Yoga: Is This Really A Good Use of Gym Time?

Yoga is one of those things that I have started doing because I “think” it is good for me, rather than something I am sure about.

I don’t feel myself getting more flexible or see muscles developing or have a sense that my core is stronger. Yet, it’s “supposed” to be great for me, so I added it to my new year’s goals to try to do it at least once a week. I know that won’t be life-changing, but it’s a start for now.

I had done yoga a few times in my early twenties, but I didn’t “get it”. The whole “breathe into yourself, let your troubles go” thing didn’t work for me, and I found myself instead using the time to make mental lists of thing to do. Plus I actually knocked a candle over and had to fumble around while everyone else was trying to reach a new place of peace mumbling “sorry, sorry”. It didn’t take.

A few months ago, I had a core routine with my trainer and it went badly. Things I had done previously with no problem had me sweating profusely, I couldn’t get through a set of anything, my heart was racing. Afterwards I felt physically achy all over. I had been stewing about trying yoga again, and the next day took a class. I left there feeling great – all the aches and tension magically gone!

But did I hop on the yoga bandwagon? Nope. I just can’t help but feel I’m not “really” exercising, and if I’m going to spend an hour at the gym, I’d best get my heart rate up and burn some calories. Doing a few pushups as part of a yoga routine doesn’t seem like exercise.

But then…

This week’s class had maybe 25 people in it, and fully HALF of them were male bodybuilders! There must be something to this, right; I mean, these guys wouldn’t be taking the class just to look at girls in cute yoga outfits? Then the instructor mentioned that the Seattle Seahawks actually have a yoga instructor for the team on staff! I googled it, and it turns out many teams and professional athletes endorse yoga.

So what’s the big deal? Here’s what I found that will keep me coming back.

•Stress relief and general well-being. At yogahealthfoundation.org, it says that yoga “has a positive effect on all the body systems involved.” It also says it can lower blood pressure, cholesterol and resting heart rates. Apparently relaxing is good for you; who knew?
• Flexibility. I have been surprised as I get older to find myself getting less and less flexible, even though I’m pretty active. Apparently over time with yoga I can gain back some of my losses. In my head, I think this will help me with obstacle course races, though I’m not precisely sure how. At webmd.com it said “In one study, people improved their flexibility by up to 35% after only 8 weeks of yoga”, though I feel like that claim is missing some info (What kind of yoga? How often? How do you measure improvement in flexibility exactly?).
• Build muscle strength. I feel like this is what I have a trainer for, but then remember how I want to do crow pose and can’t (yet). Some of the positions do seem to involve serious muscle usage. And admittedly, my strength workouts aren’t working on flexibility at the same time. Yogajournal.com says “Countless studies show that a lack of exercise can lead to muscle mass decline beginning at age 40. If you stay sedentary, by the age of 70 you could lose about 30 percent of your muscle mass.”
• Helps prevent injury. Again, as I get older, I find myself worrying more and more about injury, how it will be much harder to bounce back than when I was younger, how easily it could derail what I’ve been working on. At yogajournal.com they say “Each time you practice yoga, you take your joints through their full range of motion. This can help prevent degenerative arthritis or mitigate disability by “squeezing and soaking” areas of cartilage that normally aren’t used. Joint cartilage is like a sponge; it receives fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up. Without proper sustenance, neglected areas of cartilage can eventually wear out, exposing the underlying bone like worn-out brake pads.” Well, there’s something to chew on.
• It’s good for your spine. Apparently all that movement helps keep your spinal disks in shape, and gives them nutrients, too (see point above). This is all news to me.
• Bone health. So apparently yoga can help ward off osteoporosis. I had to do a little looking about the risks factors for that, and it almost made me laugh in a not-funny way: female (check), getting older (check), menopause (starting), being under 127 pounds (even though I’ve been stuck at the same weight for three weeks, I’m hoping to soon say “check” to this one), being white (check). Then I read over at healthywomen.org “After about age 30, your body breaks down old bone faster than it builds new bone. This process speeds up dramatically as menopause approaches and for several years after. In the first five to seven years following menopause, you can lose up to 20 percent of bone mass.” Well, isn’t this nice. Yogajournal.com offers the following comfort: “It’s well documented that weight-bearing exercise strengthens bones and helps ward off osteoporosis. Many postures in yoga require that you lift your own weight. And some, like Downward- and Upward-Facing Dog, help strengthen the arm bones, which are particularly vulnerable to osteoporotic fractures.”
• Improved balance. Another one that I think will help me with obstacle courses, but after the above, I am now terrified of falling down and hurting myself, so better balances seems good to me. Plus I really, really, really want to be able to do the tree pose-airplane sequence without touching my foot to the ground (repeatedly), though I can’t explain why I want to be able to do that.
• Breathing. I notice I am often not breathing at all when doing exercises, or I seem to be doing it at the wrong time. The trainer sometimes points it out, too. Yoga seems very focused on breathing correctly, and I have definitely seen how you can breathe yourself into a deeper twist. I’m hoping that what I learn in yoga will cross over to other activities.

So in summary, yes, it really does seem like yoga is good for me in many different ways, but I’m mostly not going to see it.  I just have to have yoga faith.

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