I spent this past weekend at Kripalu for a yoga retreat. Kripalu is nestled in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts and the energy of the place is so peaceful and positive. It was a great experience, so it only makes sense to write about yoga right now.
Yoga came into my life full force this Spring. I started taking yoga classes in April and immediately loved it. The feeling you get during and after yoga is simply amazing. You know that feeling after sitting in a car for 8 hours? (Tense, constricted, anxious..etc.) Well, yoga makes me feel the exact opposite of that.
What is yoga?
To me, yoga is the art of bringing every level of being into harmony through the means of the physical body. It’s leveraging the physical body to optimize the totality of self.
The practice of yoga is like a fun manual for inhabiting a human vessel. It’s a tool-kit for these flesh vehicles we’re piloting. Basically, if you have a body, it’s in your best interest to do some yoga. And I think yoga it’s so fundamental that it should be one of the first things taught to children. (But that’s another tangent.)
Don’t give into the stereotypes surrounding yoga. It’s for every ‘body’ (see what I did there?), not just middle-aged housewives. Plus it’s fun to break out of comfort zones and shatter realities. Just the concept of being a young, muscular guy at a yoga retreat shattered some realities in and of itself. Especially when I let my guard down during a little writing workshop and read my freewriting aloud. The subtle reactions of people were priceless.
The practice of yoga tremendously strengthens the mind/body connection. It creates body awareness, making you far more in tune with your body. This allows you to know what your body is telling you and what it needs. On another level, yoga helps with awareness of thoughts. Because it’s a meditative practice, it cultivates a higher perspective, allowing one to witness thoughts without attaching to them. This perspective is crucial in mastering your reality.
Yoga also fosters breathing awareness. As you probably know, deep breathing is ridiculously beneficial in a lot of ways. Breath is the gateway to self mastery.
You can draw from yoga to enhance so many aspects of life. Being aware of your body and its needs helps in maintaining optimal health. Being aware of your breath, and breathing deeply, can immediately reduce anxiety. Increased flexibility from yoga will make you more resistant to injury. (Think about how many people hurt their back just picking something up from the floor. I ain’t ’bout that life.)
Yoga positions are done instinctively by athletes as well. Think about the positions a pitcher goes through, or a basketball player preparing to jump for a rebound, or a sprinter crouched at the starting line. Yo, that’s yoga!
Another great benefit of yoga is that it begets structural integrity. It corrects imbalances and creates harmony in the body. So this means that yoga can provide a solid foundation for you to build upon. A foundation for increased strength, power, speed, muscle…etc.
What it doesn’t do:
It’s not going to get you jacked (though it will help). Yoga will definitely build strength. If you’re looking to get strong and muscular, you need to incorporate some resistance training. However, yoga will provide you with the structural integrity to take your strength training to the next level.
It’s not going to shed off of a ton of fat (though it will help). As the saying goes, abs are made in the kitchen. Why are there so many chubby yoga enthusiasts (and even instructors)? Because the vast majority of fat loss is based on diet. For fat loss, I highly recommend diets along the lines of Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet or the Carb Nite Solution. (Both have worked well for me.)
It won’t allow you to eat like a fat kid and stay lean and ripped. Yoga doesn’t give you the same hormonal effects as deadlifts, for example. A heavy, compound movement like a deadlift creates a hormonal cascade in which you can eat a whole pizza after and have it go to muscle cells instead of fat cells. (Look into Carb Backloading for the specific types of resistance training that produce the most conducive environment for indulging.) So back to the point above, your diet has to be on point if you want to be lean.
All in all, yoga is a practice that is fundamental in inhabiting a physical body. Any ‘body’ can benefit from it, and in my opinion, it’s crucial for any form of self-improvement.
I strongly encourage everyone to explore yoga. Take some classes, hit some poses, whatever floats your boat. Try it out. Get acquainted with your body.
Optimize your vessel and maximize your fun.