“Seeing people truly living out the things they probably couldn’t even see before, that’s the best part of my job,” Johnson says. “Just seeing them blossom.”
Located in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood, 360.Mind.Body.Soul is a fitness studio which focuses on helping its clients create their own balanced wellness routines. To do this, it uses healthy diets and exercise for the body, mental fitness for the mind, and self-efficacy for the soul.
Massive murals artfully cover the black brick studio walls with images like Ganesh — the elephant-headed Hindu god that removes obstacles — while chalk-drawn charts filled with competitive progress line the hallway. Motivation is everywhere because of out of the gym’s three pillars, the incorporation of soul is the core, separating Johnson’s programs from others available in the fitness world.
Johnson says that the soul is what drives physical and mental action. Nothing can be accomplished without its participation in the fitness process because success is based on what people believe they can do.
“It’s the fortitude to go along with the process even when you can’t see the results,” Johnson says. “Your soul has got to align with the process, merge with it, you say yes, and then you do it.”
Johnson’s guidance and dedication to her 360 members comes from her own battles with health and weight loss. She grew up overweight and although she always worked out and remained active, the weight stayed on. When the Los Angeles native decided to move to Chicago and found happiness, the extra pounds she’d been fighting to eradicate just fell off.
“I realized that in making the decisions that felt right to me, that’s when things really started to work,” Johnson says. “That was when I started to feel whole again, that was when the weight dropped. All good things happened when I started to lean on what I knew to be the truth for me.”
So for 360.Mind.Soul.Body, Johnson cultivated a sense of togetherness that dismissed the myth that Black women, who primarily comprise its membership, can’t motivate each other. In fact, 360.Mind.Soul.Body is the complete opposite. There, women hold each other up.
“I think that our sisterhood is completely necessary,” Johnson says. “We need each other to share our stories and to get through situations.”
When Johnson first started as a fitness professional, she tried to train her clients individually, but they just weren’t losing weight. She noticed that they weren’t holding themselves accountable and knew that in a group setting, they could be more successful.
“If you’ve ever tried to lose weight by yourself, there’s a lot of room for quitting,” Johnson says. “You can go to the best gym with the best bells and whistles, but you have to be the one to use that equipment.”
This principle of group activity extends to Johnson’s popular challenges – like the annual Bikini Challenge – which are growing exponentially each year. Currently, 104 members are divided into teams that take responsibility for each other’s weight loss and fitness progress to build individualized plans that turn into lifelong habits.
“What we preach is a lifestyle,” Johnson says. “We don’t do 30-day challenges. They’re more like three-month and six-month challenges, with seven or eight classes per week to try to concentrate you into this lifestyle surrounded by like-minded people who are all doing the same thing within the same sort of situation as you.”
To keep clients motivated on their goals, Johnson stresses the importance of being present: thinking about what actions can and should be done right now. The benefit of focusing on current tasks, she’s seen, is that people don’t feel the need to compensate their shortcomings with unhealthy habits like junk food and liquor.
“If you practice being in the now, life opens up for you. You don’t have to numb your way through it.”