Why every stressed-out soul should try zenga, which combines the best of mind-body disciplines like yoga and pilates. By Estelle Low
Imagine doing yoga and pilates moves on a reformer with straps, springs and hooks attached. As the workout progresses, stability balls and foam blocks get thrown into the mix. Curious?
Welcome to zenga – a class offered by Breathe Pilates. Combining zen with yoga and pilates, it was created by Merrithew Health & Fitness in Canada to encourage mindful movement and to bring awareness of how the body and mind move in tandem.
Estelle learns to activate her core in the Warrior 2 pose.
It’s said to increase the demands on the neuromuscular system, and promises benefits such as better core stability, improved stamina and enhanced flexibility. After attending one session, I’m pretty sure it deserves a place in every crazy, busy schedule. Here’s why.
1. It releases tension
Zenga targets the fascia or connective tissue surrounding your muscles, nerves, blood vessels, bones and organs.
Healthy fascia supports the alignment and movement of bones with the right amount of tension and elasticity. Gentle, fluid movements like those practised in zenga keeps this tissue springy and resilient, says Genevieve Schuster, instructor at Breathe Pilates.
Here’s an example of a fascia-friendly move: Lie on your back with legs straight. Bend one leg and tuck a stability ball under the back of your knee, between the calf and hamstring. Draw big, wide circles with the bent knee while keeping the ball in place. Do this correctly and you’ll feel the tension in your hips, hamstrings and calves melt away.
Workout warriors, think of this as a much-needed DIY massage.
2. It corrects posture
Maintaining balance while striking yoga poses on the reformer is no easy feat. When
I strapped my thighs to its extension springs for squats, I immediately became more conscious of my stance and the need to stay steady. Was my back straight? Did I place my weight correctly on the heels instead of the toes?
In the Upward-facing Dog pose, I found that I was more aware of the alignment of my neck and spine than usual. Why? The straps supported the thighs and reduced the strain on my arms and back, so I could focus on posture. By the end of the one-hour class, I felt taller and lighter.
3. It’s hard on the core
If you think the Downward-facing Dog is easy-peasy, try it on the reformer. You’ll need much more core power to stop the carriage from sliding forward. Despite regular yoga sessions, this had my middle quivering as I struggled to keep my back straight. Using the reformer also means you can customise the settings to challenge different parts of the body while doing the same move. For example, increasing the spring’s resistance will work the arms more.
The forward bend with side twist gives the hamstrings and inner thighs a good stretch.
Fit Factor 6.5/10
I got a good stretch in the neck, shoulders, hips, back, hamstrings and calves. Although I didn’t perspire a lot, my core, glutes and quads had a niggling ache – the good kind – the next day. As you get stronger, up the ante by using heavier springs and doing extended sequences. Just ask the instructor to show you how.
Fun Factor 7.5/10
Incorporating the reformer and props added variety to the routine. I was never bored or distracted during the session.
Fear Factor 2/10
The moves may be based on yoga and pilates, but you don’t need experience in either one to follow the workout. The instructor will guide you through every move and correct you along the way. Watch your footing and you’ll be fine.
Where to Learn
Breathe Pilates is the first to introduce zenga in Singapore. A one-hour group class is $55.