Offer alternative to yoga based on Christian spirituality
By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant
CEDAR RAPIDS — “Our goal,” said Pietra Fitness instructor Chris Mautino, “is to help develop strength of mind, body and soul, so that we may glorify God with our entire human person.”
The program that Mautino, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Cedar Rapids, teaches integrates physical exercise with Christian prayer and meditation in the Catholic tradition.
Pietra Fitness is a Christian alternative to yoga. Though some of the physical exercises of the two practices are similar, they are fundamentally different in their theology and philosophy. While yoga has its roots in Hinduism, Pietra Fitness is based on Christian spirituality.
A San Damiano crucifix is present in each Pietra Fitness class, and every session begins and ends with the Sign of the Cross. Scripture, bodily prayer and short meditations are integrated into each hour-long program.
“This type of exercise offers a great opportunity to turn our hearts and minds toward Christ,” Mautino said.
Mautino became familiar with Pietra Fitness five years ago when she was living in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the associate pastor at her parish, Father Ezra Sullivan, O.P., gave a talk about what he saw as the incompatibility of yoga and Christianity.
“I had personally practiced yoga for several years and had begun to struggle with its philosophies. I had a sense of conflict rather than peace,” remembered Mautino.
Father Sullivan introduced her to Karen Barbieri, a fellow Catholic who had created Pietra Fitness in 2006 after experiencing back pain after the birth of her fourth child. Barbieri had wanted something to help her with her pain that utilized stretching and strengthening postures but not the philosophical aspects found in yoga.
Barbieri called the new fitness program she created “Pietra,” which means “rock” in Italian, because she wanted it to serve as a reminder of the importance of building a solid foundation. St. Peter, the rock of the church, is a patron saint of the program.
Mautino began practicing Pietra Fitness herself and became a certified instructor shortly after her family moved to Cedar Rapids in 2013. Today, Mautino teaches four classes per week at various locations, including two local Catholic churches: St. Patrick Parish in Cedars Rapids and St. Joseph Parish in Marion.
“The concept of the body as a temple is biblically founded and integral to Pietra Fitness,” Mautino said. “We are both body and soul, and activities that integrate both seem to attract many people.”
She said the idea of incorporating prayer into physical activity is nothing new. Pope Saint John Paul II and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati are two examples of individuals who regularly used exercise to honor God. And every day, she said, many walkers and runners do likewise when they pray the rosary while they’re on the move.
“Praying while we exercise feels good, and it helps us to pray without ceasing,” she added.
Men and women’s Pietra Fitness classes are taught separately from each other, and Mautino presently offers classes for women.
Donna Stratton, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Marion, is one of the women in Mautino’s classes. She’s been doing Pietra Fitness for nearly a year now.
“These classes give us an opportunity to improve ourselves both physically and spiritually, through prayer, music, meditation, movement and stretching,” Stratton said. “I thoroughly enjoy taking these classes, because they are so much more than just a fitness class.”
“Pietra Fitness is a beautiful way to pray with your body,” said Kendall Krouse, a member of Cedar Rapids’ Immaculate Conception Parish who also attends one of Mautino’s classes.
By combining exercise with prayer, Krouse said, “I am able to experience a sense of peace in my body, mind and soul. It has helped to deepen my faith and relieve mental and physical stress.”
Others taking the classes have found that Pietra Fitness helps them with specific health concerns.
Patti Becker learned about Pietra Fitness in her church bulletin at St. Patrick’s in Cedar Rapids. Becker suffers from arthritis and decided to give one of the classes a try in the hope it might help her find pain relief.
“(I) was blessed to discover this amazing class that not only helps with my stiff joints but also with my spiritual wellness,” Becker said.
A unique aspect of Pietra Fitness is that each class has a different theme. One day it might be “mercy.” Another day it might be “hope.” Many Pietra Fitness students find this aspect of the classes beneficial.
“The intentional focus on Christ and his message to me for the day – for example, “patience” – combined with the challenge of improving my body has had a profound effect on my prayer life and sense of well being,” said Jody Esker, a parishioner of St. Pius X Parish in Cedar Rapids.
Mautino said any woman in the Archdiocese of Dubuque interested in taking one of her classes should email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. No formal registration is required.
Anyone who might want to try Pietra Fitness in their home can do so by using one of the program’s DVDs available at the Pietra Fitness website (www.pietrafitness.com) or through Ignatius Press or Amazon.
Once she tried Pietra Fitness, Lorrie Erusha, a parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Hiawatha, chose to make the program an important part of her life. She’s been going to one of Mautino’s classes twice a week for nearly three years. She said the classes are the “regular highlight of my week.”
“It is easy to set aside my daily life and concentrate on being present for Christ and his mother, Mary,” Erusha said. “I leave peaceful, prayerful and physically strong.”
Pietra Fitness offers classes in several cities nationally. Students pray before a class begins. A San Damiano crucifix is present in each classroom. (Photo courtesy of Pietra Fitness)