It’s been about ten years since I fully included yoga in my fitness routine. At the time I was following this brilliant program which separated the days by both muscle and specific training discipline. For example, one day would be resistance training directed at a muscle group or two. A second day would be cardiovascular based with plyometric and jump training. A third day would be a long and grueling hour and a half yoga session.
Having never done yoga previously and before the wide growing popularity of yoga, my thoughts towards yoga were not ones of confidence. Yoga was more popular with women and the slow movement and poses just didn’t seem really convincing to me. I was happy going along with my regular strength training and muscle building with what I thought was the conventional method.
So I skipped the yoga sessions in the first week or two. By the third week, I started thinking about what was really stopping me from trying it. At least give it a try and then judge it for myself. The idea was to open my mind a little bit, try something new, and approach it without my biases and who knows what might happen.
I actually started looking into it a bit. Of course, these were the day prior to Instagram and massive growth of the ‘fitness guru’ industry and influencers. The fitness industry was on an upward trajectory, but it was far and away in size and available information from what it is now.
Yoga wasn’t so main stream and had some sorts of debates towards it as more of an exclusively spiritual practice than a discipline or activity in health, wellness, and fitness. It was also more geared and marketed towards women with a sort of stereotype identity of the individual who should proudly practice yoga versus those who should keep away from it. Stereotypical communities began to grow from this which has been portrayed quite frequently in movies and TV shows.
For me it was primarily the slow moving nature of it, the poses and flexibility issues that kind of made me reject it. We would say things like men aren’t that flexible or aren’t as flexible as women. Or many poses are impossible for men. But, again, I couldn’t understand at the time how slow moving and the holding of poses could really have an impact on my fitness, training, and goals.
However, I figured that if it’s included in my program, it’s probably there for a reason and I should give it a shot with an open mind and see how it goes. Try it just once, maybe twice, and then if it doesn’t work for me, I wouldn’t have to do it again. It was half an hour longer than all the other daily session which made me a bit dubious, but I had decided to give it a shot.
And it was worth it. It was brilliant. Well, I say brilliant, but really I mean a new very difficult challenge for me that felt completely insurmountable every time I tried a pose, but it felt good. In the first session, I found myself falling on my face and in all kinds of directions. I could barely hold some of even the simple poses never mind the more complicated stuff. Don’t even get me started on how inflexible my body was. My chest was so closed that just the activity of having one hand on the floor and the other turned up into the air while in a simple stance was difficult, and I started realizing how constricted my muscles were.
But then there was this new sensation of isolated core work where everything, the strength, the power, the balance, was originating from the core while basically standing still that earned my appreciation. The focus and constant targeted activation of the core muscles were rewarding and started to translate positively in all my other training sessions and fitness activities. There was the disciplined breathing that was necessary and essential to the movement. Each breath was calculated and taken in tandem with a specific movement. The instruction was inhale with the first movement and exhale with the next. Hold the pose for a couple of deep breaths while concentrating hard not to fall flat on my face.
I knew it would take practice like with everything else in life to get better at it. The more I practiced yoga, the more I worked at it and pushed myself into the movements, the better I would get at it. It got better, but I was still far from completing perfect poses. My mobility and flexibility increased quicker than I thought it would, but I was still far from being flexible enough to completely straighten my leg on a toe hold bind balance pose.
One of the most rewarding outcomes though was the fluidity of my movements. It translated into my squats, my bench press, my deadlifts, and all my other exercises. All my movements began to feel smoother and less rigid. Even simple regular daily activity and movement felt smoother. It felt good.
However, the thing I had the most trouble with and probably the biggest lesson I took form away from practicing yoga was clearing my mind. Clearing my mind during a set of squats wasn’t too difficult for me because I could concentrate on the task of getting the weight up while activating and purposefully engaging the right muscles. But clearing my mind and just breathing while holding a pose, with virtually no movement or task or even without the fear of being crushed by a heavy weight to focus on, was a bit more tricky.
At the time I was a full time student and employed full time. There were always exams, homework, and work responsibilities not to mention the life responsibilities that would continuously creep into my mind if it wasn’t occupied. It would take a concerted effort to change that. The challenge was to be able to be present and consciously clear and focus my mind without the prompt of activity or task. It got me good. It was a practice that I was trying to hone in on prior to starting yoga, but yoga definitely helped me get there even more. It enabled me to train it further as a skill. A skill that I would then apply to and use in my other exercise and training types as well as my day to day life.
It’s been one of the most important elements and skills in my own personal development and life journey. The ability to be in the moment and close off random thoughts and stresses, clear the mind and empty my thoughts when necessary has been something I was working on since my early teens. It has helped me with virtually everything in life from my heaviest deadlift rep to a simple task of sending an email. And practicing yoga really helped me develop this skill even further and then apply it.
I’ve got a bit carried away in describing the benefits I’ve found in practicing yoga. However, the same way I started it, I also stopped almost as abruptly shortly afterwards. I finished this specific fitness program and my progression in training was increasing, but I didn’t include yoga. I couldn’t find a place for it in my routine. I kept thinking I should start it again because of all the amazing benefits that came with it as I have just illustrated almost too extensively. In fact, it would be over ten years before I finally started again and all it took was a global pandemic.
With all the running I’ve been doing since the gyms were closed, it was starting to feel somewhat unproductive. My knees and ankles were feeling inflamed, and I felt that I was just burning more and more calories. Running’s not one of my preferred fitness activities, but it is keeping me healthy and fit. However, I wanted something more, something that would include resistance, muscle work, and balance instead of only cardio. With pretty much no equipment at my disposable, I turned back to yoga.
Now with running four times a week, a few bodyweight and resistance band sessions a week, it’s my morning yoga sessions that excite me the most. This time, I plan to include it my routine even when the gyms reopen.
Try it. It might surprise you as it surprised me.