Brain and brawn, together at last

The newest workouts tone the mind and spirit as well as the body. Eleanor Bailey reports

The busy executive no longer wants to train her body but leave her mind in her bag in the gym locker. That's a bit like putting the soap on after you've had the bath - separating two essential activities that are a lot better done together. To this end, Reebok Club NY, the gargantuan, five -storey, 18 hour a day exercise Mecca has introduced a new class, the "Neuromuscular Interactive Action" or NIA. It is, they say, the ultimate mind and body exercise experience, offering "the concentration of T'ai Chi, the dynamic powers of yoga, the explosive powers of martial arts and the grace and spontaneity of dance". Holistic Exercise, they call it: mind and body training.

Gloria Keeling, Director of Strong, Stretched and Centred, a training centre for fitness professionals in Hawaii, explains: "We all know that exercise is good for the mind. But the growth in mind/body exercise like NIA is adding depth to that awareness. It is a way of getting the benefits of meditation while still getting fit. And it is especially popular with the baby boomers who are finding that they need more meaning in their lives."

And if it's there, it will be over here soon. For fitness experts have noticed an increasing need in consumers for mind exercise or holistic fitness. Jane Wake, Nike Elite trainer who does personal training at London's Metropolitan Club and has a fitness company called Body Awake, is currently teaching trainers her own new mind/body fitness class called Ambient Stretch, and hopes to bring out a video of the same name for consumers in the next six months. "The class appeals to people who either do no fitness at all or who do all cardiovascular stuff but shy away from the new age image of things like yoga. There is a rhythmic movement element, cardiovascular work, I use the slow breathing techniques from yoga so that participants can focus on a philosophy while they exercise and create balance in a way that straight fitness just can't do."

A new video from Australian Monica Linford is called, with little ambiguity, Move Your Mind, Move Your Body. In that order. Martika Heaner's new video The Squeeze is all about using the mind to sculpt the body and a new Pilates book by Lynn Robinson and Gordon Thomson Body Control - The Pilates Way, coming out in March, makes much of Joseph Pilates favourite Schiller quote: "It is the mind itself which builds the body".

The new obsession with the holistic has been good news for Yoga, which has been enjoying popularity not seen since the Seventies. Crucially, New Yoga, like New Labour, has tapped into the Zeitgeist, pumping itself up so that it doesn't just relax and enable you to tie your legs round your head, it involves cardiovascular work, too. The Broadgate Club in London has seen a 25 per cent leap in yoga attendance. "People are really into training their minds," says General Manager Sarah Gibbons. "We've had to put on an extra three classes a week." It seems that the old incentives of the shapely bottom and the nebulous exercise "high" are no longer enough.

Martial Arts, too, have been gaining from the mind/body growth. "A lot of people were doing marathons for the endorphin kick, but as they got older they realised they can't do it forever," says Rafael Nieto, of the Amateur Martial Arts Association. "I teach Mugendo, which is a good combination of the physical side and the meditation, energy giving side. It is a very appealing combination, especially when people pass 30 and realise that their bodies and lives are finite."

Jane Wake is at Body Awake: 0171 627 2601; Tee Dobinson at Inside Outside Fitness will be running a series of Mind Body days from March, call 07000 7747755.

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