THE BLOG
02/13/2013 01:49 pm ET Updated Apr 15, 2013

Achieving Balance in Exercise

We're all striving to achieve a sense of balance -- perhaps you're striving for balance in your professional or personal life, your relationships, or maybe the way you challenge your body. When I began practicing Pilates and yoga, the issue of how I challenge my body came into focus. Prior to my experience with these new forms of exercise, I was convinced that if I didn't leave the gym with damp socks and a shirt soaked on my back, I didn't challenge my body hard enough. Ever since I was a kid, my workouts have primarily consisted of cardio (e.g., basketball, running and spinning) with a little weight lifting mixed in here and there; needless to say, my exercise routine has always lacked a sense of balance. In hopes of developing a more balanced routine, I have begun alternating Pilates and yoga with high-intensity cardio workouts. By combining heart-pumping exercise with exercise that evokes calmness and self-awareness, I hope to see benefits in my overall fitness and mental state. We can all benefit from changing up our routine and finding new ways to challenge our bodies and strengthen our minds.

Just three months ago, I would laugh at anyone who equated working out to taking a Pilates class. If I ever did take a Pilates class, I knew I would spend the entire class thinking about how I could've spent the time more effectively doing interval workouts on the treadmill. After struggling to keep up in a Pilates class, however, my perspective completely changed. I woke up for work the next morning and could barely move my body: My abs were sore, my legs ached and my neck was stiff. Simply put, Pilates had kicked my butt. I loved that for one hour you dedicated your time to strengthening your core, improving balance and building muscle strength. I finally realized what I had been missing all these years -- it was time to rejuvenate my routine and expand my definition of fitness.

I had a similarly enlightening experience in one of the first yoga classes I took. The instructor began the class by telling us that the fitness and strength you build through yoga are different, yet equally important, as the strength and toned muscles you build by weight lifting or running. Before this class, I had assumed strength was merely measured by how much weight you could lift. However, after watching my peers dive into a plank and support their bodies less than half an inch off the floor with seemingly minimal effort, I realized holding that position was a testament not only to upper body strength but also mental strength. Yoga is uniquely rewarding in that it brings strength, flexibility and mental calmness together in a singular practice. One thing I knew for sure was that I didn't feel the same positive energy and litheness after running that I felt after taking a yoga class.

Although I am still new to practices like yoga and Pilates, I am happy to have found additional ways to improve my fitness and challenge my body. You, too, might prefer cardio exercise to gentler practices like yoga or Pilates, but we should consider the health benefits of giving our bodies a break and adding variety to our routines. Whether you pound your feet on the pavement day after day or perform the same repetitive motion on the Stairmaster, we could all be more conscious about how we treat our bodies. Like any other aspect of life, balance is crucial; as we work our bodies and minds to excess every day in the gym or at the office, it's easy to forget to breathe, stretch and let it all go.

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