Google ‘Kalaripayattu'. Go ahead, we'll wait. Now, what did you learn? Martial art? Check. Ancient Keralan fighting system? Check. Did you see the picture of guys leaping over one another with swords and shields? Check, check, check.

Now forget all about it because we're not here to talk to about Kalaripayattu (Kalari, for short) as a martial art. We want to tell you about Kalari, the fitness regime; that offbeat workout you were looking for as an alternative to the gym. So while all the theory and history IS pretty darned impressive, what really knocked our socks off was how an hour and a half of Kalari can leave your muscles crying and singing at the same time.

In essence, Kalari involves a lot of striking, grappling, kicking and leaping actions; none of which are easy to master if you're a newbie. “That's why I spend at least 20 minutes to half an hour just warming up with my students,” says Kalari instructor Vipin Kazhipurath, “Your muscles need to open up for the workout that's to follow. Once a girl came to observe one of the classes, and after we'd finished stretching and warming up, she prepared to leave. She didn't know the actual Kalari hadn't even started yet. Yeah, I really do tend to focus on warm ups.”

The health benefits of practising Kalari are tremendous. You're constantly developing your endurance and stamina levels, amongst other things. When you go to a gym, most people go with a set goal - for example, to build muscle, to reduce their tummy, for flat stomach, six pack abs, etc. But Kalari is much more holistic. It focuses on the body's core and tests your mental strength as well. The more you train, the more you challenge yourself.

It's about the mind and body working together to perfect that one devious move; once you have it down pat, you move on to another - rinse & repeat. “It really changes your overall mind-set, and not just in terms of exercise. We have so many students that say ‘I can't' to a move, but then they practise it over and over again, and eventually they get there. It's about breaking that barrier in your head - your body can do pretty much anything. It's your mind that's the hurdle” observes Vipin.

It's difficult to describe Kalari on paper, it's a core discipline which involves a series of jumps and moves (some of them quite similar to Capoeira, the Brazilian dance / martial art) but it's a demanding routine and certainly not for the faint-hearted. That said, most exercise is demanding, just that we tend to be more comfortable with the familiar. If Kalari was as ubiquitous as Yoga, for example, it'd be just as popular. So whether you're a fitness junkie looking for a new fix, or just a beginner who wants to try something a bit off-beat and lose weight with exercises, why not try this particular leap of faith?

Find out the closest studio around you for Kalaripayattu now!

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