The health benefits of exercise are hard to ignore. Every day new articles are published detailing how many different exercise programmes can reduce stress, boost energy, improve mood and self-confidence, prevent cognitive decline, control weight, promote better sleep, and combat health conditions. What is also important is to vary the fitness regime, and in doing so you can look forward to a fresh sense of motivation!
Free. Various indoor and outdoor locations throughout Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese and / or English, depending on participants.
Touted as a complete well-being workout, Laughter Yoga is based on the belief that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter; the same physiological and psychological benefits can be realized even if you are faking your chuckles. With the idea that laughing until my belly hurt would be a fun abdominal workout, I signed up through www.meetup.com and headed to a session held in the peaceful courtyard at the charming Oi! Art Space in Fortress Hill.
Laughter Yoga Teacher Natalie (aka “The Natinizer”) first led us through a series of easy warm up stretches including chanting “HO, HO, HO! HA, HA, HA!.” Then we got into the business of laughing by play-acting silly scenarios with each other, such as dropping ice cubes down each other’s backs or eating outrageously hot chilies. This feels like part acting class, and it is most easily enjoyed if one completely lets go of any self-consciousness. We were instructed to make eye contact and interact with everyone in the group. Before I knew it, what began as fake laughter turned into genuine smiles and then genuine laughter. Self-consciousness was replaced with childlike playfulness.
As for the ‘workout’? I’d describe it as a really light abdominal workout with no fitness level required. But to focus on the physical benefits would be to miss the point with Laughter Yoga. I’d call it exercise for the mood and soul. It is without a doubt a mood lifter and an opportunity to connect with people and feel part of the local community. After 40 minutes of laughter, how could you not leave feeling a bit brighter? I’d recommend it for anyone feeling blue, isolated in our big city, or in need of stress relief.
YOGA CANTO at Yoga BamBam
Like many expats in Hong Kong, I have lived here for years without really attempting to learn the local language. (Honestly, just the idea of nine tones intimidates me!). It is simply too easy to get by with English. “Yoga Canto” is a fun way to get started: A bilingual yoga class where participants get an introduction to Cantonese as well as a yoga workout.
Classes are held at Yoga BamBam, an intimate studio tucked away on the Pound Lane steps in Sheung Wan’s charming PoHo. Walking to class through the peaceful and artsy neighborhood I started to de-stress even before the yoga started. The tiny ground floor studio has a great vibe, and bi-fold doors can open to an alfresco class on a nice day.
Instructor Matina led us through a mixed-level Hatha Yoga sequence, teaching a few Cantonese words as we flowed through the poses. The new words were also artfully written on the studio’s mirrored wall for quick reference. I could slowly feel myself fong sung (relax) with each kap hei (inhale) and fu hei (exhale). Cantonese instruction focuses on words related to yoga practice, and adds one new phrase each week. My phrase was, aptly, Sau Gan Fuk Bau (Squeeze Stomach). The number of new words was sufficient to feel like I was practicing more than yoga, but not so much that I could get confused as to whether to move soeng (up) or lok (down).
You won’t achieve Cantonese fluency in Yoga Canto, nor learn phrases for the taxi drivers, but certainly you will be taking a worthwhile step closer to our Hong Kong community. And a workout to boot, it is a two for one deal.
Participants are mostly expats, with a few “lucky locals” mixed in. Maximum class size is about 10, allowing the instructor to vary the level of both the Yoga and the Cantonese from beginner to more advanced depending on the mix of attendees. Suitable for all levels, classes available at lunchtime and evening.
Anti Gravity® Suspension Fitness at Epic MMA Club
Want to hang upside down, swing, flip, decompress your spine and get a workout? Make a beeline for EPIC MMA’s AntiGravity® Suspension Fitness class, which offers all of this with the support of silk hammocks suspended from the ceiling.
The thought of hanging from the ceiling may be daunting, but it actually felt safe in the knowledge that the AntiGravity® Fitness Master Instructor Trainer for Asia, Tamer Begum, was the well-trained instructor. Each hammock is fixed at two points and can hold up to 2,000 lbs. Additionally the class is conducted on the gym’s soft Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) mat.
Tamer gave us a brief introduction to how the silks work and then deftly led us into our first hanging inversion. With the hammock’s support, I could stay upside down so much longer than in traditional handstands or headstands. Which was as good thing because we hung upside down for a long time. The release of my spine was so palpable that I began to wonder if I was growing taller.
Next the pumping music was turned on and, aided by the silks, we worked through a series of crunches, squats, and lunges. This was followed by several variations of plank pose with our feet suspended in the hammock. This was a serious core workout and a humbling reminder that running fitness is not necessarily correlated with core strength. More than once, I broke into laughter as I struggled to finish an abdominal sequence.
The hanging silks were first developed as a training tool for aerial performers, and we got a flavour of this as we moved on to a series of forward and backward flips and cannonball swings. What fun! Any fear about attempting these maneuvers was quickly overpowered by Tamer’s helpful coaching and contagious enthusiasm. I must admit the long inversions and the flips did make me feel a bit wobbly. Tamer says this can happen to those of us particularly prone to motion sickness. He assured me that it usually goes away after a few classes, as the body grows accustomed to the new motion.
Class finished with stretches made more accessible with the support of the hammock. Finally we enveloped ourselves entirely in the hammock, first wiggling like a dolphin and then, ahhhhh, relaxing our spent bodies into a meditative cocoon.
Overall this was a novel way to improve overall strength as well as decompress the spine. Regular attendance at this class may result in six-pack abs. Actually, I’m not sure there is a muscle in my torso that wasn’t used in this class!
In case this sounds a bit too intense, Epic MMA also offers Anti Gravity® Suspension Aerial Yoga. This offering is a more restorative stretch and a solid introduction to the hammocks. Children’s classes are also available.
Good to know: Wear a shirt with sleeves as the hammock can dig into your arms and legs under the weight of your body.
GROW YOUNG at XYZ
Entering XYZ for the first time, I was immediately struck by the part spinning studio and part nightclub. The workout room, called the “Theatre of Power,” is kept dark with black lights and colored spotlights. Think of the most energetic nightclub and add high-intensity cycling. I was sold.
If you are unfamiliar with spinning, it is a group class in which participants ride specialised stationary bicycles fitted with a dial mechanism to control pedaling resistance. An instructor guides the class through interval routines simulating a real outdoor bicycle experience, such as grinding up hills, racing, and resting on easier flat sections. XYZ, however, makes no pretense of mimicking outdoor cycling conditions. Instead, riders pedal to the beat of heart thumping dance music.
Music is key to XYZ’s appeal, and it is an understatement to say that it filled the room as we pedaled to the beat. I was completely swept away with the music as our professional dancer cum spinning instructor, Susie, led us through a high intensity interval workout. Much of the pedaling was done standing up, out of the saddle. When the music tempo rose, so did our pedaling cadence. Lest our upper body be forgotten, we also did a variety of push-ups on the handlebars and a hand weight sequence. All of this was choreographed like a funky dance routine.
If this sounds like too much, keep in mind that in spinning you control your own resistance, essentially determining how hard to workout. We had plenty of encouragement to put in our best effort, from both our instructor AND from the participants. There was fun hooting and hollering when a favorite music track began, when the intensity increased, or a first timer was welcomed to the class.
Did I grow younger as the name of the class implies? If age is all in the mind, I give it a resounding yes. The vibe is fun, the music is amazing and the instructors look like supermodels. I felt like I was at a party. All of which makes the 50 minutes of exercise fly by. Whether you are already young, hip and fit, or you just want to feel that way while you sweat, Grow Young is a fun workout.
Good to know: You’ll need to wear proper cycling shoes to “clip” into the pedals. XYZ has these available for hire at a nominal cost.
AirBounce at BounceLimit
BounceLimit is Asia’s first trampoline fitness studio, with group fitness classes led on individual mini trampolines (aka rebounding). With class names like AirBounce, MaxBounce, and CombatBounce, each class offers the opportunity to jump on a trampoline for 50 minutes and call it a workout. I could not resist giving this new Sheung Wan studio a try.
AirBounce is described as the “beginners welcome” class where you work your heart to the max. I arrived to the studio impressed with the sleek modern aesthetic. Once I was kitted out in special bouncing toe socks with grips, I headed to the workout room and selected a mini trampoline.
Our instructor Lucia turned on the dance music, and we practiced bouncing. The room immediately filled with joy and laughter. How fun it was to be suspended in air! I felt like a kid. Lucia then explained that as fun as it is to jump as high as possible, it is actually a better workout to use your core muscles to control your rebound. The body’s stabilizing muscles will kick in and provide more of a complete body workout. Nicely, the trampoline absorbs much of the shock, so the workout is easier on the joints.
Our tasks were to control our “rebound,” keep up with the rhythm of the music, and have fun. Lucia led us through a high-energy routine with moves that mimicked punching, dodging a bullet, running and disco dancing to name a few. Next we lay on the trampolines and worked through what I can only describe as a marathon of an abdominal workout. It started gently, rose in difficulty, and went on and on, and on, until my muscles screamed “no more!”
AirBounce is a bit like an aerobics class – yet made modern and exponentially more fun with the addition of trampolines and good tunes. It was a good workout, strong enough that my abs were sore the next day. I also found it to be a fabulous stress reliever. Give it a try, I guarantee you will have an enormous grin on your face as soon as the bouncing begins.
What are your favorite workouts in Hong Kong? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.