Yin and yang of fitness

relax as the practitioners make their moves, in what appears to be a judicious mix of yoga, Tai Chi, stretching, pilates, kinesiotherapy, cardio… They’re practising the art of bodyART, a fitness regimen that’s increasingly winning enthusiasts the world over, including pop queen Madonna.

Sessions on bodyART was organised in Kovalam as part of ‘Ayu Retreat,’ a holistic wellness programme by Ayurooms, a Mumbai-based Ayurveda start-up. “bodyART is both motion and emotion; exercise and feeling, linked by breath. The participant gains awareness of his body through the connection between breath and movement. It uses the body and breath as vehicles to dive deeper into our inner consciousness, in a quest for any self-imposed limits that we might have developed over time. By discovering our physical limits and how to transcend them, it encourages participants to develop the courage and fortitude to overcome mental and emotional barriers that may be preventing us from functioning in the world at our best,” says bodyART instructor Ulli Mangold in an email interview. She put a motley group through their paces in Kovalam.

The fitness regimen was developed by German physical therapist Robert Steinbacher in 1993, initially as a way for special needs children to improve their motor functions. bodyART has grown to be a kind of functional training. “We don’t just work on one part of the body, but try to address multiple muscle groups and the interaction between muscle groups, with the aim of enhancing physical strength, cardiovascular fitness, range of motion, flexibility, and balance,” explains Ulli, based in Brussels, Belgium and a keen practitioner of bodyART for the past 16 or so years.

The fitness instructor says that the main aim of bodyART is to break down faulty movement patterns and correct them, and to teach people full body awareness. “That in itself can assist the process of healing, weight loss, and mental well-being. We don’t claim to be healers of any kind. By realigning the body in a correct functional way, the body is able to move and work optimally. We are guided by the belief that if structure is correct, it naturally follows that function will be correct,” she explains.

Essentially, bodyART is based on three broad “families” of exercises: strength and awareness, therapy exercises, and yoga-inspired exercises. “Strength and awareness exercises target a specific muscle group and/or the interaction between muscle groups, while therapy exercises work on spine mobility and rotation. Finally, the yoga-inspired exercises are adaptations of the asanas,” says Ulli, adding that the asanas are modified in such a way that anyone can do it, regardless of level of experience or flexibility.

Also, every movement and exercise in bodyART is a representation of the elements found in traditional Chinese medicine and in Ayurveda. “Just as Ayurveda seeks to balance the elements in the body, through bodyART, we seek to balance the elements that make-up the movements of the mind and body. In Chinese medicine, we talk of chi. In Ayurveda and yoga, we talk of prana. These are synonymous in my view. They both pertain to the spirit or energy or life force that animates our world, our body, our mind,” says Ulli.

A typical bodyART session can last from 60 to 90 minutes. Much like other workouts, it starts with a warm-up that can last up to 20 minutes. The intensity then picks up for another 40-50 minutes and finally it ends with some deep stretching and guided relaxation. “There are several exercises in bodyART that can be practised without supervision once they have been learned properly. I often highlight such exercises for my students and encourage them to practise everyday. Through bodyART training, I try to show my students how sitting affects certain muscles and joints, and show them how to relieve these areas through certain stretches, exercises and breathing,” explains Ulli.