The Fitness Class that Transformed Me

melissa intensati
Melissa Engel

Melissa grew up thinking of exercise as something she had to do in order to lose or maintain her weight. She never enjoyed working out but felt guilty when she missed the gym. Finally, last January, she found a fitness class that not only changed her views about exercise but transformed her outlook on life and about herself. Read more about intenSati, a fitness class and spiritual practice that changed Melissa's life.

When I moved to New York City in 2007, I immediately joined one of the most affordable gyms I could find near my apartment. I did not love New York Sports Club but it had a few good fitness classes and plenty of ellipticals.

Typically, I would sit for eight hours at work and then head to the gym for a Spin class or an hour-long walk on the treadmill. I did not enjoy Spin; I just knew that it burned almost 500 calories, more than most other fitness classes. And it didn’t matter how much I exercised; I was never satisfied with the results. I always wanted to be 5 pounds lighter or look more muscular.

It wasn't until January of 2010 that my attitude about my workouts and my body image completely changed. I received an email from a friend about a fitness challenge at Equinox called the IntenSati Warrior Challenge: Participants had to attend at least four intenSati classes a week for a month and drink eight glasses of water a day, and in exchange, would get a free month's pass to Equinox, the gym of my dreams.

All I knew about IntenSati was from the description on the website:

IntenSati is a revolutionary workout, fusing high-energy aerobics, martial arts, dance, yoga, and strength conditioning. Combining spoken affirmations with simple choreography, IntenSati provides a heart-pumping, exhilarating workout that builds physical, mental, and spiritual muscle.

On day one of the Challenge, I walked into IntenSati with an open mind, having no idea what to really expect. The founder, Patricia Moreno, started the class explaining the practice, which was designed to help people live a life they love in the body they love. Positive affirmations combined with physical movements are meant to lift one into a higher state. “Inten” derives from “intention”, and “Sati” is a Buddhist-scripture word meaning “mindfulness.”  According to Moreno, the class is an opportunity for anyone to practice feeling good, empowered, courageous, happy, and in love.

As soon as the class began, the students around me started shouting affirmations like, "I am powerful now!" and "I believe I will succeed!" Every movement has an affirmation that goes along with it. Those exercises are named for the attitude that you are embodying to help train your mind and body. For example, the move Strength might comprise of a punching action and an affirmation like "I am strong now!"

At first, I thought the affirmations were weird and I refused to speak for the entire hour. But I did love the cardio aspect of the class, including the lower-body portion where we did challenging moves like squats and lunges (still repeating affirmations) – by the end I was sweating more than in my usual spin class.

I was hooked and ended up participating 100 percent in the Challenge, showing up four times a week for class.

I did not start saying the affirmations until the last week of the month. I am a shy person so the thought of yelling things out in front of 50 people seemed crazy to me. Eventually, though, the affirmations got stuck in my head and it only seemed right to say them with everyone else. I found myself repeating them in my head over and over for the rest of the day after class. I was not used to thinking nice things about myself, let alone saying them out loud.

Building a community is also very encouraged: We started every class by introducing ourselves to each other and ended them by giving each other high-fives. I've since met some of my closest friends through this practice.

Fast forward a year and I’m now a proud IntenSati leader. Ever since the Warrior Challenge, I’ve been passionate about this practice and feel like everyone should have the opportunity to experience it. This past summer, I decided to sign up for IntenSati Leader Training so that I could share it with others. Teaching a fitness class is something I never would have considered a year ago and used to be completely out of my comfort zone. But, with IntenSati, I now feel confident about facing my fears and going for my dreams.

Melissa teaches intenSati every Thursday at Simple Studios in NYC. Check out her website for details. To view more intenSati classes in your area, visit

Melissa Engel is a health coach and group fitness instructor in NYC. Melissa lives in Queens but spends most of her time in Manhattan working, exercising, and exploring healthy restaurants. Melissa writes the blog, Missy Maintains, where she shares her successes and struggles of staying healthy in a big city while still enjoying life and cocktails.

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