Recently a student wrote to me with some questions about daily yoga practice, weight loss, and resistance. Following are my answers, I thought you might like to hear them as well.
Question #1: What is “transformational results.” Not to sound shallow or too focused on my goal, but you’ve known me for almost a year and are aware that I am very driven by my weight loss goals. I have lost X pounds and am focused enough to lose X more. How can a daily practice assist in finishing out the home stretch of achieving my goal? Up until now, I’ve resisted seeing The Yoga as a method for weight loss. Recently, when I dropped down to doing yoga only one day a week, I noticed that my results began to slow down. With that being said, I’ve been practicing daily and am feeling stronger than I’ve ever felt. I want to overcome my resistance.
Answer #1: I can only speak for myself and what I have seen in others. Transformational results of a DAILY yoga practice (5-7 days a week) include a calm and focused mind, a flexible and robust body without pain and injury, healing of old wounds and imbalances in the body, weight loss through large muscle growth. More importantly, through the intense impact yoga has on the Endocrine System, control of your nervous system, and through that your auto-immune system, balance and stability of the body and mind carry us through life challenges and into old age. It is the ONLY exercise known that HEALS injuries rather than cause them. Every yoga practice every day makes me a better person. When I practice regularly, I don’t have to struggle to eat well; I want to. I never weigh myself or worry about my weight because my body and my practice tell me where I’m supposed to be. The journey keeps changing, and I keep growing, there is no “there” to get to, there is only the road, day in, and day out, The Yoga, and life.
Question #2: Since starting a daily practice, it has felt too strenuous to add in my additional morning weight lifting routine. I find my body to be quite sore in the morning and find I need the recovery time so that I can get back to my mat by the afternoon. Can daily practice replace weight training? Does this “count” as resistance work? Can I continue to grow my muscles and tone without actually throwing around a 35# kettlebell as I have been?
Answer #2: When your body is sore, you have worked your muscles. Recovery time leads to strength and resilience, overworking the muscles to injury. Kettlebells are among the most damage-prone sports, causing extreme stress on the joints which are already compromised by carrying extra weight, and by weight loss. The changes happening in your body require alignment and form to keep you safe as your skeleton adjusts to your new size. Resistance means working your muscles against one another, or against something else, pulling something substantial toward you, or pushing something heavy away from you. Think of warrior one. With your legs, you are pushing the Earth away from you. The Earth is VERY heavy, though of course, it is your bodyweight you are driving, optimally half of it in each leg. Plank, push the earth away. Triangle, as you hold your body up against the force of gravity, your side muscles work to keep you from collapsing toward the Earth. You can FEEL this power in your soreness the following day.
Question #3: If I wanted to supplement an additional type of exercise into my daily routine, would it be better to focus more on cardio? For instance, I’m used to getting up at 5 AM; jumping on the treadmill for 10 minutes for a cardio warm-up and then doing a 10-minute kettlebell routine where I work/lift for 45 seconds and rest for 15. Even though it’s only 10 minutes, the kettlebell routine is quite strenuous, and I’m finding I don’t have the stamina to do it in the morning if I’m still feeling soreness from yoga. I’m concerned about overworking and being non-productive in that way.
Answer #3: My preference is to go outside when I am not at yoga. I enjoy getting out into the air to walk. I don’t run anymore, but many yogis do if their knees, hips, and backs are not injured. Had I known about the benefits of yoga when I was a long-distance runner, I would still be running today. Yoga would have balanced out the muscles I used to propel my body forward for hours at a time. The injuries we inflict on ourselves in other practices can be healed or avoided with yoga. Yoga is COMPLETE. A 60-90 minute daily practice is all the exercise the human form needs. A complete yoga practice works ALL the systems of the body, which includes the endocrine, muscular, circulatory, digestive, skeletal, reproductive, respiratory, nervous systems, all of them. If you want/need extra movement, build a 10-20 minute flow into your morning routine. If you weigh 150 pounds plank to staff will work your arms, shoulders, chest, back, abs/core, and legs. Take increasing numbers of Sun A/B with perfect form and build a minute practice you can come back to with ease. This will serve you well on busy days when you can’t make it to the studio as well. Change it up sometimes with poses you don’t always get to do at the studio. In my practice, I am working on arm balances. I want to do a handstand. I practice every day. If my unstable shoulder is not able to do it, I still get stronger and stronger and learn about my body every time I try.
Finally, you asked about “resistance” in another way, resistance to ideas about what yoga will do, what parts of it you will do, what it’s for in your life. Resistance is a NORMAL part of all significant changes, and every long journey is filled with moments of doubt, anger, frustration. I often feel deep resistance to a teacher, a pose, a modification. The mind wants to do things as it always has because it requires less effort initially than the change. Trust yourself, keep coming to your mat, listen to your teachers. We have no agenda for you. We are simply sharing what we’ve learned. When I GIVE myself to the practice, my life changes in ways, I could never have expected.
Peace my yoga friend, I will see you on the road,