Exercise classes pay off with everyday benefits

Trendy disciplines find true believers

Yoga, Pilates and tai chi may be the trendiest exercise classes in Portland these days, but according to instructors and accomplished students, commitment to these tried-and-true disciplines can generate returns long after class is over.

Julie Lawrence of the Julie Lawrence Yoga Center, at 1020 S.W. Taylor St., says that while one class a week may set you on the road to a more flexible future, consistent practice will yield big-time mental and emotional payoffs.

A yoga teacher for the past 25 years ('I was the only person in the Yellow Pages under 'Yoga' when I started'), Lawrence advises supplementing classes with daily individual practice, performed in a designated spot in your home.

'Start with something achievable,' she says. 'I suggest five to 10 minutes per day, four days per week. You'll find that it will become a self-reinforcing practice.'

Without the guidance of an instructor, Lawrence says, it's important to bring determination Ñ and compassion Ñ to home practice.

'You need to not push your body, but give it what it needs,' she says. 'Approach yoga as a positive addiction, not another thing on your to-do list.'

You won't regret the decision to elevate your yoga practice from trend to ritual, Lawrence claims. 'I've never done yoga and regretted the time I spent doing it,' she says.

Portland resident Todd Hudson, who rows for the Portland Boat Club, became a yoga convert a couple of years ago when his wife invited him to a class.

'I didn't want to go at first,' he recalls. 'I thought, 'I run, I row, I lift weights É yoga?' But I loved it from the very first class.'

Hudson first saw yoga's benefits on the water.

'Rowing is about moving your body through a series of arcs, and yoga's focus on alignment, balance and awareness translated to the boat. 'What are my hands doing? What are my shoulders doing?'

'That awareness was the key to improving my rowing,' adds Hudson, who takes only two classes from Lawrence each week but practices on his own daily. 'I've never rowed better, and I haven't been in a weight room in years.'

As with most fitness studios, Lawrence offers a 'series rate' for her classes, meaning that classes cost less when purchased in multiples.

'I find that this reinforces the learning curve for a student,' Lawrence says. 'It encourages commitment and reinforces practice.'

Practice makes perfect

Adrienne Silveira, a Pilates instructor and owner of Studio Adrienne, at 614 S.W. 11th Ave., agrees that consistency is key.

'We try to get people to commit to two workouts per week, otherwise your body 'forgets,' and it's like starting all over again,' she says.

But unlike Lawrence, Silveira doesn't advise mixing other disciplines with Pilates. 'I think it's nice to have variety in your life, but you can't just flip from thing to thing,' she says. 'It may be fun, but you won't necessarily get the results you want.'

Developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1940s, the discipline focuses on strengthening what he called the 'powerhouse' region of the body (base of the ribs to bottom of the bum) through exercises performed on a mat or several key pieces of apparatus.

On this spring-based equipment, which resemble the hospital beds that Pilates developed the regimen on, students perform precise pushing and pulling exercises. 'The ultimate goal is a strong, flexible body,' Silveira says.

Because mat-based exercises are a critical component of Pilates, Silveira says, students can balance the benefits of studio classes with home exercises.

Vancouver, Wash., resident Angela Keith recently embraced Pilates as a means of adding strength to her martial arts practice. A third-degree black belt, Keith says that she was sold from the beginning.

'I took a class and fell absolutely in love with it,' she says. 'I'm doing Pilates twice a week now and will continue to do it twice a week. I'm finding that it adds strength without adding bulk. I go up to friends and say, 'Feel my stomach!' '

A belt of confidence

Janesa Kruse is director of One With Heart, a martial arts school at 4231 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. She blames the information age for much of what ails us:

'Computers were supposed to bring us less work. But in fact, it's just the opposite Ñ we're expected to do more than ever in our day.'

Kruse, who founded One With Heart in 1981, thinks focused disciplines such as yoga and martial arts counter modern stress.

'By becoming present in the moment and increasing your awareness, you relieve that anxiety,' she says.

To achieve this goal, Kruse recommends an Indonesian martial art called poekoelan tjimindie tulen.

'Poekoelan is a complete martial art,' Kruse says. 'It has the practical, self-defense application to it. But it also has incredibly beautiful forms, so it has an artistic element.'

With a popularity that crosses age and gender boundaries, poekoelan boasts the highest enrollment at One With Heart.

'We have an equal number of men and women training in poekoelan, which is really unheard of,' she says. 'Martial arts are generally male-dominated.'

Aaron Schoenfeld is a student at One With Heart, and after four years of studying poekoelan is on his way to achieving a brown belt, just one belt shy of the coveted black belt. Not bad for a 9-year-old.

'Aaron's a little guy and has a real delicateness about him,' says Karen Schoenfeld, his mother. 'But poekoelan has brought out a side of him that's shocked us.'

Schoenfeld noticed a change in her son's demeanor outside of his twice-weekly classes: 'He definitely feels more confident, and each time he gets a new sash he feels a great sense of accomplishment.'

She also appreciates the benefits that poekoelan provides in a competitive world, where the outcome of a soccer game can weigh heavily on small shoulders.

'It's nice to have that balance,' Schoenfeld says, 'to just enjoy something at that moment, and do the best you can.'

Despite poekoelan's status as a self-defense discipline, Schoenfeld says Aaron hasn't needed to defend himself outside of the classroom.

'It's something he's never had to use yet,' she says, 'except against his sister.'