SAN DIEGO — Mike Cothrine started Mike's Fit Family, a health and wellness community that serves students and teachers in lower income school districts, eight years ago. With an initial 36 participants, his program has since grown into a nonprofit that began serving 250 people a week with a program that included interval training and nutrition education for physical health, while also focused on the health of the mind and spirit.
He saw a need to serve teachers and children, and their health, outside of the more traditional gym and health club environment. With the help of funding from the First 5 Commission of San Diego — which promotes the health and well-being of the county's youngest children through health screenings and education — Cothrine's nonprofit has been able to contract with various school districts to provide these services and open them up to more underserved communities. He also uses the fees and donations from his for-profit Live Your Best Life Wellness Studio to help fund Mike's Fit Family.
Cothrine, 44, is also a singer/songwriter with a passion for music and helping people. He took some time to talk about his work in health and wellness, how his nonprofit has adjusted to meeting the needs of those they serve during the pandemic, and his ideal "boring" weekend. (Cothrine's responses were recorded, transcribed, and provided to the Union-Tribune through his associate at Mike's Fit Family, Rachel Hen. These responses have been edited for clarity and length.)
Q: Tell us about Mike's Fit Family.
A: Mike's Fit Family is a community of unity based on the wellness of mind, body, and spirit. Eight years ago, I developed a program while working with children, teachers and families in school districts in the South Bay (San Ysidro, Chula Vista). What I noticed from my previous experience is you have to serve people in mind, body and spirit; you can't leave anything out. Our teachers, obviously, are one of the most underserved populations in our country, so I felt super passionate about that. Also, growing up (in St. Louis, Missouri) without a lot of means, I felt like everybody deserved a chance to be successful, especially our children. So, that's where Mikes' Fit Family started.
Q: Why was this something you wanted to create?
A: I felt like there was a need to serve our children on a higher level; there's a need to serve our teachers on a higher level; and there's a need in our United States, and globally, to serve everyone on a higher level by really meeting people where they are and starting to reach out to people who don't normally have help.
Q: Can you walk us through how your program works?
A: Right now, we have specific school districts that we've contracted with through our funding from First 5 (Commission of San Diego). Through the rest of this year, we want to open our program up to all underprivileged families, teachers and staff in all school districts around San Diego County, so everybody is welcome. On our website at mikesfitfamily.com, we have classes running from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, in the form of interval training and yoga, as well as mindful meditation. This is at no cost. If people want to, and have the means to, invest in the health and wellness of others, they can do that through our Live Your Best Life Wellness Studio (liveyourbestlifews.com).
Q: How does your program address the mind, body and spirit of its participants?
A: Energy begets energy. So, when you exercise, it increases your brain function, decreases stress, gives you more energy, and that affects the mind. We underestimate how the way we think affects our bodies. Whenever you have a though, depending on the quality of the thought, it can either cause stress, or decrease stress. Thoughts that increase stress can break down the immune system and your overall happiness. The mind and body are connected, and when I say "spirit," I just mean energy. We all have energy. We all have the way we feel, like love and peace. Those things make life worth living, and for me, that's addressing the spiritual nature.
Q: What kinds of adjustments have you had to make to the way you run Mike's Fit Family, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: Before the pandemic, we were running classes from northern San Diego all the way almost to the border, with 20 groups per week in various locations all over the county. When the pandemic hit, we had to pivot quickly. Within two weeks, we were running 40 live, virtual classes out of my studio each week. I'm super proud of myself and my team for being able to answer that call and give people a place to go to feel supported in mind, body and spirit, which has been hugely beneficial to so many people. This is also what led us to making Live Your Best Life Wellness Studio a subscription service, which will allow us to continue our efforts on the nonprofit side with Mike's Fit Family.
Q: Can you talk about how your approach to improving mental and spiritual health, specifically, have shifted as a result of the pandemic?
A: What's shifted is the importance of it. I always thought it was one of those things, for me, like brushing your teeth. It's an absolute necessity, but the challenges that have been created for people — the highs and lows of anxiety, people not knowing how they're going to survive and eat on a daily basis — led to an overall energy of our communities being highly stressed out and highly affected. Everyone's lives were turned 180 degrees, so you've got to have tools to deal with that. On one side is a serious challenge, but on the other side is an opportunity. We all should be taking care of our minds in terms of how we think, how that helps us navigate life, how we look at different situations to make us more resilient, so we have more fulfilled, happy, strong lives. So we feel empowered, rather than defeated. We have to do everything we possibly can to take care of ourselves so we can take care of each other.
Q: How did your passion and commitment to fitness and health start? What led you to pursue this kind of work?
A: If I'm being honest with myself, my passion probably started when I was about 8 years old. There were two things I've always been passionate about: music and seeing people happy. Obviously, at 8 years old, I didn't know what that would look like, but just growing up and playing sports and having fitness as an important part of my life, I grew up with a desire to help people. I started out as a trainer, began working as a manager and running gyms, but not really feeling like that was enough. I broke away and started my own business. In order to help people live a fulfilled life, certain things can't be left out: your body, the temple you live in; your mind, since you can't do anything without a healthy mind; and the spirit. I think that everybody has value and it will never be realized if they don't take care of themselves in those three areas.
Q: What is the best advice you've ever received?
A: I've received so much good advice along the way. I can't quote where it came from, but somewhere in learning to do my spiritual practices, I learned about the power of love. How love transforms all things, it transcends time, and is the most healing thing there is. Love is the most connecting energy there is and is often undervalued. Love is freedom, love is forgiveness, love is peace, love is joy, love is power, love is the great connector.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: I think many people would be surprised to find out I am shy. My nature is I like to be by myself, or in small groups of people who know me really well. My nature isn't to be in front of a crowd or being seen.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: My ideal San Diego weekend is going to sound boring to most people: doing nothing, on purpose. That means something simple, like enjoying nature, watching the ocean, hearing the ocean, feeling my toes in the sand, being conscious with my breath, and some form of play. I really like to play, dance and sing. Ultimately, just express myself and not be on a schedule. The best weekend would be to do whatever my spirit is calling me to at that moment, without having to be anywhere.