Faith-based exercise class offered at St. Stephen's Church

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

An exercise class focused on Jesus at St. Stephen's Church in Sewickley accomplishes three goals with one activity, says leader and church member Gail Southern of Ohio Township.

The idea to start PraiseMoves came to her after she taught a Bible study class focusing on helping women discover where and what God wants them to be doing now.

They came up with three overlapping circles — exercise, fellowship and worship.

“I thought, ‘There's no way, these things can be related,'” she said.

But, God had other ideas, she said.

Southern, a veteran exercise class participant, began searching the internet and found a PraiseMoves site. Six months later, she was enrolled in a certification class in Monroeville.

Although Southern said she has done many such Bible studies, she has never felt she was directly spoken to by God.

It was different this time.

When she first started the class four years ago, she was a “nervous wreck,” and had never taught anything to anyone before. But, that changed.

“I know this is where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to be doing. I found out I was able to do things I didn't think I could. I didn't think I could teach and motivate these women, but the feedback I get is that they really like the class,” said Southern, mother of Cassidy, 13, and Jackson, 10, who she brings to class periodically.

Not only do instrumental Christian hymns play in the background, but every move is linked to a Biblical Scripture.

Southern gives an example of the eagle pose where participants lean forward with their knees bent and their arms outstretched behind them to work the quadriceps and triceps.

As they are posing, Southern will recite a Scripture, Isaiah 40:31, “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength and rise up with wings as an Eagle.”

As she is speaking, participants have the opportunity to meditate to the verse. Exercises are gentle and low pressure, and there is no kind of competing with other participants in class. It is not a cardiovascular class, but is more structured for gentle stretching and strength training.

The first 15 minutes involves warm-up walking. Usually, about 5 to 10 women participate. There is no commitment to pay for a certain number of sessions. Women, who often bring their children, can come and go as they please.

The first class a new participant tries is free.

Sue Pulkowski of Leet Township said she loves and class and has been attending for more than two years.

“It's very relaxing, and the Bible verses give you time to reflect and time to praise God with our bodies. Gail is an awesome instructor and makes it fun. And, I'm definitely more flexible,” she said.

Pulkowski said she also enjoys the fellowship.

“The women who come are all very kind and nice and all interested in each others lives and welcome the new people, too,” Southern said.

Southern is registered with the worldwide program and pays an annual fee. She also pays to rent a room at St. Stephen's.

The cost for each class is $6, but she said she doesn't keep track. For those who are having a rough time financially, Southern said they don't have to pay.

“I have a basket that people put money in. I don't keep track of who pays and who doesn't. I don't want money to be a stumbling block to coming,” she said.

One women whose husband lost his job kept coming but didn't pay for awhile, and another woman who lost her job brought Southern items from her garden.

Southern said participants don't have to be St. Stephen's members and don't have to be Christians. She only has two rules in class — “If it hurts, don't do it, and smile and enjoy yourself.”

For more about PraiseMoves, visit

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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