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These Are a Few of My Favorite Gym Classes

Want the skinny?

Some of you have requested that I post a roundup of some of the classes that pulled me out of my slothful slump a few years ago. I’ve always been the bookish type, more content sitting on a couch with a good book and a pint of ice cream . I was able to get away with that most of my life by virtue of my ectomorphic body, but by the time I hit  my 40s, the weight and girth had begun to creep upward and my self-respect slid downward.

After our efforts of family building were finished and after I resolved a severe case of Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome, I turned to taking better care of myself. I joined my husband’s gym and tried fitness activities where I was the driver — mainly using weight machines and the elliptical (during which I could zone out to the overhead TV).

But I didn’t like deciding which weight machines to use and how much weight to put on each. I didn’t like counting reps and sets. I fell into ruts, not having much of a repertoire of exercises. I quickly discovered that I don’t do well being in the driver’s seat of my fitness activities. If it’s up to me, it may not be. I couldn’t afford a personal trainer for each workout, yet I could not be counted on to show up at the gym just whenever I felt like working out.

Because hey, I rarely felt like working out.

Then a friend had me try a yoga class. It stuck. Later on I ventured into a TurboKick class. And then the dance classes: Zumba, , Hip Hop, Nia, and Bhangara. For each there was a set time to be there. Or miss it. I didn’t want to miss it. Each of these classes gives me an hour where I don’t have to THINK about my workout; just DO it.

Here’s the skinny on each activity (click on the links to see more info on these classes, some with videos).

Yoga: Yoga meets all my fitness goals because it addresses strength, flexibility, balance and heart-health. I am NOT saying that you need to be strong, flexible, and able to stand on one leg while in a pretzel in order to enter a yoga class. You can go in exactly the way you are now.

Yoga means means “yoked,” referring to how you unite your mind and body mindfully with the breath. It’s a circular and repetitive dance between your inhale and your exhale, effort and ease, strength and stretch — mindfully with each breath. My teacher says, “try easy, don’t try hard,” meaning that we ease into the poses and allow our bodies to get into them more deeply, rather than forcing ourselves.

There are many different styles of yoga, but if you are just starting out, look for Hatha or Gentle or Beginning Yoga, or even All Levels Yoga. A good teacher will give modifications for differing ability levels as well as accommodations for injury or weak spots.

I am amazed at how much stronger and more flexible my body is now than it was 4 years ago. I believe that all this weight-bearing and balance work will make me less susceptible to some of the hazards of aging — falls, osteoporosis, circulation problems. I plan to stick with yoga for the long haul.

Bonus: When I do yoga I live in my body, which makes me want to treat it well in other ways, like eating more healthfully (mojitos are healthy, right??).

TurboKickboxing: Within the first 10 minutes, you’ll know how to do a jab, a cross, hook and an uppercut. And you’ll know the difference between a side kick, a back kick, and a roundhouse kick. It doesn’t matter how well you do any of these (like everything else, you’ll continue to get better) but that you MOVE and get your heart rate up. Find a teacher who is fun, enthusiastic and engaged with the class.

Bonus: it feels incredibly empowering to punch and kick with wild abandon. Great for processing anger or frustration. (Even when dressed head-to-toe in pepto bismol pink.)

Zumba: This newish craze “combines Latin and international music with dance in an effort to make exercise fun.” Which it is! Ignore the hard bodies in the video and focus on the normal ones. And know that most of your classmates’ hips will not move the same way the instructor’s do. I’m a year into it and I still feel like I have 2D hips in a 3D world.

Bonus: with all that hip action, you leave class feeling quite sexy.

Hip Hop: Learn cool moves and shed your un-hipness while you sweat. When you’re having fun and concentrating on moving your body, class is over before you know it.

(If you click on the Hip Hop link and sign into your Facebook account, you can see what my amazing Hip Hop teacher did with our class in just 45 minutes of instruction last Halloween. It’s  a Thriller!)

Bonus: knowing the songs and being able to dance to them will give you street cred in the eyes of any young people in your life.

Nia: Nia stands for both Non-Impact Aerobics and Neuromuscular-Integrative Action. I enjoy it because it’s expressive  and flowing and it’s done to world music. It’s a fusion of thee each of the dance arts (jazz, modern, Duncan), the healing arts (Yoga, Feldenkrais and Alexander movement techniques) and the martial arts (Tae Kwan Do, Tai Chi, and Aikido). LOVE IT!

Bonus: While many of the other dance classes are about contracting muscles, this one adds in a lot of expansive movements as well.

Bhangara: Did you watch Slumdog Millionare and secretly wish you could dance on the train platform at the end? Then Bhangara dance is for you. It’s a dance of joy and abundance, done to celebrate harvests and marriages and other happy events. It’s not technically difficult — you do better at it when you just feel the music and let it take you over. It’s very energetic and is done as a group — think Deepak Chopra meets Achy-Breaky Heart.

This is a specialty offering that you may find only occasionally at yoga and dance studios.

Bonus: Bhangara dance is absolutely delicious for the mind, the body and the spirit.

General info for all dance classes

  • YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A DANCER TO ATTEND. “Real” dancers probably don’t take these classes, anyway.
  • The first 5-10 minutes of each class are spent instructing and warming up and the last 5-10 minutes are spent stretching or cooling down. That leaves only 40-50 minutes for the challenging part.
  • Music is counted in 8s, and the instructor will repeat 8-count patterns. So once you get the pattern, you’ll feel like you’re catching on. Patterns are repeated on the right and the left sides, and then new moves are introduced.
  • Expect to feel a little disoriented your first time, but know that it’s unlikely that anyone notices or cares how well you do. Just aim to get a little bit better each time. By the 3rd or 4th time, you’ll probably begin to feel comfortable in the class.
  • To find if there is a class near you, enter the class and your zip code into a search engine. For example, “turbo kick 60605” or “hip hop 80301”. Try the big chains, like 24 Hour Fitness or Bally Total Fitness, the YMCA, or a local rec center. Try independent fitness clubs as well as boutiques (yoga and dance studios). Many places will allow you to try them out for a week at no charge
  • Bring a water bottle and stay hydrated.
  • Commit to trying a class at least 3 times. Give your learning curve a chance to level off a bit before you pass judgment on the class.
  • If your muscles feel sore a day or two after your class, pat yourself on the back. The microscopic tears caused by using your muscles in a new way are a good thing. In repairing, your body will build even MORE muscle, which burns more calories. Win/win.
  • Allow the class to be fun. Don’t take it or yourself too seriously.

Find out at what’s available near you and let me know what gets you moving this year.

Viva 2011!

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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15 Responses

  1. I totally appreciate how you chucked the fitness culture understanding that exercise is best done in a specific way (ie. going to the gym, lifting weights) and found a combination that you love from the comfort of your own home. Thank you for sharing the details of each modality. That is helpful to those of us who are doing nothing, but thinking about starting something!

  2. You know me… I love this! Thanks for all this information. Although I did try Zumba but found it fun more than anything. For me cardio has to be super intense but I think most women find Zumba beyond intense. Check out my reviews on zumba and yoga and getting fit in 2011: – we should go to yoga together sometime lady!

    1. That’s ’cause you’re in much better shape than I am, and because you run.

      I’ll go read your Zumba review. Would love to do yoga and/or Zumba with you someday! (I promise not to sweat on you).

  3. Classes would be good for me, as I am unwilling to count reps and devise my own plan…but I’m so self-conscious that I will probably never take one. Fortunately, there is almost an endless supply of exercise videos!

    Awesome recap…

  4. Thanks for posting this! I love yoga, with its emphasis on what you *can* do, and the possibility for people who are flexible but not strong (like me) to keep up. Other fitness classes have been very discouraging for me, as I hate the pumped-up gym environment. But maybe there is hope out there! Bhangara sounds really, really fun.

  5. Thanks so much for this! I have heard so many good things about Zumba but didn’t really know what it was. I also have 2D hips, so I am still a little intimidated. But who knows! This is a new year!

  6. I love this post! I love Zumba, yoga, TRX, and anything that gets me moving and having fun. I appreciate your real life approach and will link to your post when my friends ask what classes they should try.

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. That was a great round-up of some good ways to stay in shape AND enjoy it. Luckily for me, you and I have done all of those types of exercises together.

    I loved Cheryl’s rendition of Dr. Seuss, featuring Lav Luz in all pink!

    I also smiled when you talked about yoga and eating healthier…because I had just read your review on All Thumbs about ice cream! Then I rationalized it by thinking, “Being happy with a bowl of Sea Salt Caramel ice cream IS good for your soul (and yoga can take care of the body).

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