10 Benefits of Yoga and Pilates / I Quit the Gym

Image Source: Yoga By the Sea
There's a bit of a back story to this post, but if you want to skip to the informative part, scroll down to the numbered list!

So, I calculated this morning that I have signed up as a gym member five times over my 31-year-old life, and two of those memberships were at the same place. I've just quit my fifth and hopefully last, and have asked The Main Squeeze to remind me not to join another.

WHY such reckless? Me and gyms have a hot/cold relationship. It's the same pattern every time. I start off all gung ho, then winter and chocolate happen and gung ho turns to don't go. After months of abstinence I get a renewed surge of energy -- roughly enough to get me to one class and back -- before I graciously contact the gym to inform them that as I am moving cities I am so very sorry but I have no choice but to discontinue my membership, with regrets, deep regrets. 

I have absolutely no gripes with gyms or people who enjoy the gym - good on you, I say. Although, I do find it interesting that our Nannas were not gym bunnies nor did they live in an obesity epidemic [read: it's more about the food we eat and obsessive exercise is probs not needed]. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed my share of bouncy gym classes but the relationship gets tired pretty quick, then I end up wasting my money and stressing about the fact that I'm not at the gym. This is surely counter-productive to one of the main benefits of exercise - stress reduction.

Personally, I suppose I just find the whole gym routine a little chore-like. The pulling on of the fugly pants, the pre-filling of the water bottle, etc. etc. what am I Arnold Schwarzenegger? You have to know what works for you and what doesn't. Obviously, I'm a slow learner: five gym memberships.

A little while ago I stumbled across a daily free-to-air Yoga/Pilates program (9am M-F on channel 4Me, NSW). Currently I have the means to do a 9am class from home, so I've been giving the classes a go this week and am really enjoying it. There is no gym commute, there's no flip-flops in the shower rule, and I don't have to namaste worship the yoga teacher at the end. What is that about? The classes alternate between Pilates and Yoga each day.

Alexandra's School of Yogalates - beats a sweat-drenched hardwood floor!
Those who are new to Yoga or Pilates might be wondering which is better? I really like combining or alternating the two (this is based on a few years of classes, not the two TV classes I've done this week, FYI smarty pantses). This keeps things interesting though if forced to pick I would choose Pilates as it's a little more varied from class to class.

I'm the sort of person who likes to look up the benefits of things. I will stand in the shower and read the back of the shampoo bottle while I'm sudsing so I know exactly what is taking place. Understanding the benefits of Yogalates expands the motivation, as does reading the shampoo bottle motivate me to wash my hair. This is what I've investigated...

By the way, there are many different styles of Yoga and Pilates -- this isn't supposed to be a comprehensive list, just a general list of benefits that seem to cross over both Yoga and Pilates - Yogalates.

Health Benefits of Yoga and Pilates

1. Flexibility: Moving and stretching in new ways will help you become more flexible, bringing greater range of motion to tight areas. Over time, you can expect to gain flexibility in your hamstrings, back, shoulders, and hips. 
2. Strength: Many yoga poses require you to support the weight of your own body in new ways, including balancing on one leg or supporting yourself with your arms. Holding poses over the course of several breaths also builds strength.
3. Improved Posture: The back and abdominal strength you build, along with increased flexibility, can help improve your posture, giving the appearance of a taller, leaner body.
4. Muscle tone: As a by-product of getting stronger, you can expect to see increased muscle tone (particularly of the abdominals through Pilates)
5. Balance: Improved balance is one of the most important benefits of yoga as you get older. Poses where you stand on one leg and, for more advanced students, inversions, are great ways to build core strength.
6. Pain Prevention: Increased flexibility and strength can help prevent the causes of some types of back pain.  Yoga also improves your alignment, both in and out of class, which helps prevent many other types of pain.
7. Better Breathing: Most of us take shallow breaths and don't give much thought to how we breathe. Yoga breathing exercises, called pranayama, focus the attention on the breath and teach us how to take deeper breaths, which benefits the entire body. Certain types of breath can also help clear the nasal passages (helpful for people with allergies) and even calm the central nervous system, which has both physical and mental benefits.
8. Mental Calmness: Yoga asana practice is intensely physical. Concentrating so intently on what your body is doing has the effect of bringing a calmness to the mind. Yoga also introduces you to meditation techniques, such as watching the breath and how to disengage from your thoughts. 
9. Stress Reduction: Physical activity is good for relieving stress, and this is particularly true of yoga. Because of the concentration required, your daily troubles, both large and small, seem to melt away during the time you are on the mat. This provides a much-needed break from your stressors, as well as helping to put your problems into perspective. 
10. Body Awareness: Doing yoga will give you an increased awareness of your own body. You are often called upon to make small, subtle movements to improve your alignment. Over time, this will increase your level of comfort in your own body. This can lead to improved posture and greater self-confidence.

Sources: One Two Three

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