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Priyanka Sharma attends a session of yogalates, a strenuous mix of and , and finds that the fitness trend offers a key to a stronger body and a stress-free mind

, 29, a young mother and a former national-level swimmer, wanted to shed her pregnancy weight with a challenging and effective workout, but she suffered from intense back pains ever since her delivery through a a few months ago. On Thursday this week, at in Gurgaon, a much leaner Bahl slips into the challenging posture of the “downward dog” — a popular yoga exercise — with surprising ease, straightening and curving her back alternately while moderating her breathing with precision. Minutes later, she switches to a few pilates moves, flexing and pointing her toes while performing leg raises to tone up different parts of her thighs, all the while keeping her back straight as a pin. The combination of the two strenuous yoga and pilates exercises which she has been practising for over two months, she admits, has done wonders for her backache — she no longer has one.

Fitness fanatics today want to optimise their workouts and pack in as much as they can in a limited amount of time. They are willing to leave the confines of their gym and spruce up regular workouts with saucy moves — be it swaying to fast beats in zumba toning, twirling in tangolates (an exhausting combination of tango moves and pilates), or testing their strength and flexibility in kickboxing and more recently, yogalates.

At The Yoga Lounge in Gurgaon, , 30, a certified yoga and pilates practitioner, combines the strength of pilates moves with the flexibility of yoga — mostly yoga — and conducts challenging yogalates sessions to spice up an otherwise mundane workout.

In my first yogalates session in her studio — a cheerful 2,000 sq ft-space with sunlight streaming in through windows on all sides — Sharma guides me through a series of complicated-yet-effective postures or asanas, mixing them up with traditional pilates exercises for the abdominal muscles, the thighs, the back as well as arms. The focus of the workout, she stresses, is on strengthening the core — the muscles of the abdomen and the back. “This workout is recommended for new mothers and those with backaches,” says Sharma, adding that one of the mothers in her group has lost over eight kilos in three months. A strenuous session of yogalates, she adds, can burn up to 400 calories.

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One of the most important aspects of yogalates is maintaining the correct alignment and holding the posture for some time, says Sharma, demonstrating her point through a few challenging asanas. As the music shifts from uplifting lounge beats to Hariprasad Chaurasia’s somber tunes, Sharma slips into the Ushtrasana or camel pose — she stands on the knees, bending her back and holding the heels of her curled feet. As we repeat the move 21 times (for a first-timer, the last five repetitions are excruciating), Sharma adds that this is an “excellent posture for alleviating backaches”. Further, the posture “massages the digestive and circulatory systems”. She follows it up with the Halasana or plough pose, with her body off the ground and legs over her head — this can be effective to counter constipation and stimulates the abdominal organs and thyroid gland.

“Since the spine is stretched fully in a curve, it becomes more elastic and its overall functioning improves. All the muscles, from toes to waist are stretched — this improves functioning of veins,” she adds. While beginners may take a few months to master this posture, they can reap similar benefits from the Veerbhadrasana or warrior pose — standing with one knee bent forward (always forming a straight line with the ankle to avoid undue strain on the knees, a cardinal rule in all exercises) and the arms stretched over the head.

“This strengthens your shoulders, arms, legs, ankles and back, and improves focus, balance and stability. It also encourages good circulation and respiration.” Some of these, she says, also strengthen the wrists and joints.

Sharma alternates these asanas with some exhausting pilates moves — for instance, lying on one side and doing leg raises for the inner and upper thighs, or performing squats with the back against the wall, knees bent, almost akin to sitting on an imaginary chair. “In yogalates, every action or posture has a counter-move. This means you are simultaneously stretching and relaxing every muscle,” she says. Each exercise is alternated with chants of om to relax the body and mind.

While in most workouts, one is advised to eat fruits or drink juice an before exercise, Sharma insists one shouldn’t eat at least two hours before and 45 minutes after the yogalates session. “The exercises and asanas harvest and generate energy; if you eat soon after, that energy will be utilised in digestion.” She charges Rs 2,800 for 12 classes in a month at The Yoga Lounge; for private yogalates sessions, she charges Rs 1,200 for an hour.

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“A good yogalates workout increases metabolism, that is, your ability to burn calories,” says Hetall Madiwala, a fitness expert and founder of Frequencee, a fitness centre in Mumbai. “When combined with proper nutrition, yogalates can be used as an effective weight-loss method,” she adds. While pilates focuses on muscle control, establishing a mind-body connection and eliminating distractions, says Madiwala, yoga exercises place your body in stationary positions, using it as a resistance. An effective combination of the two comprises a full range of motion exercises interspersed with stationary positions. “For increased intensity, you can incorporate resistance bands. Workouts focusing on muscle conditioning give your body a leaner appearance,” she says. By combining the strengthened asanas of yoga and fluid movement of pilates, the body generates more energy which results in more calories burned.

The biggest benefit of practising yogalates, according to Shabnam Paul, a group instructor at Fitness First in Delhi, is a stronger body and a stress-free mind. “Yogalates, thus, becomes a form of physical rehabilitation.” Since pilates is performed supine or while lying on your side, the exercises are ideal in pre- and post-operative therapy. However, she cautions that the workout may not be for everyone since yoga involves balancing, seated postures and inversions which might prove difficult for those with joint pain and balance issues.

Moderating the breathing is crucial to both forms of exercise, she says. While in yoga, one must inhale and exhale through the nose to create inner heat, in pilates, one must exhale through the mouth to focus on emptying the diaphragm and contracting the abdominal muscles.

Since the workout requires a high degree of flexibility, as I found out, beginners would do better to focus on mastering each posture for optimum results. So for fitness enthusiasts wanting to spice up their workout and increase both strength and flexibility, yogalates might just be the key.

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