Do you Yoga? Here is why you should.

37 weeks with baby 4

What's the real deal with yoga anyway? Hippies only need apply? You can't stretch fat off? It's only for the limber types? Not worth wasting the workout time? I get it. But here is why I yoga. Always.

Yoga is the ying to my fitness yang. Nope, you won't stretch your fat off. It can help you become the limber type. And it's definitely worth your workout hour, or before it, or even better, after it.

My fitness of choice is cycling for cardio, HIIT about twice a week (which is about the recommended amount for high intensity training), circuit training, and I run to keep my body well rounded, but certainly running is my weaker sport. Then there is yoga. I don't consider yoga my fitness at all, yet it is the foundation and the recovery to my fitness. The end caps that support my fitness. Certainly it could be considered ones fitness alone. But for me, I view it as my ying. It's also my mental discipline practice, which is just as important. Meditation, self-awareness, self discovery, strength, balance, agility - are all fundamental aspects of my yoga practice that strengthen me as a person.

You can research the benefits of yoga and have reading material for days on the how it benefits everything from hormone regulation, to mood disorders, cortisol levels, almost all bodily functions, and sleep regulation.  However, I'll share with you some less abstract reasons that encourage me to keep my practice in check.

  1. Self-Awareness: We are blessed with these amazing bodies capable of amazing things! What a waste not to learn to hear what our bodies are telling us, or to be able to command our bodies what we would have them do. If I want to tell my body to allow me to reap the calming, mood boosting benefits of balancing on my hands upside down, and my body is capable of doing it, then I want my mind and body to be able to work together to do what it is capable of doing. I want to have full control over the body I am in. I don't want to feel like I am just existing in this shell, along for the ride. I want to be the driver of this entirely capable, functioning body. It also works reversely. I want to hear what my body is saying. I am not a fan of macro counting, but instead I believe in listening to hunger cues, cravings, feelings of discontent, or elation. What is off? What am I doing right? What is the root cause of my ailment, even if it's as slightly subtle as a little thirst, or fatigue. I want to practice honing the skills that bring me more in tune with my body each day so it can serve me the way it was designed.
  2. Body-Awareness: Similar to the overall self-awareness, I think of body awareness as essentially fitness form. Muscle memory. The repetitive movements, and slow focus on technique and placement on a regular basis in yoga serve as a strength for me in my other fitness outfits. I can use heavy weights and engage in faster movements in my HIIT class, for example, because I spend less time focusing on correct form. 
  3. Agility: As the adage goes, that which bends doesn't break. While body-awareness strengthens my understanding of proper form and body placement, there is also the actual physical benefit that comes from a regular yoga practice in the form of nimbleness. Flexible joints and muscles have a much greater chance of avoiding injury. In the many years of my regular fitness endeavors, I have had very few injuries. Really the only injury that comes to mind are the shin splints that I was prone to when I starting increasing my running. 
  4. Mental Discipline: The art and skill of meditation and exercising control of ones thoughts and emotions is all too underestimated. When is the last time you sat quietly and attempted to clear your mind of all thoughts. It actually quite hard! Our minds are racing with thoughts all day, and are overcome with thoughts at night. When do we recharge our mind? When is our mental reboot? When do we practice controlling our thoughts and feelings. Some of us have little more control over our ability to calm ourselves than a toddler. Through mindful meditation, not just relaxing, but actively meditating allows us to practice control over our mind, the way that the physical practice of yoga allows us to practice control over our body.
  5. Focus and Concentration: Similar to mental discipline, the regular practice of yoga really sharpens ones ability to quiet the noise of our emotions and environment, to maintain focus and control on our inner thoughts. For example, as I write this post, my children are encircling me in complete chaos. What am I to fuss at them about? I asked them to stay downstairs, which they are doing, since their dad is hard at work upstairs in his office, probably using his headphones to physically block out the noise. Meanwhile my kids just love me so much that they don't want to neglect me as they shriek and laugh while playing tag right next to me, all while I nurse my 10 month old who loves to pinch my neck and slap my face and somersault while nursing. It's pretty much a terrible scenario for attempting any level of concentration. Somehow though, I am able to tune it out to the background, slaps and all, before it boils into dangerous emotions. If this posts is complete ramblings that make no sense, well then I guess my meditation practice hasn't served me as well as I thought.

When is the last time you tried to swing around on the monkey bars? It's quite humbling when we discover we've lost the ability to manipulate our bodies in a way our minds believed they can still perform. With a regular yoga practice, we have the ability to become more in-tuned and connected to our minds and bodies, learning how to master their abilities. Alternatively, through neglect, as we age we drift farther apart from our bodies, losing the ability to do the simple efforts we once enjoyed. Feeling like we are in an detached aging shell of our old selves, losing the ability to hear and manipulate our physical and mental desires. While we will all eventually meet our physical challenges, mentally we are able to forever improve upon our clarity, focus, and inner voice.

So those are some of the primary reasons I enjoy venturing down the yoga path of self-discipline and improvement. So, will you yoga?