Photo: Stuart Seeger
Want your yoga to thrive?
Take it out to the ball game.
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
Cat dog breaths, seated twists and yoga mudra before softball.
Lunges before running, forward fold and camel posture after.
Extended side angle and rotated side angle to open up your swim stroke.
Why confine practice to enclosed space? Extend the healthy, positive effects of yoga from the time set aside for practice into other spheres of movement and life!
There are good reasons to integrate yoga into the wholesome benefits of exercise and sacred act of playing.
Yoga for a long life
Through the ages, yoga has been prized for its efficacy in slowing aging and renewing vigor. There’s a fair amount of shoulder squaring and lines drawn in the sand these days concerning what people practiced in the distant past. There’s less disagreement on the basic premise of the techniques of those pre-medieval yogis.
One of the earliest documented motivations for practicing yoga is the extension of human life.
According to scholar David Gordon White, this intention dates back to at least the 2nd Millenium BCE, and is written about in the Athara Veda. The purpose given in the text for intensive yoga technique isn’t accruing benefit in some other dimension or distant future. Highlighted in this four thousand year old text are the in-your-body, in-your-lifetime results of practice.
Yoga for superior strength
To that end, it may not really be so off the mark to be trying to figure out, as a contemporary practitioner of yoga, how to combine postural yoga with other fitness efforts.
I’m not suggesting this combination instead of your personal practice or class. If you take French lessons you get to communicate in French wherever it’s understood. You wouldn’t save your skills for classroom use only – you’d use your ability with French as often as possible to get better at it, and because it’s the right skill for the situation.
This is equally true of practicing yoga. It’s great to get good grades in class. It’s also exciting – and dare I say it – fun, to bring the skill of yoga to your everyday life.
I’m on the road this week, posting from Kripalu Center in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts where I’m leading the Healthy Living Yoga and Fitness Retreat. Today we spent time discussing and practicing ways yoga activates strength.
Yoga for 3 key aspects of strength
Strength supports everyday life from active recreational sports to getting your groceries out of the car and into your house. Three key aspects of strength are developed in yoga.
Strength of contraction Muscles contract when you do work. The more intensely your muscles contract, the longer the contraction can be held and the more often it can be repeated before fatigue, the more work you can do.
Specialized effort like lifting weights and everyday activities like going up stairs share in this basic function of muscles. It’s the most common way we think of strength. We often talk about muscle in terms of size and volume, because the size of the muscle contributes to the strength and repeatability of the contraction.
Strength of connection Muscles change shape, lengthening or thickening when the nervous system relays our need or desire to do something. Every body has a constantly changing network of nerve to muscle connections which relays requests for action to the muscles. The stronger connections between muscles and nerve pathways, the more efficiently and confidently we move.
You can see this connective neuromuscular strength develop in babies as they grow. At first they have a difficult time grabbing what they reach for. Eventually the neuromuscular connections become strong, and as any parent knows – fast! The famous dictum Use It or Lose It applies to neuromuscular strength. Connections that are not maintained by use are not well maintained by the nervous system.
Strength of coordination Muscles must fire in sequences for us to achieve useful movement. The better the timing of the sequential firing, the more accurate our efforts and movements. From walking and driving a car to playing a violin and serving an ace, this coordination affects not only limb movement, but fine motor skills.
Yoga for everyday work – and play
At Kripalu this week, we’re using basic yoga warm ups before hiking, kayaking, biking and other cross training activities.
Preparing well for the demands and spontaneity of daily life or recreational activity includes warming up. When you do warm-ups you’re infusing your muscles with blood to increase flexibility. Stretching before work or play can relieve compression and add freedom of movement.
If you regularly warm up for any kind of physical activity such as running, tennis, rowing or hiking, substituting sun salutations for jumping jacks, squats or other aerobic movement provides equal oxygenating and blood infusing value.
Additionally, sun salutations massage internal organs and bring the muscles of the front and back of your body into a natural balance often disrupted or deformed by injury, sitting, or prolonged periods of inactivity.
Sun salutations before sports offer the opportunity to sync breath and effort, center your attention away from the distractions of the office, and improve all three aspects of strength that help to assure safe movement and the health of the body.
Tomorrow I’ll share more Yoga and Fitness from what I’m teaching this week at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.