Ferry Road, Bala Cynwyd, 610-664-6464,

Originally published in the April 2011 issue of Philadelphia magazine.