Taking it down a notch

Pilates, yoga and tai chi are among low-impact exercises that can bring
strength, flexibility and grace to a workout
Friday, August 1, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:05 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stationary bicycles, treadmills and weight rooms are not for everybody.

Local exercise facilities are catering to those who prefer low-impact workouts for the mind and body. Instructors say more alternative exercise classes are being offered around town. Yoga, Pilates and tai chi are examples of these classes and are recent additions to the Activity and Recreation Center of Columbia.

Lisa Groshong, an instructor at the ARC, depended on yoga for stress relief while attending graduate school in Alabama.

“It saved my life; if I hadn’t been doing yoga I think I would have lost my mind,” Groshong said.

Yoga grew out of a spiritual tradition of meditation, and the people who invented it were religious seekers. It is a mind and body enterprise that is great for strengthening, stretching and relaxing, she said. Yoga postures increase mobility and the range of motion of joints and muscles.

Groshong said she has seen an increase in the number of yoga instructors in Columbia over the last six years.

“When I started teaching yoga, there were only two other instructors in town,” Groshong said. “Now there are at least 10.”

Instructor Megan Hall has also noticed yoga classes “popping up all over the place.” She said it is a good trend if you can get into it and stick with it.

“Yoga adds years to your life, and life to your years,” Hall said.

Karen Ridge has attended Hall’s class at least once a week for months now. She believes yoga helps with relaxation, strength and balance, all things one loses with age.

“It’s one of the most relaxing, revitalizing things I’ve found to do,” Ridge said.

Ridge is not alone in her enthusiasm for yoga. According to a poll commissioned by Yoga Journal, an estimated 15 million Americans practiced yoga in 2002.

Pilates is another form of mind-body exercise gaining popularity in Columbia. The Pilates Method Alliance reported that about 5 million Americans were doing Pilates in 2002, more than double the 2.3 million participants in 2001.

“Pilates is strength training based on concentration, control and breathing,” said Noel Chase, an instructor at In Line Studio — The Pilates Center of Columbia.

Pilates is a form of exercise developed by Joseph Pilates, who worked with athletes, dancers and circus performers. Pilates is based on lengthening the muscles and supporting the spine. It relieves pain, teaches people how to stretch and helps participants remain injury-free, Chase said.

MU student Molly Rolek has taken both yoga and Pilates but prefers the latter because of her background in ballet. She said Pilates lengthens and strengthens muscles and “really makes you feel good when you leave the class.”

Chase, whose first experience with Pilates was as a guinea pig for a friend who was going through the certification process, said it changed her life.

“It enhances everything, it enhances life,” Chase said. “The stronger your center, the more freely you can move.”

Another form of low-impact exercise is the ancient Chinese exercise and self-defense system of tai chi, which is taught at the MU Recreation Center and Dexter’s International Tae Kwon Do. Tai chi uses slow, smooth body movements to achieve relaxation while strengthening the cardiovascular system.

Doris Evans, instructor at Dexter’s, said tai chi is not as easy as people think it is. While the movements are done slowly, each movement has a meaning and breathing is very important.

Evans says doing tai chi helps her Parkinson’s disease by improving her balance, strengthening her legs and keeping them from getting stiff.

While these three exercises are great for strength, balance and relaxation, they are not optimal for calorie burning. Chase said Pilates becomes more of a cardiovascular exercise with time, but it must be learned slowly and methodically.

Thomas Altena, a postdoctoral fellow in the exercise physiology program at MU, recognizes flexibility and balance as some of the primary benefits of low-impact exercises such as yoga and Pilates.

“It is a very positive trend in the area of muscular strength and flexibility, but when it comes to cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory benefit it is probably lacking,” Altena said.

If the goal is a thorough cardiovascular exercise and a change in cholesterol, Altena recommends running, cycling or swimming.

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