Yoga is a physical discipline involving postures (asanas) along with breathing techniques. There are different types of yoga. Hatha yoga is the traditional and most common. Its movements are slow and you learn to control your breathing, helping to increase body awareness. Different kinds of props such as blocks, chairs, blankets and belts are used to adjust your body to the different postures. This allows you to work in a range of motion that is safe and effective for you. Power yoga or Ashtanga yoga involves matching your breathing with a progressive series of postures. This process produces intense internal heat and an abundant, purifying sweat that cleanses muscles and organs.
People often explore yoga to increase flexibility, help with relaxation and calm the mind. However, great gains in co-ordination, balance and strength can also be discovered through this activity. Special focus is placed on the body being lined up correctly in postures. This strengthens, purifies and balances the endocrine (glands that release hormones), nervous and circulatory (blood) systems. Yoga is helpful for all kinds of people. Busy people use it to manage stress, pregnant women use it to prepare for the birth of their child, and top athletes use it to focus on a high level of performance and to recover from injuries.
As with yoga, there are different types of Tai Chi. Chen style of Tai Chi, or “Lao Jia,” involves sudden slow and quick jerky movements. Created from this form is a new style called Yang Style Tai Chi. In this type, speed is steady and movements are soft, light and flow continuously. This more common and simpler style is more suitable for all ages and health conditions. Tai Chi also teaches how to cultivate Chi (or energy), circulate it through the body and use it for health and self-defence. The knowledge, style of teaching and personality of instructors can vary quite widely, so it is important to choose an instructor who you like.
Tai Chi has many benefits. Mind and body meditation, relaxation and stress relief are the major advantages. It also increases flexibility, balance and coordination. Other reported benefits include improved blood circulation through the exercise of internal organs, relief of arthritis pain, improved mental and physical concentration, and a stronger immune (defence) system.
Pilates is a special set of exercises designed to give a total body workout. It comes from the work of Joseph Pilates and dancers, who began using the method during the 1920s to build strength and prevent injuries. This is a gentle workout that builds strength without adding bulk (builds long, lean muscle). It balances strength with flexibility, and achieves harmony between mind and muscle. The body is retrained to work efficiently with the least effort and no tension. A Pilates session can be a mat workout on the floor. It might also involve equipment such as the Reformer, which uses varied spring-loaded resistance rather than weights. Generally, Pilates is done either one-on-one with a private instructor or in a closely supervised small group.
One of the main benefits of Pilates is improved core (abdominal and low back) strength. As well, Pilates improves circulation, flexibility, posture and body alignment. The goal is to develop long, lean and strong muscles. People who regularly train in Pilates also report increased energy levels, better sleep habits, and find that their bodies work and move more effectively.
During deep water running, the person is positioned vertically in neck-level water, unable to touch the bottom of the pool. Typically a floatation device or belt is worn to assist in staying afloat and keeping a vertical position. The water allows for body movements to be slowed down and taken through a full range of motion. The water provides a constant resistance, giving running muscles a full workout.
A person is able to run while supported by the water, reducing the stress of gravity on the body. The repeated pounding from high-impact forces that joints experience when running on land is gone. Water running is very good for maintaining fitness while injured, and is also a good method of cross-training. It can be used to supplement your regular training program and to promote gains in speed, strength, flexibility, balance and especially endurance.
These group classes are guided by certified instructors. Classes combine specially designed bikes and visual images to imitate riding outdoors. Bikes are generally arranged in a semi-circle and encouraging music is played. The instructor leads the class through a journey that brings to mind different terrains and includes a variety of skills such as climbing steep hills, pedaling with high resistance and going for top speed. The class is given instructions to increase resistance, speed up and stand in the pedals.
Classes focus on improving the health and function of the cardiovascular system. A major benefit of this type of exercise is that it is low-impact and kinder to your joints. In a class setting you are likely to work harder and at a higher level of intensity than if you were out for a leisurely ride on your own. However, since you control the resistance on your bike, you are in charge of how hard you work. Another benefit is that there is no need to learn any complex dance steps. All you need to be able to do is pedal.
Core stability training generally refers to strengthening the deep abdominal and low back muscles. These muscles form the basis of movement of the body. They act like a corset to provide support around your lower spine. Instructors will often use phrases like “Pull your belly button towards your back bone without moving your spine” to teach how to activate these muscles. Core stability classes are more than just sit-ups. They usually involve a variety of exercises to strengthen different muscles of the abdomen and back. Exercise balls, fit balls, or Swiss balls have many different names and are often used in these classes. They have been around since the early 1960s when they were used for rehabilitation. Now they add a fresh challenge to core stability. Whether sitting on the ball, lying on it, or holding it with your legs or arms, the ball provides support, resistance or weight.
The theory is that with a strong core, your posture improves, your back is better protected from injury and your limbs are better supported through any range of movement. Other benefits include improved flexibility and balance and better posture.
Don’t forget about the benefits of making exercise a little more social. Sign up with a recreational league to play volleyball, basketball, softball, soccer or Ultimate Frisbee™. Or, if you are unsure of what new exercises or sports to try, you can always use a personal trainer. Having someone oversee your technique and exercise program ensures you are exercising properly. Personal trainers are also a great way to increase your chances of sticking to regular exercise.
These activities are all suitable for people young and old, regardless of how active they are. You can do the exercises at your own level, even though you may be in a class setting. They allow you to work only as hard as you want to. Be sure to always monitor your level of exertion and how hard you are working your body physically.
Whatever you decide to do with your exercise routine, be sure to keep it fun and remember, as the saying goes, “Variety is the spice of life!”