BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
“What I have learned from Gloria Araya is that when you are doing something you love, no matter how tough it feels, it seems easy.”
–Mary Gofen, student of Gloria Araya
Combining movement, mindfulness, music, and mirth, Chilean dancer and physical trainer Gloria Araya has created her own niche in the Chicago fitness field. In the last of our three-part series featuring advice from three resourceful women to kick off this new year, we introduce a person whose clients leave the workout room not only feeling fit, but with smiles on their faces.
Committed to the concept that how we move influences our emotional state, Araya teaches at the East Bank Club and other premiere health clubs, also working with private clients. She combines dance moves with meditative techniques and health improving advice, offering special resources for clients with neurological issues.
Winner of an Emmy for her programming for diabetics, Araya is the associate director of the Foundation for Human Behavior, which, through forums, explores aspects of creativity and learning as it relates to the brain and its function.
Using Latin, jazz, and African music, Araya encourages clients to think like dancers and be creative.
“I had back issues and was very afraid of even the simplest movement. I couldn’t lift anything, and the doctors couldn’t tell what was going on. My physical therapist was committed to movement and told me to make drastic changes. Mindful of strengthening my core, I dedicated myself to the integrity of movement and to not be too concerned about how I did it. I became observant, and as I took on clients, I found myself telling little stories, sometimes humorous, to make people feel happy and calm.”
Although she speaks quietly, Araya’s cheerful nature and the great expectations she has for all she meets come through clearly. She talks frequently to her students about the illusive quality of happiness.
“I have learned that happiness is a choice, not an emotion we can call up based on internal or external factors. I am extremely happy when I am with my son, for example—he is the absolute love of my life. Yet, I can be so happy when I am preparing breakfast in the morning, for I see that what have chosen to eat is healthy; it is good for me. The pleasure I get by creating a beautiful table setting for myself fills my heart with joy. I chose that moment, I chose that food, I chose that cup and plate. I picked all of those things with love and care. Then I chose to create that beautiful moment.”
Araya often asks, “What’s your hurry?”
“People tend to work out and do anything from the periphery of their body out, instead of going in. We sacrifice depth, personal growth, and self-understanding for instant gratification to get things done now. Everything that has meaning takes time and involves a process with steps. A tree doesn’t grow in a day. So, to honor our bodies we must be able to feel our muscles and our organs at work, and connect with our emotions. Then we are able to understand ourselves and see with more clarity our strength, recognize our aptitudes and talents, and use these talents and skills for the good of the world and others.”
And she feels we must combat daily distractions with diligence:
“There are many psychological studies done which suggest that the way we move can literally change the way we feel, altering brain psychology. Then, being mindful of ourselves becomes extremely important in the process of embodying our emotions through motion, a mind-body connection that is usually disrupted by the way we live. We are overworked, overstimulated, and in isolation at times which may deprive us from forming meaningful human connections. I believe that there are simple ways we can improve the quality of our lives.”
Gloria summarizes her movement philosophy, its principles, methodology, and approach into three concepts:
“Mindfulness—the act of being present in the moment—increases self-awareness. It encourages us to have a more in-depth sensorial experience of our surroundings, of others, of the objects and circumstances that exist around us, and how we relate to them.
“Embodiment is the relevant connection between our thoughts, our feelings, and behaviors with our environment.
“Coherency, or the art of living coherently, occurs when our daily actions are in alignment with what we hold most sacred; our values. We will then live a true path to happiness.”
Araya gets clients moving by creating a safe haven for them.
“Because we are all so overloaded, our whole existence is overloaded. We need to take care of ourselves by doing little things, treating the people and the objects in our surroundings in a very mindful way. Use one of your best teacups for breakfast; respect yourself in that way. Become mindful and at one with those objects. Live life coherently.”
Gloria works often with imagery. Here is one of her favorite requests to her clients: “Imagine your favorite place or vacation spot where you see your favorite colors and begin to move with that image.”
Sitting in a Chicago theater watching La La Land on a cold winter’s day, I longed to jump out of my seat and join the characters on the screen in their Crayola-colored costumes as they broke free from the gridlock and danced joyfully atop their cars. But that is the cinema world. In my own world—in the real world—I have imagery to focus on that might just be more beautiful than anything created by Hollywood. For my image, I choose my favorite place, Murray Bay, Quebec, and the pastels and peacefulness of its winters, captured by one of my favorite photographers, Luc Antoine Couturier.
What imagery would you choose?