We have all heard of yoga, and now there is a new version. Chi ball yoga is the latest fitness craze that is sweeping the South, and here KATE THOMPSON tries a class for herself

BASICALLY it's yoga with balls - aromatherapy ones that is. I am, of course, referring to the latest relaxing, fitness craze to hit the South - chi ball yoga, which is certainly proving popular at The Quays in Southampton.

Classes are so busy that the council-run centre in Harbour Parade has had to put on extra dates to meet the demand.

So what is it that makes this fitness craze from Australia so popular?

Monica Linford, who developed the chi ball method explained how the fusion of mind-body disciplines was brought together for the new fitness programme.

"The chi ball method is a mind and body fitness approach I developed with the focus on feeling good. My goal was to design a simple, gentle and varied exercise programme that would fuse certain aspects of various traditional and modern mind-body disciplines into a class that fitness enthusiasts of all levels would find non-intimidating and comfortable.

"While the method can prove challenging for the very fit, the moves are simple enough for the first-time exerciser to grasp."

She's right - the moves are simplicity itself and the method easy to pick up - but the key to gaining the most from the programme is to breathe properly, as it is the oxygen you take in that will increase your well-being.

I must admit that I am probably not the best person to ask to try out relaxing forms of exercise.

On the night I went to my first session, I had just completed the body conditioning class and was due back at the office to write a news story.

So, when I was supposed to be visualising myself on a sunny beach, I found my mind wandering back to work-related topics.

I think it will probably take a few sessions before I am able to block out the day-to-day in favour of golden sand and a palm tree on the shore, but I'll persevere.

Anyone looking for a gentle way of keeping fit would surely enjoy chi ball yoga - although personally speaking, I find the punching and kicking routines in the tae-bo classes a better way of toning up and getting rid of all that pent-up energy.

You can try out chi ball yoga sessions at special 'have-a-go' nights costing £3 a class. They are on Tuesday February 6, 13 and 20 - all classes start at 8.15pm. If you like it you can then enrol on an eight week course costing £22.