When I started going to Yoga classes, I thought it was only about flexibility. I also thought you could be good at Yoga. Group meditation and breathing exercises were the part of class where I peaked through closed eyelids, sizing people up to see who my “competition” would be.
Basics Of Yoga Breath, Flexibility, and Balance
I’ve always been involved in athletics. Although I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an athlete – the competitive nature of sports has carried over into my fitness regime. I’ve always wanted to be the strongest, fastest, or comparing the number of reps I get in before taking a rest break to the gal next to me. Through my yoga practice, I’ve learned three important things that allows me to maximize workouts so that when that competitive edge creeps up on me, I know I can crush my goals! Through finding my breath, improving my flexibility, and gaining more balance I can bring enjoyment, ease, and productive to all activities – whether it’s running, lifting weights, or going for a 90 minute Bikram session.
I remember playing soccer in highschool, making a sprint all the way down the field when a play changes only to feel like I was going to blackout. I always held my breath during those really intense pushes and took this practice into my workout sessions. You can listen to your personal trainer or group instructor when they say “inhale on the way down, exhale on the way up” – but actually making it a natural part of your workout routine takes practice. The lengthening and contracting of your muscles move in time with your breath.
In Yoga, the movements are the same: inhale, upward dog, exhale, downward dog. When you find yourself on the mat at the beginning of practice, the first thing you do is to clear your mind, and draw yourself into your practice by regulating your breathing. By keeping a regular breath; it focuses your mind, creates discipline in your practice, and helps you crush your fitness goals at the same time.
Breath = Discipline.
Gaining flexibility allows for a deeper range of motion, so you get more out of your practice, and exercise. It also gives you access to your muscles that you may have lost over time. Flexibility strengthens and protects your muscles so you are less apt to injure yourself in daily life – for example during a game of tag with your children or grandchildren – or jumping over that bigger puddle in the parking lot if you need to. If you think about flexibility in terms of range of motion, it opens up a lot more possibilities during your workouts. Increased flexibility will allow you to jump higher and step further for a deeper lunge. It’ll also keep you from getting stiff a few days later after an intense workout.
When you think of balance on the mat, you may think of the “I can stand on one foot with my eyes closed for 30 seconds” kind of balance. Balance in yoga helps us to bring balance into our lifestyles. As you go through your asanas, it forces you to use several muscle groups; moving from a stretch in Downward Facing Dog to tightening the core – to hopping in between the hands – to flexing the triceps to hover just above the mat in Chaturanga. In Tree Pose, you also encounter the need for flexibility and strength to find the balance you need when you tuck your foot, lift the chest, move your hands to heart center and dare to close your eyes.
But balance can be much more deeper than that. Balance can also give you the confidence to go through your day-to-day life and not think about your physical limitations. During a particular sweaty and difficult Bikram Yoga session, I always remember my instructor reminding the class, “you practice Yoga so your body doesn’t keep you from living your life.”
You need balance to hop over that puddle in the parking lot. You need balance to pick up something up with your toes while cradling your sleeping child in your arms. You need balance to bound up the stairs to the front porch to wrap your loved ones in your arms.
You need balance to crush those squats while crushing your New Year’s resolution to get in shape. You also get balance when other things align like finding your breath, staying with your breath and perhaps pushing through that 13th mile in a marathon.
Learn More About Yoga Training
One could say that practicing Yoga is an essential part of a fitness routine. The mat is a space to find the discipline you need to stick to your goals in life and crush them. It also gives you the headspace to prepare you for the journey off the mat. To learn more about yoga training reach out to YogaRenew.