Natural light streams in the through the all-glass garage door. Yoga mats form a wide circle around the two candles and oversized wooden Rosary in the center of the open space. Everyone mentally recites the “Our Father” as they calmly rep out push-ups. They meditate on the “Hail Mary” as they hold themselves up in side plank. They shift into a resting pose, silently meditating on the “Glory Be.”
This is SoulCore: a workout that pairs core stretches with meditation on the Catholic devotional prayers of the Rosary. Each decade (or “mystery”) of the Rosary is paired with an exercise designed to build a particular virtue, like humility, love of neighbor, material detachment, sacrifice and joy. Participants reflect on the mysteries silently while following along with each exercise.
The brain child of Colleen Scariano and Deanne Miller, parishioners at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Carmel, Indiana, SoulCore is an intense spiritual and physical workout. Miller, a long-time fitness instructor, leads the meditations and core-strengthening exercises in a peaceful and airy studio.
The inspiration for SoulCore came to Scariano in the aftermath of tragedy. Several years ago, she and her family were living in an idyllic arrangement on Indianapolis’s Northside. Her sister lived around the corner, and her parents lived in a studio apartment above their detached garage. They were a very close family, made closer by their shared Catholic faith.
Early one Sunday morning, while preparing for Mass, Scariano learned that her mother had died very suddenly and unexpectedly. Although her mother’s death was peaceful — sacred music was playing in the apartment while her mother dressed to attend church — the entire family felt rocked by the loss. Their mother, with her deep devotion to Mary and the Rosary, had been the spiritual glue between them all.
Scariano’s oldest brother moved into the apartment with her father, in order to be of assistance. Only five weeks later, tragedy struck again. Both men died in the same apartment, by accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
What followed was a very dark time for the family. They considered tearing the apartment down, or moving away from the property.
Seeking refuge and healing within the church, Scariano reached a turning point after one priest told her about a dream he had of angels hovering over the property and a great Easter light shining down upon it. Taking the dream to mean that there would be a resurrection in that space, Scariano felt inspired to transform the garage apartment to honor her mother’s devotion to Mary and the Rosary. Acknowledging her own need for physical as well as spiritual healing, she envisioned developing a workout that would strengthen both body and soul.
She immediately thought of asking Miller, an acquaintance from church, to help realize the vision. “It was so vivid,” Scariano said. “Deanne was the one person who came to mind. I had only been to one of her classes, and then never showed up again. I was so worried she would think, ‘She’s crazy.’”
She left a voice mail with Miller, saying only that she had an idea. Miller, listening to the message directly after finishing a prayer hour at church, said she felt an overwhelming certainty that, “Whatever Colleen was going to ask, the answer was, ‘Yes.’” Together they began to develop the workout and meditation program that has become SoulCore.
The response has been remarkably positive.
“SoulCore engages the senses through physical movement, candlelight and scent, mindful reflection, acoustic music, and sacred art,” Scariano said. “It’s very sensory, like our Masses.”
“From the moment of the first inspiration that Scariano received, it has been Mary-led and Holy Spirit-led,” Miller added. “We have no expectations. The goal is to get more people praying the Rosary with special attention on why we pray it. The real staying power of the Rosary is that we are slowly converted into the likeness of Christ. When we strengthen the physical body, there’s a correlating strengthening of virtue. That’s why they pair so well together.”
“This woman is working you out and she keeps talking about using your core,” said Caren Lemark, a SoulCore participant. “And I’m using my wrist or my ankle and it’s kind of holding me up, but there’s flab going on. And it reminds me of some spiritual direction I just got from my pastor. He said, ‘You know, you’ve got your devotional life, your act of faith, your Mass, your Rosary…but where is your Lectio Divina? Where’s your relationship with Christ?’”
“Grace builds on nature,” Lemark added. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, there were muscles we were exercising that I forgot I had.’ And I know I used to have more spiritual stamina. I guess that’s what I’m talking about, spiritual stamina.”
Scariano and Miller are currently training instructors to take SoulCore beyond the Northside studio, and recently a group of students at Purdue University have picked it up.
“They posted about it on Facebook and had over 100 girls who were interested within the first week,” Miller said. “And on the college campus there’s no charge, which is part of the ministry of SoulCore. We want to encourage more young people to deepen their prayer life, specifically through the Rosary. We’d love to bring it to more college campuses, and God willing, we’ll open additional studio locations.”
With the release of the SoulCore DVD, Miller said: “It is also very much, have Rosary, will travel.” Following where the Spirit leads them, Miller and Scariano are looking forward to the next step in the SoulCore journey.
Lead image courtesy of Daniel Tibi.