When talk turns to fitness most of us tend to think about the obvious things jogging, swimming and power-walking. But what about alternative ways to tone up the body?
Leila McKinnon puts yoga, tai chi and pilates to the test to see if these three methods can lead to a better-toned body.
More Australians practice yoga than Aussie rules. It is said to be good for blood pressure and digestion, but above all else it's a stress-buster.
We're more used to seeing Charli Delaney giving a high-energy performance on the Channel Nine kids' show High Five, and it's yoga that puts that spring in her step. "I sleep better, I feel so much more healthy and invigorated after every class, just regrouped and ready to film again the next day."
Charli's a fan of Bikram yoga, which is done in a room, heated to around 40 degrees. Bikram yoga teacher Alex Stone says it's all about the sweat factor.
"Heats up your muscles, connective tissues, so it makes the stretching much safer, much more effective and also it's just a great cleanse. It's all about detoxing and sweating out all the nasties."
Yoga has been around for 5000 years. Teacher Christian Simpson says it has seven elements but the three most people would use are:
- Asanas the postures people have to try and get into
- Pranayama the breathing techniques
Scientific studies have proven that yoga is not just great for stress, but has real benefits for your body.
"On the inside the organs get a good massage. So it's not simply working with the muscles and the bones but also with the organs, so the whole body is being looked after really well," says Christian.
Yoga classes cost around $18. Proponents say it's great for stress, blood pressure and digestion. If you'd like to give it a go here are some tips:
- Go at your own pace.
- Don't strain to do the postures it's not supposed to hurt.
- Inform your teacher of health problems.
- You'll need to do two to three sessions a week to really see a difference.
So, after 90 minutes in a 40-degree sweat-box, how did Leila feel? "Well that truly was enjoyable. It's pretty intense but I feel like I've achieved something and I do feel a little bit invigorated. It's good to know you can take it step by step depending on how good you are, but I will definitely be back."
Leila's next workout is the ancient art of tai chi. It looks like kung fu in slow motion because that's basically what it is.
Tai chi is all about feeling the force. The Chinese believe doing it keeps the chi flowing through your body and keeps you healthy. Chi is what the Chinese call our life force or energy, it circulates around the body to maintain the balance of our yin and yang.
"Every time when I practise Tai Chi, when I finish, I feel alive, feel great," says Kellen Chia, a grandmaster and tai chi instructor.
Leila joined Kellen's class on Sydney harbour. Leila's guide is Gabrielle Hancock who took up tai chi two-and-a-half years ago and is now such an enthusiast she does it every day.
"It's helped me control my blood pressure. It used to be high and I used to medicate. Now I use no medication and it's low. It's improved my memory, my physical flexibility has improved and my balance has improved and I don't get colds, viruses and flus. I actually haven't been sick for two-and-a-half years," she says.
Now if tai chi seems like a walk in the park compared to other kinds of exercise, don't be deceived it's trickier than it seems.
Leila: These movements are quite precise. I'm sure I 'm getting it all wrong.
Gabrielle: It actually helps you with your memory because they're all done from memory and you're breathing at a certain time, your eyes are at a certain point, it's quite complicated.
That complexity is tai chi's secret over the centuries each movement has been carefully honed so they unlock clogged muscles and minds.
- Tai chi is open to all ages and all fitness levels.
- You can start with just one 20-minute session a week.
- It'll set you back about $12 a class.
"Well I found tai chi very relaxing but actually more challenging than it looks. There's a lot going on below the surface. Definitely worth visiting again," says Leila.
Pilates is said to be particularly good for people with bad backs. It's a lot more modern than yoga or tai chi and was started last century by Joseph Pilates.
But what is it? Well it's a bit of a mish-mash of ballet, yoga, gymnastics and even zen meditation.
Leila had a one-on-one session with instructor Allan Menezes. Allan got into Pilates 23 years ago after a back injury. It's said to be great for back problems because it focuses on strengthening your core muscles the ones that support the trunk of your body, especially the abdominals.
"The fact is, Pilates works your abdominals more than most other exercise types," says Allan.
There are two kinds of Pilates:
- Mat-based, where your body weight provides the resistance for your muscles to work against.
- Equipment-based, where machines provide the resistance. The only real difference is that the machines provide a stronger resistance.
Pilates has a bit of a girly image, but Ken Yun says it's just as tough as touch footy. He signed up after a back injury and says it's really helped. "It strengthened my core, strengthened my tummy muscles up and my back muscles and now I rarely get the problem."
If you'd like to give it a go, experts recommend starting with a one-on-one session which costs up to a $100. After that, a mat class is about $18 and equipment classes about $40.
But remember, if you're overweight, pregnant or have an existing medical condition, check with your doctor before you try any new exercise regime.
- Most forms of yoga are considered non-aerobic exercise, so what does aerobic actually mean? The answer is: "with air" in exercise it means an activity that is continuous, rhythmic and uses lots of muscle groups like running or cycling.
- What does yin and yang mean? Yin represents our feminine side and yang our masculine. The Chinese believe you need both in perfect balance to be healthy.