by Caroline von Fluegge-Chen
Every five years or so a new fitness craze sweeps through the culture. Television news anchors blather on about the latest, greatest exercise programs. Newspapers and magazines publish features in their Sunday sections, filled with pictures of glistening, glowing, glamorous celebrities hard at work on the new routines.
Back in the mid-1980s, aerobics classes were the leading edge of these fitness booms. Then after people found out the hard way that all that jumping up and down caused stress fractures and other injuries, low-impact aerobics was the thing to do. The world of strength training has also seen many fads come and go. Exercising on Nautilus equipment, circuit training, and high-weight/low-rep training have all had their day. The most recent strength training fad involves using “kettlebells” rather than traditional dumbbells and barbells to move weight around.
Many people who try out brand-new workout styles eventually find that the things they learned long ago are actually the methods that work best. In terms of overall strength and fitness, the push-ups, pull-ups, squat-thrusts, jumping jacks, and standing long jumps that high school gym teachers used to make us do were actually very good for us and still are very good.
Most of those compound exercises we’d grudgingly do as teenagers, complaining and groaning all the while, were great for building core strength. In those days, though, no one was talking about core strength – the overall concept wasn’t clearly defined as such. But the results of the workouts were plain for all to see. Core strength is now an important focus of overall fitness. Pilates classes – based on fundamental principles of core fitness – started to dominate the health-and-fitness media in the 1990s.
The rise of yoga classes as a fitness phenomenon has roughly paralleled the popularity of Pilates classes. Joseph Pilates developed his training methods in the 1930s and his programs have become widely known within the last 20 years. Yoga, of course, is an interrelated set of branches, styles, and disciplines, many of which are centuries old. Hatha yoga, a well-known method, was initially described in the 15th century by Yogi Swatmarama. Yoga has become a popular exercise program for people of all ages and levels of fitness. Participants in a typical yoga class include middle schoolers, teenagers, college students, and adults of all ages, including older adults in their 70s and 80s.
As a fitness method, yoga offers a complete range of activities in one hour-long class. A yoga workout includes strength-building exercises, rapid series of movements that are intensely aerobic, and flexibility routines.1,2,3 Participants learn how to focus and concentrate. Yoga students learn how to calm their minds. Participants learn how to breathe so that energy is available for the hard work of the class. Importantly, beginners can work at their own pace and are able to derive as much benefit as the most experienced students in the class.
Yoga classes provide life-affirming benefits that last all day long. Additionally, the endorphin response is profound, enhancing well-being while simultaneously strengthening the immune system. Yoga is a total-body training system that literally involves the body, mind, and spirit.
1Williams K, et al: Evaluation of the effectiveness and efficacy of Iyengar yoga therapy on chronic low back pain. Spine 34(19):2066-2076, 2009
2Tekur P, et al: Effect of short-term intensive yoga program on pain, functional disability and spinal flexibility in chronic low back pain: a randomized control study. J Altern Complement Med 14(6):637-644, 2008
3Chandwani KD, et al: Yoga improves quality of life and benefit finding in women undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer. J Soc Integr Oncol 8(2):43-55, 2010