Yogas chitta vritti nirodha.
Yoga is the quieting of the fluctuations of the mind. -Yoga Sutras 1:2.
I can almost hear Patanjali… Did I stutter???
Nowhere in that statement do we see anything about core, quads, hamstrings, or the body at all! In fact, as a non-dualistic practice, Yoga suggests quite the opposite. The body itself can be an obstacle to enlightenment if we take it too seriously. And yet in the United States people flock to yoga for its physical benefits. If I had a nickel for every time a new student told me “My doctor sent me to yoga” …. well, I’d have a lot of nickels. Certainly enough to pay for downtown parking for at least a week!
Let’s face it… Despite Yoga’s lofty intentions of ultimate union with all that is, what brings most of us to yoga is our tight hamstrings, our bad backs, our weak abs, or, in my case, sheer boredom with typical gym workout routines. If I did one more stupid sit-up I was going to kick the aerobic instructor in the face! Interestingly enough, this was another sign I needed to do yoga. Fortunately for me, and the poor aerobic instructor, I was curious.
Is there a place for Yoga in my workout routine?
At the time I am writing this, if one Googles “How old is Yoga?”, 10,000 years pops up at the top of the list. That is a pretty big number. More conservative estimates (and, really, it is difficult to imagine there are any credible fewer conservative estimates) suggest anywhere between 5,000 and 1,600 years old. Some even claim that as a complete integrative practice, Yoga is a mere 100 years old. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but the point is that Yoga is old. Really old. Even if the youngest estimate were correct and Yoga is 100 years old, that is still a really long time! Think about it in terms of history, society, technology. What was or was not going on 100 years ago that is or is not going on today? Even just 100 years is a long time.
For something as old as Yoga to remain relevant for so long, it must continuously be embraced and shared by new practitioners. It is Yoga’s mutable nature that appeals to people all over the world. The way we participate and share yoga in our community may look very different than the way that yoga is shared in another community. It is true that Yoga is a spiritual practice which has the ultimate goal of inner peace. However, Yoga is big enough to encompass relieving tight hamstrings as part of that process. After all, if we cannot be comfortable in our body, we will have great difficulty remaining still long enough to quiet said fluctuations of the mind. It is the physical practice of hatha yoga that sparked the interest of most Western practitioners.
Yoga and cross-training.
Whether one is an everyday exerciser, weekend warrior, or seasoned athlete, yoga can be an excellent addition to one’s workout routine. Yoga incorporates muscles that are often left out of most traditional workout routines. It invites our bodies to move in new and different ways. Yoga balances the intensity of exercise such as running, cycling, and weight-training with active rest. It is also an excellent way for athletes to train their minds so that they know when to push harder and when to yield when participating in their sport.
However, it is important for yoga practitioners to take their cue from athletes and do some cross-training of their own! As much as we love yoga, our bodies need a plethora of movements in order to be in balance. Just like any exercise, yoga tends to use-and overuse- particular muscles and groups of muscles. For example, consider how many times you press your hands into the floor in your average yoga class. Our “pushing” muscles may be quite well developed, but how about those “pulling” muscles? Another example is how during our yoga practice we are often encouraged to draw our shoulders down and back and “open” our chest. This may have a negative impact on us if we do not consciously work this region in other ways. Whether our primary sport is yoga or whether it is running, good physical fitness requires we do a variety of activities to optimally function.
No one knows more about this than my good friend and colleague Grace Rogers. She credits yoga with enabling her to run injury-free! Grace will be hosting a workshop for yogis and runners alike at Eternal Health Yoga this Sunday October 21st, from 2 through 4pm. Join her and learn how yoga can help you to healthfully participate in your sport for years to come!