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Western Fusion

Created in Australia and taught around the world, Yogalates blends the best of yoga and Pilates for a safe and strengthening practice. By Helen Hawkes

As I lie in Savasana, in preparation for my first Yogalates class, I already sense something different about the experience. Usually I’m an Iyengar kind of yogi, but for this practice, creator and teacher Louise Solomon tells us we will be working slowly and systematically through every joint and limb.

There will be no pressure to strike perfect poses, or to move from one asana to another. I’ll need to dial down my “to do” button, release my need to achieve, and surrender to a pace that is slower than I usually strive for. But, as I will later discover, slow and steady is even better at ironing out every kink.

It is the gentleness and the detailed focus on mobilising, stabilising and strengthening the body in your own time that attracts everyone from teenagers to grandmothers to Yogalates. “Yogalates is described as a meeting place of East and West because it effectively merges the ancient practice of yoga from the East with the core-stabilising, posture-enhancing dynamics of Pilates from the West,” says Louise, who has practiced yoga for 25 years and Pilates for 21 years.

In 1994, she hit on a special blend of yoga and Pilates and trademarked it in 2000. She has since put out a series of DVDs that topped fitness charts in the UK, lectured on core stability to the Queensland branch of the former Yoga Teachers Association of Australia, developed a Yogalates teacher training course, and taught internationally.

“Yogalates is not for everyone, but it is very safe and very accessible as well as being a great way to improve functional fitness,” she says. “It is very much a prescriptive exercise. Doctors and physiotherapists send people to us.”

IN THE DETAILS

We start traditionally, with centring, following the path of the breath, working within the nasal passages and then watching how the breath moves around the throat all the way to the pelvic floor. We also take a moment to lengthen the sound of the breath; “to build integrity into the breath,” says Louise.

It takes 10 to 15 minutes of the 90-minute class to work through this alone. Perhaps that’s why you won’t find too many Ashtanga students here: it’s not all action, it’s a focus on little details.

Louise moves onto limbering and warming up the joints. Still lying on the mat, we stretch every section of our feet, ankles and legs with rotations and resistance bands (which replicate some of the exercises on the Pilates machines). These help open the hip joints as well as warm the thigh muscles. We move onto our arms and, again, every part is worked while we are mat-prone, although these exercises can be performed vertically as well.

Included in the warm-up is core-stability work—discovering the function of the very deep abdominals and bringing awareness to the function of the diaphragm. And we do some pelvic floor work that includes bringing awareness to the movement and function of that area, too.

“Keep that awareness of the core throughout the class,” Louise tells us. It’s about 45 minutes in and it is time to move into the more dynamic asanas. But, standing up, I discover I already feel limber, my body comfortable, as we begin to rotate our ankles.

INDIVIDUALISED ATTENTION

Of all the Yogalates exercises, Louise says: “Most have a preparatory level [which covers the remedial client], then we layer the exercise with levers and loading to make them more dynamic.” In some cases, light weights are used to help build muscle and bone, however never any more than 2.5kg.

Onto the typical yoga asanas, including Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) and Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose) and, with each one, Louise calls out different modifications.

“The perfect posture is the individual one,” she says. “Some people are hypermobile—they overstretch their ligaments. That can lead to hip and knee replacements, spinal fusion.”

She adjusts me in Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) to make my shoulder, which is injured, more comfortable.

Stretching to cool down follows and then it is back to Savasana, to find the “stillness” and to connect with the resting breath, as well as Yoga Nidra (guided body relaxation).

“You see people when they leave the class; they look refreshed and calm and usually a little taller,” says Louise.

Nicole Woodward, who has been teaching Yogalates for eight years in Sydney at Body Awakenings, says that although she had practiced Iyengar, vinyasa and Bikram yoga, she found that she didn’t have core strength. “Yogalates made every pose feel different,” she says. “It also stabilised my lower back, something a lot of clients tell me is the same for them.”

For the entire day after the class, I do feel a sense of being at one with a body and a mind that has been eased by a practice that is more gentle and, in some ways, more thorough, than the one I typically revert to at home.

I am reminded of spiritual author, Ravi Ravindra’s, advice: “It is useful to study different traditions in order to be free of attachment to any one way of expressing what is beyond expression.”

Helen Hawkes is a freelance writer and Iyengar Yoga practitioner based in Byron Bay, NSW.