Ah, Pilates. Not only is it fun to say (Pih-laah-tease mmm... rolls off your tongue), but it's also one of the most relaxing workouts you can get while sitting down.
Invented in the first quarter of the 20th century by Joe Pilates, a former sickly child hell-bent on building super-strong muscles, the yoga-meets-ballet warm-up technique is a microcosmic total body conditioning routine that focuses on intense muscle stretches, particularly in the abdominal area, and breathing exercises that align your posture and clear your mind. Ballerinas and celebrities love it. Some studios use wacky contraptions that look like medieval torture racks; others stick to good ol' foam mats on the floor. It's incredibly cathartic. Don't expect a hardcore cardio routine -- I blissed out during classes while the instructors led us through a series of smooth, very specific exercises designed to expand, contract and rejig every single muscle group. There's something almost Zen about the experience. The key to its goal of making proper alignment second nature is turning off your brain and learning to listen to your body. Sounds flaky, but it works. I walked away with an awesome ache in my joints, better posture and a lovely feeling of inner peace. See Body listings, this page, for classes and programs.