I acquired an avid interest in exercise when I entered my mid-teens because the experts boasted benefits that included overcoming teenage angst, shaping a fabulous figure, clearing the skin — especially acne — and building muscle.
My legs at that time resembled those of a chair rather than those of a human. My dream was to develop those calves and look buff in a leotard.
Yoga was quite a stretch
I began practicing some of the simpler yoga asanas (positions) I found in a magazine, and I became adept at doing splits and the lotus position.
Then I noticed that my scoliosis (an s-shaped spinal curve that nearly precluded my candidacy for flight service manager) made other moves more difficult. I eventually quit.
Today I would have shown more tenacity. Millions of adherents swear by yoga’s efficiency in building strength, balance, and enhanced spinal flexibility. The famed “yoga butt” is no myth. And for some people, yoga offers a profoundly spiritual experience.
Classes with the masses
A few years later, I fell in love with the word “aerobics.” For one thing, the fun and rhythmic beats of the accompanying music made the time pass quickly.
Possessing more determination than the money required to afford the glitzier body-beautiful clubs, I patronized the smaller venues.
However, I quickly grew tired of fighting among too many legs for a spot in the live classes and competing with too many egomaniacs in muscle shirts for a handful of circuit machines. They not only hogged the equipment but left the seats coated with malodorous sweat.
Instead, I turned to long-distance jogging, attired in leg warmers and perspiring heavily on the path to mastering workout videos distributed by both skilled — and occasionally not-so-skilled — instructors.
Aerobics: too much of a good thing
It became apparent the aerobic moves improved my lung capacity, heart rate, and stamina. Adding free weights to my routine on alternate days, a practice I continue to this day, boosted my results.
But when the doctor informed me 12 years ago that I had probably inherited my parents’ hypertension, she recommended that I replace my aerobic workouts with toning exercises like Pilates or yoga.
I’ll be honest that the thought of returning to yoga, as beautifully streamlined as the bodies of its masters were, did not appeal to me.
A new measure of control
Pilates, dubbed initially as Contrology by its inventor, intrigued me with modified moves that built better balance and stretched older adults’ stiffer joints at an age-adjusted pace.
But impressive photos of the innovator and exercise machine inventor Joseph Pilates at an advanced age proved to be the catalyst. This former gymnast and bodybuilder designed groundbreaking movement and breathing methods to heal injured dancers.
That was all the encouragement I needed.
Pilates did prove effective, but it was NOT easy! I still incorporate some of the moves into my routine, but I have added other exercise types.
Tapping into an efficient resource
Teresa Tapp, a former exercise physiologist, created a system called T-tapp. Using multi-limbed movements that challenge five to six muscle groups simultaneously, T-Tapp's uniqueness lies in its ability to work the muscles from origin to insertion.
Although shorter, these workouts affected my muscles significantly. The movements, ironically structured to build balance by keeping the body unbalanced, felt shaky at first. The advantage was that they gave equal time to developing both the large and small muscle groups.
Adopting this discipline led to my discovering muscles I never knew I had.
Tai chi slows me down sweetly
Institutions such as the Mayo Clinic have noted the effectiveness of tai chi’s slow, focused movements and breathing techniques in reducing stress while increasing flexibility and balance. For me, the smooth connectedness of the exercise sequences is mesmerizing. There is little wonder why trainers describe it as meditation in motion.
How tai chi heals
My oversimplified explanation is that tai chi works with the same meridians one observes in acupuncture, another Chinese healing practice. There are 14 of these energy channels in the body that correspond to specific organs.
And 12 of those channels connect to five elements:
It’s essential to note that the meridian lines don’t correlate with what U.S. citizens comprehend as nervous system pathways.
Theoretically, blockages in these channels can create emotional as well as physical manifestations such as localized pain. They compromise the chi, or vital energy force, and disturb the body’s internal harmony.
One more roadblock
When I decided to embrace tai chi as a part of my repertoire, I was shocked to find out how costly the popular classes were.
I finally found video offerings I could use at home that gently advanced me from teetering beginner to relaxed amateur.
In conclusion, maintaining fitness won’t always require tons of rapid reps or a sweat-of-the-brow approach. Slower, controlled movements that flow seamlessly from one to the other — done correctly — can tone your physique equally well and reduce stress in the process.
But where do you start? Observe the disciplines that intrigue or entertain you. Experiment with a few of them. Then stick with the most appealing one(s) to achieve the results you want. Of course, always consult with your licensed healthcare practitioner before beginning or changing your fitness regimen.