Looking good, feeling fit
With Memorial Day behind us the summer season has officially begun and vacation plans are imminent. Along with concerns about having the proper sunscreen, airline tickets, chicest fashions and a great beach read, the average person is also thinking long and hard about getting into shape (or getting into even better shape). So whether you have a Lilly Pulitzer caftan or a Dioressence Sexy Swim suit in your future, everyone wants to slim down for summer. Here is an overview of some of the many fitness trends, new and old, that are being practiced around town to help promote inner and outer beauty. Yoga has officially become a mainstream practice now that Washington Sports Clubs and Gold's Gym have multiple classes per week at almost every location. Despite how prevalent this fitness trend is, it seems that many people are still searching for answers about what is the best studio and style of yoga for them. Although there are many styles of yoga, the variances usually center around which principles are focused on (such as breathing, length of postures, flow from one position to the next). There are several major styles of yoga listed below, but limitless variations. While no one style of yoga is better or worse than another, you will probably have a personal preference based on your individual fitness goals.
Pilates exploded onto the fitness scene in the late 1990's, although Joseph Pilates developed this system of body and mind exercise in the 1920's. Early devotees loved the long, lean of their muscles and most of all the benefits to the lower abdominal region. Pilates consists of a specific series of isometric exercises designed to stretch and strengthen the deep abdominal and back muscles, improve posture, and create an overall streamlined shape as well as flexibility and balance. There are two forms of Pilates, mat exercises or machine classes. One notable difference to the machine classes is that they are conducted on a one-on-one basis with a trained instructor who ensures that your alignment is correct and that each of the postures is being performed as it was intended. Mat classes are now offered at many gyms and are significantly less expensive than machine classes. Pilates, like yoga, is taught to varying degrees of authenticity and you should always inquire about an instructors training and background.
A new form of exercise to come to Washington is the Gyrotonic Expansion System
which combines elements of yoga, ballet, t'ai chi, and swimming to increase the
functioning and capacity of the body. Billed as being more circular than Pilates,
this exercise focuses on a sense of relaxation and tension relief through the circular
movements, combined with yogic breathing, by using specially designed machines.
By focusing on the “seed center” or lower abdominal area, it allows the diaphragm
area freedom to move and breathe and effectively targets the lower abdominal region.
Like Pilates, there are also gyrokenesis mat classes, a non-machine format, a flowing
yoga with a dance like quality to it. Classes begin with a self-massage on a chair, then
progressing onto mat and standing exercises. Master Trainer, Alisa Sowler, a 15-year
career as a Gyrotonic Instructor and former Washington Ballet dancer, recommends
doing Gyrotonics twice a week, and says it blends well with other forms of exercise.
Gyrotonic programs are currently practiced exclusively at studio infinity.
Another new exercise to reach Washington is BalleCore, which Sports Club / LA
began offering in January. It integrates Pilates, Hatha Yoga and Ballet in a workout
suitable for all ages and fitness levels. This 50-minute workout is a combination of
physical and mental conditioning and balletic moves designed to develop strength
and power in your body's core muscles. The mat class format begins with stretching
followed by exercises designed to strengthen and elongate your core muscles before
progressing into exercise with the free-standing BalleCore Barre™, all designed to
challenge your center, which ultimately improves balance and symmetry in your
body. It is helpful to have a Pilates background, but not necessary. BalleCore is
also great for older women because it is low impact and stresses abdominal work
An often neglected means of getting fit is massage, which has so many medicinal
benefits overall, and can be as important as exercise to your health. Whether you
are looking to relax, soothe aching muscles, or increase blood circulation, massage
is an excellent way to release physical and emotional stresses. Massage can work on
specific constricted areas, which inhibit your proper form in your exercise routine,
as poor form can lead to further injury.
Home massage is the ultimate in luxurious
comfort, so treat yourself!
Ashtanga may be the perfect yoga for people seeking a serious workout. This
physically demanding style of yoga has participants move through a series of flows
(vinyasas), jumping from one posture to the next to build strength, flexibility and
stamina. Often referred to as Power Yoga, this is not recommended for beginners.
Bikram, also known as hot yoga, is where the room temperate is turned up very high
and you perform a series of 26 postures (asanas) designed to accelerate the rate of
change in the body, improve circulation and reduce the risk of injury during deep
stretching. The 90 minute classes were designed for the Western person, with an
added focus on physical strength, flexibility and balance, while enhancing mental
clarity and focus.
This vigorous approach emphasizes a balance between strength and flexibility, builds
endurance, and develops self-awareness through precision in movement and attention
to subtle aspects of posture and breath, mind and spirit. This style of yoga is noted
for great attention to detail and the precise alignment of postures, as well as the use
of props such as blocks and belts.
Kripalu puts emphasis on proper breath, alignment, harmonization of breath and
movement, and is often said to be the yoga of consciousness. Focus is put on
listening to your body and its response to each position, helping the student to
develop their awareness of mind, body, emotion and spirit.
Known for its meditative and creative sequences, the basic principle of vinyasa is
for asanas to be linked by the breath in an evolutionary flow, vinyasa yoga stresses
listening, observing and assessing yourself so that you can respond effectively and
creatively to the present moment from your most challenging edge to the depths of
relaxation and surrender.
Named for its founder, who says “The secret of Power Yoga's success, is in taking the best of Eastern traditions while recognizing American's need for a vigorous workout.” This yoga is performed in a heated setting and has been called a combination of strength, sweat and spirituality, meant to heal, detoxify and electrify the body and mind at their deepest levels. Previously taught only in Boston by Baron himself, “affiliate studios” (Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga taught by teachers trained by Baron Baptiste) have begun opening, including one in the Washington area, Down Dog Yoga. Down Dog Yoga (www.downdogyoga.com) 1046 Potomac Street, NW (202) 965-9642
Which type of exercise is right for you? Fitness expert and owner of Fitness for Life Georgetown, David Keller offers the following advice, “Don't do it if it isn't fun. If it is fun you will want to do it more often. Don't ask what the optimum number of times per week that I should work out…ask what is the number of times a week I can work out week after week, year after year. It's consistency, not frequency.” Whichever type of fitness you choose, be sure to research the qualifications of those instructing you, and always consult your physician when beginning a new exercise regimen.
The Sports Club/LA (www.thesportsclubla.com)