Last year Donna was a speaker at Bishop T.D. Jakes' God's Leading Ladies Tour, a conference designed to empower women in their personal, professional, and spiritual lives, and will once again join him on stage as a part of his MegaFest tour this summer.
Donna recently spoke to Beliefnet about the joy of working out to gospel music, the important role women play in keeping their families healthy, and the biblical message, from 1 Cor. 6: "[Y]our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God...Therefore, honor God with your body."
Have you always been so involved in physical fitness?
Yes, all my life. From the time I was five years old, I was [involved in] swimming, dancing, baton lessons, gymnastics, softball, cheerleading, and track and field. So it's been a lifestyle for me.
When did you first make the connection between fitness and spirituality?
I grew up as a Christian and I remember even in church we'd have dance recitals-it was more like praise dance-and I was a part of that.
How is your video, "Sweating in the Spirit," different from other fitness videos?
It's about using your spirit as the base of living a healthy lifestyle.
A lot of times when we're looking to lose weight or become fitter, we think that there's this magic diet or this magic machine that's going to help us accomplish that. So you'll do it and then maybe you'll fall off the wagon, and then you'll get back on, and it's this yo-yo thing going on.
But when you look at it from a spiritual point of view, you realize that there is a stronger commitment because God created our temples and He commanded us to keep them holy.
Why would you follow His lead so that you're getting spiritually stronger, you're getting mentally stronger, but then [with] the temple, you're going to be disobedient? You have to exercise your faith over your temple-honor it and take the best care of it. That comes from a different perspective than saying: Buy this and in 30 days you're going to look like me. This is a lifestyle, and your lifestyle as a Christian is to have total wellness. I just use the spirit as the foundation of helping us to become healthier.
Everyone should be aspiring to be healthy-and when you're healthy, it's from the inside out-no matter what shape, size, age, or color you are.
What is it like to work out to gospel music?
It's so inspirational and the message is so empowering that you really are in the moment. When you hear it, it just takes over you. It's a wonderful feeling.
"Sweating in the Spirit" ushers you into a kind of dance and praise with God. So you're not thinking about what happened yesterday, you're not thinking about the boss who got on your nerves, you're not thinking, How many calories am I going to burn? You are in the moment. And so it's more about an experience as opposed to just working out. And that, I believe, is why people have gravitated to it. The music has a message, it's motivating, it's empowering, and it's not different than what you would get at church.
Do you ever feel the spirit move through you while you're teaching?
When we were producing the video, there were times when I forgot I was teaching! I'd get caught up and then turn to the camera and say, "Just keep moving along. Do whatever you'd like." The producer would say to me, "Donna, would you stop making mistakes?" And then [singer] Yolanda Adams turned to the producer and said, "She's not making a mistake. That's God."
It seems as though you focus a lot on women, for example, with your God's Leading Ladies Tour. Do you have a reason for this? Do you feel like women need more guidance?
Yes, because we are the caretakers. I think we lead by example and we are heading the household-that's not to say that the husband or the significant other doesn't-but women nourish and take care of the whole family.
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Besides the music, are there other spiritual elements in your workouts? For example, do you pray?
I go out and talk [to the class] before I move because I've got to reach mentally-I've got to change your mindset so that you want to move. I talk about how important it is that your body is a temple of the holy spirit and how it's important to keep that temple strong and healthy. Then you look at scriptures. There are so many scriptures that relate to being healthy and wellness.
What is a favorite of yours?
When I [end the workouts] I say, "I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well." I also say, "Faith itself if it's not accompanied by action is dead." And they can relate these scriptures to what they need to do in order to take better care of their temple.
Most of us need to be active and eating healthier to do what God's put us on here to do. He has a purpose for all of our lives. How can you know your purpose, or execute your purpose, if your temple is broken down or if your temple is unhealthy? It's impossible. You can't be God's leading lady, or leading man, if your temple is unhealthy.
Corinthians 10:1 says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." That's a great one. You would think differently about what you put in your mouth if you use that scripture.
Sometimes we end in a prayer circle. We all come from different denominations, so a lot of times I'll have quietness and we'll all pray in our own way. Sometimes we have a prayer line [which] gets groups of 20 to 30 people to face each other and one person at a time closes their eyes, and they walk down this prayer line. The people that are forming these prayer lines are receiving this person. So it could be a touch on the shoulder, it could be a hug, it could be a positive affirmation, but they don't know who it's coming from. You'd be surprised-at the end of that line you could get a person who hadn't had a hug in a month and they got it right then and there. Or you could have had a person, who maybe because of their circumstances are in a negative environment and no one ever says something nice to them. And so again, it goes back to using faith as the base. Psychologically [we] touch them and get them to receive this in a way that they never have before. In what aerobics class can you get all that?