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IF YOUR LIST of resolutions includes "shed those Christmas pounds" and "learn something new," we present four ways to accomplish both – together. Get fit while dancing to exotic music, doing body combat, improving focus, and getting in touch with your spiritual side.

With alternative exercises offering more than just strenuous workouts, the pursuit of fitness is becoming less of a chore, and more of a way of life.

Brazilian magic

People in white, singing, clapping, and playing instruments as a man does cartwheels, handstands, and acrobatics to the beat of the music: this is the Brazilian art form called capoeira.

Once a fighting style disguised as a dance by African slaves, capeira has entered the 21st century with capoeira masters forming communities for this practice. Brazilian immigrant and master capoeirista Alessandro de Azevedo Soares (a.k.a Professor Fantasma) currently leads classes of Escola Brasileira de Capoeira, the premier organization promoting capoeira in the Philippines. Here, students are taught how to play instruments, execute dance movements, and learn life philosophies. Junior Tadashi Zialcita is one of those who have discovered the exotic art form. “It gives you discipline,” he says. “Capoeira also serves as an emotional and spiritual retreat from the world.”

After yeards of training capoeira masters rewards capoeirista students with a corda (a cord belt) and an apelido (a capoeira nickname) during Batizados, a major baptismal event. “You have so much fun that you tend to lose track of time.” says Tadashi. As he enters the roda, he sets aside reality for another world altogether.

An enlightened stance

What started as an ancient spiritual discipline in India is now one of the most popular exercises in the world. “Yoga started many years ago – and it was not meant to be an exercise,” says Henry Oliva, yoga instructor of the Ateneo PE Department.

Spiritual aspects aside, yoga practitioners can also get physical benefits. Coupled with a good diet, yoga enhances muscle strength, flexibility, and endurance.

Bikram yoga, a popular exercise, involves practicing in a heated room – around 40 degrees Celsius – to allow for sweating to flush out body toxins. Bikram yoga practitioner Jenilee Chan says, “The heat warms up your body so that it is safer and easier to do the poses.”

The 90 minutes of advised time per class grants the practitioner a stress reliever course as well as improvement of concentration, mental clarity, and self-control.

“It is like the outside world doesn’t exist for that time being,” says Jenilee. “This helps me lessen the tensions and stress I hold from everyday life.”

Though flexibility seems like the main requirement, this shouldn’t intimidate the beginner. “Flexibility is just a small part of one’s practice,” she adds. “You can achieve a lot if you focus on yourself.”

Of chokeholds and camaraderie

Two men donned in gis face each other with looks that could kill. In a flash, it becomes a ground fight with a series of chokeholds and joint-locks. Some call this violence but to jujutsukas, this Brazilian jiu-jitsu or BJJ, a martial art, combat sport and a form of self-defense rolled into one.

Founded by Mitsuyo Maeda, BJJ has its roots from Kodokan jusdo, a 20th century Japanese martial art. “Brazilian jiu-jitsu can be perceived as modified judo. Both have throwing and ground fighting but Judo focuses more on the throwing or the stand-up,” says Coach Ali Sulit, Program Head for Judo of the University Athletics.

“The very nature of the martial art demands one to be physically fit,” says Ali. The sparring sessions entail cardiovascular strength and endurance since it involves a lot of physical effort.”

According to senior Gian Dee, jiu-jitsu is really effective because one gets to work out the whole body and develop cardiovascular strength.

The close physical contact may put off some people but this actually forms camaraderie. Says Ali, “Aside from the physical fitness that you really benefit from doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the character building comes with it.”

Learning to breathe

Forget about sweaty weightlifting and repetitive aerobics. The new workout involves the simplest of activities – breathing. “It’s the real beauty and essence of the workout – your breathing and the contraction of your muscles,” says Pilates trainer Hazel Imperial.

Pilates is a physical fitness system fast gaining popularity in this health-conscious society. “Pilates is a mind-body exercise,” she says. “It engages the mind, while it gives you a physical workout.”

Its similarity to yoga aside, Pilates aims to improve posture, align the spine, and strengthen the core. Joseph Pilates, a Green professional athlete with extensive background in Zen practices, yoga, and gymnastics designed this exercise, which is now practiced by dancers in studio in New York and all over the world.

Pilates attracted the attention of elites – athletes, Hollywood celebrities – before entering the mainstream. Today, more fitness enthusiasts are embracing this exercise system for flatter abs, svelte thighs, and calmer, more focused minds.

“When you say fitness, it’s a holistic idea,” says Hazel, who also advocates a semi-vegetarian lifestyle. “There’s a sense of total well-being to the one who practices it.”

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