It wasn’t going to be an easy class. Not that the participants in Sonia Chowdhury’s STRONG by Zumba class would have left if they’d known, but still: There would be push-ups. There would be squats. There would be high-intensity cardio.

“But,” Sonia clarified, and this was very important, “it’s your body, your workout. Listen to your body. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If you’re not having fun, we can adjust, we can find something that works for you.”

Then the pulsing rhythm started and with Sonia leading the way, they began by stepping side-to-side in time with the music.

Sonia, a second-year MPH student in the Physical Activity and Healthy Lifestyles concentration, teaches three group fitness classes a week at the CSU Campus Recreation Center. She does it because she loves it, because she believes in the camaraderie and community-building of group fitness. But she also does it because it dovetails directly into her enthusiasm for public health and what she’s learning in her studies – that wellness is not just about being able to hold a plank for a minute or complete a Zumba workout without tripping.

“My parents work in health care and I’ve worked in a corporate setting as well as a start-up setting,” she explained. “I’ve seen how important the work-life balance is for wellness and how what happens at work can affect the rest of your life.

“In my own experience, I went from gray cubicles and being micromanaged, which was affecting my personal life, to a start-up and being totally invested and ending up working a lot more than 40 hours a week.”

Lifelong interest in fitness

Her interest in wellness, though she may not have realized it at the time, began as a child growing up in Littleton and competing in individual and team figure skating. It was a wonderful outlet for her abundant energy, but by high school the before school and after school practices, as well as local and regional competitions, were becoming less fun.

To broaden her horizons, she tried volleyball and didn’t love it. Tennis was better. “But I was really starting to learn how my body works and how what’s going on physically can affect me mentally and emotionally,” she said.

While studying business as an undergraduate at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, she frequently went to the gym but eventually grew bored of solo time on the treadmill. She began attending group fitness classes and something just clicked. She met instructors who became mentors, and from her initial goal of teaching dance fitness, in 2015 she completed the rigorous group fitness and personal training certifications with the Athletic and Fitness Association of America.

After earning her bachelor’s degree, she returned to Douglas County and taught fitness classes while working on the trading desk with Oppenheimer Funds and then in the payroll and benefits division of a start-up company.

Her experience in the corporate world guided her to her graduate public health studies last year, with a focus on workplace wellness. And because fitness is an important element of wellness, she said, almost as soon as she arrived on the CSU campus she went to the recreation center to ask about group fitness opportunities. She began by substituting in classes, but soon was leading Zumba and STRONG classes several times a week.

“I think you get a totally different feeling and energy when you’re in a room with different people,” she said. “You get a lot of opportunity to hear their stories and their challenges and why they’re there, because everyone needs it for some reason in their life. I love that sense of ‘We’re all in this together’.”

Want to attend one of Sonia’s CSU Campus Recreation Center classes? She teaches STRONG by Zumba – a music-driven class that incorporates body weight, muscle conditioning, cardio and plyometrics – from 4 to 5 p.m. Monday and Wednesday. She also teaches Zumba from 7 to 7:45 a.m. Tuesday.