Relax your way to a better body
As you are reading this, is your back hunched over? Are your shoulders tight? Is your head tilted to one side? Stop. Take a deep breath and 'fix' your body. Feel better? Look better?
There, you've just made a 'mind-body connection'. That is, you've tuned into how body positioning can make a big difference in how you look and feel. Simple modifications done on a regular basis can help improve your appearance and comfort level. This also translates into increased energy, improved athletic performance and reduced injury.
Learning how to control your body through mind cues is not a new concept, but it's certainly a hot area in the exercise world. Below we explain four mind-body-fitness options.
Origins: The techique was named after Joseph H. Pilates, a carpenter who developed this unique exercise system in the 1920s for injured dancers.
Basic description: Pilates can be done in two ways - either in private lessons on specially designed equipment or in a group 'mat' class. You won't do a lot of repetitions of each move, but it is intense work even for those who are extremely fit.
Benefits: Pilates creates strength without bulk and it lengthens and stretches your muscles as it creates postural awareness. The technique focuses on the 'powerhouse' muscles including the abs, back, glutes and overall thighs.
Origins: Developed in India more than 5,000 years ago, yoga is now more popular than ever. Many classes have a spiritual element, though there's a yoga class for everyone - even if you're looking for disco yoga or urban yoga.
Basic description: Typically, you perform a series of poses and postures while focusing on your breathing and relaxing your mind. Some classes involve chanting, prayer, candles or incense.
Benefits: Yoga promotes deep relaxation, body awareness, strength and flexibility. It's a great stress-buster.
Origins: This ancient Chinese exercise form was originally prescribed as a treatment for illness. Today it is enjoyed all over the world as a gentle way to stretch and strengthen the body as well as calm the mind. It's less structured and technical than Pilates or yoga, so there is not much of a learning curve.
Basic description: By using meditation, visualisation, breathing and slow, easy movements you restore balance of a life-giving force called qi ('chee') and remove 'energy blockages'. In some classes, you move through poses similar to those in yoga; in others your teacher may ask you to move spontaneously, roll objects between your palms or meditate while walking slowly.
Benefits: Qi gong will help you feel relaxed yet energetic. It teaches you how to breathe properly and promotes flexibility and strength. Qi gong is also accessible to virtually all ages and fitness levels.
Origins: The Alexander Method was developed by an Australian-born actor in the early 1900s. It focuses on the subtle 're-education' of everyday movement patterns to achieve big differences in body awareness, posture and body comfort. Today there are several thousand Alexander instructors worldwide.
Basic description: You perform basic activities such as standing up and walking while an Alexander teacher gives you cues and adjustments to help you improve the way you move. Much of the work is very subtle, concentrating on positioning of the head, neck and torso.
Benefits: This technique helps free your muscles from tension that may be impeding movement or causing pain. It restores muscular balance by increasing awareness of how muscles should operate and helps you unlearn poor postural habits and movement patterns.
Nella Lendvai, Fitness Instructor, World Class Health Academy