It’s a well-known fact that exercise is an essential component of our overall physical, mental and emotional health. The simple act of moving our body starts a positive chain reaction that burns fat and calories, builds muscle strength, increases blood flow, pumps “feel good” hormones that reduce pain and improve mood, among many other benefits.
Much like different cuisine from around the world, distinct exercise styles emerged from various countries that have their own flavors, approaches and techniques that may appeal to some but not to others. If you’re looking for a new way to stay fit this year, you might want to give one or several of these international mind-body fitness methods a try.
Tai Chi Chuan, commonly called Tai Chi, is an ancient Chinese martial arts tradition which originated in Taoist and Buddhist monasteries. Today Tai Chi is practiced worldwide as a gentle, but powerful way to utilize breathing, visualizations and movement to work the entire body all at once. The philosophy of the Yin and Yang is at the core of Tai Chi – where everything consists of two opposing forces that harmonize with each other to create a whole. Often described as “meditation in motion,” each graceful posture flows into the next without pause, ensuring that your body is in constant, balanced motion. Focusing the mind solely on the movements of the form helps to bring about a state of mental calm and clarity, while also strengthening the muscles of the whole body. The gentle nature of the practice makes Tai Chi ideal for all age groups. In fact, in public parks all over China, you can see large groups of young to elderly people keeping the ancient tradition alive today.
Like Tai Chi, yoga was originally created as a form of meditative motion. With origins dating back over two thousand years in ancient India, there are numerous styles of yoga today. Regardless of the style, though, yoga includes the physical practice of postures called asanas, focuses on the breath, as well as relaxation/meditation techniques. A modern staple in mind-body fitness, yoga provides the perfect balance of flexibility and strength training, with techniques to discipline the mind through focus on the asanas and the breath. Plus, with the myriad of yoga styles out there today, you’re sure to find one that suits your taste.
Developed in the early 20th century by German fitness trainer, Joseph Pilates, pilates puts emphasis on alignment, breathing, developing a strong core, and improving coordination and balance. Pilates said that the inspiration for his method came to him during World War I, while he was being held at the Knockaloe internment camp on the Isle of Man. He developed his method there for four years, while helping his fellow internees. Breathing and concentration are important components to the pilates method, where the practitioner coordinates breathing out with the effort and breathing in on the return motion. This form of exercise involves intense focus with the philosophy that the way exercises are done is more important than the exercises themselves.
There are martial arts methods from every corner of the world that are a fantastic options for staying fit and focused - and many of them don't need to involve actual fighting and can be used for intensity training. Some include Krav Maga, from Israel, Capoeira, from Brazil, Tae Kwon Do, from South Korea, Karate and Judo, from Japan, just to name a few. Each expresses the culture of its origin in unique ways – like the extreme practicality and efficiency of Krav Maga, the dance-like style of Capoeira, and the intense precision of Karate.
Whatever the style is that floats your boat, there will be a form of exercise that suits you and that you can use to create a healthier version of yourself along with a balanced diet and nourishing supplements. Here’s to finding the perfect fitness method, that excites you and keeps you physically and mentally fit for many years to come!