Someone recently told me that their “bootcamp” instructor encouraged them to keep pushing through a workout when instead they tried to rest in the middle of class. Another group of women told me that if they had a choice between taking a yoga class and going to the gym and running until they were breathless on the treadmill, they’d pick the latter because they only have an hour a day to work out and they’d like to get the most out of it.
I’m dismayed when I hear things like this. We’re a culture of over-worked, stressed, over-stimulated people and what do we sometimes do for exercise? We pay for someone to yell at us. It’s striking to me when I watch “The Biggest Loser” how there’s so much yelling is in that show. Maybe it’s attributed more to the editng and less about how things appear in reality. While there’s a time to confront yourself about unhealthy habits and sometimes it can be effective to have a professional “get real” with you about what you’re doing to your body, it’s not the only way to get healthy.
When I started taking Baptiste Yoga classes, I was primarily working out in a gym and running. I was used to hard physical workouts and in fact, a friend of mine that was a professional body builder invited me to class saying, “It was the hardest thing he’d ever done.” So, I went and yes, it was very challenging. I was surprised that something in the yoga world could be so challenging. It definitely was a far cry from my perception of what yoga was like.
Many people I meet seem to have the perception that yoga classes aren’t physically challenging and that physically challenging workouts are the only kind that make an impact. There’s no denying that cardiovascular exercise is important and when we think “heart workouts” we typically think of running, cycling or the elliptical machine. But did you know that a power yoga class gets your heart rate up as well? Also, we know from medical studies that it’s so important for women to do weight-bearing exercises to prevent bone loss (osteoporosis). Most people think again that running is the only way to get that pounding workout done. But yoga is perfect as an exercise to weight bear on the bones. When we balance on one leg or hold up our entire body with one arm in an arm balance, we’re bearing weight on the bone without the stress on our joints that can come with running.
People often are surprised at the muscle definition and growth that can be seen from a yoga practice. Again, as with all benefits the main ingredient is consistency but if you start with the idea that when you lift weights and increase the weight, you actually break down muscle fibers and it’s through their regeneration that you build new muscle mass, imagine again in a yoga class that involves arm balances and upward and downward dogs, over and over again, the kind of muscle you will build.
Style of yoga is key when looking at the benefits of a class and there are plenty of times when hard physical work is not what the body needs. With other exercises, like running or cycling, you can really only vary the speed; with yoga, you can vary the style and go from something invigorating and cardiovascular to something more restful and restorative.
We want workouts to be fun. We also want them to be effective. Unless we’re a professional athlete, working out is, for many people, a luxury, given how busy they are. So, we want to do something that will be fun and help us meet our goals, whatever those are. But in our zest to reach our goal, are we losing sight of the whole? Working out so hard that you’re exhausted can lead to injury and then we can’t exercise at all. Working out in an environment that’s more about beating you into submission can’t possibly be something you can endure for the long haul. It’d be ideal to find something to do that’s portable, effective and can be done at any age with modifications to meet the needs of your changing body. It’d also be great to find something that not only exercises the body but also relaxes the mind. Yoga fits the bill but as with everything, only you will know if it’s the right thing for you. Just don’t count it out because of your perception of what yoga might be; try it out and see for yourself. You could be missing just what you need.