17 June, 2008

fitness- East meets West

Six thousand years ago in Northern China, a tribal people settled along the shores of the Yellow River. These people had not developed a national identity, and lived by tending herds, agriculture, hunting and fishing, without straying far from the banks of the river. Their chieftains had unusual powers: they knew healing secrets of plants and animals, spoke with invisible entities, and the river waters seemed to bend to their will. They were the first Taoists. Their practices were meditation, cultivation of the body, sacred ceremonies and magical arts. Among the refined techniques they used to nurture their health and relax their minds, there was Chi Gung - Chi Kung - Qi Gong - Qigong. Today millions of people of any age are learning those harmonious movements of such ancient origins, for their stress management, relaxation, and natural healing, wellness and longevity properties.

Described by the ancient Indian scriptures as the communion of the individual soul (Jivatma) the Universal soul or God (Parmatma) Yoga the ancient Indian discipline is highly relevant to the modern day context. Today, as we enter the 21st Century, the outside world is becoming more restless and life is full of strive and tensions. Yoga provides the perfect panacea. The secrets of the ancient science of Yoga were passed down from the Rishis, saints and sages who came to these very Himalayas for divine inspiration. Through their meditation, austerities and prayers, a treasure-chest of wisdom was bestowed upon them for the benefit of humanity. Yoga literally means Union; it is a union of breath to the body, of the mind to the muscles, and most importantly of the self to the divine. Yoga is not a religion. It does not require you to believe in a certain God or to chant certain hymns. It is an ancient science, which leads to health in the body, peace in the mind, joy in the heart and liberation of the soul. It is the most secular and universal system for human salvation. Different forms of yoga: - Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Kundalini Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga provide a complete system of self transformation and self realization which are the ultimate goals of human existence. Yoga has been proven as a scientific method for curing and preventing common as well as rare, acute diseases.
Warrior I and Warrior II - Stretching to side is an exercise that improves every muscle, joint, tendon and organ in the body. It also revitalizes the nerves, veins and body tissue by increasing the flow of oxygen to the blood. It helps to cure sciatica, lumbago and other lower back ailments. The deep stretching, especially in the hip joints, waist and torso heightens the body’s strength and flexibility.
sitting twist- if you practice this twisting movement regularly, any pain that you have in your back will diminish rapidly. The muscles of your neck will also be strengthened, especially when you look over the shoulder and any tension is released from your spinal system. The movements activate your liver and spleen and the size of your abdomen is reduced in the twisting position.
chakrasana- the bridge- lie down supine. Fold your knees & place your feet and palms firmly on the floor. Fingers of the palms point the feet. Slowly raise your hips and arch your back, shifting your weight on the hands. Raise your head & upper body as far as possible. This helps to remove fat and get rid of stiff hip joints. This is an intense back bending posture that invigorates the spine, alleviate back pain and increases lung capacity. We rarely bend backward. Hence, this position releases fear and bestows positive outlook on life. This also helps to release energy in the body’s cells, glands and organs. It will build body strength and give stamina to spine and limbs.

halasana- the plough- lie on your back with your hands by your side. Slowly raise both your legs. Bring them over your head parallel to the ground. Lower your legs and touch your toes to the floor. This yoga posture improves the flexibility of the back, increases the blood flow to head, improves the skin texture & helps to get rid of dark circles under the eyes. This is an all body stretch that maximizes flexibility of the spine and tones the leg and stomach muscles. The locking of chin into the chest stimulates the thyroid gland, which regulates the metabolism and the hormonal levels in the body. Consequently it can help to cure an overactive or under active thyroid and stabilize weight gain and irregular menstrual cycles. This inverted position unblocks energy, improves circulation and calms the nerves. Do not attempt inverted posture if you are pregnant or if you have heavy menstruation.

Juxtaposed to western culture, which maintains that diseases are caused by external factors, eastern culture believes that illnesses are caused by body’s decreased vital energy (known as “qi” in Korea, “chi” in china and “ prana” in India and that sickness is an imbalance of the life force in the whole body. The history of Oriental healing is based in Confucian traditions. Oriental fitness aims to strengthen the weakened immune system & aims to restore the harmony of the body.

Where on one hand Yoga is a part of life in India, Pilates, gained popularity in west. Pilates is a vigorous exercise that includes a sequence of carefully performed movements, encouraging you to become more aware of your body as a single, integrated unit. Pilates improves alignment, breathing and the efficiency of movement. Each exercise is designed to stretch and strengthen the body’s central core, while opening the joints and releasing tension.

Kayaking, wind surfing, boot camp, city jam, hip hop, jazzercise, ballet dance, aerobics, step aerobics, kickboxing, Tae Bo, ramping up, triathlon are other popular modes of fitness in west. Yoga, Tai Chi, Shiatsu, or even Belly Dancing are some popular forms in the east – there’s a whole host of innovative ways to keep fit. Belly Dancing, the Middle Eastern dance is based on diverse movements of the hips and abdomen. It’s a great combination of cardiovascular workout, muscle lengthening and abdominal toning, while it also increases flexibility and grace.

step aerobics gained popularity in 1980’s. Gin Miller designed it. It is a great cardiovascular routine which burns about 400 calories per session (depending on your body weight, the choreography of step routine, the height of step platform and the music pace). World over people enjoy this routine. Stepping up and down on an adjustable platform is based on training in track and field, where athletes run up the steps. It is refined, set to the correct speed of music and each step pattern is given a special name. Guidelines are set for safe and effective training.

In such a vast array of fitness regimes it has become difficult for the participant to decide which is the best mode to get fit. People are looking for short cuts. East is turning to west & vice versa. So what could be the best possible solution? As a fitness trainer my approach is not to rely on any one particular mode of exercise. Just as we need a balanced diet comprising of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, fiber, minerals etc, we need a combination of all the different modes of exercise. Bring a variety to your exercise regime. This will not only help you to break the monotony & boredom but would also not allow the body to get accustomed to a particular regime. We have seen umpteen number of live examples in our everyday lives of men & women who have been going religiously for walk for years & complain that they see no result. This alone is a proof of the fact that human body is very clever. It gets adapted & accustomed to a particular regime faster than you may realize. Hence there comes a need to cross train the body & to overcome the saturation point. Do not treat your body like a machine. (Everyday climbing on the same treadmill or the same cross trainer or going to the same spinning class will not deliver effective results). Bring variety to your workout. Fusion classes like Yogilates (yoga+ pilates) Aquachi (aqua + tai chi), bhangra aerobics, add real spice & fun to your workout.

For children, almost any physical activity is sufficient as long as they are moving. Playing actively or participating in athletic or physical fitness activities during school, running, biking, jumping rope, and dancing— instead of watching television or playing video games— all provide children with the kinds of activity they need.

For adults what you need is a combination of cardio, strength training, balance training, core training, and flexibility training with each session being different from the previous one. The holistic approach towards mind & body is ideal where mind, body, soul, spirit & breath are in sync. Hence stop imitating others or doing what latest Hollywood actress is doing. Each body is unique. Treat your body like a temple. If you are not too sure of a fitness regime, seek the expert’s advice to design a workout plan that should be custom made for you to suit your body type & your needs.

This article written by Kiran Sawhney is also published on the following web site


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