Summer is the time to kick back and relax — or so people say. However, if you’re reading this, you are probably looking for the motivation to actually get in your daily 30 minutes of exercise. After a long day at work, it can be difficult to find the motivation to throw on exercise gear and workout, especially when you are not being held accountable by anyone. Personally, I enjoy exercising with a group led by a teacher because I feel the need to try harder, and that is why I decided to seek out structured exercise classes in the Fox Cities.
My first stop was Empower Yoga in Appleton. After researching nearby studios, I was intrigued by their mission “to offer the healing benefits of yoga to everyone, regardless of economic barrier, age, or body type.” I was also excited to see they offer both heated and unheated yoga at a reasonable price ($8 per class!!!).
I arrived early to a heated class because their classes are drop-in (BONUS: first class is free!). Instantly, I felt calm. The studio was dark and heated somewhere between 75 and 80 degrees, and I was hot — not in the preferred way, unless you enjoy feeling like a sweaty monkey. Tip: bring or buy a towel because you will need it.
There were about 15 people in the class, all at different points in their yoga practice. Even though I had taken yoga before, I couldn’t recall a lot of the pose names so I relied on my fellow yogis.
My body felt warm, but moving through my practice, initially, was difficult because my muscles were tight. However, the instructor was not worried about how perfect the poses looked — just that we were comfortable and trying our best. About five minutes in, I was a sweaty mess, and I needed that towel I should have either brought or bought.
Twenty minutes in and my body was beginning to move fluidly, but by 45 minutes, my hands were slipping, and my muscles were actually shaking during side planks. The class was becoming more challenging, or maybe I was tired. However, I kept pushing and testing my body.
By the time Savasana (my favorite pose because you get to lie on your back for five minutes) came around, I was ready to relax. Despite the class having its difficult points, my body and mind felt good, but I was slightly embarrassed by how sweaty I probably looked.
Hot yoga has many physical and mental benefits. As listed on Empower Yoga’s website, hot yoga boosts your metabolism and the breakdown of fat, conditions your cardiovascular system, detoxifies sweat, improves flexibility and joint control, improves circulation and reduces cellulite, aids relaxation and the ability to manage stress. Yoga is great because it does not matter how flexible or fit you are; it is about connecting with your inner self.
My instructor noted that yoga did not care if you came to the class heavy-hearted, stressed, happy or mad. All that mattered was for 60 minutes you gave your all and left everything on the mat — and I did.
For my next stop, I ventured to Neenah for my first Pilates class at Waveforms Pilates. Courtney Holcomb, the owner, used to be one of my instructors for dance, and I was excited to try out an exercise she is so passionate about.
As soon as I walked through the door, I was welcomed by the instructor for the 7 a.m. class, Molly Jo. She was extremely helpful with my registration for my first class (complimentary introductory classes are available!!!) and lent me one of the studio’s extra pilates mats. Pilates mats are thicker than regular yoga mats to help better support the body. They also had extra yoga mats on hand in case you already owned a yoga mat, then you could double up for extra thickness.
The studio was smaller than a yoga studio, but it allowed for a more personal environment feel. The room was also very comfortable — definitely not as sweltering as hot yoga. Classes are capped at eight people (you must register beforehand), but there were only six people in the class that morning. I enjoyed this atmosphere because I was able to get more hands-on adjustments — needed for exercises where I had no idea what I was doing.
I really had to concentrate more so than in yoga; there was no time for daydreaming. My core was not as strong as I thought, and the same went for my technique. We were also given an exercise ball to use for some of the exercises, adding to the difficulty, especially when we had to hold it between our ankles. Even when my core was begging me to stop (which happened quite often), I kept going. Molly Jo was very encouraging.
Pilates differs from yoga because it has more emphasis on core use. All of the moves we were tasked to do required a lot of control and precise alignment to reap the benefits.
The 55-minute class flew by, and I was surprised by how great I felt. I had been super tired that morning, but now I was alert, my mind was clear, and my body felt great. The best part: I was not super sweaty and able to go straight to work without a shower (don’t worry, I changed and freshened up!).
According to their website, pilates is great for all ages and body types. It is low impact, and while it strengthens muscles, it also makes you more flexible. Drop in classes are $17 dollars and a month of classes range from $48-60 (depending on how many times that specific day falls in the month).
If you are looking for a good stretch, a lot of sweat, a larger group atmosphere and more connection to your inner self, I would recommend hot yoga. If you are looking for more of a strength workout, a bigger challenge regarding balance and technique, more individualization and the ability to go somewhere right after — pilates is the way to go.
Either way, both are great forms of exercise, and as long as you are doing something you love (even if you may hate it mid-workout), that is all that matters. The Fox Cities has many yoga and pilates studios; go try them out, find your favorite, and spend your summer bettering your mind and body through exercise.
a Summertime Health Groupie