Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Yoga: The Ultimate Cross-Training

I do yoga.

There, I said it.

That's right, I'm one of those sensitive, New-Age guys. I've studied and/or practiced yoga for 17 years now. I liked it from the first day I tried it. It started with the fact that I simply enjoy the challenge of actually doing the poses. For those who haven't tried it because you think it's wimpy, I guarantee you that yoga is a lot more physically challenging than you think. It's far more than simply "stretching" or "holding a pose." There's no way to fully describe the physical challenge. Suffice to say, it works you out so deep in your muscles, you've never experienced anything like it.

On top of the pleasure of that challenge, it boasts an impressive list of physical benefits:

- Increased overall strength
- Greatly increased core strength
- Healthier and more effective lungs, organs and glands
- Decrease in physical tension (including headaches, back problems, etc.)
- It's weight-bearing, so you get healthier bones in the deal
- Increased flexibility and protection from injury in sports
- Improved balance and physical grace
- Improved posture
- Development of the entire body, inside and out, as a balanced system. It's cross-training on the uber level.

Almost every one of these is a benefit that most serious cyclists avidly pursue to improve their overall training.

There are plenty of cycling-specific ways to strengthen oneself through yoga. I did a one-hour session this morning, and my quads and hip flexors now feel like I was on a hard and hilly two-hour ride. You can go into various forms of a deep squat and hold the position for painfully long periods of time. Lactic acid for breakfast, anyone?

I know of a pair of very experienced cyclists who, during one winter, substituted one day of yoga per week for a day of cycling training. They claimed that almost all their on-bike performance stats went up that year.

* * *

Then there are the intangibles. They are at least as important to me as the physical side.

I do at least a little yoga every morning, followed by meditation, and I would have to write a pretty thick book to sum up the positive impact that practice has had on my life. Far from making me a pale, navel-gazing wimp, it increases my physical and mental energy, improves my concentration, clarifies my priorites, and gets me excited about, and actively engaged in, my daily life.

I do a kind of yoga that's a little outdated for it's emphasis on the combo of inner and outer development. You can still find it out there if you know where to look. The Americanization of yoga has changed the face of the discipline forever -- a discipline proven and perfected over literally thousands of years. Most classes have completely cut out even the broad-based, non-religious inner aspects such as brief meditations, and using mindfulness while in the poses.

I knew this was inevitable the day Madonna told the world she loves yoga. But it still makes me sad, because growing the inner life was the reason yoga was developed all that time ago. The physical benefits, as vital as they are, were considered bonuses (and inseparable from the inner growth). So, I find it hard to watch the proliferation of hard-driving, goal-oriented, platitude-shouting American yoga instructors. They've turned the thing into a football camp -- and they're raking in the dough. So be it.

* * *

As for me, after a good yoga session (and they're almost all good) I feel more joyful in my body. My mind is calm and clear. My connection to what I call God is markedly stronger, and it permeates my being; it isn't just a thought or a brief moment of clarity. Climbing into the shower with trembling legs and core muscles, I feel at least as high as I do after a really good ride. And, I feel strong -- from the bones on outward.

Okay. Maybe this post belongs on "Yogaphoria," not Velophoria. But there's more than one way to be happy in this life. Why not try them all?


idon'tremembereatingcorn said...

I've never done yoga. You'll have to teach me a bit

Velosopher said...

I'd be delighted. Can't think of a better place than just near the tent in the morning sunrise, surrounded by the red-rock cliffs and mountains.

Next week!

Anonymous said...

I tried yoga a few times last winter and really really liked it. I'd like to explore the meditational aspects of it more but can't afford classes - are there any good DVDs or something that I can use to develop a morning ritual?

Velosopher said...

BBB, I'm sorry to say that I don't have any leads for you... I do use DVDs and streaming video of yoga classes, but mainly for sessions of somewhat advanced poses, not meditation. I've actually changed from yoga-based meditation to other paths over the years, so I'm not really your best source.

However, I can recommend the Gaiam DVD series in general, and I do find Rodney Yee (picture in my post) a good video class leader (not everyone is). Sight unseen, Here's a morning yoga DVD he leads that might help.

Generally, I recommend starting with a video or two, and, if you like it over time, seek out a class. That's how I got started years ago. If you want to experience all the benefits of genuine yoga, being taught in person is the best way. It takes a while to find the right teacher, but along the way, I picked up much good stuff.

Keep me informed, I'd like to know how it works out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Velosopher - I'll keep you posted.