Part 1: Easy Does It
Why work out en masse instead of on your own? Unlike solo exercising, group fitness provides motivation and social interaction, as well as personalized instruction. And instruction is key when picking up something new. As the new millennium approaches, interest is booming in the Far Eastern forms of exercise, which are gentle and mindful of movement and total body conditioning. Simultaneously, at the opposite end of the spectrum, there's a resurgence of the hard-core, "no pain no gain"-style workouts of yesteryear. This two-part series explores both trends in group fitness and guides you to styles right for you. Look for Part Two in two weeks!
Yoga: Where Mind and Body Meet
Yoga, a discipline developed in India more than 5,000 years ago, is the mother of all mind-body exercises. Yoga focuses on postures that heighten awareness of the body, and it seeks to integrate mind and body. Yoga has many varieties including ashtanga (a challenging power yoga), viniyoga (which is slow and purposeful) and restorative yoga (which is very tranquil). The movements of yoga help develop balance and flexibility and teach you how to relax your mind and body. According to Donna Morton, a Los Angeles-based, certified yoga instructor, "It's important to stay inwardly focused on each position and listen to your body." In other words, pay attention to how your body moves and feels during each movement instead of just focusing on a result, such as beefed-up biceps.
Don't Get Caught in a Knot
One of the plusses of yoga is that it encourages you to work within your body's abilities. Instead of trying to match what the person next to you is doing or simply following the instructor, you'll learn to challenge yourself without overstepping your capabilities. How do you know if you've hit a boundary? Morton says, "Pain, shaking muscles or the desire to hold your breath while performing the movements are signs that you're pushing yourself too hard."
Pilates: Healing and Stretching
Pilates, a movement therapy which combines stretching with proper alignment, is lately attracting attention, but it has actually been around for some time. It was created in the 1920s by German-born Joseph Pilates, who studied a number of exercise forms, including yoga. Thanks to a background in engineering, Pilates was able to design full-body workout equipment, which he used as physical therapy for himself and others. More recently, Pilates has been popularized by the dance world because of its emphasis on posture and flexibility. Pilates addresses issues of injury prevention, correct breathing, dynamic stretching (stretching while moving as opposed to stretching and holding) and strengthening.