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Empowerment Fitness: Revolutionary Mind-Body Programme

by Sharon O\'Connor(more info)

listed in exercise and fitness, originally published in issue 129 - November 2006

Movement is a medicine for creating changes – Carol Welch

Runners, walkers, cyclists and rowers will all tell you the same thing, “I do my best thinking when I’m working out”. For centuries, individuals who have achieved at the highest levels have understood that if you move your body, you will think better and do more than you ever thought possible. This is the premise for a revolutionary Mind-Body programme recently launched in the United States called Empowerment Fitness®.”Empowerment Fitness® teaches participants strategies for becoming their best selves – during a workout – a time, according to scientific research, when our minds are relaxed and ripe for new ideas,” says Dr Dale Sokoloff, psychologist and an Empowerment Fitness® creator.

The Power of Repetitive Physical Movement to Relax the Mind

Herb Benson, MD, a pioneer in mind-body research at Harvard Medical School, discovered that rhythmic movement can create a relaxed mental state similar to that achieved through transcendental meditation.[1] Our minds create a ‘relaxation response’ when we move in a rhythmic, repetitive way. The repetition of words or phrases can also produce a relaxation response. This relaxed mental state allows us to learn at a very deep level.

Similarly, anxiety has a negative effect on learning.[2] It is difficult to ‘take in’ information when we are stressed.  Our ability to retain information improves when we are in a relaxed mental state.

“This test is going to kill me!’’ thought Karen in a panic, as she studied for her bar exam. Her professors told her she was going to be a great lawyer. She wrote well-reasoned arguments, was passionate about fighting injustice, and had excellent oratory skills. But Karen’s exceptional mind short-circuited when it came to taking large standardized tests. The Massachusetts Bar Exam was going to be the biggest test of her life – hence the stomach-churning level of anxiety and dread.

It was on her morning run around the Charles River that something magical happened. After a week of fruitless studying in the library, Karen found her mental fog beginning to lift about 20 minutes into her run. Crossing over the bridge to Memorial Drive, she had an idea. “I am going to try and study WHILE I exercise,” she thought. Karen took her note cards and went on a long walk. To her delight, she found she was able to absorb lots of detailed, arcane, and yes, boring information regarding Massachusetts property law and state zoning regulations. The happy ending to this story is that Karen got very fit AND she passed the bar exam.

Aerobic Activity Deepens Learning and Boosts Self-Confidence

Brain researchers around the world are discovering in their labs what Karen learned while running along the Charles River – aerobic exercise improves our mental capacities. Researchers found that taking a brisk walk improved cognitive function in older adults. Anaerobic exercise, such as weightlifting, did not produce similar results.[3] Something about rhythmic movement stimulates our brains.

Psychologists have found that aerobic exercise can elevate mood enough to lift a mild to moderate depression.[4] One study found that exercise is as effective as the drug Zoloft for treating serious depression.[5] You don’t have to walk for hours and hours to reap the emotional benefits of exercise. A 20-minute walk done at an invigorating pace is enough to unleash the mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain. Brain researchers believe that the answer lies within the chemistry of our brains. Aerobic exercise releases an antidepressant combination of chemicals – serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which in turn, may improve our mood.[6]

We experience a significant boost in self-esteem when we engage in an exercise programme.[7] Exercise also improves another important aspect of our self-concept called self-efficacy – the belief that we can successfully perform a given activity.[8] This is important because positive self-esteem and positive self-efficacy help prevent all kinds of mental and physical illness. When we exercise, we learn to like and believe in ourselves and in turn, we improve our health.

About 20 years ago, I was running a road race, when I sidled up to a woman jogging along at about my pace. We started chatting and I heard the following story about the power of movement that has stayed with me all these years.

Marie’s job at the drycleaners was unfulfilling, but it put food on the table. Each day she would drive to work, put in her eight hours, drive home, and eat dinner while she watched T.V. The next day it would be the same thing – work, home, dinner and TV. When her car became irreparably broken down, Marie had no choice but to walk the mile back and forth to work. After a week or two, Marie noticed that when she arrived home after her walk from work, she didn’t feel like watching TV. She had too much energy and she used this energy to paint her kitchen a sunny yellow. A few weeks later, Marie noticed a sign in a storefront advertising a ‘Susan Komen Walk for Breast Cancer – [3] miles – this Sunday’. She had never done anything like this before in her life. However, since she had been walking two miles a day, she thought that there was a pretty good chance that she could do three miles. The Susan Komen Breast Cancer Walk opened Marie up to all kinds of possibilities.

“If I can do this,” she thought, “What else can I do?”

The race Marie and I were running was her tenth road race that year. She was looking forward to one day running her first 10K. For Marie, the combination of physical and mental exercise was a powerful recipe for achieving her dreams. 

Empowerment Fitness® Links Physical Exercise and Emotional Wellbeing

Empowerment Fitness® combines the mind-opening benefits of rhythmic motion with proven psychological empowerment techniques.  The programme is offered in two ways, exercise classes or a do-it-yourself CD called Energy Blast. In the classes, participants cycle on Spin bikes, while an instructor leads them through a series of exercises designed to increase emotional wellbeing. Participants learn to define a clear vision, challenge self-limiting beliefs, turn self-limiting beliefs into possibility thinking, use positive mental imagery, and create a support system of empowering partners.  For those who can’t make it to the gym, Empowerment Fitness® can be used individually with the Energy Blast CD that engages listeners while they walk, jog, or exercise on any indoor cardio machine.

The programme has yielded many success stories. Candi, age 48, was stuck in a rut for years until she decided to try Empowerment Fitness®. “I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on weight loss programmes, exercise classes, physical therapy. You name it, I’ve done it. The stresses of everyday life, combined with serious physical and emotional issues, crippled me,” said Candi. “Then I tried Empowerment Fitness®, and I was opened up to a whole new way of thinking about my life and my body. The combination of physical and mental exercise is really different from anything I have ever done before and it works.”

Empowerment Fitness® and Yoga

Empowerment Fitness® has much in common with yoga, but there are important differences. The word yoga means ‘to join’. It is an ancient practice of stretching and meditative positions, which lead to a ‘joining’ of the body, mind and spirit. Empowerment Fitness® is also a physical practice that harmonizes our body, mind and spirit. Both the practice of yoga and Empowerment Fitness® seek to guide us to a sense of peace and total wellbeing, leading us into a higher state of consciousness. However, where the purpose of yoga is more meditative in nature – emptying our minds to focus on the ‘here and now’, Empowerment Fitness® is decidedly future oriented, guiding individuals to fill their minds with visions of possibility. Yoga and Empowerment Fitness® are both inner journeys; only their destinations are different.


Using the simple power of rhythmic movement, Empowerment Fitness® enables us to access the depths of our mind and spirit in a new way. The continuous cadence of our steps as we walk, the pull of our arms as we row, or the tempo of our legs as we cycle on a bike, bring us into a state of relaxed unity with our minds and bodies. When this physical exercise is combined with the powerful psychological techniques of Empowerment Fitness®, it becomes a portal to deep inner exploration and rapid personal growth. By offering physical exercise and empowering messages simultaneously, Empowerment Fitness® makes individuals feel wonderful on the inside and out!

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. – Mae West


1.    Benson H and Proctor W. Beyond the Relaxation Response. Times Books. New York. ISBN 0-425-08183-4. 1984.
2.    Wlodkowski RJ. Enhancing adult motivation to learn: A guide to improving instruction and increasing learner achievement. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco. ISBN 0787903604. 1993.
3.    Kramer A.F, Hahn, S, Cohen NJ, Banich MT, McAuley E, Harrison CR, Chason J, Vakil E, Bardell L, Boileau RA and Colcombe A. Ageing, fitness and neurocognitive function. Nature. 400, 418-419. Nature Publishing Group. London. 1999.
4.    Brown DR, Wang Y, Ward A, Ebbeling CB, Fortlage L, Puleo E, Benson H, and Rippe JM. Chronic psychological effects of exercise and exercise plus cognitive strategies. Medical Science, Sports, and Exercise. 27: 765-75. 1995.
5.    Blumenthal JA et al. Effects of Exercise Training on Older Patients with Major Depression. Archives of Internal Medicine. 159: 2349-2356. 1999.
6.    Thayer R and Newman JR. Exercise is the best strategy for changing a bad mood, raising energy, and reducing tension. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 67(5): 910-25. 1994.
7.    McAuley E, Shannon L, Mihalko1and and Bane SM. Exercise and Self-Esteem in Middle-Aged Adults: Multidimensional Relationships and Physical Fitness and Self-Efficacy Influences. Journal of Behavioural Medicine. 20: 67-83. 1997.
8.    Rindskopt KD and Gratch SE. Women and exercise: A therapeutic approach. Women and Therapy. 1(4): 15-25.1982.


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About Sharon O\'Connor

Empowerment Fitness® is the brainchild of three dynamic women who bring their good humour, personal triumphs and tribulations, and diverse professional experience, to the development of this revolutionary programme. Dale Sokoloff, PsyD, Clinical Psychologist; Sharon O’Connor, EdD, Developmental Psychologist, Management Consultant, and Executive Coach; and Karen Hoffman, JD, Practising Attorney and Advocate for individuals’ right, were each inspired by the transformative power of exercise in their own lives. Together, they have combined the power of exercise with the best practices from Psychology, Executive Coaching and Legal Advocacy, to create this revolutionary Mind-Body programme, that helps individuals make the positive change they want to make in their lives. Sharon may be contacted via You can also visit for more details

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