Interview with Natalia Petrzela about intenSati, the Intrepid, and HealthClass 2.0

Natalia Mehlman Petrzela is an intenSati instructor, college professor, mom, and ambassador of awesome (just google her!). The next amazing event that she’s speaking at is less than two weeks away (March 11), and spots are filling up fast. I spoke with her about what it’s going to be like to celebrate our bodies and exercise in a high-powered workout-for-a-cause on the Intrepid.

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Jen Bokoff: I love that you’re having people sweat it out to benefit a good cause: HEALTHCLASS2.0. Can you share a bit about what makes this such an important cause?

Natalia Petrzela: HEALTHCLASS2.0 defines education and health broadly by focusing on learning about fitness and food as vectors to develop children’s reflective and decision-making capabilities, and to cultivate a strong sense of self. In each session, participants exercise, eat a healthy, locally-sourced snack, and engage in a thoughtful discussion of the food they are consuming. HC2.0 is a really interesting project because it brings together new work across the fitness, food and nutrition studies, and educational reform fields.

Supporting this kind of curriculum is crucial, because as schools have tighter budgets and increasing pressure to perform on high-stakes tests, programs that focus on wellness and social-emotional health are often dismissed as frills. Most HC2.0 sessions take place in Phys Ed classes during the school day, which sends a really important message about how this type of work is central to empowering students to do well in all areas of their lives, including academics. The concept that kids should work out and eat well is an old idea; plenty of programs support that notion. But, the fact that we teach intenSati and base our food curriculum around the 30 Project‘s philosophy is really different. Kids don’t just work out; they call out affirmations connected to a larger theme like making choices, or practicing self-care and appreciation. They don’t just learn some nutrition facts; they eat a healthful snack right there with us and talk about the experience, which is a real break from the common experience of mindlessly eating “whatever is there.” Discussions about food are related both to personal decisions and to bigger systemic issues, like the circumstances that make healthful food expensive and harder to access in certain neighborhoods. Finally, students are always equipped with strategies to integrate these lessons into their own lives through  the themes of the affirmations. By creating a really coherent learning experience, students will be engaged and empowered to be agents of change in their own lives and communities.

HC2.0 also provides a new model of the way higher education, private enterprise, and the public schools can partner in innovative ways. BlueprintJuice very generously provides the snacks and juice; The New School, where I teach, is where our college leaders are trained and get the intellectual foundation to be informed leaders; in working together with public school teachers, administrators, and students, it seems like we are really creating value in a new way.

JB: In intenSati, every workout begins with a conversation. What do you plan to talk about to kick off this event?

NP: HC2.0 co-founder Ellen Gustafson and I will kick off the event discussing the founding of HC2.0 and why an empowered approach to food and fitness is so crucial to changing ourselves and the world!

JB: The Intrepid is one of NYC’s most unique venues. How’d you lock it in for the biggest intenSati class ever?

NP: The director of events there had taken my class in the past and also knew I had done work on gender issues (the event is part of the boat’s “Salute to Women” celebration of Women’s History month), and asked me to teach the intenSati class to benefit a charity that had not yet been decided. I told her about HC2.0 and it seemed a perfect match!

JB: Can you give us a sneak peak of the affirmations we’ll be shouting out?

NP: Nope! It is a surprise that intenSati creator Patricia Moreno, who is teaching the class, will spring on us!

JB: As a university professor and intenSati leader, you clearly have a passion for helping people to realize their potential and be the best they can be. What’s the number one thing that motivates you?

NP: I adore my work as a scholar and an intenSati leader, and feel that this love pushes me not only to work very hard, but to feel exhilarated rather than exhausted by the process (most of the time!). If I can help others find their passions, and be a model of how the pursuit of excellence doesn’t have to be painful drudgery but instead, very exciting, then I feel I am adding something to the world!

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If you’re feeling amazing endorphins after reading this, come on March 11 and check out other intenSati classes, too! You can also follow Natalia on Twitter and ask to be put on her monthly email blasts.

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