Tag Archives: fitness

Yoga better than Pilates for overall strength

The following news item contradicts the conventional wisdom that yoga is not a good physical workout and, in fact, is better than Pilates for general fitness.

NY TimesAsk Well: Pilates vs. Yoga
“The upshot? Pilates may be preferable if your primary goal is a solid core, but if you’re hoping to strengthen your upper body and goose your push-up tally, you’ll probably accomplish more with sun salutations and other yoga moves.”

Of course, these studies are small slices of the human experience. You can lose weight maintaining any exercise regime that helps you burn more calories than you consume, and 30 minutes of walking three times a week can meet the minimum requirements for a healthy life style.

NIH CORE Week gets nice advance write-up

The Washington Post gave the NIH CORE (COnditioning and RElaxation) Week (February 9-13) a nice curtain-raiser for the event in A Free Opportunity to Give Your Body and Your Brain a Boost:

The offerings include a talk by Acklin, a neurologist and founder of All Is Well Yoga, on “Responsibility and Empowerment in Creating a Life of Vitality”; a time management workshop; an intro to the “energy-balancing” practice of reiki; a whole lot of Pilates classes; and a number of surprises, such as a hip-hop dance tutorial led by CORE Week organizer Rachel Permuth-Levine.

The fact that Rachel has earned good street cred allowed her to get such a nice writeup before the event actually took place, which is when you need the publicity, not after the fact. Of course, I should have spotted this article earlier in the week and pointed to it, but at least I posted about the NIH CORE Week before. I hear that all the sessions really went well.

Need a reason to exercise? Read this book

Cover of the book SparkIf you ever need an intellectual motivation to get you off your butt and into an active program of exercise, read Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey (Little Brown and Company, New York, 2008). I found it an informative read, which gave compelling arguments why you should engage in systematic physical exercise. He mined thousands of scientific research papers to underpin his work in objective findings. He synthesizes the information into 303 pages, but wrapped it in an engaging narrative around it so that you don’t fall asleep due to dry scientific writing. He also drew on his own case studies with patients and a few amazing experiments in applying physical exercise to learning environments.
Ratey’s subheading to the title is “Supercharge your mental circuits to beat stress, shapen your thinking, list your mood, boost your memory, and much more.” Sounds as if he’s peddling some kind of miracle drug, but it’s just plain, ol’ sweat, muscles and grunts.

“The prescription … varies from varies from person to person, but the research consistently shows that the more fit you are, the more resilient your brain becomes and the better it functions both cognitively and psychologically.” (p. 247)

To cut to the chase, his formula calls for 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise, usually running or equivalent intensity exercise, six times a week. On two days, he recommends five short sprints (30 seconds max) injected into a normal session (the max intervals seem to trigger the body’s optimization). Strength-training helps maintain or build muscle and bone mass, which can be affected by the aging process. Ratey also suggests that yoga, tai chi, martial arts or other similar activities be added to improve balance and flexibility, as well as body awareness and concentration. Obviously, it takes time, discipline and effort to work up to the condition of being able to sustain aerobic exercise for such long periods, but you will be rewarded.

Exercise has an impact on the brain’s neuroplasticity, creating new neurons as the building blocks. Ratey covered stress, anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder, addiction, hormonal change (menopause in women) and aging in separate chapters. Far and away the best thing you can do for your brain power, mental health and physical well-being is an active daily exercise regime.

Ratey gets down to the complex, inter-related chemical processes and components that create and balance the neurotransmitters that fire up the brain within the human body. Ratey’s conclusions are not new. There has been a steady drumbeat of stories in newspapers, magazines and on the web about how physical exercise can radically improve mental performance, ward off illnesses and aging and overcome mental disorders, like depression. He emphasized that it’s necessary to engage in physical exercise every day, both to make it a consistent habit and to make the body respond appropriately.

Ratey is a researcher and neuro-psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School who earned a reputation working on attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). More information is available on his website and his blog, which links to news stories and features about his new book.

Time magazine says says yoga can have a negative side

Time When Yoga Hurts is an example of the backlash in the media against trendy yoga. It points out that “over the past three years, 13,000 Americans were treated in an emergency room or a doctor’s office for yoga-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.” What else does the article say: that people overextend themselves because they think that yoga is benign; that some classes take place in adverse conditions (Bikram’s 105 degrees F) or many teachers are not well-prepared to deal with students. In other words, practitioners face the same risks with yoga as they do with other exercise regimes. More to the point, the Time writer says that yoga is just plain wimpy as a way to get into shape:

The truth is, yoga, regardless of the form, doesn’t offer a comprehensive way to get fit. According to a study by the American Council on Exercise, a national nonprofit organization that certifies fitness instructors and promotes physical fitness, dedicated yoga practitioners show no improvement in cardiovascular health. It’s not the best way to lose weight either. A typical 50-min. class of hatha yoga, one of the most popular styles of yoga in the U.S., burns off fewer calories than are in three Oreos–about the same as a slow, 50-min. walk. Even power yoga burns fewer calories than a comparable session of calisthenics. And while yoga has been shown to alleviate stress and osteoarthritis, it doesn’t develop the muscle-bearing strength needed to help with osteoporosis.

There are so many types of yoga and varying paces of classes even within styles, that it’s really hard to say flat out what the final balance sheet is for yoga. Yoga never evolved as the complete answer for physical conditioning. I am sure that some teachers could make a case for their style of yoga (Baron Baptiste, for one) being better suited that more sedentary styles.

Yoga’s a lot better than no exercise at all. It deals with aspects that are ignored by other exercise regimes by taping into the spiritual and mental realms. I have started to adding more work in the gym, getting back to jogging after giving it up nearly a decade ago, and adding some weight-lifting for strength. But I don’t think that I would have approached physical exercise as consistently, systematically and sensitively without the body awareness that yoga has given me. It also addresses flexibility, which is a major constraint for me.

Searching for a new yoga opportunity

On Tuesday evening, my wife and I went exploring at another Bally Fitness, Wheaton, where yoga classes are given. Brand new facilities make the exercise space inviting, especially since it has hardwood floors and a wall of mirrors. The area was also separate from the rest of the gym so it was quiet, without the clanking of weightlifting machines and other distractions. The instructor was an older guy, bald with a flowing white beard — he kind of looks like Dr. Adam Weill. He led us through a eclectic routine that included Tao Chi and yogic chanting at the end. He gave good verbal clues for the postures and movements. It was not as physically demanding as my other Bally instructor. It was the first class in the new facilities so it may not be indicative of the usual routine.

The reason that we started exploring is that my Bally instructor at the Rockville gym is cutting back to just Sunday morning classes. Both gyms offer these classes free of charge — it’s part of our monthly dues.

I’ve been holding back on my more structured classes at TranquilSpace because I still have lower back pain and do not want to stress it. I do miss the more physically challenging classes and the closer supervision of the instructors.

A new wrinkle to my yoga practice

I took two one-hour yoga classes at my gym this past weekend. It’s advertised as Ashtanga yoga, but I think Bally Fitness is stretching the definition. I suspect it’s closer to Pilates than Mysore. Compared to my vinyasa I classes at TranquilSpace, it was relatively easy.

There was strong attendance — the exercise area was full, though a more orderly approach might have crammed more people into the space — both on a Friday evening and a Sunday morning. I’d think around 30 people, maybe more. It was a mixed bag of students — older, retirement age folks and younger people. I got the impression this was an opportunity for people to get their toes wet in the yogic ocean. Some people did not have much body-awareness.

Loud, upbeat music — no Krishna Das kirtan chants — and the instructor, Sophia, was miked so that her voice could be heard over the clanging weights and exercise machines. She led the class as if it were an aerobics class, from a podium. I saw her come down once to correct someone technique. She verbally corrected a few others. At TransquilSpace, you get a lots more hands on teaching. Physical space is definitely tighter, but the atmosphere is more conducive to yoga.

We did lots of sun salutations, but kept them pretty simple. She demoed several modifications if anyone wanted to be adventurous. No inversions — you don’t want to embarrass novices before the whole gym so that they never come back.

Hey, the classes are free with Bally membership so you can’t complain.

I view this as kind of halfway between my TranquilSpace classes and my home practice. It will improve my overall conditioning and flexibility and make me work on problem areas (balance, for instance). I can do a cardiovascular workout either before or afterwards. I could easy outgrow the group because it does not offer much learning space.