Vintage Natural Beauty- Exercise


Calisthenics was a system of exercise used to improve the health and fitness of both boys and girls in the nineteenth century. Calisthenics comes from the Greek kalos, meaning beautiful, and sthenos, meaning strength. Calisthenic routines were usually comprised of set exercises, each referred to by a short title such as "Wrist Movement" or "Military Position". This made it possible to teach calisthenics to large groups- an instructor would give the command for a given exercise, and the instruction could be followed en masse by all of those taking part. The little calisthenic routine that I've designed for you is adapted from Catherine E. Beecher's Physiology and Calisthenics: For Schools and Families (1867). Victorian-style dress is optional (but fun)! Just a quick safety note- if you have any medical conditions please consult your doctor before undertaking any programme of exercise. 

"Military Position" 




This is the starting position for the routine, and your "resting" position throughout. Stand with your heels slightly apart and your toes turned out at an angle of about sixty degrees. Stand up nice and straight- you're aiming for a lovely straight line between ear, shoulder, hip and ankle.

"Collar-Bone Extension" 


Starting from Military Position, stretch your arms straight out in front.  Follow this by stretching the arms backwards, opening up the chest. Repeat a number of times until you feel you have got a good stretch across your shoulders and chest. 



"Wrist Movements" 


 Starting from Military Position, rotate the wrists in one direction and then in the other. Easy peasy! 


"Elbow Whirl" 


Holding the upper arms as close to the body as possible, rotate the lower part of the arm. As the name of this exercise suggests, the movement should come from the elbows. This might feel a bit awkward at first, but you'll soon get the hang of it. 


"Shoulder Whirl" 


Make big circles with the arms. This nifty move strengthens the arms and loosens up the shoulders.


"Arm Positions"


This move has three parts- it's almost like a mini-routine within the routine. Don't worry though, it's really simple to do! The first part is just the basic "Military Position" described above. For the second part of the move, stretch your arms straight out to the side. After you have stretched your arms to the sides, lift your arms over your head. Repeat this three-part sequence a number of times to strengthen your arms. 




"Body Twist" 


For this move, you keep your lower body facing forward and twist your upper body to the right, and then to the left. You can do this nice and slowly- it's very much like a standing twist in yoga.


"Side Swing" 



This is my favourite move in the routine- because it's the most fun! Hold your arms straight out to the sides and then bend your body to the left, moving the left hand down and the right hand up. Do the same on the other side, and repeat a number of times (feel free to hum the Dambusters theme tune while you do this). 

"First Position" 


This move is based upon the first position in ballet. Begin with your toes turned out, and hands resting in front of you in a soft curve. Then bend your knees gently, as if doing a demi-plie. Repeat a number of times to strengthen the legs. 


"Upward Movement" 


This is another chance to unleash your inner ballerina. Lift up on your toes, stretching your hands above your head. Softly drop your heels back to the floor. Repeat this move several times, until you feel like Anna Pavlova.


"Sidewise Movement" 


We finish off in grand style with this elegant move. Extend one of your legs out to the side, pointing your toe. At the same time, extend your arms above your head in the "ballet arms" position you held in the "Upward Movement" exercise. Repeat on the other side, and repeat a number of times until you feel satisfied you've had a good stretch. 


So there you have it- you're exercising like a Victorian! For some authentic music to exercise to, you might like to have a look at Flora T. Parsons' Calisthenic Songs Illustrated (1867), which includes such rad tunes as "I Love Our Pleasant School" and "School Discipline". 

Love,

Becky x 

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