Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crossed Paths

My husband likes to lift weights. He used to be really into it, bulking his muscles with repetitive curls and crunches and squats. Now, he lifts weights for health, and is much more balanced in his exercise. He mentioned recently that, while I do yoga nearly every day, I never seem to get uneven from it. I didn't understand what he meant, and he explained that a lot of exercises can lead to over-strengthening in one area. Or, one part of the body can get focused on so much, that it no longer makes any progress with training. I wasn't surprised by his observation, because yoga is a whole-body program, nothing gets left out in a good class, including the mind and spirit.
A lot of people have one type of exercise that they love. I have friends that run, and do not do anything else. They're runners, after all. That can lead to injuries to the lower half of the body, obviously, because the feet, ankles, knees and hips are pounding the pavement repetitively. I have friends who swim, and they can be prone to shoulder injuries from doing the same stroke over and over. Weight lifters tend to focus on the large, bulky muscle groups, ignoring the antagonists that provide balance to the joints. Ok, I'm making generalizations to demonstrate a point, but you get my drift. A lot of exercises are very focused in their goals, and also in the parts of the body they affect.
Yoga isn't like this. In fact, a lot of single asanas address multiple areas of the body at once. Consider Trikonasana, or triangle pose. The legs are strengthened, the core is isolated, holding the torso up, and the arms are working to stretch the chest open. Add in mindful breathing to expand the lung capacity, and a twist to stimulate the abdominal organs, and the entire body is being used. When Trikonasana is part of a logical flow in class, different parts of the body are flexed and extended, all with the goal of taking the triangle pose to a new level. Once again, yoga addresses the whole body.
Because of this fact, yoga can easily cross paths with other forms of exercise, making an athlete stronger and more flexible, less prone to injury, and possibly more successful at their sport. Runners can benefit from stretching the legs, particularly the hips, the IT band, and ankles. Bikers can open the hips and upper back, which gets rounded and hunched over the handlebars of a road bike. Weight lifters can balance the flex flex flex motion with stretching of antagonists to prevent injury over the long term. Really, yoga can enhance any other type of physical activity. You don't have to consider yourself a yogi to reap the benefits from the practice, and the physical aspects of yoga may be all you want. But maybe, over time, you'll start to see that the physical practice is opening you up in other ways, making you a stronger and more flexible person throughout your life. Then the real benefits of yoga begin!

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