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Are Immersive Fitness Classes the Workout of the Future?

Les Mills

If you thought candles in the yoga studio and black lights at spin class were different, a new fitness trend is taking lighting to a whole new level. In fact, some gyms are using imagery and lighting in the hopes that it'll give you a better workout!

That idea makes sense: As with other environmental factors (like temperature or terrain), lighting and color can play an important role in your performance, since light affects your circadian rhythm. Depending on how much of it there is, receptors in your eyes signal your brain to help regulate your internal clock. Studies have found that different kinds of light have different effects on your body. Blue light—the kind that your smartphone gives off—increases awareness, focus, and productivity. It also increases heart rate and core body temperature (i.e. not a good plan before bed). And longer wavelengths of light—reds, yellows, and oranges—from either colored lights or projected visuals can cause your body to secrete more melatonin, relaxing you. But while the science is sound, whether or not lighting can truly affect your fitness performance is still up for debate.

So which classes are capitalizing on this trend? Check out the three below.

Spin in a New Way
Les Mills, creator of many of the group fitness classes you see at the gym (BodyPump and CXWORX), launched experimental pop-up classes last summer in Europe to test an "immersive fitness program." The classes were so popular they opened their first permanent studio at 24-Hour Fitness in Santa Monica, CA. The class and studio is an experience that projects video and light shows (mostly shortwave colors, like blue, violet, and green) onto a screen at the front of the room, while instructors cue a spin class synchronized to the music and graphics. Think: climbing a glacier or riding through a space age city. Les Mills says this type of environment enables and encourages people to embrace the physical, social, and mental side of fitness.

Escape to the Outdoors
Earth’s Power Yoga in Los Angeles, CA also has an immersive class called Yogascape, where the desert, ocean, lakes, mountains, and stars are projected on all four walls and play in time with music for an ultra-blissed out experience. Longer wavelengths like red, yellow, and orange come from peaceful sunset projections. “I first got the idea for Yogascape by seeing and feeling the beauty of the ocean when I was scuba diving,” explains Steven Metz, owner of Earth’s Power Yoga and creator of the class. He started studying animation and photography to create the environments. Seven years later, Yogascape was born. “When you are completely surrounded by something, it has a great impact on you. I wanted to create classes that completely transform who you are and how you feel,” he says.

Let Light Guide Your Yoga
A slightly trippier immersive yoga experience can be found at NYC’s underground music venue Verboten, which hosts visiting yoga instructors for Willkommen Deep House Yoga twice a week. Classes feature live house music DJs, hypnotic video projections, prismatic lights in a mix of short and long wavelengths, and a twinkling disco ball. The result: a dance-club-meets-zen experience that enhances your mind-body connection. Need to DIY until the trend hits your area? Turn the lights on bright for a quick HIIT session (like this 8-Minute Total Body Workout) then dim them for strength moves to make them feel easier. (Try The 8-Minute, 1 Dumbbell Definition Workout.)

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