I have been doing two days a week of intense weight training for nine years now, and I love it. Weight training has improved my posture (no more rounded shoulders or Dowagers hump – yes, after years of working at a computer and tending to babies, I had the beginnings of a hump), cured my longtime lower back problems (no more trips to the chiropractor), and even improved my efficiency with everyday activities around the house (it’s easier to carry that heavy laundry basket and that overloaded bags of groceries). In addition, it made me look better in my clothes and the lean muscle I built burned more calories at rest than fat – you’ve gotta love that!
With all the benefits of weight training, there was only one down side – how tight it made my body. It didn’t matter how much stretching I did, I could never seem to get relief. To keep up with the intensity of training that I preferred, I ended up having to get regular deep tissue massages. This was not only painful and time consuming, but also expensive. Massage therapist after massage therapist recommended I try yoga. For some reason, I just couldn’t seem to fit it into my schedule. I was already weight training two days a week and aiming for a minimum of three days a week of cardio, to add another day with yoga seemed like too much.
Two years ago, after hearing some friends talk about how much they loved their new yoga class, I decided to give it a try and like weight training, it also changed my way of life. My yoga day is Monday, and to me there is no better way to start a week. With only one day of yoga per week, I have been able to reduce the frequency of my massages to once every two to four months AND I am more flexible and more at peace with life and my body.
Mention yoga, and people immediately assume you are going to some relaxing class filled with peaceful meditation and easy stretching – WRONG! The type of yoga I practice is vinyasa flow and let me tell you, it’s physically challenging for even the most fit athlete. In fact, it is said that there is quite possibly no better overall workout than a really strong vinyasa flow class. In addition, my class is done in a room heated to between 85 and 95 degrees, so I am also guaranteed to sweat my butt off!
The term “vinyasa” means to link breath with movement. As such, the inhalations are linked to upward movements and motions meant to expand the front of the body. Exhalations are tied to movements that compress the belly. I find the philosophy behind the yoga movements and poses fascinating. It is believed that linking breath with movement provides internal cleansing. In addition, twisting movements done in yoga compress organs pushing out blood filled with metabolic by-products and toxins. When twists are released, fresh blood flows in, carrying oxygen and the building blocks for tissue healing.
In general, a typical vinyasa flow class involves intense cardio (determined by the pace of the class) and strength-building exercises, as well as some core work, asanas (yoga postures to improve flexibility) and some inversions (head stands, etc.) or twists. Each class typically begins and ends with a five minute meditation. At the beginning of my practice, I found this time to be extremely frustrating. Lkfe most busy women, I am constantly on the go, and to lay in a class full of people with my eyes closed seemed totally foreign to me. In fact, it isn’t a stretch to say that I was about to crawl out of my skin laying there for those meditations. However, I now love this time to clear my mind and to challenge myself to try to think of “nothing”. It really is amazing how beneficial this can be on so many levels.
Aside from the physical side of yoga, I love the whole introspectiveness of the practice. This makes yoga mentally challenging in addition to being physically challenging. Each session, you are asked to set an intention for the day. You are constantly reminded to go at your own speed, to not compare yourself to others in the class and to “accept” where your body is on that particular day at that point in time. This self-acceptance is something that I find so refreshing.
Another thing I so appreciate is the challenge of the various poses. Like I said, I have been doing yoga for two years now and while I don’t make it every week, I try to make most. That said, there are still poses that totally elude me and some that I can do on some days, but just can’t on others depending on my level of focus that particular day. There is a clear mind body connection in yoga. It is difficult to go through the motions without being totally in tune with your mind and your body.
Even on my worst day, I leave yoga class with a fresh prospective. At the end of each class, you are asked to choose something positive to say to yourself and to repeat it three times. I would never take the time to do this outside of this class. It really makes you stop and think. I love it; it’s great!
I celebrate my 45 birthday tomorrow and my Monday morning yoga class this week gave me something special to celebrate. After two years, I DID MY FIRST CROW POSE!!! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here is a picture of a crow pose:
Now you have to realize, when it comes time to do any type of inversion or crazy thing like this where there is even a remote chance of falling on your face or inflicting other bodily harm, I’ll try a few times and then give up and go into some kind of stretch. And I don’t really mind (a good yogi shouldn’t mind – still working on that) mostly because it gives me the opportunity to look around the dark warm room and envy all the serious yogi’s doing their stuff. And let me tell you, some of these women are amazing. Yesterday, I thought, “oh, why not give it another try…” Without even thinking about it up I went and probably for a full 5 seconds at that! It was like a miracle! And that is what I’ve read on-line. People say it is just like a fluke; you just get it. Weird thing is, I find it to be like learning to ride a bike. Now I can get up into this pose on every attempt. Knowing I’m not technically supposed to “compare” myself to others, I do realize I’m probably a “late bloomer” when it comes to this. Either way, getting into this pose came at the perfect time – right when I am about to take on another year. It makes me think that age really doesn’t matter as long as you are committed and keep trying. I may be turning 45, but I’ve still got it! Happy birthday to me, and nameste!
Do you practice yoga? If so, what do you like about it? What keeps you going back? How do you celebrate your successes?