Fun and flexibility with Nova

The centuries-old Eastern philosophy of yoga has become a fitness favourite.

However, with so many different varieties, it’s difficult to keep up. As much a physical discipline as it is a spiritual one, all the talk of asanas, chakras and aums can send you running for the hills.

Ridding the discipline of some of that clutter, Rachel Holmes (creator of Freestyle Pilates) and Jayne Nicholls (creator of Freestyle Yoga) merged the two into a single workout regime. In a recent press release, Nicholls was quoted saying: “Our goal was to break down the taboos of traditional yoga and clear up the misconception that it has to involve Sanskrit and spiritual aspects and the need for a contortionist’s flexibility.”

Together, Holmes and Nicholls have launched Nova. Both pilates and yoga are great forms of strength training and also increase mind-body awareness. In fact, Pilates founder Joseph Pilates looked to yoga for inspiration when developing the exercise method.

Unlike traditional yoga, the movements in Nova are held for short periods of time with one move flowing into the next, which helps to get the heart racing and the blood pumping. It is faster and deeper and therefore more appealing to a larger group of people, and you don’t have to embrace the spiritual side if you don’t want to, though the workout still remains true and respectful of the original disciplines.

What’s also great is that classes are made up of a good balance of both genders, so there’s no concern of it being a “women’s only” workout. The routine includes standing and floor sequences, using your own body as resistance and focused breathing. Though breathing in Pilates and yoga are different – Pilates concentrates on the rib cage; yoga on the abdominal cavity – both methods are used here, and they complement each other. Routines are choreographed to soothing music.

While yoga helps you to become focused, strong and relaxed, Pilates helps to develop flexibility and muscle tone, improving co-ordination and strengthening the core. Together these techniques enrich each other greatly, achieving two workouts in a single class.

Although the Nova routine emerged in the Nineties, it has only recently been brought to South Africa and more specifically Virgin Active gyms as part of a 60-minute, feel-good workout. Anyone can practice Nova, no matter their age, fitness level or flexibility, as it involves listening to what the body has to say and only stretching it as far as it can go. It is about working at your own pace and not being intimidated by rules, which is a relief for beginners who may need to “cheat” to achieve certain poses.

A participant in the Nova class notes, “Afterwards, you really feel energised. You feel stretched out and it improves your posture. As soon as I miss a class, I start slacking again.” Quoting her instructor, she adds, “Length is strength.”

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