Yogis and gym rats, unite! You each have much to learn from each other, says Steve Ilg, author of "Total Body Transformation: A 3-Month Personal Fitness Prescription for a Strong, Lean Body and a Calmer Mind" (Hyperion Books, 2004).

The book details an intense melding of Western and Eastern fitness traditions: strength and cardio training from the West, and yoga, mind-body awareness and healthy eating from the East.

Ilg says the combination will leave you stronger, calmer and more mentally focused. It could change your whole concept of fitness.

The program may seem hard-core, but there is much to admire here. The basics of Ilg's approach can apply to any almost anyone who is patient and willing to commit 45 minutes daily to physical workouts, plus time and attention for frequent self-checks on body position, balance and diet as you go through your day.

Charging that "there is no purity, rhythm or harmony to the standard bench press. You just crush the weight," Ilg espouses a less-is-more approach to weight training: "A wholistic athlete will take 40-pound dumbbells and make them feel like a 340-pound bench press," he says, mainly by isolating weaker muscles and working them instead of letting the shoulders take the load.

Weight lifting and cardio, Ilg says, suffocate soft tissues and tighten muscles.

"Without doing yoga to expand and elongate our hard-earned musculature, the muscles actually atrophy due to poor nutrient transfer," he writes. Conversely, he writes, yogis who lack muscle fiber from strength training can suffer injuries.

The Total Body Transformation program balances periods of muscle building with muscle lengthening, intense training with recovery periods, aerobic exercise with anaerobic, all complemented by a whole-foods diet, which he spells out in detail.

True, Ilg isn't the only proponent of an East-West fitness confluence, but he might be the most thorough and enthusiastic -- if occasionally preachy. (He calls readers "warriors" and urges them to perform most cardio work alone -- not listening to a headset, not talking with a partner -- to ensure full focus.)

Ilg's resume is daunting -- world-class competitor in numerous endurance sports, named "world's fittest human" by UltraCycling magazine, featured twice on the cover of Outside magazine. His three-month "wholistic fitness" program is based on exercises he performed to return to championship competition after he was partially paralyzed in the mid-1980s following a 50-foot fall while rock climbing.

In addition to the yin-yang view of physical development, Ilg recommends spending time daily on the cognitive end of the deal -- focusing on your breathing and posture and weight balance, even while you're sitting at your desk or washing dishes, for example. "Just stand equally on your two feet, use your non-dominant hand to wash and appreciate the water coming out of the tap." The idea, a stress-buster, is to link mind and body, and to be fully conscious of whatever it is you are doing.

The book lays out a demanding schedule -- two hours-plus per day, including weekends -- but Ilg promises the program "can accommodate any time frame, ability level, or degree of intent you bring to it."

This book is worth consideration for people serious about shifting to a healthy body-mind lifestyle -- or those who have been committed to just one side of the East-West divide and want to see what the other can do for them. Seeking an eight-minute thigh burner? Look elsewhere.

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-- John Briley

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