When Patricia Moreno faces students in any of her wildly popular fitness classes, she can relate to the personal obstacles a great many of them face on their way to a healthier, happier life. Her own journey was one of obsession, addiction, and redemption.
The ninth of 11 children, Moreno grew up in San Jose, Calif., and her early years were focused on food. Her family owned Mexican restaurants, and her mom was a devoted disciple of fad diet programs. The entire family would often go on “quick-fix” diets together, Moreno, 50, recalls. “It felt like life or death to be thin enough.”
A chubby kid — she topped out at 212 pounds in middle school — Moreno began dieting in the third grade. At one point, her mom was so concerned about Moreno’s weight that she took her to a doctor for an injection of cow’s urine to melt away the pounds.
Nothing really helped until she discovered Jane Fonda’s aerobics routines in high school and began exercising regularly. She gradually grew stronger and explored other training methods, including yoga, dance, and martial arts. She even won some national aerobics championships.
Despite her successes, though, she still couldn’t ditch her weight-loss obsession. She worked out as many as eight hours a day, binged and purged, and took diet pills, cocaine, and crystal meth. “Nothing was ever about making substantive, long-term change,” she says.
Moreno eventually sought help from therapists and life coaches and immersed herself in metaphysics, psychology, neurobiology, and meditation — a path that finally led her to a more sustainable approach to healthy living.
It’s an approach she now regularly shares internationally with thousands of students through her books, workouts, classes, and workshops.
The fitness practices she’s developed — known as The intenSati Method (www.satilife.com) — are a unique blend of Eastern and Western teachings. (In Buddhism, sati refers to mindfulness.) Moreno’s workouts — which combine dance, martial arts, yoga, positive affirmations, and mindfulness practices — are feel-good “sweatfests” designed to challenge the body and nurture the soul.
It’s all part of Moreno’s mission “to evolve the face of fitness” by nudging people away from negative mindsets and dangerous quick-fix schemes, and into a more profound and positive connection with themselves.
Q & A With Patricia Moreno
Experience Life | What was the “aha” moment that started you on the road to meaningful, lasting change?
Patricia Moreno | I’d become popular in the fitness industry, tried out for a TV show, and landed the job. A few months into taping, I gained weight again and the executive producer called me into the office. That was the moment I realized I wasn’t fooling anybody. I knew it was time to really look inside and figure out what was happening.
Since fitness and weight loss are some of the biggest industries, I knew there were millions of people like me who were struggling to lose weight. I set out to find the missing piece to long-term weight loss and substantive change.
EL | So what’s the secret to finding what you refer to as “thinner peace”?
PM | I kept seeing that, even though I had a lot of willpower, even though I was willing to starve myself and overexercise, none of that was creating any real transformation for me. I was just moving furniture around on the Titanic. What I learned was that I didn’t need to take more-drastic steps; I needed to shift my mindset. In order to find my “thinner peace” — total self-acceptance — I had to believe I was lovable whether I was thin or not. I had been eating, exercising, and thinking from a place of “I’m fat, and I have to fix myself.” That was my self-concept — regardless of how much weight I lost — so I always ended up gaining it back.
You can’t just change your body and think your life is changing. You have to change the way you think about your body. Being fit isn’t just about having thinner thighs. It’s about being fit in body, mind, and spirit.
EL | Is that why The intenSati Method incorporates affirmations and mindfulness practices?
PM | Yes. Mindfulness is the basis of real transformation. It’s the place of decision. It’s that point before you grab either the cookie or the apple, the moment you decide to go sit on the couch rather than work out. If we’re not mindful, we’re slaves to our habits.
I created intenSati because I wanted practices to help turn wisdom into action. Sati means mindfulness. It means to live consciously: Eat consciously, move consciously, and choose consciously. We must continually question whether our actions are supporting our intentions. That’s why each intenSati class starts with setting an intention.
Affirmation requires emotion. For change to really take place, there has to be a feeling. So when you do a movement while saying an incantation, you’re putting emotion into your actions. You become what you’re saying you are.
EL | You’ve noted that new intenSati students are sometimes reluctant to say the affirmations, at least at first. Why do you think that is?
PM | We all have our way of being and doing things — whether those ways are working for us or not. Change is scary, especially when you don’t know what’s on the other side.
When we work out, I think we’re often already feeling vulnerable and coming from a place of guilt or shame. So the last thing we want to do is draw more attention to ourselves. We also have egos, and we care about how others see us. When I introduced the affirmations, of course people thought, “This is weird!” It does sound weird. It just hadn’t been done before — especially in a group fitness setting. Overcoming that old mindset of “Don’t do it; you’re going to look bad!” can be tough. But once people let go of that, they discover it’s really energizing and fun.
EL | Your classes emphasize community building. Why?
PM | It’s fun to work out in a group because you get to be part of a tribe. When you come into a room with a hundred energized people, their presence uplifts and motivates you. But in order to really connect as individuals, we have to get beyond our self-centeredness and fear.
At the start of each class, I ask, “Who feels awesome today?” Hearing all those people respond with enthusiasm gives everybody a huge boost, even if they happen to be feeling a little low that day.
I also ask everyone to introduce themselves to four people at each class. This creates relationships inside and outside the classroom. It invites the longtime students to be generous and open in welcoming newbies, and it helps even first-timers feel they belong.
EL | What’s next for you?
PM | Starting this month, I’m launching a program called Love In Action, which is also the title of a book I’m writing. It’s a training program for people who want to learn, and teach others, how to really love themselves.
It’s for anyone who wants to dive deeper into how to awaken a mindset of self-love and self-acceptance. It’s based on the seven chakras and how to balance them mentally, physically, and emotionally. It includes meditation exercises, nutritional information, breath work — and, of course, some terrific workouts!