Whip Yourself Into Shape

As soon as the true heat of summer hits, I get into a more intense than usual health kick. With temperatures always flirting around the 100s, I find it hard to eat cooked food and I am forced to uncover the skin that is usually dressed by sleeves and long pants. This is also when everyone’s body is at its very best, leaner and stronger than during the winter months. That little layer of fat around our middle that helps us to keep warm during the harsh NYC winters is gone. The arms and legs glow golden due to the sun slowly brushing them with a tan. It is the best time of the year to work out in a gym, where they crank the A/C to frigid temperatures. That’s why this week, I decided to share my workout and eating secrets.

From the moment I discovered this amazing discipline – thanks to my friend Shari who now owns The Vertical Workshop in Los Angeles – I knew I was onto something miraculous. When I was five, my mom listened to my never ending pleas and enrolled me in ballet class. I have grown up dancing and now take a flamenco class twice a week, in midtown. Dancing is a great way to tone the muscles and develop elasticity, but it also takes a commitment to attending classes on a regular basis and developing from a true beginner, to a more intermediate class where the fun really starts. Pilates is fun from the very beginning and the student never has to feel like a true beginner. Created by Joseph H. Pilates over 80 years ago, it combines his studies of boxing, yoga, Tai Chi, gymnastics and body-building. In Mr. Pilates own words “Any body can do it. You can be young and athletic or old and crippled. It doesn’t really matter.” The words of a true prophet. I encourage you to try it at Power Pilates in NYC, on 23rd and 5th, or at an Equinox gym, where the Power Pilates method is taught. You’ll notice a difference in flexibility, strength and concentration within a couple of week. At Equinox, privates (recommended for at least the first couple of months) are $90 a session if you buy a package of 12, while a semi-private (up to three students) is $50 a session if you buy a package of 12. Click onto www.equinoxfitness.com for more info.

If you read last week’s “Adventures” column you noticed that one of my “Saturday Dates with a Best Friend” was a trip to Integral Yoga. A truly good and wholesome yoga studio, I really can’t think of anywhere better to perform you practice. I love the discipline of yoga because no one is ever labeled a “beginner” and practices are graded by levels, not aptitude. There is something psychological about starting to work out, or to practice yoga or Pilates, where one never really wants to feel like an absolute beginner or a klutz. So, Integral rocks, also because of their food store downstairs and their prices, for classes of 1 hour and 25 minutes, a package of 5 costs $70. The same price as when I was practicing yoga at a way lesser known studio with mediocre teachers FIVE years ago. Click onto www.iyiny.com for more info, class schedules, etc.

Somehow, I was always afraid of what running would do to my knees and weak ankles. I was a little jealous of my friends who ran for exercise, because I noticed the leanness of their bodies and the contour of their legs, typical of runners. Recently, I started to run myself, around Tompkins Square Park, every other morning. A serious case of bloating caused this turnaround in my opinions, since I could not think of any other discipline that would help me lean down quickly. And that it did! I never pushed myself, started by running through two Bollywood songs on my IPod – around ten minutes total – then going to three, and these days, I am around four. The latest soundtracks on my Ipod are “Shootout at Lokhandwala” with the song “Ganpat” being a fave, and “Delhii Heights”. For a complete list, see my profile on Virb, by clicking on the link at the bottom right of this page. Anyway, the secret to avoiding injuries is STRETCHING. I cannot stretch how important stretching is!!! So, before you head out the door, do arm circles, tendon stretches, lean against a door and allow your body weight to stretch the back of your legs, then kneel with one leg and stretch the other long behind you, repeating on the other side, hang down by bending at the waist and bringing your forehead towards your knees, etc. You can ask friends for their favorite stretches, or just practice what you learned in yoga class or at Pilates. The one great secret is to never, ever bounce into your stretches. Always breathe calm, slow breaths in and out and notice your body naturally relaxing into the poses. And the other secret, this from my friend Andrea, always bring music. Once you hit that wall, around the 30th step, you’ll need something to keep you going for the next 10 to 20 minutes. Don’t go too fast or too far or for too long. Just use runnning to enhance any other exercise you are doing. Sort of like salad with an entree.

Hum… Although I am pretty adventurous, I would not dare to try a public pool. Too many kids and we all know what kids do in pools. Pee. My yoga teacher in LA, Mas Vidal, swears by the pool in La Brea Park. That’s probably better than NYC pools but still, I never dared to go in. If you live close enough to any of the Equinox gyms that have pools, then you are in luck! They are well maintained, well chlorinated and usually empty at off peak times. Oh, and heated in the winter, which is just what my muscles need. They have three pool locations in the city, one at Greenwich Ave and 12th Street, one at Columbus Circle and 60th Street and one at Lexington and 63rd. Swimming is the most gentle, most effective exercise if you have any pains or injuries. It slowly massages the muscles and is probably the only discipline I have tried which effectively reduces cellulite. The great upside is that, like running, it does not require a teacher or a class situation. Unlike running though – unless you are lucky enough to live in a building with a pool (why haven’t you invited me yet!?) – it can be pricey since Equinox does not come cheap. What you could do is take Pilates and either before or after your session, use the pool. How’s that for great advice!! Once again, the website for Equinox is www.equinoxfitness.com.

Finally, now that the days are longer and the nights more balmy and sexier, get a group of friends together and go DANCING! Basement Bhangra is great at SOBs in NYC. Check out basementbhangra.com. Or just make up your own party and turn up the volume on your own music. But don’t forget to invite all your neighbors and respect quiet laws, otherwise a party is just an excuse to be rude. By the end of this summer, we should all be looking fantastic!

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