Growing trend of fitness among museum goers

Abubakar Ejaz reports that museums are no longer places for merely looking at things.

Museums are not any more just places for seeing art and artefacts but are now also helping people to become healthy mentally and physically with benefitting from their calm and meditative environment.

The last few years have seen some major trends emerge in the world of fitness, mentally and physically, not least the fact that, generally speaking, we are getting more and more into it. While there is still a way to go with mental-health awareness, we are talking about mental health more now than in previous decades – and we are increasingly aware that looking after ourselves is as much about managing stress and keeping our minds healthy.

One of the trends in which museums as well are now participating is conducting meditation and yoga exercises. More than 90 people sat in the maroon seats of the auditorium at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) on a recent Thursday, with their feet planted on the floor, their backs straight, and their eyes closed, just as they had been instructed. On the stage, Tracy Cochran spoke of impermanence and other aspects of life with which a person may be struggling.

Projected on the screen behind her was a ceremonial conch trumpet from the 19th century, which was the museum-selected theme art object for the class. It represented waking one out of slumber and ignorance. These are the types of exercises in which a person opens up and see those parts of him or herself that he usually cannot focus on or realise in this modern fast-paced life.

“I love the museum. I arrive stressed but leave better”

For the next 40 minutes, Ms Cochran led a mindful meditation session and questions and answers, after which guests could join a tour, starting with the historical conch, in which they can relate to the particular conch and discover its struggles and hurdles as related to them in their lives.

“I love the museum. I arrive stressed but leave better,” said Jean-Marc Chazy, 54, a freelance graphic designer who lives in Dublin city centre and had attended this class weekly for the previous seven months.

Kathleen Conkey, 35, a lawyer, spoke similarly. “I have a lot of stressful business situations,” she said. “This helps me to recalibrate my attitude in the middle of the week.”

Many museums are incorporating wellness into their programming by offering courses in subjects like yoga and meditation that many times reflect the aesthetics or philosophy of their collections. The National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History brought attention to this concept when, earlier last year, it introduced workouts taught by professional dancers. It really creates an impact among museumgoers to add something different, which can increase their experience and excitement.

“If you can engage people personally and emotionally while they are working on their whole selves, that is a huge gift,” said Dawn Eshelman, head of programmes at the IMMA. “You’re not running on a treadmill here. This is a completely different kind of physical and mental experience.”

Other classes at the IMMA, a museum that focuses on the art and culture of the Himalayas and neighbouring regions, include Sound Bath, which explores a vibrational healing process with singing bowls, and Ear Yoga, which hones your hearing by stretching underused auditory muscles, and by asking participants to “think with their ears”. It is the most interesting exercise, which really insists that the participants see and think about things from a whole new perspective.

“We are helping people to make or strengthen personal connections between themselves and the artwork,” Ms Eshelman said. “How great to connect with where these traditions came from and literally meditate in front of a historical Buddha while working on your well-being.”

Much research has found that exercise can have very effective results when it comes to coping with mood disorders, including a Harvard Review of Studies article, dating back to 1991, which concluded that regular exercise can improve mood in those with mild to moderate depression, and also play a role in the treatment of major clinical depression.

Over the last year, we have seen an increasingly conscious approach to exercise develop, as our knowledge of our body grows. “The year 2018 will take this further, as it becomes not just about the body but the mind,” said James Trevorrow, fitness coach at www.iamfit.com.

This consciousness will continue to develop further as we increasingly link the way we exercise and the positive effect it has on our mind and the way it helps us find a balance in our busy day-to-day lives.

This trend of fitness and getting healthy introduced by the museums is growing in popularity as people are enjoying this new change as compared to the traditional museum system, which not long ago just meant looking at things. Now it has turned into a fully fledged yoga-plus-meditation workout routine to keep people healthy and fit mentally and physically.

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