In the course of my studies as a martial artist when I was younger, some time at a community center in Portland, school at a hippie performing arts college, and a certification in Pilates I’m working on now, I think I figured out a wonderful progression into physical exercise from any point. My mother says Pilates is too difficult, and she won’t work out with me anyway, but maybe one could start in the pool? Ai Chi bases part of its unique benefit from the breath support and the use of water’s buoyancy to support a person with weak bone health, as could happen from osteoporosis or an injury. Ai Chi also bases a lot of the practice on the breath control that goes along with other practices like yoga, qi gong, or Pilates.
All of these practices focus on an exhalation of breath - or vitality or life force as qi gong thinks of it - tied to movement. Yoga emphasizes the timing of ones breath to an openness and reach with the pose itself, especially when transitioning from one to another. This practice is also paralleled in Pilates, although the emphasis seems to be with the exertion of a movement, as would be expected from a fitness program which could be provided with more resistant with tools like elastic bands. Pilates, and all the practices, also do not require a gym and can be done at home, as one would expect as a practice developed for weaker individuals in constrained quarters by someone interned by the British in WWI.
Sometimes I forget to check in with the quality of my breath. Maybe I’m slouched over and using only a small portion of my lungs simply by the way my ribs are place. My diaphragm may not be strong enough to expand and make room for incoming oxygen. Slow diaphragmatic breath tied to a movement decreases blood pressure and lowers ones VO2 max, among many other benefits.
Having just a series of movements to memorize makes it much easier to continue the practice on ones own time, which is the most important part of any health routine for success. It also helps to learn how to tie ones breath to the exertion. In a way, they can all be a meditation. One or another practice may appeal or support one’s personal goals better. Of course, some people prefer the variety when following an instructor, or may desire something more strenuous.