How Strength Training Complements my Yoga Practice (and vice versa)
I started going to the gym and strength training in November 2015. Prior to this, my only gym experience was going to the YMCA and using the elliptical for half an hour and maybe some free weights. Otherwise I stuck to Yoga. After practising Yoga for years, I noticed that the practice wasn’t affecting my body in the same way. I wasn’t sore - in that good muscle sore way - even after a more challenging class. I also wasn’t viewing my practice as “a workout”, which I probably had when I started practising years earlier. As I get older, my metabolism seems to be slowing and I’ve become aware of how my body was feeling and looking a bit different than it had. After years of invitations from my boyfriend to join him at the gym, I finally said “yes” and found myself in a weight-room. Currently, I usually only strength train twice a week, but if I am particularly motivated I get a third day in. One day is dedicated to upper body – assisted pull ups, bench press, wide grip lat pull down, shoulder press, bicep curls, and triceps. The second day is focused on legs and lower body – Hack squats, weighted walking lunges, one legged dead lifts, hamstring curls, and calve and shin exercises. I am certainly not lifting heavy for the most part, but I can already personally see a difference in my body, muscle mass and tone, and feel the difference in my strength and ability. My biggest concern when I started strength training was that it would shorten my muscles and affect my flexibility and ultimately my yoga practice. I have found that weight lifting has affected my practice, but, in a positive way. Keep reading to find out why I think these two activities actually complement each other nicely!
1. Increased upper body strength = chaturanga heaven!
I have always lacked in upper body strength which means my arm balance yoga practice is pretty weak. Since lifting weights and increasing my upper body strength I have noticed a huge difference in my arm balances and chaturanga. Truth time: I used to be able to do maybe 4 chaturangas in my sun salutation/vinyasa practice and would then take my knee’s down and move in to baby cobra. After doing this, my neck and shoulder muscles would be super tight as my muscles were all trying to compensate and tightening while I attempted to do this movement and I would often get tension headaches afterwards. Now, I can move smoothly (without grazing my thighs on the ground) through chaturanga into my upward dog at least 8 times without any repercussions! I mean, I’m not balancing in handstands in the middle of the room yet or anything… but who knows what will happen! ;)
2. My recovery time after strength training is shorter because I know the best way to stretch my muscles after working them
I always take time to stretch after strength training and cardio, especially my legs, as I naturally have very tight hamstrings. I’m the girl on the stretching mat moving into quad buster, uttanasana, low leg lunges, half pigeon, janu sirsasana, square pose, and thread the needle after leg day. It makes a huge difference in how sore I am the next day, and how easy it is to get on and off the toilet (…if you work your legs out, you know what I mean!!!)
3. I am able to bring my mindfulness practice and breath work to any work out
When I am lifting weights I try to be very mindful and am constantly “checking in” with my body. Am I using the correct muscles? How is my alignment (aka form)? Does this feel right in my body? I have stopped trying a new exercise because it didn’t feel like a good fit with my body – not because it was too challenging, but because it didn’t feel good. Because of my Yoga practice I am also constantly aware of my breath while I am strength training, which I’ve learned is crucial when lifting weights.
These are just some of the ways I have found these two practices complement each other. I’d love to know if there are other ways people have found the two go together!