Matthew Johnson Harris: fitness instructor, actor, model, & activist/volunteer

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Bio:

Matthew Johnson Harris is a fitness instructor, actor, model, and activist/volunteer in New York City. In 2012, he started at the front desk of Equinox with the ambition to become a group fitness instructor. In a short amount of time he achieved success. He primarily teaches high intensity interval training, dance cardio, body conditioning, and indoor cycling classes. Though the formats vary, the energy and intention stays the same. You will sweat and burn a ton of calories, all while experiencing an escape that will lead to a self-image deeper than aesthetics. Matthew’s classes have been offered at Equinox, NYSC, Reebok Sports Club, The JCC, Flywheel, BeFitnyc, West End Fitness, Core Rhythm Fitness and many more.

What do I do best?

I know how to connect with people through empathy and positive affirmations. I want to make my classes a safe space to be vulnerable and for you to realize that you are not alone. My youngest student is a 7-year-old black girl from Harlem and my oldest student is an 87-year-old white woman from the Upper East Side. My classes aren’t about me. I am just the vessel for you to reach your greatest potential.

What makes me the best version of myself?

My sense of gratitude guides me everywhere in life. The energy my students feel in my class is sincere gratitude emanating from me. The New York City fitness scene is highly competitive. The stiff competition opens the door to negativity and criticism that can be confidence shattering. I haven’t been immune to such experiences. Also, the job is physically demanding which can also affect your mood.  Some days I am not feeling 100% like myself but I make sure to take a moment before those sessions to center myself in gratitude.

What are my aspirations?

A) Personal

I would personally like to be remembered as a person who used their platform to share light. I hope that one day that manifests itself into my own non-profit. I have a lot of causes that are dear to my heart so figuring out exactly which cause I want to devote myself to will be hard.

B) Business

I’m actually taking a break from teaching my full schedule in order to take a look at the direction I want my fitness career to go. Fitness has been great to me and I have experienced a lot of success quickly but I also noticed that I was over exerting myself. My voice and body are taking a lot of abuse and the pay-off doesn’t seem to match. I have established myself as an asset to many brands in the fitness community and have learned my worth. I also want to have time to dive deeply into my other passions.  I have a few offers on the table and I am excited to see what happens.

As far as big picture aspirations - I would love to work with Nike in any aspect. It has been a dream of mine since I was a little boy. Maybe one day I will have my own fitness video series. I’ve worked on a few projects but it would be great to step to the forefront. I would also love to see my performance and acting career open up in new ways.

My Biggest Success?

The lives that I have touched have outweighed any impressive moment on my resume. I currently teach a free dance cardio class every Friday at Harlem Hospital at 6PM. I have been there for nearly 4 years. The student body ranges from people who are homeless to financially stable, all of whom just want an escape for 55 mins. This class hasn’t just changed the lives of the participants but it has also given me an added sense of purpose.  There are lots of people who can’t afford memberships and training sessions but still have a desire to be fit. Fitness professionals often say that helping people is the most rewarding part of their job so I call out to my fellow instructors to find ways that they can use their talents to help those who won’t necessarily add more money to their bank account.

My Most Challenging Moment?

In 2012, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It was one of the hardest moments of my life. It forced me to look at the dark areas of my life that I used to cover up and ignore. Up until that point I was faking happiness and contentment.  I began to share my story for the first time out loud after the diagnosis. Experiences of abuse, homophobia, racism, poverty, and homelessness were all things I faced and suppressed. The more I told my story the more I felt liberated. Also, I found myself connecting with my students on a deeper level.  We all feel pain. We all understand feeling alone. Your broken pieces are what make you whole.

My Motto?

You are beautiful. You are powerful. You are stronger than you think.

I end my classes with that exact mantra.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

There are so many people who have inspired me on my fitness journey. Teaching Kristi Molinaro’s 30/60/90 program changed the way I teach all my classes. Her class is all about using every second as efficiently as possible. I take that sense of urgency into every class I teach.  Holly Rilinger and Rodrick Covington are my big sister and brother in my head. They use fitness as a platform to reach into people’s souls. They are also a joy to be around. Lisa Wheeler is also someone I look up too. She gave me one of my first jobs working on a DVD project called ‘The Firm” and I recently worked with her on 2 projects at The Daily Burn. She is an encyclopedia of knowledge. Frederick Schjang, Lynze Schiller, Ryan Makely, Richard Martinez, Kate Hickel, Alison Cohen, Natalie Cohen, Danielle D. Baum, Kara Bocchi, Damian Vella, Sabrina Cohen, Tracey Grossman, and so many other New York City instructors inspire me.

I have admired Dwayne Johnson, Beyoncé, Shaun T, Serena Williams, BJ Gaddour, Jay-Z, Kevin Hart, and Oprah Winfrey all from afar. My dream is to sit on the Super Soul Sunday couch with Oprah. I went to her “Life You Want Tour” and had my mind blown. The only thing missing from her OWN network is great fitness programming. I’m available Oprah!

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

Anywhere with a beach. Whenever I am on a beach I literally feel an instant sense of calm and ease.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

Nike Compression tights. Nike Sneakers. Nike performance tops. Nike everything.  I am also obsessed with a product called “Vocal Eaze”. It helps with the inevitable vocal fatigue that comes with teaching.

My Current Passions?

Finding different ways to reach people who feel helpless in this political climate. Middle Collegiate Church has always believed in spreading love and light. The work that Rev Jacqui Lewis is doing inspires me every day. Middle has given me multiple opportunities to host events for different marginalized groups.  We’ve raised money for LGBT Homeless Youth, The American Arab Association, Women in Media, and The Justice League.

I am also finding my way back into performing because I’ve missed singing and acting and getting back into the grind has been awesome. I recently completed my first year of acting classes at The William Esper Studio for Actors with Deb Epstein Jackel. The experience has been transformative. The work is all about digging deep and uncovering truthful responses to all of life’s experiences. It has helped me live more truthfully in my day to day life. The staff (specifically Laith Nakli) has also been very accommodating to me as well.

I am obsessed with podcasts and personal development books.  Brene Brown, Don Miguel Ruiz, Sam Crowley, and Tony Robbins are some of my favorites. You can have it all. Don’t limit yourself.

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