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Making music with muscle power – Leipzig start-up develops unique fitness method

Leipzig-based start-up Jymmin transforms movements into music. Fitness machines similar to those found at the gym are fitted with sensitive sensors which translate arm and leg motions into harmonious rhythms and melodies. Sophisticated software ensures that Jymmin always sounds good. Members of the group actually feel a bit like musicians in a band. Jymmin is a combination of the words “gym” and “jamming”, i.e. improvising music together.

No previous experience or musical talent are required for Jymmin, however. Professional athletes and rehab patients are already enthusiastic users of the new exercise technique. Developed in the heart of Saxony, this workout method unleashes feelings of happiness and has been proven to have many positive effects on mind and body. We visited its creator, Prof. Tom Fritz, in his Leipzig workshop and tried out Jymmin for ourselves.

What is Jymmin?

Prof. Fritz, with Jymmin you have combined exercise and music in a completely new way. How did you come up with the idea?

I’m what you might call a music addict. I love playing all kinds of musical instruments, though I wouldn’t claim to be an expert at them. Jymmin brings together music and movement to trigger a real sense of euphoria. Personally, I can’t think of anything better than that!

Prof. Fritz in portrait

That sounds great! How would you describe the effect to someone who has never tried it?

The feeling you get is comparable to the runner’s high. Experienced athletes usually feel this after they have been running for about half an hour. With Jymmin, everyone can reach this level of euphoria within just ten minutes.

We’ve heard that Jymmin has quite an exciting history.

Yes, the idea emerged about ten years ago following an ethnomusicological fieldwork project. I was visiting the Mafa people, some of whom live in an isolated area in the Mandara Mountains in northern Cameroon, near the borders of Nigeria and Chad. It’s like stepping back in time to the Iron Age. I was there to explore how music was perceived by people who had never heard western instruments before.

While I was there, I found out that the Mafa themselves use ancient techniques that combine music and physical exertion to achieve states we would regard as musical trances or ecstasy. On my return to Germany, I looked for a way to translate these probably thousand-year-old traditions into something that could be understood in a Western context and used without any risks to health.

What groups benefit from Jymmin in particular?

We’ve been using Jymmin with high-performance athletes and various patient groups for about three years now. One of the things we’ve noticed is that people who exercise with Jymmin after suffering a stroke have much better motor skills after two weeks than they would have had with conventional exercise techniques.

Even patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s or are in a persistent vegetative state respond to Jymmin on an entirely instinctive level. We also work with traumatised refugees in Leipzig. Now that we have officially established ourselves as a company, we can offer our services to a larger number of customers in Germany and also abroad.

What positive developments have you and your research team observed?

The combination of music and movement makes the workout feel only half as strenuous. Participants experience an improvement in mood that lasts for an extended period. They are also less sensitive to pain. We have also noted that Jymmin reduces feelings of anxiety. Children with learning difficulties are able to concentrate better after a Jymmin session. We also found that Jymmin had many positive social effects when we used it in a rehabilitation centre for former drug addicts – that was a surprise even for the carers.

[Translate to Englisch:] Dirk Gummel kümmert sich Jymmin um die Entwicklung der Sensoren, die die Übertragung von Bewegungen in Musik ermöglichen.

And on top of that there’s the “band effect”…

Exactly! If you take part in Jymmin and actually create the music yourself, you enjoy it much more than if you just passively listen to music. That’s something which always happens when people come together to make music. For example, with Jymmin a grandfather can play drum ‘n’ bass with his grandson and both of them will really enjoy it!

So, were managers of health and rehabilitation centres open to the idea of Jymmin?

Our combination of music and exercise is completely new and unique. It’s astonishing how much interest potential partners from the health and fitness sector have shown in it. We are deliberately breaking away from the principle that good athletic movements need to be exact and controlled from beginning to end, and that you should be able to keep count.

How do you explain the fact that Jymmin works so well?

I believe it’s mainly because people are able to express themselves emotionally while at the same time being in a physically energised state. That is something you would normally only experience in particularly intense social interactions and emotional situations, perhaps even where it’s a matter of life or death. In such a state, we activate more motor control resources – so-called emotional motor control, which is often especially effective and precise. For example, think about the motor control needed for us to regulate our intonation. It comes easily to us. But if we try and simulate speech patterns for an audio book in a recording studio, they are extremely difficult to reproduce in a way that sounds believable.

You had several offers to set up your company abroad. Despite that, you chose to base yourselves in Leipzig. What convinced you?

I must confess that the brilliant team of co-inventors I work with here in Leipzig is one of the main reasons why I want to make this city my home permanently.

There is also the fact that we’ve taken our company forward an incredibly long way here in Leipzig without very much money. We would have needed a disproportionate amount of funding to do that anywhere else, and the company would probably no longer belong to us now. What’s more, in Saxony we work with a range of organisations including the Leipzig outpatient clinic for cognitive neurology, the Mosaik Association, Arnsdorf Hospital and Dresden University Hospital.

Find out more about Jymmin here.

Photos by ©Anne Schwerin