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Simple Changes Part 2: Getting more out of yoga

Posted Jan 25 2011 12:00am

What’s really on my mind tonight is yoga, but first I wanted to share my treadmill hill workout from this morning.

Marathon Training Treadmill Hill Workout (5 miles total)

  • 1 mile gradual warm-up, 1% incline
  • 0.25 mi. @ 8:00 pace (30 sec. slower than your goal marathon race pace), 5% incline
  • 0.25 mi. @ 9:15 pace (easy pace), 1% incline
  • 0.25 mi. @ 8:00 pace, 5% incline
  • 0.25 mi. @ 9:15 pace, 1% incline
  • 0.25 mi. @ 8:00 pace, 5% incline
  • 0.25 mi. @ 9:15 pace, 1% incline
  • 0.25 mi. @ 8:00 pace, 5% incline
  • 0.25 mi. @ 9:15 pace, 1% incline
  • 0.25 mi. @ 8:00 pace, 5% incline
  • 0.75 miles @ 8:30 (your goal marathon pace), 1% incline
  • 1 mile cool down

The 0.75 miles at marathon pace after doing the hill repeats was my way of adding a little more marathon pace running into my program. One of my main principles in my training this time around is to teach my muscles to run harder when they’re tired – to program my race pace into muscle memory! So I’ve been trying to run the last 2-4 miles of my long runs at race pace, and I figure after a workout like this, adding a little marathon pace running will do a similar thing.

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Remember the first part of my Simple Upgrades Series when I talked about Carb Upgrades ?

The Simple Changes series is my discussion on small ways to achieve little goals everyday, that eventually amount to the achievement of a bigger goal. Tiny, meaningful steps toward something important over time are more likely to stay with me than one major leap.

Yoga is something I love, but could definitely use some improvement in. Sometimes I really enjoy class, and other times I look at the clock every 5 minutes and my thoughts are all over the place and not at all in the moment.

Yoga - mountain

I’ve never regretted going to a class, but sometimes I leave feeling like I really could have gotten more out of the class – not so much physically, but emotionally and mentally.

Here are some small adjustments I’ve been trying to make to my yoga practice to help me get the benefits I want out of each class:

*  Wear comfortable AND fitted clothes

You don’t need to go on a lululemon shopping spree, but you need to wear yoga pants and a fitted top.

You don’t want to feel like you need to pull up your pants during downward dog. And wearing a baggy shirt just gets in the way of poses and makes it difficult to see in the mirror whether your alignment is where you want it to be. (I also find that a fitted shirt reminds me to engage my abs more!)

Yoga - downward dog

*  Prepare for discomfort (and appreciate it!)

Yoga (of the power/hot/bikram/vinyasa flow varieties) is not supposed to be easy and relaxing. It’s supposed to challenge the muscles, make you shake and sweat, and give you a workout. Before the class, I find that if I go into it embracing the discomfort as a sign of increasing my strength, rather than dreading the strain on my muscles, I deal with that aspect of it much better. 90 minutes can be a long time if I am annoyed each time my body is challenged!

While I’m driving to class, I imagine myself in the hard poses, being challenged, and then how awesome my body will feel when it’s over. Adding a layer of appreciation to the discomfort helps me to be more okay with the discomfort during the class.

(Wheel definitely challenges me!)

Yoga - wheel

*  Focus on one thing at a time…

Not sure if you’ve noticed, but yoga teachers like to rapidly spit fire a sequence of commands, such as:

Lunge forward.

Knee directly over foot.

Equal weight on both legs.

Tail tucked. Belly in.

Shoulders down, palms down.

Breathe into it and lunge deeper now.

Rotate the thighs inward.

Back leg strong.

Feel every muscle in the body hugging the bones.

Stretch the back heel closer to the ground.

Lengthen your spine.

Abs pulled tight.

Lift out of the hip and knees, use your muscles…

You can be thinking about your foot and realize you missed the next 8 instructions. Instead of becoming overwhelmed, realize that the teacher is trying to help you gradually work your body and mind into the pose and think about how your body feels to get the maximum benefit from the pose. Take it one adjustment or small movement at a time and pick what resonates with you – you don’t need to make sure to put each command into practice for every pose.

Yoga - dancers

*  …and if it’s only one thing, make it your breath

If it’s one of those days and your brain just isn’t going to process multiple sets of instructions, resolve to just gradually breathe into whatever pose you visualize yourself doing, rather than taking on a frustrated and self-defeating perspective. If nothing else, be aware of your breath with each pose and movement, and use your breath to bring life to your practice. That is really what it’s all about anyway.

Yoga - warrior II

*  Remember it’s not about flexibility

I am not flexible in the least, so for the longest time I figured I couldn’t do yoga. My former boss (who is a talented yoga instructor) told me it wasn’t about being flexible, it was about strength. It doesn’t matter if I can’t fold forward enough to get my hands under my feet with my legs straight – I’m still doing yoga and getting all of the same benefits. Keeping that in mind reminds me to not strain my muscles/tendons into doing things they aren’t genetically meant to do and being 100% okay with that.

Something that really resonated with me was when my current teacher said to remember that some people are just super flexible and can easily lean into their joints and get into any pose in an instant, but that’s not yoga. Yoga is about the whole practice – the oms, the breathing, the bodily awareness, the use of breath rather than force to ease the body into each pose.

Yoga - forward fold

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How could you “upgrade” your yoga practice, or any other form of exercise, to get more out of it?

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