For Taylor Elyse Morrison, fitness is about a lot more than the physical; your ability to perform certain tasks of daily living or movements involved in work and sports to a certain level. Instead, she believes that in order to truly be fit, you need to be intentionally caring for all aspects of yourself, including the emotional and the mental. Of course, most group fitness classes out there only focus on getting you in good shape in terms of the body, and might throw in a mediation moment here and there to help you tap into the internal as a cool down, but the 26-year-old Chicago native wanted a class to focus on what’s happening within us. When she initially started to prioritize her own self-care, it helped her look at the benefits of physical activity differently.
“I’ve been putting a lot of focus on self-care and listening to what my body needs and not thinking about calories,” she said. “I’m not thinking about how good I’m going to look in a pair of jeans or something, but really knowing that when I work out, my stress levels go down and I’m better able to deal with my anxiety and looking at it from that perspective.”
Once she was able to do that, Morrison realized it was something that everyone needed, so she created Inner Workout. She describes it as “a mat-based self-care practice for your whole being” on Instagram, but specifically, it’s self-care focused on five parts to help you gain access to the layers that encompass you. You reach them through the “physical,” which is the yoga, dance and kinesthetics class participants do, as well as through the “energetic” of breathing, the “mental” of journaling, the “wisdom” of active meditation, and the “bliss,” which is using the last five minutes of class to do whatever brings you great joy.
“The idea for my workout came into being because I saw a lot of group fitness classes, but nothing that was really focused on looking within and learning how to actually build that skill into self-care,” she said. “For me, that is listening within and responding in the most loving way possible. So Inner Workout is yes you move your body and you might sweat a little bit, but it’s really about building that muscle, so to speak.”
We spoke to Morrison about the importance of tuning in, how the Inner Workout works, and the necessity of prioritizing something far greater than the physical for true fitness — and happiness.
MadameNoire: What inspired you to create this workout and how did you start working within to make self-care a priority for yourself?
Taylor Elyse Morrison: I am really interested in self-care because I’m honestly really bad at it. I have burned myself out a lot of times. I’ve always been a person who will have a full-time job and then a side hustle and then maybe volunteering at a non-profit on top of being in a relationship and trying to hang out with friends. There was one summer where I had a pretty demanding full-time job, still had clients for my side hustle and then had also just recently gotten married. I was spending a Sunday night trying to do work and I’m just sitting in front of my computer typing and switching between tabs but realizing that I’m not doing anything. So I closed my laptop, took a bath, and that was like my first self-care practice: shutting down on Sunday nights, taking a bath and not looking at anything work-related until Monday morning. When that really started to feel good for me, I started to think, how can I incorporate that feeling outside of baths? So I started doing more with journaling and meditation and just trying to listen to myself. As I did that, and I would talk about it more, other people would ask me questions about self-care, and I realized that this is something we’re not really taught. We’re not taught how to listen to ourselves, we’re just kind of taught, okay, eat healthy, exercise, accomplish all your goals and try not to burn yourself out in the process. But no one tells you how not to burn yourself out.
How did you get to a place of focusing on the internal and having a sense of gratitude? What was the work that needed to be done to prioritize that regularly?
With practice. I talk about self-care being proactive and reactive. So the proactive things are my Sunday night baths or taking a walk with my dog in the morning, things I know that set me up for a good day. Then there is the reactive self-care where I feel like super anxious and I could sit and I don’t know, scroll down Instagram and try and numb myself, but I would teach myself to tune in and say, okay, you’re feeling really anxious. What are the things you could try right now? You could try taking some deep breaths. You could try calling a friend. You could try dancing to Lizzo in your living room, whatever it is. But it’s about training myself to have that moment before going into kind of the crutches and numbing myself out. I’m actually seeing what productive things I can do. It’s all an experiment. It changes. What works for me when I’m anxious today might not be what works for me when I’m anxious tomorrow.
What does your class consist of? I read that it’s a blend of movement, breath work, meditation and journaling.
It’s a 60-minute class and really the teacher is the facilitator. It’s not like a yoga class where you need to be in a specific pose and hold it for a certain number of breaths. This teacher, the facilitator, gives you a set of movements, and then you flow within it. You’re training yourself to listen to what’s going on. You might find one part of the flow where you just need to hang out there because your hips are tight. You don’t even need to worry about the rest of it. So the first 20 minutes or so are movement, and then you move into a time of breath work, which is really a time to access your breath but also start to notice your energy. Then you move into journaling. There’s always two journaling prompts. It’s called journaling, most people write, some people don’t connect to writing, some people doodle. You have a good chunk of time to do that and then we move into a meditation. After journaling, you’ve brought up a lot of stuff, and so the meditation is a good time to kind of observe your thoughts and synthesize. And then the final portion is five minutes of flow. So hopefully, by this point of spending 55 minutes listening to yourself, you’re starting to understand what you need. So the last five minutes, some people will do more stretching, some people will journal more, some people will just lie there and breathe. It’s really your time to say, okay, what do I need in this moment? What can I give myself?
You’re based in Chicago and the classes take place in the city. I see that you have a way though for people to get involved remotely, online. Since they can’t be physically in the class, what is it that they’re getting?
So there’s two aspects of online. There’s the free online community and that’s open to anyone, whether or not they want to do Inner Workout. That’s just a place for conversation, for encouragement, for accountability. It’s really cool at this point because it’s something that we’re co-creating together. So the people who are the members now are getting to see what they want to make it into. Then the other piece is, in January, we’ll be launching video classes. You can buy the pre-recorded classes and incorporate an Inner Workout class into your day or your week, however it fits for you. There’s a package that’s available for pre-order where they can get an Inner Workout journal that can go under the tree or whatever you do for holidays, and then whoever you’re gifting it to can then enjoy the videos when they launch in January.
How important is it for people to prioritize self-care in this way, the way you offer with Inner Workout? It seems especially important at a time when people are becoming more comfortable talking about mental health and fitness in general has become more appealing.
In general, I think mental health is extremely important. I think it’s good that we’re starting to have this conversation, especially in communities of color where traditionally, it’s something that’s a little more taboo. I think where Inner Workout is really helpful is that it provides a time and a structured framework for this. There’s so many people, my friends and myself included, where we know the things that are good for us. We know we should meditate, or journal, or stretch, but it’s something that at the end of the day gets put down on the to-do list. What’s great about Inner Workout is it’s something that you can put on your calendar and come to whether you’re in Chicago, or schedule a time to watch a video. You’ve got everything you need to have a really rich self-care practice. But I’m also a big proponent of saying you don’t have to buy anything to practice self-care. You just make a commitment to listen to yourself and respond with love. It’s going to be hard and you’re going to have to keep working at it. Even right now, as I’m saying that I’m thinking, “I don’t think I’ve had any water today and we’re halfway through the day.” I haven’t been doing a great job of listening to myself, but I’m committed to doing the work, and that’s all any of us can do.
And how important is this message of fitness not just being about the physical?
I love that you mentioned that. That’s why I love that we’re rooted in the kosha model because it’s the five layers of yourself, or the five aspects of yourself. In self-care and fitness and wellness, we’re still focused on the wellness, what goes into our physical bodies, how we’re moving our physical body, and not thinking that we are whole, multi-dimensional human beings who have so many layers and things that are going on. So yes, I think it’s great that we have pushed the conversation and we’re starting to talk about health and mental health and wellness and fitness, but yes, to really — in my opinion — be someone who’s a fit person, you have to be accessing all of who you are, which goes beyond just the things that you can do in the gym.