In a fitness world that skews toward the extreme, the “Be kind to yourself” sign hanging outside Bodyism signals a very different gym.
Also? No burpees. (More on that later.)
Abu Dhabi’s eco-forward Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort is fitness-forward too, opening the first branch of the holistic concept in the UAE earlier this year.
Bodyism is a luxury gym, fitness, yoga and Pilates studio, soon to be joined by an adjacent cafe featuring smoothies and snacks, incorporating Bodyism’s signature supplement powders. (A limited Bodyism menu is already available in the hotel).
Bodyism’s founder is wellness guru James Duigan, a former trainer who grew disenchanted with what he saw in the world of fitness. That’s why his gym is based around four lifestyle pillars: mindset, movement, sleep and nutrition. Kindness, self-acceptance and empowerment are driving principles.
Fitness is important, but never at any cost, was Duigan’s mantra. As he told a newspaper in his native Adelaide, Australia, in 2017: “No one is ever going to have their body fat percentage on their gravestone.”
Sarah Jane Horn, a South African who travelled with her British husband Craig Fletcher from London to open the gym, explains that Bodyism appealed to her because she was a yoga teacher before becoming a trainer.
“I’ve always been against health clubs and gyms and their idea of no pain, no gain, and ‘summer bodies,’ and all this shaming to work out,” she says. “Bodyism is the opposite.”
As for those four pillars, mindset takes primacy, explains Horn.
“If you’re feeling good mentally, you’re going to start making changes to your body,” she says.
As for movement, Bodyism’s fundamental aim is to provide an energetic and invigorating workout that doesn’t place undue stress on the body.
“Movement is obviously our medicine but we want to give you energy to leave the class,” says Horn. “We want to see you lots in the week and we want it to be sustainable. We don’t want to kill you on a Monday and you’re too scared to come back until Friday.”
Bodyism’s signature hour-long Warrior and Blueprint workouts are self-paced and begin with mobility and activation. That means stretching, foam rolling and waking up big muscles like the shoulders and glutes before requiring anything major of them.
Bodyism Warrior is equipment-based interval training, with 40-second, high-intensity bursts using weights along a circuit of 10 to 12 stations.
“You can do as many or as little. You can slow it down,” explains Horn. “You’re not stressing your body out. No one is shouting at you to do 100 of anything. You get to set your pace so that any level can join that class. They all know the exercise and you set it to yourself.”
Back to the burpees. Horn explains that you might see a part of a burpee in a Bodyism class, but will never be asked to do the whole thing.
“It’s a really fun exercise if you’re an athlete and or a very body-aware person and you’ve been exercising a long time,” she says. “It’s actually a great, but very hard, exercise to do correctly. For us, because we don’t want to jam into the shoulders, the lower back, we would maybe break up a burpee, slow it down. Bring your hands to the floor, step back, find your mind purpose. Maybe take a dip, maybe come back. We’d never jump back. This is a big movement to your body, especially if you’re new or unconditioned.”
Blueprint classes are more bodyweight based, incorporating bands and sliders. There is the same mobility and activation prior to the class, which involves two circuits.
Bodyism also offers Pilates classes and Pilates reformer, and three styles of yoga: B-Strong, focusing on strength of mind and body, B-Free, yoga for mobility and B-Calm, a mix of restorative, yin and meditation.
Personal training is fundamental at Bodyism, and the gym’s Platinum package offers unlimited sessions. The staff are prepared for anyone from the first-time exerciser to elite athlete.
“We are performance specialists… if you were preparing for a triathlon or anything, we can get you ready for that,” says Horn. “We can also meet with you if you’re de-conditioned or new to yoga and newer to practice, we can train you.”
Individual Bodyism memberships begin at Dh21,000 annually, with benefits including hotel beach and pool access as well as discounts.
Featured photo: Bodyism trainer Freedom and Bodyism trainer and yoga teacher Sarah Jane. Photo: Bodyism
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.