Zumba, asanas, boot camp, HIIT – these are all familiar terms to our exercise savvy selves. Now how about doing asanas while suspended in midair like a circus performer? Or using your upper body strength to twirl around a pole like J Lo in the movie Hustlers? Believe it or not, Chennaites now have the option to try these funky new fitness trends. Let’s give you a little more about the unique workout classes available these days.

Once upon a time in Chennai, options for exercise were pretty much limited to traditional gyms, walking tracks, and yoga. Next, more exciting classes like Zumba (perfect for the many women who dislike exercise but love dancing) and boot camps (perfect for competitive types) entered the mix. People were learning that exercise is not an activity just for health freaks, but an essential part of mental and physical wellbeing for everyone. With this increased knowledge came an increased demand for ways to move! These days, there is a state of the art gym on every corner, as well as numerous racket sport facilities and group workout classes. But post-pandemic saw an emergence of more unique fitness classes that had been recently trending in other parts of the world. Read on to learn about some of these options; they may be just what you need to spice up your routine!

Aerial Yoga
One form of fitness that is definitely not new to Chennai is yoga; many of us remember our grandparents practicing asanas at home, and there are tons of yoga studios as well as private instructors. So how do you breathe new life into an ancient practice that has stood the test of time and been embraced all over the world? For Dr. Kavitha Mohan, founder of Aum Yoga Studio, the answer was to take it off the ground. Aerial yoga involves doing traditional yoga poses while suspended from a hammock, sling, or straps that are hung from the ceiling at hip level. It brings in an element of aerial circus performance but the benefits go beyond that novelty. These benefits include: Challenging your balance and increasing core strength Allowing you to go deeper into poses Helping you ease into new poses like inversions, because there is no tension on the neck

Imagine doing a hip opening pose from the sturdy hammock, suspended upside down so that gravity pulls your upper body downwards, lengthening your torso and deepening your stretch to a new degree. After experiencing this, you may feel that mat yoga only gives you fifty percent of what movement is possible! The practice also has therapeutic effects. Client Uma Balachandran credits Aum Studio’s aerial yoga classes with helping to heal her insomnia-induced migraines: “I had been trying alternate therapies in order to get off medication for my migraines, and I literally wanted to get of the migraines by hanging upside down! The first two weeks were tough as I had to face the fear of letting go at many levels. But once I got the hang of it I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wonder how hanging upside can help in centering and finding a balance.”

Otherwise, aerial yoga adds a playfulness to traditional yoga which can sometimes feel somber. Aum Yoga studio offers both types of classes. You can feel confident under Kavitha’s guidance as she is certified by numerous international yoga organisations and remains passionate about the holistic benefits of yoga, seeing how it has helped countless clients with anxiety, stress, and depression. A recipient of the Yoga Kalaimamani Award, she calls her style of aerial yoga “thottil yoga”, using the Tamil word for swing and thus reminding us that this too has been a tradition of ours, though usually for infants!

Parkour is defined as the activity of running through a town or city using skillful movements to jump over walls and other objects. Others define it as the art of getting from point A to point B in the most creative way possible. Therefore parkour requires running, vaulting, jumping, climbing, and other full body movements.

Originating in France, this captivating sport made its way into the mainstream starting with viral videos and culminating in being showcased in the James Bond movie Casino Royale (2006). I always thought that the closest my children could ever get to learning parkour was to learn gymnastics, so I was delightfully surprised when Chennai Parkour came onto the scene. I have not yet enrolled them but plan to do so, as their social media shows me what is possible if my energetic boys channeled their physicality into controlled spins and jumps!

Chennai Parkour’s Parkour Pod is a parkour training space plus gym that has bars, scaffolding, and safety pads constructed for the explicit purpose of teaching this new age sport in a safe way. They don’t just focus on parkour but also offer classes in acrobatics, calisthenics, martial arts and silambam. And while you may assume this is a young person’s sport, they insist that it is suitable for all ages and levels; for anyone who wants to explore movement, have fun while getting stronger, and break physical and mental barriers.

That said, I am most excited about the potential of parkour to attract children who have not taken to martial arts or organised sports. Some children already see the world as their playground, and are constantly being scolded for ascending heights and tumbling all over the place. Imagine how thrilled they would be to have all that physicality be encouraged for a change!

Pole Dancing
Pole dancing went mainstream in the U.S. many years ago, with women of all backgrounds attending classes and even installing poles at home. In 2021 we started seeing pole dancing workshops in Chennai, with the Hindustan Times comparing its arrival to that of the surfing scene over a decade ago. As usual, social media played a big part in spreading the word, with videos from The Pole Camp making the rounds and piquing interest. The Pole Camp was founded by professional makeup artist and choreographer Anusha Swamy, with one month and three month course offerings.

While some pole goddesses make it look like the most natural thing in the world to whirl and spin upside down and hooked by a single leg, anyone who has attempted a class would tell you that it requires an enormous amount of strength to even wriggle yourself up a few inches! That is why a pole dancer is essentially an athlete: this art form combines resistance training, cardio, and flexibility all into one.

Typically, you would be required to have certain areas of your body exposed to safely grip the pole. But once the pole dancing trend hit south India, three Chennai engineering graduate students seized the opportunity to work with Anusha to create something that allowed more women to explore it. This was a “fitness pole” coated in silicone, so that it does not require skin contact for grip. These are made under their brand Sthenos, founded to provide locally produced calisthenics and resistance equipment.

When I asked two friends how they had found their first pole class, they both separately used the word “liberating”. And it is easy to see why: single ladies, housewives and moms are now free to try a physical expression that was once viewed as an entirely erotic performance. They have to use their bodies from head to toe and perform athletic feats with the poise of a dancer. Casting aside conservative notions to take a swing at it must feel very freeing indeed!

As you can see, namma Chennai now has a plethora of ways to add some movement to your life. They may not be substitutes for traditional weight lifting, HIIT training, or boot camp workouts, but they are perfect for breaking up the monotony of a stale routine. There is a saying that growth only happens outside of your comfort zone, so even if you are happy with your current fitness level, why not see what kind of growth can result from trying something unfamiliar? These classes are also a great way to build community, especially if your aging body is looking for healthier ways to socialize rather than the usual drinks and dinner. So this summer, take advantage of some of the cool new activities our city has to offer!