[also referred to as poses or postures] strengthen your body and improve your flexibility by teaching you how to move your body and focus your mind,” says Kevin W. Chen, PhD, MPH, associate professor in the Center of Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Yoga and Pilates: Going for the Burn
If you’re interested in burning more calories, some advanced yoga and Pilates sessions move at a faster pace. For instance, a 155-pound person can burn about 298 calories in a regular one-hour yoga class. But doing Bikram or power yoga will burn even more calories. These classes require students to hold complex poses for longer periods, offering a more intense workout. But beginning classes that teach you how to perfect a plank pose and other mind/body postures provide significant health and fitness benefits beyond a high-calorie burn.
Plus, learning the basics helps prevent injury when you move on to more advanced classes.
For example, doing tai chi’s series of graceful movements engages all of the major muscle groups and joints, improving balance and strength. Pilates’ emphasis on movements that strengthen the body’s core helps build muscular endurance and flexibility. In general, mind/body practices help control weight, reduce blood pressure, ease stress, and improve sleep. In one study, people doing yoga lowered both their LDL (bad) cholesterol and their triglycerides more than 12 points during a three-month study.
Yoga for Strength Building
Similar to aerobics classes or weight-lifting workouts, the intensity level within each discipline varies by style and instructor. But the specific practice you choose is less important than simply engaging in it, Chen says. “Doing these mind/body exercises consistently will build up strength,” he says. “Don’t worry about making mistakes or getting all of the movements right. In the beginning, just being there and doing it is enough.”
No longer a beginner, Rudiger says her dedication to yoga does more than deliver an intense mind/body workout. It also gives her bragging rights.
“My brother is a marathon runner and he might be able to outrun me, but I’m more flexible and have better core strength,” she says. “I bring that up whenever someone says yoga is just a stretching class.”
Getting Started with Mind/Body Exercise
Interested in trying this kind of exercise but not sure how to get started? Chen has some suggestions:
Make the call. Before going to exercise classes for the first time, call the studio. “The instructor should know how much experience you have before you start a class,” he says. If you need help picking a class that suits your skill level, ask whether the studio offers a specific style of yoga, Pilates, or tai chi most suited to a beginner.
Try before you buy. Although they are all mind/body exercises, Pilates, yoga, and tai chi are very different practices — and there are a number of styles within each. Chen suggests test-driving classes and instructors until you find a good fit.
Wear to go. Prepare to go barefoot during your session. Taking off your shoes helps you feel grounded, an important part of the mind/body philosophy. It’s also important to wear comfortable clothes — but nothing too baggy. Oversized T-shirts will ride up during inverted (upside-down) poses.
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