Ulterior Fitness Motives

Certified yoga instructor Hilde Mott leads students through a BodyFlow class recently at Island Athletic Club in Freeland. The hybrid class combines elements of tai chi, yoga and pilates is the latest  off-shoot class of the mind-body trend in fitness today. - Cynthia Woolbright
Certified yoga instructor Hilde Mott leads students through a BodyFlow class recently at Island Athletic Club in Freeland. The hybrid class combines elements of tai chi, yoga and pilates is the latest off-shoot class of the mind-body trend in fitness today.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

Even on South Whidbey, where fitness and exercise are as organically driven as the people who live here, mind-body fitness is seeing a boom.

“People are looking for exercise that improves their everyday life,” said Jay Bryan, general manager for Island Athletic Club. “They want to improve their strength and function to be able to play with the kids or lift the groceries out of the car — they want to feel good.”

Decades ago, the fitness industry pushed Jane Fonda workouts and sweatin’ to the oldies. But a current trend toward a more holistic approach to fitness allows stretching, flowing movement, concentration on breath, body posture and alignment to consume as much space in gyms as treadmills and elliptical machines.

“We’re not compartmentalizing ourselves to keep the physical at the gym, emotional at home and mental at work,” said Rozie Hughes, owner of Freebody Center for Mindful Movement in Freeland. “Americans are finally realizing that mind, body and spirit have to be one.”

This month brought opening day for a product of the mind-body movement — the Freebody Center for Mindful Movement.

Freebody is currently the home to a number of instructors of yoga, tai chi and other martial arts. The center even features 5Rhythms Dance, founded by artist philosopher and healer Gabrielle Roth.

Freebody owner Hughes said she opened the center because she wanted a place dedicated to supporting instructors and practitioners of what she considers the movement arts in an environment that was also open to the spiritual possibilities in these arts.

“The movement arts focus on development, not just one set of exercises that are repeated over time,” Hughes said. “Students explore themselves mentally, physically and psychologically and continue to develop as they are learning.”

Hughes has been studying the self-defense martial art Kajukenbo for over 12 years.

“Exercise is about the way you affect your body but it should be about the way you operate in the world not just the way you look in it,” Hughes said.

Getting benefits beyond getting buff

At Island Pilates Center at Ken’s Korner, words such as “mobilize,” “stabilize,” “facilitate” and “challenge” are in the air. Island Pilates Center owner Leslie Larch, said putting her students through a workout is more about making them aware than making them sweat.

During every minute, Larch leads her Pilates students through body awareness: how do you pick up that cup? How does your body move to sit? Do you need to turn that way?

“It’s all about body awareness,” Larch said. “We need to be aware of where we are in space and don’t just go through the postures of life.”

Tricia Beckner of Langley began private Pilates lessons with Larch while Larch was still practicing teaching two years ago.

As Larch guided Beckner through a session last week, she broke movement down to its simplest form; for Beckner the starting point was breathing. The path of the breath was traced, from lungs and down through the ribs, all the while looking at how the body aligned during the process and how movements adjusted that.

“Something such as Pilates won’t make people get the results they are often looking for by itself,” Larch said. “But if they do Pilates to build core strength and utilize Pilates principles in other activities of life, they will go further.”

Larch advises to make mind-body fitness and essential to any fitness goal. Pilates can help engage abdominal muscles while riding a bike. Yoga can help gain core strength for moms constantly lifting children. Even the act of driving a car is changed through mind-body awareness.

To what physical, mental or spiritual intensity people take mind body fitness is up to them according to some local instructors in the mind-body field.

The ancient Chinese practices of Tai Chi and Qi Gong has been shown to lower blood pressure, increase strength and balance and increase relaxation. It’s also a way of life for many, according to Tai Chi and Qi Gong instructor Shirley Jantz. It is to many a philosophy and way of living that has been integrated into movement.

“It’s a philosophy of balance,” Jantz said. “For some it’s not just an hour or two that they practice. This balance carries over to the food they eat, the work they do and their whole way of being.”

“We’re not just matter, as humans we are more than body. There’s an energetic side to us that needs to be in balance.”

Signs of the boom

With popularity of the purist forms of mind-body fitness such as yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Pilates comes the offshoots and hybrids.

“When we first offered Pilates seven years ago people couldn’t even pronounce it,” Island Athletic Club’s Bryan said. “Now its everywhere; on the news, on infomercials and in gyms.”

Bodyflow, offered at Island Athletic Club in Freeland since February 2004, combines traditional Eastern disciplines with new fitness techniques. People searching for fitness, like Sarah Birger’s BodyFlow students, are finding yoga postures like the inverted “V” shaped Downward Dog can tone as much as pumping iron.

Tonah Potter was attending her fourth BodyFlow class last week, fifth if you count Saturday, but already Potter looked like an old pro as she pushed around energy and stretched into yoga-inspired moves.

“It fits me perfectly,” Potter said. “It builds strength and balance and utilizes by flexibility.”

Whidbey Fitness in Clinton is following the lead of New York health clubs in offering a class that combines an instructor led visualized ride on stationary bikes followed by yoga instruction. Certified fitness instructor Rachel Varga will pedal students through an invigorating 45-minute “joy ride” before students towel off and certified yoga instructor Elly Erickson leads them through 45 minutes of Sun Salutations and other postures.

While the combination may seem a stretch for some people, that’s the point and exactly why it works, according to Varga.

“Cycling is so popular but when we’re doing only that we often fall into old habits and bad posture,” Varga said. “The spin focus of this class will really look at body awareness, breath and creating more efficiency with our movement. The yoga will continue that while helping to stretch out those muscles already warm from the ride, increase balance and strengthen the core to help prevent injury.”

An integrated approach to fitness is key — and luckily, also a trend fitness trainers and those looking for fitness today are hot on following.

“You have to take an integrated approach,” Varga said. “You can’t just do cardio without being aware of your body and not think you’ll go without injury some day.”

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