I thought yoga was a waste of time.
Five days a week I would go to the gym and, on my way to work out, I would pass the group exercise room.
Some days I would see vigorous cardio workouts, some days I would see strength training. Other days I would see, what looked to me, like people stretching for way too long. This, I learned, was yoga.
I began lifting weights at age 16 and based my life on healthy principles. I followed strength and cardio programs and set goals. I drank lots of water and ate every 2-3 hours. I got adequate rest. Aside from the occasional quick warm-up, stretching was not part of the equation.
At the gym, I’d pass the exercise classes and see what they were up to. The cardio and weights classes I got, I did cardio and weights so I understood the benefits. When I’d see the yoga classes, though, I didn’t get it. I’d wonder what it was all about and peek into the class. I‘d see people in poses and think “Yep, just a bunch of stretching… Not for me.”
I knew there must be something to it though. Just to try it out, I started stretching after workouts. Soon, I was holding postures for longer. Over time, my hamstrings, shoulders and lower back became less tense. I felt lighter throughout the day. I was less sore after workouts. I could actually walk after leg day.
Still, I’d wonder, “What’s the big deal? How is yoga any better than a few minutes of stretching?” I started to wonder if I was overdoing it in my stretching. Though I had no evidence for my fears, they began to surface. I didn’t want to get “too” flexible, I didn’t want to lose my strength. I’d go to a class, but I didn’t even own any spandex leggings, and that seemed to be an important part of yoga.
After a few weeks of this, I stopped overthinking it and actually tried a class.
Ten years and thousands of classes later, I can say I was right. Not about yoga being a waste of time, but about my concerns. Those concerns are valid.
I feared I would become “too flexible.” That is possible. Yoga often includes a lot of stretching and, without proper instruction, you can overdo it. Even so, injuries in yoga classes are rare. This is because the purpose of yoga is not to become a contortionist. The oldest known yoga postures were actually ways to sit in meditation. The purpose of every pose is to find a balance of effort and ease. Strength and flexibilty. Too much effort and we get exhausted and injured. Too much ease and we become lazy. So my fear was valid, I could overdo the stretching, but it would be because I didn’t listen to my own body, not because of yoga.
I feared I would lose my strength. My first class happened to be an intense vinyasa flow class. There were many experienced practitioners in the room. How could I tell their level of experience? Because the guys didn’t wear shirts, and halfway through the class my shirt was raining sweat. I was strong, but not like this. I was using muscles I didn’t know existed. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. I remember the feeling of sweat dripping off my face, heart pounding, trembling in plank pose. I looked around the room. It was challenging for others too, but they were calm, strong and flexible. Their breath was steady. I later learned that not all classes are this way. There are many styles of yoga, all with unique benfits. One common benefit, though, is bodyweight strength. Yoga is one of the best ways to strengthen the stabilizers and the deep core muscles. The transverse abdominis, the multifidi, the psoas. These muscles are the core of the core and they’re essential to many yoga postures. Instead of losing my strength, I’ve become stronger from the inside out.
I wouldn’t admit it at the time, but despite being open-minded, I feared being the only guy in the room. Was yoga only for women? Is it not as beneficial for men? I soon learned that yoga postures ask your full attention. I didn’t even have the mental bandwidth to worry about what others were thinking. In one of my first classes, I found my balance in tree pose. Standing on one leg, hips open, I felt confident and centered. I looked around the room to see if others as impressed with my accomplishment. Nobody flinched. I quickly fell out of the pose. I’ve since learned that yoga is not about gender, age, race or even mastering poses. It’s about your own awareness of your mind, body and breath. The kind of focus it takes to practice yoga is the same kind of focus it takes to do my most important work. To be present with loved ones. To enjoy my rest.
Strength, flexibility, balance, focus. Far from being a waste of time, yoga is now the foundation of my schedule. It’s hard to imagine my life without having yoga to practice these qualities.
Yoga cannot replace cardio, strength training or exercise. It’s not meant to. It enhances them. The breath and body awareness I’ve learned in yoga has translated into 16 years of injury-free training. Now when I walk past yoga classes, I get it. Is it just a bunch of stretching? Sure, but it’s not about what you see on the outside. When you practice, no amount of external validation is needed. You know for yourself that yoga is much more than that.
I’m grateful to get to share what I’ve learned by teaching yoga. If you’re like me, passing the yoga classes, wondering what the big deal is, I’ve created a series for you. Basically, it’s everything I wish I knew back in 2008 when I stepped foot out of the gym and onto the yoga mat. You’ll learn yoga for strength, flexibility, balance and focus. Not just physically, but also mentally as well. You’ll learn breathing techniques to enhance your cardio and strength training. At the very least you’ll get a thorough, fair shake at this yoga thing and see if it’s for you. You wont have to swim through a puddle of your own sweat like I did. At least not in this series. All levels of experience welcome, this series is tailored to your needs.
Stay tuned for more information from BodyBusiness on my upcoming yoga series.