September 23, 2010
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No health and fitness routine is complete without yoga. I’m not saying this because I’m Indian or because I’m not out of the closet yet, but because yoga is like a breath of fresh air to your suffocated body.
I generally recommend 3 days of lifting, some high intensity days and a couple of low intensity days. Yoga falls into the ‘low intensity’ activity category. Don’t get me wrong, yoga can be done at pretty intensities, but considering the rest of my week involves either tearing muscle tissue (strength training) or high rates of energy production (conditioning) the lower intensity version of yoga sits really well for me.
We all know that yoga has a long list of benefits and some of us have met yogis/yoginis doing some crazy shit like unsupported head stands and other feats we thought only The Mask could do. But what is in it for you and I – the average guy looking to get in shape?
- Yoga immensely improves joint health and range of motion (ROM). Yoga stretches out the right muscles for the right periods of time using proper inhalation/exhalation techniques which results in improving/restoring your range of motion. This is key for performance and general joint health.
- It helps in developing great core strength which is priceless for anyone interested in performance or even just walking around with a non-messed up lower back.
- It teaches you to focus on the task at hand. It forces you to be in the moment. Try doing yoga while you’re dreaming about something else – your body will lose control of posture and you look like a retard.
- Pranayama teaches you to control your breath. ‘Prāna’ stands for ‘breath of life’ and ‘āyāma’ stands for ‘restrain’ – Pranayama hence stands for restraining the breath of life or controlling one’s breath.
- Asanas teach you perfect posture, especially of the spine. We spend countless hours sitting and most of us either hyper extend or curve our spines which results in stress, pain, reduced ROM and injury.
- Yoga is the best way to get an awesome stretch. You can spend 15 minutes after every workout session stretching the muscles you worked but when you sum things up you’d have missed a dozen stretches. Yoga on the other hand stretches the entire body- from toes to tongue – in a very fluid but systematic way.
- Being a yoga instructor has perks.
Now I’m no yoga expert (which is pretty sad after seeing the picture above!) and have to try hard to not look like a weasel on wheels. But the important thing is that I’m trying and eventually will get pretty good at it. I realize that flexibility, balance and core strength don’t just show up one morning. It takes tonnes of patience, practice and control and that is exactly why I keep doing it more and more.
Aside from the fact that I do it because I suck at it,
- Yoga is the only ‘stretching routine’ that makes me cry.
- Yoga forces me to breathe deep which directly benefits me in everything else I do (squat, deadlift, presses, mas effort sprints/rows etc.)
- The once or twice a week full body stretch leaves me rejuvenated and ready to kick some serious booty in my next workout.
- I get injured a lot less after including yoga in my routine (stupid clumsy falls aside).
- Yoga requires me to hold isometric postures for extended periods of time which complements the strength and speed moves I do during the rest of the week.
- Most importantly it keeps reminding me that deep breathing and a calm mind makes all the difference in the world.
So what about someone with no past experience in yoga whatsoever? Where should he/she start?
- In my very honest opinion, start with sun salutations. Surya Namaskara (literally meaning sun salutations) is a series of twelve asanas (poses) strung together so beautifully that you flow from one to the other. Sun salutations are designed such that your spine is alternately stretched forward and backward during each asana and your breathing (inhalation/exhalation) jives with it. They are extremely simple to learn and hence can be practiced in and come with a host of benefits from range of motion to breathing control to body awareness to strength.
- The other option is to look for an good instructor.
I have to say here that there are many forms of yoga and each form has it’s own set of benefits. Try a few and find what works for you. As for me, Hatha yoga works wonders right now but Bikram yoga (yoga done at 105 F and 40% humidity) comes very strongly recommended by a friend and is the next item on my list.
As a side note, studies show that trainees who have mastered the art of getting piss drunk perform yoga moves with relative ease. Evidence in picture below.
What are your experiences with yoga? Any pointers for folks who have never tried it?