Practicing yoga is a full body experience. It can be considered a workout not only for your body, but for your mind. You know that Tree Pose will help you with balance and focus. Reclined Pigeon Pose opens those tight hips, while Boat Pose will stabilize your core. And of course, mindful meditation is going to help you forget about that embarrassing moment you had yesterday, right?! Whatever your intention, yoga provides many benefits. But is there more you could be doing to experience a whole sense of self? Could other practices complement your intentions on the mat? Consider strength training!
Going to the gym to lift weights may seem counterproductive when it comes to your yoga practice. Grunting and sweating while engaging in resistance training sounds like the complete opposite of what you intend in a yoga class. But if you look a little closer, you can find a positive, complementary relationship between the two.
When you add resistance to any type of training, you stress the muscle fibers until they breakdown- which is a good thing! Because your body is naturally always in a state of healing, those muscle fibers, after a bout of weighted bicep curls, rebuild themselves. In fact, they rebuild and sometimes grow so that they are prepared for the next round of stress placed on your body. This all translates well when you return to your yoga mat. Here's how...
Build Core Strength
Yes, yoga postures like Boat Pose or Plank Pose can help your core stability. But by adding some ab crunches or weighted side bends will build strength in your rectus abdominis muscles (your ‘six-pack’) and your obliques. This in turn will help you see improvement in your balance and stability when you’re back on your mat. So, pay attention to your Tree and Side Planks to see that change in control and strength!
Improve Upper Body Strength
If you've attempted dynamic yoga postures like Crow Pose or Headstand, you will know that these positions require a good amount of upper body strength. You will certainly build strength in your power yoga classes, but you can bump it up a notch with resistance training. Bicep curls, shoulder presses, and tricep kickbacks can all help you with muscle growth. It's important to note that you do not have to lift extremely heavy weights. A set of 4kg or 6kg dumbbells can be enough resistance to safely stress your muscles for growth. The trick is to flex your muscles tightly and use slow reps. The same technique can be added to exercises like squats, back rows, and chest presses. A little goes a long way.
Strength Training IS Yoga
This may seem to be a bit of a stretch- but bear with us here! Going to the gym to workout with weights can be considered a type of yoga practice. Think about it...when you have decided to go to the gym, you have made the commitment to strengthen your body. You know that it will take dedication and consistency to reach your intended goals. (Sound familiar yet?)
With weights in hand, you have to concentrate solely on the muscles you're targeting. That mindful connection improves the experience. Breath is key when lifting weights too- inhale to prepare your body to move, then exhale on the exertion to stabilize your core. Full body awareness and presence are important elements when lifting weights. And tuning out the noise around you (music blasting through the gym speakers, the clanking of weights, the hum of aerobic machines, the chatter of other gym patrons) requires a meditative mind to stay tuned in to your personal practice. (Remind you of something?)
All of these things you learn and practice in yoga. And isn't the intention of yoga to take the experience off the mat and into your everyday life? A regular moving yoga practice certainly delivers a sense of awareness of your body, your mind, and spirit. It opens your heart and mind to your own greatest potential. So by adding strength training to the equation, you can broaden this sense of potential, experience your asana practice expand and your mind sing with clarity.