One of my favorite teachers was making the rounds in a crowded yoga studio, and she paused when she passed my mat. I was deep into a pose, using all my focus to “melt deeper” and “find release” as yoga teachers are so fond of repeating. She paused, and asked me to stand up and step off my mat. Trusting her guidance, I stepped off, and she took my mat, replacing it with a blanket, and said, “Continue.”
A blanket is the opposite of a yoga mat when it comes to traction, and I found myself barely able to get into the pose. It took all my strength to support myself, and after a minute or two of struggle, she came back to my side. “You’re falling into your flexibility, and resting on your ligaments. Yoga is about more than flexibility. You’re very flexible, that’s great. Now focus on cultivating strength. At first it’ll be a challenge to keep your footing on the blanket, but it will balance your practice.”
Making a conscious choice to balance your practice, and incorporating strength and endurance into your yoga routine will help ensure that you’re developing the strength to support your flexibility, both on and off the mat. Continuing to stretch and lengthen muscles without the strength to maintain stability can lead to injury. Fortunately, there’s many simple ways to incorporate strength, balance and stability work into your yoga practice.
Yoga on a Blanket or Rug
Removing the stability of a sticky mat can be a great first step toward evaluating your strength and balance in some of your favorite yoga poses. Without the mat, do your hands slip away from you in downward facing dog? Perhaps you’re not generating enough lift through your hips or core engagement. Cant maintain warrior pose? Perhaps you need to work on strengthening and engaging your adductors, quads or posterior chain. Be safe, and make sure you slowly attempt poses on a blanket or rug, because while the purpose it to make you work to not slip, you obviously don’t want to slip and hurt yourself.
Holding Positions for Extended Periods
If you’re a fan of vinyasa yoga, and tend to move rapidly from one pose to the next, what’s your rush? Try deliberately holding challenging poses for extended periods, starting with 1-2 minutes, and working your way up to as long as 15 minute holds. Wide leg squats in goddess pose may be easy to accomplish if you’re rushing through it, but can you keep your glutes and upper back engaged during a prolonged hold?
Practice Slow Transitions
While many positions in yoga are comfortable resting places, the journey to them is often not. When moving from down dog to up dog, if you’re used to rushing through chaturanga, try to remember that it’s known as a “yoga push up” for a reason. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to engage your upper body and core, and provide a repeated challenge as you use it to transition between poses, some times dozens of times in a single yoga class. Slow it down, master your form, and make sure you’re using your transitions as a place of instability that you slowly move through while consciously engaging your muscles.
Repetition to Exhaustion for Endurance
Once you’ve mastered perfect form in chaturanga, and can engage your core to slowly lift your legs into the perfect headstand, it’s time to do it again. And again. Then maybe 3 or 4 more times. Is it getting harder? Good. You’re toning and shaping your muscles through repetition of challenging poses. Obviously you don’t want to repeat positions or transitions to the point of total exhaustion, but once you’re strong enough to complete a move in good form once, trying to repeat it a few times once you’ve already engaged and fatigued the muscles involved will build strength and endurance and improve your practice. By working up to a few repetitions, you are ensuring that when you complete that pose or transition in the course of normal practice, you preform it flawlessly.
Switch Up Your Routine
If you’re practicing at home, or even in a studio with the same instructor on a regular basis, likely you’re not exposed to new and challenging poses. Your body becomes accustomed to the same sequence and routine. In your own home practice, you’re most likely to repeat positions that you’re already good at. It’s human nature to seek that positive reinforcement of a well executed position or sequence, and repeatedly practicing that which you’ve already mastered isn’t providing new challenge to your body. Try out a new teacher, or a new modality. In your home practice, pick a few poses you’ve never tried or rarely practice and focus on them for a few weeks, and then move on to a new challenge.
You know how important exercise is to leading a healthy lifestyle. You probably do cardio at least a few times a week and hopefully work on building strength and muscle, as well. One aspect of exercise that often gets forgotten is stretching. Stretching is crucial to a well-rounded workout plan. In fact, it’s just as important as strength and cardio are to your routine. Here are the benefits of stretching regularly.
If you’ve been working on building a strong core and shoulders, you should be able to stand up nice and tall. However, if your muscles are too tight, it could be causing you to hunch over. In addition to strength, keeping yourself limber will lead to better posture.
Makes Workouts More Accessible
If you want to perfect your pistol squat but can’t get low enough to do it, it might not be a strength issue. Increased flexibility will make it easier for you to achieve those difficult moves. When your hips and hamstrings are loose, you are able to get even lower in those squats. More flexibility and rotation in your shoulders will make arm and chest exercises easier.
Lowers Risk of Injury
Tight muscles are much more likely to pull, strain or tear than loose ones. Stretching helps increase your range of motion so you can do more. You won’t have to worry as much about tearing your hamstring or straining your shoulder during a tough strength workout when you know your muscles are flexible enough to stretch out and bounce back.
Less Low Back Pain
Lower back pain is a common complaint amongst adults, especially those who sit at desks all day. You can build your core muscle, but if those muscles are tight, there’s only so much a strength workout can do for you. When your hamstrings, glutes and hips are tight, it puts excess pressure on your lumbar spine to keep your body properly aligned, leading to pain. Stretching will help loosen those muscles and distribute the weight more evenly.
Keeps Knees Healthy
Many adults develop knee problems as they age, and a lot of it has to do with the pressure that we put on them every day. Short, tight and weak hamstrings create big imbalances in your legs and force your knees to do more work. Building lower body strength will definitely help, but you need to stretch those muscles out, too. Limber hamstrings and a flexible IT band will support your knees when you’re running and squatting.
Clears Your Mind
Stretching helps release tension in your body, but it also helps ease tension in your mind. Just 10-15 minutes a day of active stretching can calm your mind and give you a mental break. A class like yoga is designed to use stretches and flexibility exercises to help you clear your mind.
You don’t have to become an expert yogi to reap the rewards. You’ll see improvements simply by stretching after your other workouts. Still, if you can, you should try to do one long stretching session once a week, somewhere between 45 and 60 minutes. Whether it’s a yoga class, pilates video or just your own flexibility work, making time to stretch deeply every week will make your workouts much better.
We all wish getting in shape was easy, simple and fun at every stage.
Unfortunately, that is unlikely to be the case. We’re going to look at 4 truths about fitness that people do not want to hear – but need to.
You need to know the reality of the situation, to know what you are trying to do and what it’s going to take. This empowers you. It gives you control of your situation.
Control to direct the outcomes of your life.
Hiding away from reality might feel better at the time, but it is sabotaging your long term happiness.
A little sacrifice now will create the life that you want in the future.
Here’s the 4 truths about fitness you don’t want to hear, but need to embrace to successfully achieve the body you dream of.
1. It takes time
Rome was not built in a day, as they say.
While you can make significant changes to your body quickly, if you are fully committed and dedicated, the reality is that your body reflects your long term behaviour.
You don’t get fat in 2 weeks, and nor do you get in shape in 2 weeks.
If you’ve been eating fattening foods, not exercising, not sleeping properly and highly stressed for years or even decades, you cannot expect to undo all of that in days or weeks.
It will take at least months.
You will make some progress quickly, but to fully reverse, it is going to take time.
The way that you look, feel and perform is reflective of your long term behaviours. You need to make a long term commitment to eating right, exercising, sleeping and managing stress if you want to optimize your health and the way you look.
We all want fast results, and it is possible to see changes quickly – there is nothing wrong with that. Getting fast results is not the same as only being committed for the short term. If you can implement a plan that gets you quick results and sustain it then go ahead.
Results in the short term can act as positive reference and motivation to keep going. There is nothing as encouraging as seeing results.
2. There’s no magic pill or routine
Most people would admit this when asked. You know that if your friend was asking for advice, you would tell them to put in the time, stick with it and do the work.
Yet, we still want to believe that we are different. We have an edge and that there is a program, supplement, food or routine out there that will give us fast and easy results for little effort.
The marketing of many supplements, and fad diets is responsible for this, where they promise the world when you take this magical (expensive) pill, powder or shake. The reality is these plans might give you some short term results, but it is not sustainable.
To really see changes, you must commit to doing the work over a long period of time.
Become a master of the basics and you will succeed. Do not fall into the trap of the latest fad diet/exercise/supplement, thinking that this is the key to achieving more.
Keep things simple, eat healthy, move and commit to it for an extended period of time if you want to see results.
It’s against human nature to do this – why would anyone want to work hard to achieve something slowly when we could get it quickly for little effort – this is what the scammy marketers prey on. In the real world, the tortoise always beats the hare. You just have to make that commitment and believe in the process.
3. If you don’t find a way to enjoy it, you will likely fail
It’s much easier to believe in the process and commit over the long term if you enjoy what you are doing.
Sure, you can force yourself to do things you don’t like for a period of time, especially when you are highly motivated, but you cannot do this forever.
Now, if you are not someone who currently enjoys working out or eating healthy, it can seem impossible to find a way to enjoy it. It’s just not who you are, right?
People change, and given time, you will change.
They key is to be looking for ways to enjoy it. This comes a lot from the way you talk to yourself. If you focus on how much you hate doing it, your mind will never open to the possibility of enjoying it.
If you focus on the foods you are not eating, you will simply miss them more. If you focus on all of the tasty foods you are eating, you will find that you enjoy your diet a lot more.
The same goes for exercise. Find something that you enjoy doing. If you don’t like the gym, try playing tennis or rock climbing. Whatever you think you might enjoy.
Think about it, nobody has to force you to do something that you like doing. You don’t need to build up willpower and drag yourself out of the door. You want to do it.
4. The thing you hate the most is what you most need to do
This is pretty much true across any area of your life. We all gravitate to our strengths and avoid our weaknesses. The human ego likes being good at things, and dislikes being bad at things. We will always feed our own bias and focus on the things we are already good at.
This might mean you’re a great endurance runner, but have no strength or muscle mass. The temptation is to keep running – stay in the field in which we excel – rather than be humbled in the weights room.
It might mean you love going to the gym, and enjoy working out, but hate watching what you eat. So you focus on training, doing more, working harder and completely neglect the diet.
In both of these cases, the thing that holds the biggest benefit is the thing you do not want to do.
Eeking out an extra 2% in what we are good at will not move the needle as much as improving from 0-20% on something we are bad at. Yet the latter is easier to achieve.
This doesn’t mean you have to live in misery doing things you hate 24/7. Just take a step back and honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses. Make a commitment to work on tackling some of the weaknesses until they are no longer a weakness. Your overall results will skyrocket.
The truth can be a bitter pill to swallow, but the sooner we start looking objectively at reality, and stop wishing or hoping for an alternative, the sooner we start changing our lives.
If you’ve tried yoga and thought it wasn’t for you, it may be time to give it another try. There are literally hundreds of styles of yoga, but finding the right yoga class to fit your personality can be a challenge. In this quick guide, I’ve outlined some of the most popular forms of yoga to help you determine which style is right for you.
Focusing on straightforward postures and moving at a relaxed pace with plenty of time for individual instruction, Hatha yoga is great for beginners. Poses can be easily modified to meet the needs of just about everyone, including the disabled. If you’re looking for a gentle introduction to yoga, Hatha is a great choice.
Hatha is a poor choice for those that are competitive, goal oriented, easily bored or those who feel the need to break a sweat at every single workout.
If you’re detail oriented, Iyengar yoga might be for you. Focusing on precise alignment, Iyengar yoga takes a deep dive into the anatomical details of each posture, and incorporates the use of various props to bring each student into precise alignment before moving onto the next posture. Poses are often held for extended periods, with a focus on quality rather than quantity in an individual session. Iyengar is a type of Hatha yoga, and it’s ideal for perfectionists.
If you found Hatha yoga to be a poor fit, Iyengar is also likely not for you. If you’d rather concentrate on the bigger picture than the details, or you’re at all impatient, try a different style.
Constantly in motion, vinyasa yoga classes seamlessly move from one position to another in time with the breath, and practitioners often break a sweat as they work to keep pace. The more popular “vigorous vinyasa” is an excellent strength training workout that can be scaled up to challenge even world class athletes, though there are always modifications to keep classes accessible to beginners. A great choice for the competitive, easily bored and sweat loving athlete, vinyasa keeps you on your toes, and is the opposite of both Hatha and Iyengar in that it leaves little time for quiet contemplation.
If you’re easily confused or need detailed instruction to follow along, vinyasa will likely leave you behind in the dust.
Just the opposite of Vinyasa, Yin yoga is about cultivating depth in just a few positions in a session, each of which is held for 5 to 20 minutes as the instructor slowly guides you deeper into the pose. The goal is to allow ample time to slowly stretch muscles and connective tissue for increased flexibility. The slow nature of the practice gives it a meditative quality, as each practitioner waits in quiet contemplation for their tissues to release. A great practice for both the goal oriented and those specifically looking for the mental anxiety/stress reduction aspects of yoga.
If you’re convinced that all exercise is about movement, or you’re at all impatient, yin yoga may leave you unsatisfied.
Broken up into the primary, intermediate and advanced series, students move at their own pace through a preset series of poses. Unlike most group yoga classes, Ashtanga is often taught “Mysore” style, where each student is independently working on their own while the instructor walks around providing guidance and helping where necessary. Ashtanga is a great choice for the individualist and the self-motivated, as well as the goal oriented, because in strict Ashtanga classes, a student cannot move onto the next pose until they have mastered the one before it, and many of the positions are quite challenging.
If you prefer to follow the flow of the class rather than going it alone, avoid Ashtanga.
Usually incorporating aspects of Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga, power yoga is about cultivating strength. Focusing on the physical rather than the spiritual, this type of yoga often omits the spiritual portion of yoga all together. The practice is meant to generate heat, by moving quickly from one challenging pose to another, and can burn as many calories as an intense aerobic workout. Looking to perfect your handstand, improve your cross-fit game or seriously impress your friends? Power yoga is a great choice.
If you’re looking for a slow paced active recovery, or you’re not in particularly good shape to start with, power yoga is not for you.
Preformed in pairs or groups, Acro Yoga is great for social athletes. Rather than turning inward to focus on your own practice, this form of yoga has you work together to balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes referred to “circus yoga,’ the most common form acro has a “base” that supports a “flyer” while they move though poses in the air. This is the perfect form of yoga for those that love interacting with others, and enjoy the “performance” aspect of group exercise.
If you’d rather go it solo, dislike performing in front of others, or would just rather stay firmly rooted to the ground, stick to more traditional yoga styles.
If you love the idea of strengthening your local communities and happen to be in Southern California in April, check out this great charity fundraising event in Laguna Beach. On April 18th from 4PM-9PM at the Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art, The Yoga WAVE is putting on this get together to raise money for their community outreach efforts. Funds raised from the event will go to efforts to help support The Yoga W.A.V.E. to bring yoga into local schools bettering the wellness of our youth.
The Yoga W.A.V.E. (which stands for Wellness, Awareness, Vitality, and Education), is dedicated to helping people in local communities become healthier through introducing yoga to different groups, especially the elderly and elementary school level kids. Yoga can help kids of all ages build awareness and mental tools that can help them throughout their lives.
There will be healthy snacks, yoga demonstrations, informative talks, and a silent auction. For more information you can contact Lauren at email@example.com, or check out their website at http://www.theywm.com and their Facebook page here.