Saturday, March 6, 2010

Some Inspirations

Broken Dreams (A wonderful poem about letting go) – Lauretta Burns

Like children, bring their broken toys
with tears for us to mend,

I brought my Broken Dreams to God,
because he was my friend

But instead of leaving them there,
for him to work alone,
I hung around, and tried to help,
with ways that were my own.

At last I snatched them back and said,
“My God, how could you be so slow?”

God smiled and said, “My child, what could I do,

“Out beyond the ideas

of right doing and wrong doing

there is a field,

I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down

On that grass,

The world is too full to talk about

~ Mevlana Rumi

Too often we under-estimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring – all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

What life this is if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare!

~ William Shakespeare

You can dream, create, design and build the most powerful idea in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality ~ Walt Disney

I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence…Two roads diverged in a wood…and I…I took the one less traveled….. and that has made all the difference… ~ Robert Frost

Tao Te Ching

“Like water you do best by doing as you go along, finding the right level, adjusting at the right time, not before, and being able to adjust again.To have the power to nourish life and wash away stone.”

“The soup bowl; useful because of the empty space within it. The wheel; useful due to the empty center it rotates upon. The Windows of your house, drawing in light, their usefulness is in their emptiness.”

“Having enough is true wealth. Knowing yourself is true wisdom. Never needing to use force, you got it right,”

Starting with how the Wise take to Tao instantly, the Average try, go and come back and the Fool laughs – and how great this laughter is, because “without laughter there could be no Tao”.

“You don’t need to go anywhere as the core of it all is deep within you.”

“Those who know do not tell, and Those who tell do not know.”

“As long as you know how little you know you are well. When you think you know it all then that is a sign of being unwell. Masters know that there is more to life than can be known and they get on so well because of this.”


One such useful gadget, which is very popular in many foreign countries, and yet to catch up in India, is the Pedometer, or simply put – a device to measure the number of steps you have walked on any given day. The two basic uses of it being, recording the number of steps, and also acting as a motivator.

A Pedometer is basically a digital and electro-mechanical device, used to record the number of steps, by using sensors to detect the motion of the hips, while walking. The sensors are usually mechanical and the measured value is converted into a readable digital format by the electronic device, usually a step counter. Thus, it is usually, but not necessarily, placed around the hips, especially on the belt.

One can wear the pedometer for the whole day and count the number of steps on a daily basis, or just wear it while going for a walk or any other physical activity that involves moving around. The US norms are around 10,000 steps for achieving a healthy lifestyle.

In addition there are also many modern hi-tech gadgets that provide the Pedometer function like some mobile phones from Nokia, I-pods etc. which can be very useful too. There are also various websites that allow people to track their progress, by entering the records daily. The only limitations, which are being sorted out, are that the pedometers are not sensitive to intensity of the steps and also, unless they are well calibrated, they may record other than walking activities involving hip movement like bending down etc. also as a step, and hence give wrong outputs. Most of the latest ones available, are corrected for these limitations.

They are indeed great motivators and help in maintaining a record of the physical activities and thus monitoring the routine, thus helping to ensure that progression is carried out in the right direction.


Technological advances in all walks of life have indeed been a big boon, especially in the preventive health care domain, with the market being flooded with gadgets, for almost everything, right from monitoring blood glucose, blood pressure to even the body composition parameters like fat percentage etc.

The Fat Monitors, which have been fairly popular and common in India, since the last decade are indeed the most helpful and easy to use gadgets existing.
They work on the principle of Bio-electrical impedance, which simply means the resistance offered by the body tissues, especially the adipose (fat) tissue deposits.

They are usually of two types – portable & hand held, or fixed, like the weighing machine, with foot plates that need to be stood upon. A small electrical current signal is sent through the electrodes in contact with the human body, and the resistance is calibrated and measured. The signal travels quickly through the muscle/lean mass tissue, which have higher percentages of water and therefore are good conductors of electricity, and more slowly through fat tissues, which have a lower percentage of water and therefore are poor conductors of electricity.

All the monitors have an internal digital calculator, which then, based on standard formulae, calculates the fat percentage depending upon the measured value, and the gender, age, weight and height of the person, which have to be entered prior to switching on the device.

Some guidelines while using the machine are –
o Usually, removing of any jewellery or accessories on hands and arms are recommended.
o Using the monitor is dangerous if you are a heart patient with a pacemaker, due to interference.
o You must not be dehydrated while using the machine.
o Give adequate gap of 2 hours after a meal, to use the machine.
o Individuals, especially women with problems like water retention etc. may get inaccurate readings.

Body basics!

The ideal percentages of fat mass versus lean mass depend on gender, demographics and also the age of the individual, but the worldwide standards for minimum percent of body fat considered safe for good health is 5 percent for males and 12% for females. Around 3% of this fat is - visceral fat, which is the fat around organs, present for their protection and cushioning.
The average percentages, as per worldwide standards for adult body fat is almost to 15 to 18% for men and 22 to 25% for women.For the average Indian body, the fat percentages for Fitness are 21-24% for females, and14-17% for males, while it can be ‘Acceptable’ till 25-31% for females and 18-25% for males. A fat percentage of 32% plus for females and 25% plus puts the individual in overweight and obese categories.
These percentages are of prime importance for body-builders who train to keep the levels low, so that the definition and striations of each muscle are visible. Athletes also aim to keep it at the low end of this scale for improved results, however not at the cost of affecting their performance.
However, trying to keep the lean mass or fat mass percentages low by abusing the body through fasting or nutrient-intake restriction can have adverse effects not only the performance but also on health in general. Also, in case of extreme nutrient deficiency, our bones begin to contribute energy, and this usually leads to reduction in bone density, which again can lead to problems like brittle bones, fractures etc. Females who try to do this usually suffer from problems like irregular or no periods (amenorrhea)
The best way to lower fat percentages and keep higher lean mass percentages is by including weight training in a workout routine, rather than cutting the nutrient-intake drastically!

Body Composition & Fitness

We have been discussing the skill-related components of Fitness namely – agility, reaction time, balance, co-ordination etc.
The other important components of fitness, particularly health related are – body composition, cardio-vascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance and flexibility. Body Composition, basically represents the different aspects that constitute the total body weight of a person. These aspects include the metabolically active lean body tissues - muscle, bone and metabolically inactive tissues – adipose (fat) tissue.

Typically depending on the body type and the genetic composition of the person, his total body weight as shown by the weighing scale, is a summation of the lean and adipose tissue mass. The lean body mass is metabolically active, in that it uses up the energy stores (creatine, glucose, fat) available to sustain itself, and thus does not lead to accumulation of the energy stores. Adipose tissue mass is metabolically inactive, in that it hardly needs any energy to sustain itself and hence it has a tendency to accumulate.

The percentages of lean mass and fat mass define the over all health and fitness of an individual, and hence are important parameters, which need to be determined. Two people with the same weight and height can have completely different body compositions, which inturn will define the risk factors especially with regard to lifestyle related problems. The lean body mass is more dense and weighs more, while the fat mass is less dense (hence they say that fat people float easily when swimming!).

Body composition is also genetically and demographically affected, e.g. Indians have a tendency to have lower lean body mass percentages as compared to the west, where lean, athletic bodies are more common. Also Indians have a tendency to accumulate fat on the central regions of the body, which has a direct negative effect on cardiovascular fitness and increases the chances of lifestyle disorders like obesity, diabetes etc.
These aspects are these days commonly measured using the Fat monitors, skinfold callipers etc. in many health clubs.

Wholistic Fitness!

Its no longer sufficient to only focus on strength, stamina and suppleness as a part of one’s workout – components of fitness like balance, agility, co-ordination etc. also must be focused on to get the best out of any fitness routine, especially, as age begins to catch up with us!
A very important component, along with agility, which was discussed last week, is – balance – the ability to control the body's position, either when it is stationary or moving. This component is especially important for sportspersons, since this contributes heavily to the quality and consistency of their performance.
These components – agility, balance, co-ordination all are an outcome of well-conditioned neuro-muscular co-ordination systems in the body, which in turn depends on activities of daily living, diet and nutrition, lifestyle and occupation!
Balance, in addition is also depends on our senses – auditory, visual and kinesthetic receptors and feedback, along with the spine and brain, all of which define the state of balance while static or dynamic.

Thus, a person with a pre-dominantly sedentary lifestyle, may not have his agility and balance skills up-to the mark, which can hamper his reflexes and reaction times, unless he involves himself in other activities that challenge and develop these components, maybe in the form of games, puzzles and more!

Some tips to work on balance are –
• Un-stable surfaces used while performing the usual exercises, help develop the core and also balance skills.
• Balancing on one leg, when standing, anytime during the day, or even while exercising is a good option. An advanced version would be to stand on one leg, with your eyes closed!

Do not try stunts at home! Make sure you do it along with someone, or in a health club

Simple Agility!

Healthy reflexes are important part of Functional training, and necessary for all the activities of daily living and must form an integral part of one’s fitness training routine. This is especially so, since the speed of reflexes and agile movements decline with age or due to inadequate use!

Another important aspect is agility – that is being able to move quickly, correctly and effectively while at the same maintaining balance and co-ordination. Very interestingly, the primary reflex and agility training happens early during the childhood, and impaired development of any of the two leads to developmental problems and other problems like ADHD etc.!

While sportspeople use many drills to train for agility, as a part of their training routine, a normal person can also include some exercises to do some agility training, in a normal health club setting.

Aerobics - The regular aerobics (whether freestyle or structured) classes are a very simple way to work on agility, since they demand a lot of attention to the instructions, alertness, rapid in changes in direction, flexibility and control of movements.

Kickboxing & Martial Arts-based classes – Probably the most reputed way to work on your reflexes and agility, while focusing on the body and mind holistically.

20-feet shuttle – In the simplest ways, choose an open area and mark 2 points – Pt. A - one where you are standing and Pt. B - 20-feet away. The task is to run from A to B and then turn around at B and run back to A, and turning around at A, and repeating the shuttle between A & B, 6 times (can be varied) in as little time as possible. A stop-watch is used to mark the start and stop.

Buddy exercises – Stand pivoted at a place, and ask a buddy to throw soft, rubber balls all aimed at you, from different directions, and try to catch them, without moving the feet, while the upper body is free to move in all directions!

Training your Reflexes!!

As we enter into a new world, where “balance” is becoming the favourite word, its is appalling to see that, “balance”, literally, is hardly focused on, as an intrinsic part of the standard health club workout routine. The 3 pillars of fitness – Strength, Stamina and Suppleness, have been and still are focused on, as a priority, with other essential components like reflexes, agility, balance, co-ordination, power etc. hardly finding any place or importance.
As my friend would put it, “What is the use of a bulky & muscular or chiselled body, if you can’t run for your life, in case a dog runs after you!” True enough the fitness industry witnessed a paradigm shift, when the concept of “Functional Fitness” arrived on the scene.
Functional fitness, simply put, means focusing on those areas, which come into use during activities of daily living, on a day-to-day basis. For example, a house-maker who does activities like sweeping, mopping etc. will need to strengthen and improve the flexibility of her lowerback muscles, hamstrings and legs muscles, as well as work on her endurance levels. She benefits more by training these, on a priority rather than focusing on biceps, triceps, forearms muscles.
Functional fitness also has components like balance & co-ordination training, agility training, explosive power training among others. What makes training these components of Fitness even more important, is the fact that these tend to deteriorate with age! Our reflexes, co-ordination and other components also follow the ‘Use it or lose it” principle of Fitness.
Starting the discussion with training your Reflexes- this must focus on speeding up the reaction times and the response times. Remember, the game ‘dodgeball’ we used to play as kids! Reflexes are needed not just for sportspersons, but also in day-to-day activities like crossing the road, walking through traffic or a crowded place or may be catching something that is thrown to us or just slips our hand! Reflexes tend to dampen with age or due to not being used enough and become an important area of focus for the elderly populations too.
Another component, very close to reflexes is Agility – which refers to ability to change direction quickly with speed, but at the same time maintaining power, balance and co-ordination.

Visualize your way to health!

A paradigm that has been popular since ages, and something that has been widely researched upon - is the effectiveness of visualization as an important tool right from weight loss to even treating cancer!

Though it sounds illogical and fantasy-like, millions of people all over the world have used and continue to use visualization to get the results they want, of course complementing it with exercising and healthy food habits. Infact, it is not uncommon to find that exercising and eating healthy were a consequence of visualizing oneself in the desirable body! It has also been used popularly in sports, especially athletes, who visualize their winning performance.

The underlying beauty of the visualization process is that it honours the relation of the mind on body, instead of isolating the two or focusing on only either of them. The conscious mind has a limited capacity and is just a small part of our brain-mind system, while the sub-conscious forms the more important part, with unlimited capacity!
The effect of mind over body and its health/illness is well established and is usually categorized as ‘psychosomatic’, with many specialists, experts and therapists working in this domain.
Hence, even if we are regular and religiously do our exercise, if we have a negative image of ourselves or are unable to visualize us in our desirable bodies, the results take a long time to manifest, if they do!

Some simple and very popular tips are -
o Cut out a picture of some actor/actress or any other role model, or may be a picture of yourself from the past, and place it in front of your work-desk, or somewhere in the kitchen or even the bathroom door – any place you frequent! Give the subconscious mind something to chew on.

o Couple of times in a day, sitting/lying down in a relaxed manner, imagine yourself in the desired health or fitness level, soak in and feel the happy and positive emotions that it brings up.

Power Yoga – Discussed

Power Yoga - the latest trend to hit the fitness industry, especially in India, with many leading health clubs and individual trainers offering interesting classes and variations.
Though many hard-core Yoga followers claim that Power yoga is just some fancy mixture of exercises and hardly resembles the traditional definition of Yogasanas, Power Yoga seems to have started by two Yoga gurus following the Ashtanga Yoga style for decades.

It has also been advocated as a better way to use Yoga for weight loss which has also made it very popular amongst the ladies. Another characteristic of a Power Yoga class is that most of the time is utilized in performing the exercises and minimal time spent in relaxation postures or even chanting.

Power Yoga basically is a calorie-burning and comparatively more vigorous routine than a traditional Yoga routine, that combines cardio, strength and flexibility through Yogasanas and some additional exercises focused on aerobic movements and toning muscles especially the abs, lower back, pelvis, the postural muscles, also on building strength, enhance endurance and breathing. Most of the benefits of classical Yoga are retained, even though the method of application are different.
It also focuses on building up the metabolism through the exercises and asana postures and thus ensures a continuous burning of calories throughout the day, even when not exercising.

The same procedure of a warm-up before the Power Yoga class is used, focusing on easing up and relaxing the muscles and raising the temperatures and stimulating the blood circulation to all parts of the body.

Some benefits Power Yoga are –

o It works on strength, stamina, flexibility, reflexes and agility all in the same workout
o It focuses on boosting the metabolism and helps focus on achieving healthy body weight
o It stimulates the release feel-good hormones, and helps reduce stress levels and detox
o It retains the benefits of classical Yoga

Worldwide Trends in Fitness!

What is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’? So far this question has figured mostly with respect to fashion! However, the fitness industry is no exception! While Jane Fonda based aerobics was a craze few decades ago, we now have the REEBOK style aerobics or the spiced-up versions including our favorite Bollywood jhatkas and moves to keep the motivation up and going!
In the last decade itself, we have seen many different trends – some coming and going, while some staying on!
Some of the few trends so far, that came and also stayed are –

Circuit Training –
A highly pre-designed and planned workout, done in a normal gym setting or exclusively designed setting, Circuit training, basically consists of doing a round of around 8 – 12 exercises, focusing on all body muscles, one after the other, with no rest in between. The individual is allowed to rest, after one round (or circuit) is done, and the circuits are repeated few more times. An excellent workout to tone the muscles and also target fat, this is quite popular among ladies!

Boot-camp Workouts –
Military-style, high energy and challenging, are the words that describe this, the best. Usually a high impact, and high energy workout which involves doing a series of muscle strengthening, cardio and agility training exercises, a bootcamp session claims to burn much more calories as compared to any other group activities.
It needs a high energy instructor as well to keep the motivation up and going, as well as accompanied by some peppy music.

Pilates –
An advanced form of functional training, Pilates’s has been popularized by its sheer effectiveness in developing the core muscles which also form most of the postural muscles and thus define the quality of life. Basically, an integrated form of exercise with specific focus on the mind-body-breath connection and the art of controlling it, Pilates’ is quite a challenging workout.

Usually, a high-energy class, accompanied by fast-music, spinning has become very popular as a Cardio workout, with most health clubs in India too. A spinning cycle is a stationary cycle, although with a weighted wheel, unlike the normal cycle, which offers resistance and increases the challenge. Spinning usually requires technique and expert instructions regarding the tempo, positions, challenge levels, motivation etc. and hence there are specially certified instructors that usually conduct the class.

Outdoor training
Some health-clubs have artificial mountain-climbing walls, and other artificial set-ups that mimic outdoor activities like mountain climbing etc. Some others, also regularly take their members actually outdoors on activities like treks, mountain climbing, nature walks, jogging mornings etc. which give the members a breath of fresh air, variety and a fun alternative to working indoors all days of the week.

Theraband™ Training
Theraband™ are latex bands, of varying resistances in the lower range, ideal as a portable option to keeping fit, especially for people who travel often or prefer to work out at home. Some very important advantages are the ability to isolate and exercise some deep muscles which cannot be targeted with usual workouts, sports-specific training, re-habilitation exercises which demand low resistances, and of course the portability.

Functional Core Training
Un-stable surfaces in the form of Stability Balls, Coreboard™, Wobble boards, BOSUs and many more equipment-based workouts which target the postural muscles and core muscles, providing a functional fitness option focusing on Activities of Daily Living.

Get fit with Pilates’!

We will see a few principles which are a pre-requisite for an effective Pilates’ workout -

Continuous, Deep and Relaxed Breathing
Slow, continuous and smooth breathing forms the underlying basis of Pilates, which means without holding the breath or fast and shallow breathing. Sometimes when we have to concentrate on the movements and the speed of movements, we tend to hold our breath, and then exhale suddenly and inhale. Watching the breath while performing the movements, calls for controlled co-ordination, which is the challenge that Pilates’ offers.

An example that instructors use while exhaling is - Squeeze out the lungs as you would wring a wet towel dry. Also the participant is instructed to be aware of the inclusion of the deep abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor muscles, and stay aware throughout the workout.

In Pilates’, the group of muscles in the mid-region the body – namely the deep muscles of the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks – is termed as the “Powerhouse / Core.” The focus is always to feel the energy flowing from the Powerhouse to the legs and the arms.

Performing Pilates’ needs intense concentration and focus on the breathing, the movements and the flow of energy from the powerhouse to the limbs performing the exercise. Some Instructors, re-start all the way from the beginning, if focus is lost in between a particular movement!

Control & Flowing movements
Controlled and smooth movements and breathing are an important part of performing Pilates’ effectively. This requires all of the above and a well-conditioned body. Controlled movements also improve the efficiency of the neuro-muscular system.

Thus it becomes essential to perform Pilates’ under the guidance of an expert Instructor and also get one self flexible and strong enough to perform them!

Pilates’ Mania!

Everywhere you turn these days, there are Pilates’ classes and batches coming up, claiming a multitude of benefits of following such a program.

Lets see a few details about Pilates’ –
o Pilates’ is a technique of muscle training, named after its founder Joseph Pilates, a gymnast.
o The underlying idea is to use the existing correlation between the mind and the body (namely muscles) to effectively work the latter. Most of the usual strength exercises do not emphasize enough on the importance of ‘mind’ to control the movements.
And it is a well-established fact that the mind, does indeed control the body and hence isolated approaches to Mind and Body are less effective than integrated approaches, such as all the core-training methods.
o The primary focus is on the postural muscles, mainly the core (front and back) muscles which help maintain the posture of the body, in activities of daily living and which are also prone to imbalances due to un-healthy lifestyles.
o All the techniques place great importance on getting the spinal alignment right, prior to starting any movement. This is a very fundamentally important aspect of Pilates’ training.
o Another very important part is that all movements are to be performed in ways which are highly controlled and ‘flowing’, rather than abrupt, jerky movements.
o Also, another very important area of focus is the breathing, in relation to the movements and the rhythm in which the movements are performed.
o The best feature of Pilates’ is that it does not need sophisticated equipments for getting the best out of it. There are many Pilates’ exercises that use equipments and props, but a simple mat can also be sufficient to get a good Pilates’ workout. Hence it is also possible to do it at home or when you are travelling, and can’t be regular at the gym.
o However, from the points above, it is very clear that Pilates’ is an advanced workout, requiring precise technique, control and awareness. Hence it may be a little difficult to beginners and intermediate exercisers to get the best out of it. Needless to say, it is just a matter of getting well-conditioned and then use Pilates’ as a progression tool.

Un-Stable can be good!

Un-Stability can be good, sometimes. Of course not when seen from the ‘mind’ point of view! But un-stable surfaces while performing exercises can be very useful in improving the effectiveness of your workout!

And un-stable surfaces have been popular since long and easily available in the markets in the form of REEBOK Coreboards, Wobble Boards and BOSUs and many more. There are many trends in the Fitness industry as well, which tend to fade away after the initial craze, but core-training and core-stability are some of the few concepts that are here to stay. This is also because, efficiency of the core muscles is an important factor for Activities of Daily Living – small and big, and hence core-training is very functional in nature.

The Coreboard from REEBOK is highly interesting, in that it works in three dimensions. It can tilt sideways and front and back, it can rock along the same planes, and it can also twist around the pivot, thereby giving it mobility in the third dimension as well. This is very useful in training the reflexes, balance and the side abdomen muscles and is also used in athletic training.
The Wobble boards are like a flat circular surface, placed on a half solid sphere below at the centre, and thus wobble onto either side. It is a great equipment to train for balance and co-ordination and strengthen all the core muscles.
BOSUs (Both Sides Up) look like the opposite of the Wobble boards, and resemble half cut solid spheres with the spherical portion on top. This spherical surface is used to stand on and train the muscles.

All un-stable surfaces basically recruit the neuro-muscular system and thus are very effective in reflex training, balance and co-ordination training.
Incase none of these equipments are easily accessible to you, a simple trick would be to stack the gym foam mats three or four over each other and then perform the standing exercises on them!! You will easily begin to feel your whole body working together in a co-ordinated manner to maintain stability!

A band new idea!

An interesting way to spice up your routine – using the Theraband™ exercise bands and tubes, which are popularly found these days in many health clubs and fitness centers.

Though they look and sound very simple and interesting to use, before beginning a workout with Therabands, there are some tips to keep in mind.

The Therabands offer resistance and hence it is very important to warm-up using a mild cardio activity.
Post the general warm-up, use some dynamic stretches for the muscle groups that you will be targeting. For-example, if you are targeting legs (quadriceps), go in for a set of free squats, just to activate the muscles, before challenging them!
Preferably use a handle (easily available while purchasing the bands and tubes), since holding the ends, especially at higher resistances, in the hands could cause changes in blood flow and may cause blood pressure to vary.
Always perform slow and controlled motions with controlled breath. That in itself provides a challenge to the muscles.
Check the bands and tubes for defects/tears from time to time to avoid snapping
It is preferable to remove your finger rings, bangles and other sharp objects that may cause problems
Perform a cool down in the same as you do, after a regular workout.
A workout using bands can be safely and effectively performed 3-4 days a week, targeting different muscle groups.
Use a resistance that allows you to do atleast 10-15 repetitions.
Once you get used to the resistance you are using, initially try to vary the speed of repetitions to increase the challenge, and only then consider progressing onto the next higher resistance color.

The tubes and bands can be used to all muscle groups including some deep and postural muscles like Rhomboids etc.

Do something different!!

Worldwide changing trends in fitness have seen many different things being used to add variety and challenge to your everyday workout. Few examples would be swiss balls, kettle balls and exercise bands and tubes.
Therabands™ and exer-tubes have been very popular abroad in health club settings and as a home workout option.
The primary use and effectiveness lies in rehabilitation exercises for sports injuries and in physiotherapy and clinical settings for special patients. However, these days many health clubs also provide them at their premises.

The bands are basically 6 inch wide, latex bands with varying thicknesses which are colour-coded, into easily recognizable colours. The colours start from yellow, red, green, blue, black and silver in that order and offer resistance starting from 1 Kg to 8 Kgs respectively. In other words, yellow, red, green are light in resistance and blue, black and silver are slightly heavier in resistance.
The effect while using these bands, inspite of comparatively low weights is very different than using the usual dumbbells and barbells. The progressive resistance offers a good scope for progression in the intensity.

The major advantage is that it is very easily portable, and can even fit in your handbags, which makes it an ideal option while travelling!! It is relatively inexpensive and is easily available in leading medical stress or online.
While the ends can be just wrapped around your hands, it is advisable to invest in a pair of handles exclusively available with the bands and tubes.
A few cautions while using the bands could include keeping them away from sunlight, since they are made of latex and not using them incase you have applied body oils or oily creams to avoid injuries due to slipping. Also, they must be checked for tears or punctures regularly, inorder to avoid injuries due to snapping of the bands.
Also, it is important to consult an expert, atleast once before beginning the program to take all precautions.

Creatively Challenging - Swiss Balls!

One of the greatest developments of last century, and a great addition to the list of effective fitness equipments is the Swiss ball – or exercise ball, fitness ball, gym ball etc.
The Swiss ball is basically a large sized ball, made of elastic, almost puncture-resistant soft PVC material, which is then filled with air. The usual diameters range from 50 to 90 cms and occasionally come with colour coding.

It was originally designed for physical therapy, and was widely used by therapists and sports exercise specialists for advanced athletic training through core strengthening etc.
Presently, the Swiss ball is a common sight at most of the gyms and health clubs, and is used for a variety of exercises – e.g. basic exercises like Swiss ball squats, strengthening exercises for abs and other parts and advanced variations of some exercises, like performing a chest press, lying on the ball instead of the stable flat bench that is normally used. Lately, they have also been used during pregnancy to aid the process of delivery.

The criteria for selection of an appropriate ball diameter, is dependant on the height of the individual using it - one’s feet must touch the floor, when seated on the ball, with an almost 90 degree angle maintained at the knee. Too much flexion or extension at the knee, when seated on the ball, could be a hindrance to effective training.

The key feature of the Swiss ball is the unstable surface that it provides, and hence our body, in an effort to balance itself on it, engages many more and often deep muscles, thereby strengthening them and at the same time increasing the challenge. Mostly, the deep muscles of the core, i.e. the ones around the lower back and abdominals are the ones targeted and thus even the act of just sitting on it, engages these deep muscles and helps strengthen them over a period of time.

There are routines designed for group classes, and certifications available, now a days in training with a Swiss ball. Needless to say, using a Swiss ball requires a basic level of conditioning, and is not recommended for beginners and those with currently unfit health status.

The basic idea of using a Swiss ball is to include an unstable surface, which targets the core abdominal and lower back muscles and strengthens them. These core muscles are also a part of postural muscles and contribute greatly to functional fitness. So, while Swiss balls are mainly used for doing the abdominal exercises, lying on the ball, instead of the floor, it can also be used for working out other muscles.
To increase the challenge of your workout and to add fun and variety, try out the following –

Chest exercises – Instead of using the bench for chest press and chest flyes, position yourself on the ball, keeping your feet firmly touching the floor, and the base of your neck supported on the ball, and perform the chest press, flyes and pull-overs in the same way. Feel your abs getting into action as you move through the repetitions.
For the advanced ones amongst us, try doing your push-ups with the ball, with either your hands balancing on the ball, or your feet balancing on the ball, to add to your challenge. Please note, this is strictly for people who have high fitness levels. So, don’t try stunts at home!!

Leg Exercises – Hold your hands up, with the ball in between them, and perform the Squats exercise. You will feel your core muscles working with every repetition. Many other free-weight exercises that work the thighs can also be done using the ball.

Abs exercises – It can be used to perform a variety of abs exercises, starting from the normal crunches, to leg raises with the ball in between your legs, to reverse crunches and much more.

Suryanamaskars - Discussed!

Last week, we discussed Surya namaskar also called the Sun Salutation, having its origins as a form of sun-worship as a full-body workout.The 12 asanas that follow in a sequence alternately stretch and compress the spine and the muscles around the spine and improve vitality and health among its practitioners.

Let us have a look at the asanas one by one –
Step 1 – Namaskar position
The first position helps to expand the chest cavity, and thus helps breathing in the oxygen deeply which reaches all muscles of the body and energizes them.

Step 2 – Urdhva hastasana
This step further expands chest muscles and the chest cavity and increases the respiratory capacity. It also compresses the spine especially at the lower back.

Step 3 - Hasta Padasana
This step stretches the lower back and rear leg muscles, relieving tension in that area. It also has a positive effect on the digestive system and endocrine glands around that area.

Step 4 – Ardha Bhujangasana
This step stretches the calf muscles and lower back muscles, apart from compressing the spine and helps to strengthen the muscles around it.

Step 5 – Makarasana / Parvatasana
This step has 2 versions with some people preferring to use the plank position and other using the downward facing dog pose. In either case, this step strengthens shoulder muscles and stretches the entire set of back muscles from top to bottom.

Step 6 – Sastanga Namaskarasana
Sastanga implies 7 body parts, which touch the floor while performing this asana. The rest of the body is supported on these 7 points. This step basically strengthens all muscles around the joints as well as strengthens the chest and core muscles.

Step 7 – Bhujangasana
This step compresses the spine, strengthens the muscles around it and stretches the abs muscles over a longer range. This step is commonly used in gym workouts under the name of Hyperextension.

Step 8 – Parvatasana
The downward facing dog pose, this step strengthens shoulder muscles and stretches the entire set of back muscles from top to bottom. Also it increases blood flow to facial muscles, thereby improving the skin texture.

Step 9 - Ardha Bhujangasana
This step stretches the lower back and rear leg muscles, relieving tension in that area. It also has a positive effect on the digestive system and endocrine glands around that area. This time the leg opposite to the one used in Step 4. From here, the cycle returns to the first step.

Step 10 – Hastapadasana
This step stretches the lower back and rear leg muscles, relieving tension in that area. It also has a positive effect on the digestive system and endocrine glands around that area.

Step 11 – Urdhva hastasana
This step is similar to Step 2, where the body is bent backwards at the lowerback, thereby expanding the chest muscles and compressing the spine. Some people use variations to this step.

Step 12 – Namaskarasana
Once again the cycle comes to the starting position, whereby the whole body is brought to balance again.

Breathing sequence starts from exhaling over the first step, inhaling on step two, continuing alternately until step six, where the breath is held, followed up with inhaling over the step seven and alternately continuing.
Beyond doubts, Suryanamaskar is a highly effective and energizing option for exercising the body, mind and soul!!

The Beauty of Suryanamaskars

Although the monsoons are on their way out and soon there won’t be many acceptable excuses to avoid the gym, there are still a few interesting options for those of us who choose to work out at home!

Apart from the exercises discussed over last few weeks, options to work out at home will be incomplete, without giving due credit to Yoga, which can be done at home, but only after learning it under expert guidance. The most common and highly effective Suryanamaskars are an excellent way to get a full-body and mind workout.

Surya namaskar is also called the Sun Salutation, having its origins as a form of sun-worship. Hence it is advised to do it early in the morning around sun rise. However, in a practical world, it can be done at any time of the day.

There must be a gap of at least 3-4 hours between eating anything and performing Surya namaskars. Thus, once again early morning is recommended.

There are in all 12 asanas that follow in a sequence and they alternately stretch and compress the spine and the muscles around the spine. Also, one has to inhale and exhale alternately, starting with exhalation on the first asana, followed by deep inhalation as one extends the hand upwards and backwards, thereby expanding the lungs and chest. However, the breath needs to be held at the sixth step, when your body is parallel to the ground, and then resumed.

It is said that it activates almost all the muscles and keeps them activated for some time after the exercise.

Ideally, one must go slow. A comfortable rate is one Suryanamaskar in one minute, thereby giving each step or pose atleast 5 seconds to hold and then change into the next pose.

Around 12-24 repetitions are a good number to get a full-body workout. It is said that each set of Suryanamaskar burns around 14-15 Kcal!

Special cases of slip-disc, arthritis, heart attack, pregnant women are suggested to take medical opinion. Also if you are feeling breathless or dizzy due to exertion or sudden movements, take a break and rest and slow down the sequence.

It is advised to lie down and rest at the end of the repetitions. Yoga advises asanas like shavasana (Corpse Pose) to completely relax your body after Suryanamaskar.