Josh Neal is no stranger to adversity. In many ways, his life has been defined by it from the beginning.
Before he was born, when his mother, Gloria, was six months pregnant with him, his father was murdered. As a child, he was sexually abused, in addition to experiencing other childhood trauma and generational challenges. And as a young adult, he battled addiction — something he says stemmed from privately struggling with mental-health issues for many years.
As a gay Black man, Josh carries his history of trauma and chronic illness with him on a daily basis. Yet thanks to his unwavering faith, as well as supportive resources and tools, he has found deeper meaning and purpose through movement and connection — and he is grateful for every situation and person he has crossed paths with to get there.
Coming to Terms
Though he suffered various abuses in his early years, Josh’s self-abuse and sabotage began later — ironically, during one of the best relationships he’d ever been in. “I didn’t know how to deal with so much care and love,” says the 42-year-old from Atlanta. “I wasn’t used to it.” It forced him to begin facing and dealing with his childhood trauma — and to come out publicly as a gay man. “It was like peeling back an onion, layer after layer, and it was hard as hell.”
To suppress the pain that he often felt, he turned to drugs — only to find himself in a deeper, darker spot. He eventually sought treatment, which proved to be the true start of his journey toward healing.
He continues to meet regularly with his life coach and therapist, Kelly Stokes. “I used to be so closed up, but now I know the benefits to being transparent and talking about mental health. Sharing my story with the world not only helps others, but helps me, too,” he says.
As a studio manager and performer with Life Time, Josh now channels his personal experience and knowledge to connect with members, fellow team members, and patients in treatment centers to help them reach their potential.
Made to Move
Josh has always loved working out and dancing, and at 19, he turned that passion into a career when he became a hi/lo and step instructor. He went on to get his yoga and life-coach certifications, which “helped heal deep-rooted wounds.”
He now teaches nearly every group fitness, yoga, and cycling format that Life Time offers. “I have the opportunity to positively change someone’s life every time they walk through the doors. In return, my own life is impacted and changed in amazing ways. I call it the Boomerang Fitness Effect.”
Life Time member and world Master’s wrestler Dean Barnard, 70, can attest to the reciprocal nature — and to Josh’s positive influence: “I actively participate in several group fitness classes led by Josh each week. I’m stronger and more fit than ever in my life, and he has played a significant role in the change to my health.”
Connections like these are especially important now, Josh believes, as so many are struggling due to the challenges and uncertainties created by the pandemic. He cites research from Mental Health America that shows the number of people seeking help has skyrocketed: Compared to 2019, 93 percent more people screened for anxiety and 62 percent more for depression in 2020.
Movement and activity, Josh maintains, can help alleviate this, and he strives to provide opportunities for physical and emotional transformation to every class he teaches. He also recommends these nine strategies for staying physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy — no matter the goals you’re aiming to reach or the trials you’re facing.
1. Check Your Mindset
“Gear your mind for success. Acknowledge how you really feel about working out (or changing a nutrition habit, or whatever your ambition!) and then adjust your perspective and expectations if needed. When you start with a positive, realistic mindset, everything can build from it.”
2. Set Attainable Goals
“Goal setting is part of developing an action plan — and a major component to personal development. Once you have a goal in mind, it’s a tool for accountability. It’s also important that the goal be specific and realistic. If you try to go from the couch to a marathon, you’re more likely to give up than if you start with shorter distances.”
3. Prepare — And Gear Up
“What will help you achieve your goal? What gear do you need so you’re not left unprepared? For example, if you are taking up jogging, you will need a good pair of running shoes. Maybe the HOKA Clifton 7 or the HOKA Carbon X 2. I run in my Cliftons often and they are comfortable and light.”
4. Find Support
“Grab some friends. Share your goals with your partner. Get the kids involved. Surround yourself with positive influences. The more people you include, the more likely you are achieve your goals. Plus, working out is much more fun with others!”
5. Go Inward
“Meditation allows you to be in the present moment and can prevent you from spiraling down a dark path. Yoga, meanwhile, links the mind, body, and soul. Beyond its physical benefits yoga offers mental benefits like relief from stress, anxiety, and fear. It’s a great opportunity to turn inward and find gratitude.”
6. Head Outside
“Depending on the time of year and your location, exercising outdoors can be a challenge. In the cold, for instance, your body can regulate its temperature better. “Consider running, walking, meditating, or practicing yoga in the park. The location can be an additional motivating factor: Perhaps your backyard, a park, track and fields, or just somewhere with a nice, colorful view of nature.”
7. Keep Your Options Open
“There are countless ways to move your body, so get creative! No excuses if you can’t get to your health club — just start moving.” (For workouts, programming, and more, visit lifetime.life/Digital.)
8. Focus on Nutrition
“Our eating habits play an important role in our physical and mental health, so it’s important that we make healthy choices and maintain a healthy lifestyle most of the time. Consult with a nutritionist or dietitian for a personalized meal plan.”
9. Prioritize Your Mental Well-Being
“The past year has forced us to change the ways we live, resulting in uncertainty and rising rates of anxiety and depression. Now more than ever, we need to take care of our mental health. Take time to self-reflect and allow yourself to just feel. Journal your thoughts.
“If writing is not your thing, then talk to someone about your feelings. Whether it’s a professional therapist or a friend, let it out. It’s OK not to be OK, but it’s not OK to keep it in. Talking and journaling allow you to release negative energy and emotions and can bring calmness to the mind and body.”