In conversation with husband and wife team, Jennifer Hersch Dr. Theo Koutroukides, we discuss the guiding philosophies of East London’s ETHOS studio and their unique mind-body approach to training. Informed by their backgrounds in eastern studies and scientific research respectively, both founders seek to incorporate eastern and western methodologies in their approach to fitness and wellbeing.
How does the name ETHOS represent your vision of fitness and wellbeing?
Theo: We looked at many words to summarise and represent the principles of how the mind thinks and the body moves. For us, the word ETHOS, harks back its original meaning in Ancient Greece. It was a creative schooling method that integrated physical education with the awakening of the mind. At our studio, we don’t tell people what to do, or how to exercise, rather, we teach them how to move. How a body moves, strongly influences how a person thinks.
Jen: Part of what ETHOS tries to do is merge these two concepts together, through this idea of the mind/ body alchemy. We want people to feel the change physically first. I’ve been teaching for 25 years, and you see people come in because they’re interested in the physical aspects of fitness, and then they start to get curious about how they feel. In yoga philosophy, the body is always considered a tool to access the mind. So, for us the body is a vehicle to achieve mental purification. It is the ethos of the studio. Which is why, for us, we always say everything is Yoga.
What are the core principles of an effective fitness regime?
Theo: We usually train in this order – Intensity, Precision then Frequency. It’s extremely scientific. Everybody wants to work out but if you start training with too much intensity, in a non-specific way, this will normally lead to injury. With the right amount of intensity, applied at the right time intervals, you can find the perfect balance. Once you start building up your intensity, you realise you can’t build on this unless you commit to something regularly. And that’s frequency. Consistency creates neuromuscular responses that create efficiency and safety. If you wait five days to come back, you don’t get the full benefits. I want you back the next day, two days later. We want to guide people right to the edge of their capacity to reap the maximum benefits.
Jen: Just to expand on this, our goal is to instill harmony in the body. Every body has its own internal sense of harmony and equilibrium. However, unless you allow your body to move naturally in certain, non-linear patterns of exercises, you’ll never know what your body is capable of. Also, fitness is not a case of one-size-fits-all. You can’t say everyone wants or benefits from the same time of exercise, so mixing up your routine is important.
How do you seek to change people’s attitudes towards their bodies?
Jen: People often talk about how they want their bodies to look, but not how they want their bodies to feel. We are not just after the superficial goal of weight loss. We want to create a body that moves, that moves in the way you want to move, that makes you feel free, that comes with easy breath, that comes to going to bed feeling good. Simply put, a body that gives you the feeling of freedom.
Theo: How you think depends on how you move and that shapes what you become. We love separating the mind and body but how you move is how you think. How you think is who you are and what you become. It truly is an affirmation. If you move in a certain way, you’re creating a repetitive set of affirmations in your mind. That information becomes a conviction through belief. So affirmation becomes belief. And that conviction, becomes exactly who you are, and that’s how great things happen.
Given that any fitness regime pushes the body, what are your views on physical discomfort?
Jen: It’s a learning tool for you to overcome the things you don’t want to. It’s something you come back to everyday in your path to self realisation,
Theo: Discomfort is necessary. You don’t build a strong heart until you’ve trained that ability. You can’t build muscle until you introduce stress. And that’s the miraculous physiological response of the body. Exercise itself is a form of damage, you’re depleting your body of its energy stores. So what you want to train is your ability to recover faster. That determines everything, and discomfort is so relevant to that. You can’t accelerate your rate of recovery until you put stress in the right form. This in turn, brings discomfort, but it sits right below the pain that causes injury. Pain, discomfort and recovery rate are the three most relevant parts of the equation.
Jen: We just spoke about physical discomfort. But, if we apply this to the emotional aspect, we can begin to think about it as a learning tool. It allows people the opportunity to start figuring out how to increase their emotional resilience. Philosophically speaking, referring to Buddhist teachings, the more attached you are to your emotions, the more unhappiness you feel. By mastering your emotional relationship to discomfort, you increase your ability to become unaffected by what’s going on around you. This is empowering and can increases your ability to recover both physically and mentally.
What important lessons have your learned from your careers and experience?
Jen: I think it’s it’s about being 100% present in whatever it is you’re doing. It’s about being 100% committed, and working fully with honesty and integrity. Having purity of heart and intention in whatever you pursue. Also, equilibrium and balance are very important. When I was in New York, I was sick in my 20s, very acidic. I had glandular fever and never recovered. Looking back, it was because I was leading an acidic life. But moving to Cambridge and studying in the fresh air, allowed me to restore some balance and heal. I do think there’s a Yang/Yin thing that does need to happen.
Theo: I think Aristotle defines the golden mean as the mean point of extremes of behaviours. Referring to what Jennifer said about ‘being a 100% committed in what you do’, my answer would be to connect with your ‘why’. Why are you doing what you are doing, why are you here today? What has really brought you here today? I believe you find equilibrium and purpose by asking the right questions.
Jen: I was thinking more about Bruce Lee and what he says ‘ to be like water’. That kind of shapeless form, so you are completely who you are, but you’re able to move. I find it comes back to that artistry. For me, life is artistry. Actually I never sought to be happy. Happiness to me is a one dimensional word, and if I look back honestly, if you’re a passionate person, the underbelly of passion is always tinged with a bit of sadness. But it’s also a beautiful bubbling ground for creativity. What that means is you’re extremely sensitive to the human experience
ETHOS is the brainchild of ex-dancer & yoga teacher Jennifer Hersch & her husband, scientist and ex-professional cyclist Dr.Theo Koutroukides. These passionate and progressive co-founders brought ETHOS to the London fitness market in January 2016. Their beautiful Old Spitalfields- based studio offers a variety of classes taught by some of London’s expert trainers which include Hot Yoga, TRX, Cycling and Barre. Uniquely, all classes are heated to enhance cardio benefits, detox and discipline of the mind. It’s part of the ETHOS mission to redefine fitness and the way people train.