Fitness For Your Body and Mind
by Lisamarie Lamb
Yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi are all wonderful ways of keeping your body and your mind healthy and in the best possible shape. Although similar, these three ancient arts are actually different in terms of what they can do to benefit you. Each one works different areas of the body and alleviates a different kind of ache or pain, and yet each one can, if done right with a good instructor and the correct frame of mind, quite substantially improve your quality of life.
It may feel as though yoga has only been around for a few years, but it actually originated around 4,000 years ago – and it hasn’t changed too much since then. The idea behind yoga is that it unites the body and mind, and allows the practitioner to become one with him or herself. Perhaps it sounds rather mystical and strange to beginners, but for those who have tried yoga, that bonding of body and soul doesn’t sound so farfetched. There is a remarkable moment in yoga when complete relaxation occurs, when your mental and physical faculties really do seem to meld into one. For some, that is the ultimate goal in studying yoga. For others it is off putting and shows them that yoga is not their cup of tea at all.
There are different strands of yoga, each one slightly different and focusing on its own area of the body or mind. However, there are some components that are the same for each style. These are: breathing techniques, meditation (and a relaxed state of mind), and the perfect body position and posture.
The great thing about yoga is that it is for everyone. It is safe as it is not a strenuous form of exercise, and the basics behind it are that all bodies can be trained to be the best they can be. For young or old, healthy or unhealthy, yoga can help. As with any form of exercise, though, it is best to check with your doctor if you have a back or neck condition, just to make sure that yoga is the best way to deal with it. Once you have been given the go ahead, yoga is an effective and enjoyable way to soothe these pains without making them worse.
Yoga is ideal for healing injured muscles. It can even speed up recovery time and prevent the injury from re-occurring, which is a serious danger when it comes to muscle related problems. Speak to your yoga teacher about what ails you, and they will be able to show you the best techniques to stop the pain and make you feel on top of the world.
Once thought to be the exercise regime of the rich and elite, Pilates is now more mainstream, and that’s all to the good. A decade ago it was barely known, but now it seems that everyone wants to try it. So what is it and where did it come from? It’s all down to a man named Joseph Pilates who came to England in 1912 from Germany, but was considered to be an ‘enemy alien’ at the outbreak of WWI, and was imprisoned. During his interment, Pilates came up with a new exercise regime that suited his closed quarters. He used what he had available, including prison hospital beds, and was soon able to train easily.
When he was released, Pilates returned to Germany where he continued to train in his own style. It caught on, and soon enough the idea of ‘doing Pilates’ spread across Germany, across Europe, and across the world. Eventually, those who had learned under Pilates himself began to teach the technique to others. A new craze was born, and it’s still going strong today.
Pilates is about strengthening and stretching, and improves balance, muscle strength and flexibility, so it is extremely popular with dancers. As well as these physical benefits, Pilates also relieves stress and tension. Although less spiritual than yoga, it nonetheless still helps the mind to reach a state of relaxation, which is essential if you want to forget about the day-to-day strains of life for a while. Yoga is about posture and balance – Pilates is about flexibility and movement.
When used to target specific areas, such as back pain, Pilates can be an effective source of relief, and it is possible to create a bespoke workout using Pilates’ principles in order to target your specific problem area.
Tai chi is another effective and fun way of keeping fit and healthy in both mind and body. It is different to both yoga and Pilates in that it is actually a form of martial art, although it is far from the kicking, punching, running idea that many people have when they think of these ancient Chinese sports. Dating back around 2,500 years, it is all about graceful, flowing movements that began life as part of traditional Chinese medicine. The original idea behind tai chi was to find a form of self-defence that not only promoted strength and speed, but that also promoted inner peace and calm, allowing someone to defend themselves without getting hurt.
There are more than 3,000 different versions of tai chi, but the principles behind each one are the same as they were all those centuries ago – strength is not about being the biggest, it is about knowing how the body works and using it well. In tai chi, each exercise is designed to enable your ‘qi’ (pronounced ‘chee’), or life force, to flow smoothly and effortlessly, making each part of your body strong and supple and ready for anything.
In each different strand of tai chi there are a set number of movements. This number can range from anywhere from 24 to 108 depending on which discipline you choose to follow.
Tai chi has been proven to boost self-confidence, to aid balance and prevent falls, to promote relaxation and stress free living, and to strengthen the body in general, leading to a healthier life. Some even suggest that practising tai chi means living longer, although there have been no studies to confirm this idea.